Thursday, 8 November 2012

Black Angel spaghetti, à la Jamie

I was going to do you a post today on cinnamon buns, but it seems that everyone and their second cousin thrice removed was making cinnamon buns this weekend, and evidently you don't need my help.  That usually wouldn't make any difference to me, but a blog that I very much enjoy (which essentially is a better written, more popular version of this one - and the writer happens to be married to Giles Coren, so she wins all the prizes) beat me to it by posting a recipe for them yesterday, so I'll come back to them in a few days when the idea seems wildly original again.

Anyway, moving on to a more important issue...
...I just don't know how I feel about Jamie Oliver.

This ambivalence may not seem like a big deal to you, and in the grand scheme of things I suppose it's not.  First I should probably address my inability to do anything till the last minute, or my fear of peaches, or the relationship my cat seems to be pursuing with my dressing gown, but this Jamie Oliver thing is taking up plenty of space in my brain. 

On the one hand there is good Jamie Oliver.  Good Jamie Oliver showed us that our children (by that I mean your children, I don't have any of the blighters) were eating pig swill for lunch and that nobody gave  a shit.  I have no doubt that there was a ginormous team behind him doing the graft, but nobody else was out there making a fuss about it. And one way or another it worked, a bit.  Good Jamie also gave jobs to struggling adolescents and at the same time made a decent restaurant out of it.  And he's got people back in the kitchen, given them unintimidating recipes to cook and showed that it needn't take forever to give your family something other than KFC.  AND it needn't be Mum doing all that.

Well done Jamie. He's a nice chap, isn't he?

But then there is bad Jamie Oliver. Jamie who made Toploader famous.  Jamie the brand. Or 'JME', to be more accurate, because those two extra vowels were apparently too much for the British public to comprehend.  You seemingly cannot buy anything these days without there being a Jamie Oliver version.  Want some oil? Here! This one's been pressed by the feet of Jamie's loving wife and children! Want to make a salad dressing with that oil? Here! Throw away that old jar and get a Flavour Shaker (yes it looks uncannily like a jar, but it's totally different)! Want to grow some salad to dress with that? Here! You can fertilise it with Jamie's own shit!


Nowhere does the Jamie Brand manifest itself more obnoxiously than at Jamie's Italian. One of which sprung up in Norwich about six months ago, and it has been solidly booked ever since by people who are too scared to go anywhere that isn't scripted.  I have, for my hypocritical sins, ended up there twice since it's been open; once to take advantage of a voucher (which OF COURSE turned out not to be valid at that particular time) and once through pure lack of anywhere else to eat in Norwich on a Sunday. And I will undoubtedly end up there again, but that does not mean I won't whinge about it.

Now I should be clear that I am not adverse to a chain restaurant. I will generally avoid them if there's an alternative, BUT, if a restaurant does something good then there's no reason it shouldn't be successful. That's how it's meant to work.  I can, however, think of about three chain restaurants who actually deserve their success and unfortunately Jamie's Italian isn't one of them, as far as I'm concerned. Below are my most pressing annoyances, because we all like a breakdown.

1. The menu is worded for gullible idiots. You know, all that over detailed crap which makes dishes sound so quaint and wholesome, like Jamie gave birth to it that very morning, when in fact it is just a friggin carbonara.  The one which ground my gears more than anything on my trip was the inclusion of 'Melkam farm (might not have been Melkham, they've taken it down now, but it was something like that) asparagus' on the autumn menu - trying to make it sound locally grown.  Well, Melkham farm would have to be in Kenya to be growing asparagus at this time of year. Also, making a point of using a free-range egg in a dish of turkey which has no mention of being free-range....good one.

2. This is a list of the words that staff apparently have to use to describe the dishes.  I don't think it needs further comment.

3. 'Posh Chips'?, 'Funky chips'? Fuck off.

3. The platters. The fucking platters.  Served precariously balanced between two tins of imported, retro tomatoes. There is absolutely no practical or logical reason for this, unless one of the staff has a condition whereby they will spontaneously combust if they are not within three feet of something pretentious.  FYI, Jamie, everyone hates your platters.

4. On greeting you, the staff will ask, "have you been to a Jamie's before?", to which the correct response is, "No, thankfully, but I have been to a restaurant before and this looks a bit like one of those, so I think I'll catch on pretty quick".

5. The interior. I dream one day to be able to afford a feature wall of William Morris.  Jamie has decided to rub my dreams right in my face by covering every feasible surface in Morris.  That is apart from the stairwell which, Jamie - being the hip young dude that he is - has commission some youngster to spunk graffiti all over, depicting the things we apparently love about Norwich; namely mustard and Alan Partridge.  William is not best pleased, Jamie, he'll see you on the other side.

6. Expensive, too much stuff on the menu, grumble grumble, ETC. 

I DID really like their toilets though.  And very friendly staff.  Credit where it's due and all that.

With all that in mind, it pains me to admit that the food isn't that bad.  Not in a mind blowing way, but in a, 'That's a good idea, why didn't I think to make that at home?' kind of way. Which is where this dish came from.  I had something similar last time I was there and I liked it.  I liked it so much that I wanted to eat more than 4 mouthfuls of it for £8, so I set to work.  And this is pretty close. I won't tell you how many places I had to go to to find squid ink spaghetti, but if you are a Norwich resident then I will save you the trouble and tell you the result: Clarke and Ravenscroft, on St Gregory's Alley - they also do a cracking sarnie.

Seafood spaghetti (for 2)
200g squid ink spaghetti (or any pasta will do, if you're less of a ponce, but it DOES look pretty)
Couple of handfuls of seafood - at Jamie's they used scallops, I used half a bag of Waitrose frozen seafood(defrosted), because I'm keeping it real. Just prawns or just mussels would work equally well.
200g cherry tomatoes (or half a tin)
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 glass white wine
250ml fish stock (if you were Jamie you would have this from boiling the shells of langoustine and heads of sea bass, but I used a knorr stock cube, FYI)
4 anchovies
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 red chilli, chopped
1 tbsp capers, roughly chopped
Handful parsley, roughly chopped
Few good slugs of oil

In a pan, fry your garlic, anchovies and chilli, until the anchovies have broken down.  Then throw in the tomatoes, until they are starting to wilt. Then the tomato puree, then the wine and stock. And bubble, for about 20 minutes or so, until it has reduced to about half. If it reduces too much and becomes thick or is starting to stick then add more stock - you want quite a thin sauce. The skins of the tomatoes might float to the top, so fish them out if you're bothered, but it's going to get pureed anyway. 

Have a taste, make sure the seasoning and spice is good and adjust if necessary.  It will be quite rich, as you're reducing it to a small amount, so bear that in mind.  If happy, blitz with the blender, add a good slug of oil.  What you want is quite a thin, light sauce, which will coat the spaghetti rather than cover it like a normal tomato sauce.  Again, if too thick add some more stock.  Keep to the side on a low low heat.

Meanwhile cook your pasta and your seafood.  Assuming your seafood isn't frozen it'll only need a few minutes in a hot frying pan with a bit of oil.

Once all done give the spaghetti another good slug of oil, then plate up, topped with a spoonful of sauce, your seafood and a scattering of capers and parsley. 

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