Keep it simple: your job is to entertain guests
‘The perfect New Year meal should appear effortless,’ says Giorgio Locatelli
Giorgio Locatelli looks exhausted. A few weeks ago he broke his shoulder in a motorbike accident, but since then he has been working double shifts at his London restaurant, Locanda Locatelli, only managing a few hours’ sleep between the end of one service and the start of the next.
The whole year has been a busy one, not least thanks to the publication of his magisterial cookbook, Made in Italy, which came out last Christmas. With his television career, he could give up the restaurant, but he wouldn’t dream of it. ‘‘On TV I’m always being told what to do, but in the restaurant I’m king,” he says, sweeping his arm expansively towards the elegant leather seats and huge mirrors of the front of house.
This New Year’s Eve, Locatelli’s friends and family will have a big table together at his restaurant. But he’ll be hard at it in the kitchen, cooking the deceptively simple risottos, pastas and classic meat dishes for which he’s famous. Holidays for busy chefs are rarely taken at conventional times and, although most top London restaurants are closed at New Year, Locanda Locatelli has been fully booked for months. “I can’t remember the last time I didn’t work at New Year,” admits the workaholic chef.
His obsession with cooking began early. As a boy of six, he helped out in the kitchen of his grandparents’ hotel by Lake Comabbio in northern Italy. New Year was a highlight, with dinner, dancing and cabaret.
One lesson he learnt young was to plan things so that a host could entertain his guests, rather than be invisible: “No one will be impressed if you are stuck in the kitchen with smoke coming out of your ears.” It’s always best to keep things simple: “Food should be based on good ingredients not artistry, so don’t overstretch yourself. If you plan to produce four dishes, just make two. And choose a ready-made dessert.’’
As I leave, he gives me a box of amaretti morbidi, soft yet crisp biscuits made with apricot kernels. These, he says, would make a perfect end to a New Year dinner, as would biscotti for dipping into dessert wine. “Or just buy nuts in the shell and tip them out all over the table,’’ he advises. ‘‘People like to nibble and spin out the time at the table.”
The perfect New Year’s Eve meal should appear effortless, Locatelli insists. “People have come to see you. Don’t make a big ceremony. That’s for restaurants. At home, it shouldn’t seem like anyone’s been working.”
Locanda Locatelli is at 8 Seymour Street, London W1 (020 7935 9088). Made in Italy by Giorgio Locatelli is published by Fourth Estate (£30).
LOBSTER SALAD WITH APPLE
Serves 4 Lobster is the perfect treat for New Year. There are ready-cooked lobsters in supermarkets and fishmongers, but the flavour will be far better if you cook your own. Giorgio Locatelli’s instructions are on the Telegraph website (www. telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink), along with his recipe for home-made mayonnaise. 1 lobster, weighing about 2lb/1kg 2 apples, cored, quartered and sliced into wafers Two handfuls of mixed-leaf salad 4 tbsp home-made mayonnaise 4 tbsp vinaigrette (see below)
Peel the lobster claws by cracking the shell with the back of a knife and separate the meat from the shell. For the tail, use scissors to split the shell and pull the meat out. Slice all the meat.
Dot four plates with the mayonnaise. Turn the lobster meat, apple slices and salad leaves in vinaigrette and arrange them alongside. For the vinaigrette: 1 tsp salt 1 tsp red wine vinegar 4floz/110ml of extra virgin olive oil 2 tsp water
Place the salt in a bowl, then add the vinegar and leave it to dissolve for a minute.
Whisk in the olive oil and water until the vinaigrette emulsifies and thickens.
Keep any leftover in a jar in the fridge to use for salad.
TAGLIATELLE WITH MUSHROOMS
Serves 4-6 as a starter, 4 as a light lunch In Locanda Locatelli, this dish is made with chestnut pasta, a northern Italian speciality. You can find a recipe on the Telegraph website, or use topquality dried (not fresh) egg tagliatelle. Cipriani is a good brand.
For the photograph, Locatelli used enchantingly pretty shimeji mushrooms (available from Waitrose), but any mixture of mushrooms works well. 11oz/300g mixed mushrooms, cleaned 4oz/110g butter, diced 2 garlic cloves, chopped 3floz/85ml white wine 9oz/250g dried egg tagliatelle Handful of flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped Small bunch of chives, chopped 1oz/30g freshly grated Parmesan (optional)
Trim the mushroom stalks and tear the mushrooms lengthways into halves, quarters or eighths, leaving the stalks attached, so that the pieces are all roughly the same size.
Heat half the butter in a large sauté pan, add the garlic and cook for a minute without allowing it to colour.
Add the mushrooms and cook for two more minutes, then pour in the wine and let the alcohol evaporate until the juices are slightly syrupy. Season and remove from the heat.
Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling salted water until just al dente. Drain well, reserving a little of the cooking water.
Add the pasta to the pan containing the mushrooms and toss together, stirring in the rest of the butter.
Then, add the chopped parsley and chives and a little of the cooking water from the pasta to loosen the mix if necessary.
Serve with Parmesan cheese if you (or your guests) like.
BEEF FILLET WITH LEMON SPINACH AND MARSALA SAUCE
Serves 4 Deceptively simple steak with Italian flair. 4 beef fillets, each about 7oz/200g 2 tbsp vegetable oil 1 tbsp flour 3 tbsp butter 1 tsp sugar 3 tbsp Marsala wine 7floz/200ml fresh beef stock For the garnish: White wine vinegar 3 carrots 2 small red onions 8 garlic cloves 4 bay leaves 4 sprigs of rosemary 4 peppercorns 4 juniper berries
Lemon spinach (see below)
Slice the carrots and onions into ¼in/½cm wide rings.
Put the garlic in a pan of water and simmer for about 15 minutes, until tender.
In another small pan, simmer the carrots until done.
Once cooked, take them out with a slotted spoon and add a generous splash of white wine vinegar to the pan, together with the bay leaves, rosemary, peppercorns and juniper berries.
Bring to the boil, add the onions and simmer for about 4 minutes, until tender. Drain and remove the herbs and spices.
Heat a large sauté pan and add the oil.
Season the fillets with salt and pepper and dust with flour. Put into the pan and cook on each side until browned but still rare in the middle. Remove the meat and keep warm.
Add the butter and sugar to the pan. When the sugar has turned caramel-brown, add the Marsala and flambée.
Pour in the stock and bubble, stirring well, until reduced to a syrupy consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Return the meat to the pan with the vegetables.
Spoon some lemon spinach into the middle of the warmed plates and arrange the vegetables around.
Lift out the fillet from the pan, slice thickly and lay it on top of the spinach. Spoon the sauce over the top.
Serves 4 4 large handfuls spinach, washed 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil Half a lemon
Blanch the spinach in boiling salted water for 5 seconds, drain and refresh it under cold running water.
Drain the spinach again and squeeze out the excess water (this can be done a couple of hours ahead).
Put the spinach into a pan with the olive oil. Heat through. Season and squeeze the lemon over the spinach. Taste and then add more lemon juice if you think it’s necessary.
Salute: Giorgio Locatelli with
(above) lobster salad, tagliatelle and beef with marsala and spinach