NEW YORK (Reuters) - From humble beginnings in her hometown of Birmingham, England chef April Bloomfield traveled across the Atlantic to New York, where she opened three acclaimed restaurants.
Her first eatery, The Spotted Pig, helped usher in the gastro pub craze that swept the city. Inspired dishes such as sheep milk ricotta gnudi and crispy pig’s ear salad and other English and Mediterranean creations helped win a Michelin star for the restaurant that opened in 2004.
Another, The Breslin, earned a second Michelin star for Bloomfield, whose first cookbook, “A Girl and her Pig” describes her culinary journey.
The 38-year-old spoke to Reuters about her success in New York, butchering a pig before thousands of people and which English dishes to try during the London Olympics.
Q: What could a home cook learn from your book?
A: “Keep it simple. Don’t over complicate things. There are 104 recipes in the book. There are five to seven complicated recipes. They are probably two-day processes, but a lot of them are really simple.
“Source amazing ingredients that capture your eye, and taste buds and just tweak them very simply.
Q: You recently butchered an entire pig in front of hundreds of people on stage at New York’s Great MoogaGooga food festival. Did you ever imagine this is a demand of being a chef?
A: “I never thought I would be doing that kind of stuff. But it’s fun and it breaks up the day a little bit. You learn new skills. I like learning in general ... Cooking is in my blood so you feel it’s natural. You fit into that kind of mode whether it’s in a kitchen or at a demo breaking down a pig.”
Q: Do you have any plans to open a restaurant in London?
A: “I love being in the States. I love going back to London and (would like) to open up something. But I wouldn’t open a gastro pub. I’m not sure what I would do. I love the idea of spending some time there. I think London is really exciting right now. There are a lot of small local places around Soho and in the outer boroughs of London.”
Q: How has the London dining scene evolved since you first started?
A: “People are not scared of trying something new. Restaurateurs are branding themselves a little more. It was completely different from 10 years ago. You know Russell Norman at Polpo. He has (several) places now. In England, that’s completely unusual.”
Q: With the Olympics coming up, any food recommendations for those visiting London?
A: “Finding pubs that have great food is really important ... They have great Italian food too in London. Fergus Henderson has some really refreshing restaurants. London has some great places for oysters. Any of the stores in Borough Market are really amazing. There are some fantastic Spanish restaurants like Moro.”
Gnudi (Serves 4)
1 pound semolina flour
1 pound sheep’s-milk ricotta
1-ounce parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 teaspoon kosher salt
To finish the dish
7 tablespoons slightly chilled unsalted butter
20 good-sized sage leaves
A handful of finely grated Parmesan
Parchment paper and disposable piping bag (or a resealable plastic bag)
1. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Add about three-quarters of the semolina to the sheet, spreading it out to form a more or less even layer. Put the rest of the semolina in a medium size bowl. Make sure there’s space in your fridge to hold the baking sheet.
2. Combine the ricotta, parmesan and salt in a large bowl. Use a large wooden spoon to mash and stir the mixture until it’s well combined. Put the mixture in a disposable piping bag (or resealable plastic bag). With your fingers, work the mixture toward the tip and twist the top of the bag. Use kitchen scissors to cut an opening about 1-1/4 inches across at the tip of the piping bag (or a bottom corner of the plastic bag). Pipe the mixture onto the semolina-lined tray in 3 or 4 long straight lines, leaving an inch or two of space between them.
3. Hold a pair of kitchen scissors perpendicular to the tray and snip each strip of dough every 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 inches along its length. You want to turn each strip into 9 or 10 pudgy little logs.
4. Working with one little log at a time, gently press the ends between your palms to make the log shorter and a little pudgier, almost round. Try not to form any creases as you do this or any pointed edges. Hold the log gently in the palm of one hand over the bowl of semolina. Grab a large pinch of semolina and sprinkle it over the gnudi, gently turning the gnudi so the semolina coats every bit of it. Carefully return it to the semolina-covered tray, and repeat with the rest of the logs. Make sure you leave a little space between each one on the tray.
5. Dust the semolina remaining in the bowl over the gnudi. Cover the tray tightly with plastic wrap, and pop it into the fridge. Keep the gnudi in the fridge, turning them over once a day and covering them again, until they’re firm and no longer feel damp. Give it at least 3 days, but no more than 4.
Cook the gnudi:
1. Fill a large wide pan or shallow pot two-thirds full with water, salt it generously and bring it to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, transfer the gnudi to a large plate, giving each one a gentle, but assertive shake to remove any loose semolina.
2. Put 3 tablespoons of the butter in a shallow pan large enough to hold the gnudi in one layer, add 1\3 cup of the hot salted water, and set over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, take the pan off the heat.
3. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter to another large pan. Set the pan over medium-high heat, and let the butter melt and foam until it goes slightly nutty and turns light golden brown. Add the sage to the butter in one layer and cook the leaves just until they’ve gone crispy, about 2 minutes. Transfer them to paper towels to drain and sprinkle them with salt. Keep the brown butter in a warm spot at the back of the stove, off the heat.
4. Ease the gnudi into the boiling water and cook, gently shaking the pot once (don’t stir the gnudi), for 2 minutes only. Set the pan with the butter-water mixture over high heat. Use a slotted spoon to quickly transfer the cooked gnudi to the butter water and cook at a vigorous simmer, shaking the pan now and then until the butter sauce thickens slightly and begins to cling to the gnudi, about 3 minutes.
5. Serve the gnudi in the pan or divide the gnudi among warm shallow bowls. Sprinkle on the parmesan and a little salt and garnish with the sage leaves. Drizzle on as much of the brown butter as you like.
Editing by Patricia Reaney and Leslie Gevirtz