My husband recently went to a charity event for an organization called CityYear. CityYear is charity that intervenes for children in high poverty areas who have gone off track in their schoolwork. The organization provides volunteer mentors in the business community who help get the kids back on track and through to graduation. A friend of my husband’s just quit banking, after a 17-year stint, to work for CityYear. Inspired by his friend, my husband wanted to contribute. As our wedding anniversary was fast approaching, he placed a bid on “aday in a Michelin starred restaurant” and won.
It was generosity that inspired this experience and indeed it was definitionally generosity in the experience itself. It was a true privilege to spend the day in their kitchen, Kitchen W8, with head chef Mark Kempson. The staff were generous with their time, experience and knowledge. Indeed, in all my years in working in corporations, including Fortune 10 companies, I have never experienced such a well-run ship – all hands on deck. And the passion for the food was literally palatable – from the relationships with the farmers, fisherman to the love of the process of cooking. “Isn’t making your own pasta every day really labor intensive,” I ask Head Chef Mark. “Yes. But it’s fun! And I love it!” And any food “waste” – leaves and stalks from greens, day old bread, unsold prepared ingredients – was used for staff lunch, prepared, in turn, but one of the chefs.
The complexity of their dishes cannot be replicated in my humble home kitchen and the chefs’ daily cooking experience likely surpassed all the cooking I have done in my lifetime. So, I tried to take in as many little things as I could: how to make farfalle and garganelli pasta; the color of a really fresh fish’s eyes; and how poach an egg.
The most basic but very useful tip was how to blanche vegetables. It is of course quite easy, but here’s the trick: the water the vegetable is to be blanched in should be as salty as seawater. Taste it. If it brings you to the sea, it is right on. If it just tastes a wee bit salty– keep going. (But remember; don’t throw away the water after just one veg. Just remove the vegetable after it’s turn swimming in the seawater with a slotted spoon and put another into the water. Keep on blanching! When you’ve finished blanching your vegetables, use the water to make pasta. Waste not, want not. Right?) Also the time to blanche is 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Use a timer.
Blanching is especially helpful now that we are nearing winter and our vegetable harvest will come to an end. Blanche properly and freeze.
So here is a recipe inspired by the day in KitchenW8. It is a cheap knock-off of what KitchenW8 presented as a lunch starter, which was absolutely moreish, but hopefully it will do them a little proud. With gratitude.
Blanched Purple Broccoli with a Nutty Vinaigrette and Poached Egg:
50 ml hazelnut oil (or other nut oil)
50 ml olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
70 g toasted nuts* (any nut or mix of nuts (or seeds even) you have on hand – almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, macadamia nuts)
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tbsp. honey
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
black pepper, to taste
Himalayan pink salt, to taste
After you measure out your ingredients, place them in a blender or food processer until the nuts are chopped to the size of your liking. Set aside.
*Note: to toast the nuts, just put them on a cookie sheet in the oven at 250C / 475F for 15 minutes. Take them out, let them cool and then blend away.
Blanched Purple Broccoli and Lahana (or Swiss Chard)
75g Purple Broccoli
75g Lahana* or Swiss chard
3 tbsp. salt (more if necessary)
First, prepare your blanching water: half fill a large pot with cold water and add the salt. Bring the water to the boil. Next, trim the bottoms of the broccoli and the lahana (or Swiss chard). Cut the broccoli into two pinky finger sized pieces. Reduce the boiling water to a simmer and first add your broccoli. Set your timer for 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Removed the broccoli and set it aside. Next, add the lahana (or Swiss chard) and set the timer for 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Remove from the water and set aside.
*Lahana is a Turkish leafy vegetable from the cabbage family. My local vegetable shop didn’t have Swiss chard in stock so; I decided to have a go with Lahana as the sign said it was “just in today.” It is an enormous gorgeous green leaf with a heavy stock.
Poached egg – the easy way
So as to not waste, you may use the vegetable blanching water for poaching. Bring the water to a boil. Crack the egg into a small cup. Reduce the head of the water to a low bubbly simmer. Carefully tip the cup of egg into the water. Put the timer on for 3 minutes. Take a quick peak at it using a slotted spoon. It may need another minute (depending the actual water temperature and the size of the egg). Once you are happy with the egg’s consistency, remove from the water. If poached in the vegetable water, your egg white may take on a bit of a green tint, but that’s okay, I like green eggs and ham, Sam I Am.
Plate up your broccoli and lahana (or Swiss chard). Mix in the nutty vinaigrette. Carefully put your poached egg on top.
Well done! You get a gold star!