This was an immensely satisfying and comforting plateful and just about exactly what I'm looking for in a home-cooked meal: a few ingredients, a simple recipe and outstanding taste.
The great Marcella Hazan passed away last month, sad to say, aged 89. When I heard the news, I immediately reached for my battered copy of The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (one of my all-time favourite cookbooks) and I've been dipping into it most evenings since. Her influence cannot be overestimated. To quote The Telegraph's obituary: 'Chain smoking, impatient and famously brusque, she introduced recipes that were traditional, tasty and ruthlessly pared-down: her famous tomato sauce contained only a tin of peeled plum tomatoes, five tablespoons of unsalted butter, one small white onion and salt'. Ah yes, that sauce. Have you ever made it? If not, it's all over the internet, but here's her son Giuliano's description. Make it as soon as you possibly can.
Actually, quoting from The Telegraph's obituary column has reminded me of another of my favourite books, their Book of Obituaries: A Celebration of Eccentric Lives. A glorious read. Here's a sample:
'Denisa Lady Newborough, who has died aged 79, was many things: wire-walker, nightclub girl, nude dancer, airpilot. She only refused to be two things - a whore and a spy - "and there were attempts to make me both", she once wrote.
She was also a milliner, a perfumier and an antiques dealer; but her real metier, in early life at least, was what she called "profitable romance". Her opinions on the subject of presents from gentlemen would have done credit to the pen of Anita Loos: "I have never believed that jewels, any more than motor cars, can be called vulgar just because they are gigantic".'
Anyway, there's a recipe in Essentials for Braised Leeks with Parmesan, made with, again, just five ingredients: leeks, butter, salt, parmesan and water. I've used chicken stock and added parsley. And serrano. And an egg.
A stock cube won't do here; as you're reducing the stock to nothing, the end product would be overwhelmingly salty.
approx 275g leeks (after trimming and discarding of tough outer leaves))
25g butter, cubed
250ml home-made chicken stock
2 tbsps grated parmesan
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
2 slices of serrano or prosciutto (approx. 50g)
1 fresh egg
salt + black pepper
Bring a pan of water to barely simmering and have a bowl of ice cold water ready. Crack the egg into a small cup or ramekin. Whisk the water into a whirlpool effect and carefully lower the egg into the centre. When set, after about 2-3 minutes, lift out the egg and slide into the bowl of icy water.
Cut the leeks in half lengthways and wash under running water, and then cut them widthways into approximately 120mm pieces. Put them into a pan in which they'll all fit snugly in a single layer. Dot the cubes of butter over and pour in the chicken stock. Add a pinch of salt and grind in some black pepper.
Bring to a boil, reduce the heat a bit, cover and cook for about ten minutes, turning a couple of times. Remove the cover and turn the heat up to full. Let the stock bubble way to nothing, stirring the leeks a few times. This might take another ten minutes.
Meanwhile, heat up a pan of water (for re-heating the egg) and grill the serrano slices.
When the leeks are just starting to stick to the base of the pan, remove from the heat and stir in the parmesan and parsley. Put the egg into the pan of simmering water to re-heat.
Spoon the leeks onto a dinner plate and arrange the serrano on top. Remove the egg from the pan of water, drain, and place on top of the serrano.