Heston Bluementhal’s Michelin Starred UK restaurant: ‘The Fat Duck‘ relies on the concept of imagination and experimentation. His famous ‘scrambled egg and bacon ice cream’ and ‘snail porridge’ have people waiting three months in order to pay a fortune for a taste of his quirky combinations. Though this might be extreme, across the globe there are many food pairings that baffle even the most cosmopolitan palate- peanut butter and jelly. Like so many of my fellow Brits I ask the question- why?
According to the National Peanut Board nine out of ten American households have a jar in their cupboard and the average American consumes six pounds a year. It goes without saying that PB&J sandwiches are the most popular method of consumption; but this sweet on sweet alliance has yet to cross the pond.
In the UK peanut butter holds a less than prominent position on the supermarket shelves and most people I know over there either don’t own a jar or have one stuck to a shelf way in the back that was probably bought for me when I last visited. What you will find very easily in an English supermarket is Marmite. For those who don’t know, Marmite is deliciously salty, resembles molasses in texture and is full of the vitamin B’s. In the UK, 370,000 tons of Marmite is consumed each year- and that’s a heck of a lot, considering you only need a tiny bit at a time. Having lived in both countries, I finally came round to the idea of Peanut butter- though I’m the only one in my family who eats it.
In my house, we ate Marmite. Marmite and butter on toast to be precise. As I grew up and became more daring in my culinary endeavours I began pairing it with honey, cheese- mainly cheddar and then apples (which my sister taught me) the started using it to add flavour to Bolognese sauce. I even learnt as an assistant Food Stylist how to use it to paint a roast chicken for an even colour. Finally, twenty-four years into my transatlantic life and I have discovered the perfect match for Marmite and it was there all along- natural crunchy peanut butter. Don’t buy the kinds with the sugar just buy all natural and spread them both together- on a bagel, or a rice cake, or just do as I do (much to my boyfriends disgust) and lick them off the spoon in harmonious unison.
I have found that on the whole Americans’ do not like the idea of marmite- which perhaps has something to do with the fact that its found in the baking aisle next to powdered yeast (if it’s sold there at all). “Yeast extract? ughhh!” my colleague gasped as I pronounced my loyalty. She pulled a face similar to that of a baby who isn’t sure about the taste of its carrot puree and is thinking about whether or not they ought to cry about it. And there I was thinking that my enthusiasm would be enough to tempt her. This attitude is such a far cry away from England.
There is a first class restaurant in London called “The Providores” that serves a fabulous brunch menu. When I was at cooking school the Head Chef, Peter Gordon, came to do a demonstration and he told my class that the best seller on his fusion brunch menu was ‘soft boiled eggs with Vegemite (Ozzy version of Marmite) soldiers!’ So, if us Brits are so keen on this salty taste- why aren’t Americans?
Lets face it, we ALL, yes that’s right every single one of us has a food habit- or two that makes the rest cringe. My sister eats cottage cheese with everything, my boyfriend mashes up every michelin starred meal I cook for him(!) with ketchup, my dad likes his crusty left-uncovered-in-the-fridge-cheese with marmalade on cold toast, my mum spreads her bagels with butter, cream cheese and jam (and no she’s not even slightly overweight) and my brother is one of the pickiest eaters alive- but I bet he eats something wacky.
The Fat Duck are currently recruiting staff for its ‘experimental kitchen’ and if people are queuing up for three months in order to try ‘salmon poached in liquorice’ then peanut butter and Marmite might not be so far off the next big thing- lets just hope it’s not turned into ice cream.
Ricotta and Basil Gnocchi
I think this is a pretty safe combination- but for those daring souls, try adding different herbs or even some anchovies to your sauce. I had this recipe published in Woman and Home magazine in March 2007.
500g/1 lb 2 oz ricotta cheese
1 egg yolk
200g/7 oz plain flour, plus extra
2 tbsp grated fresh parmesan
5 tbsp chopped fresh basil
drizzle of olive oil
200g/7 oz cherry tomatoes, halved
1 garlic clove, diced
50g/2oz black pitted olives (optional)
300ml/ 1/2 pint passata
3 tbsp sea salt
drizzle of oil and Parmsan shavings to serve
1/ Beat together the ricotta and egg yolk, then add three-quarters of the flour, the Parmesan and 4 tbsp of the basil and fold together to make a soft but not sticky dough. Add more flour as necessary and season well.
2/ Flour your hands and roll the gnocchi into logs 2.5cm wide and let chill on floured parchement for 30 mintues.
3/ Drizzle a little oil into a non-stick frying pan and toss in the tomatoes, garlic and olives(if using), mixing together for 5 minutes before addig the passata for 2 minutes, to heat through. Stir through the remaining basil and season to taste.
4/ Bring a large pan of water to the boil and add the sea salt. Cut the gnocchi into 1 inch logs and drop one at a time into the boiling water. Cook until the gnocchi float to the surface (about 2-3 minutes) then drain and serve immediately with the tomato sauce spooned on top and the parmesan.