After my efforts experimenting with Grana Padano and blogging two recipes as well, I was chuffed to hear Francesco Mazzei had picked me, as well as four other bloggers, to go through to the next round for the #GPTopChef competition. Not really knowing what I was letting myelft into, I accepted the invitation to join the ‘challenge’ set for Saturday 17 October in a cookery school in South West London.
The day before, after lunch, we all received an email detailing the next day’s challenge: to cook two dishes, one savoury and one sweet, in two hours, with Francesco present, both using Grana Padano as well as a set of ingredients we would find available to cook with. Like everyone else, I was at work and had barely time to think, let alone practice! The following day I made my way to the school, embarrased to find myself the last one there (10 mins late thanks to Boris’ cycle super highway screw up works).
My fellow contestants had come from much farther! Nevermind, a good cup of coffee welcomed me, and it was nice to meet Francesco and Elisabetta (from the Grana Padano consortium). They both introduced the event, told us a few interesting facts about Grana itself (and how Francesco, brand ambassador, uses it) and set the challenge. Two hours! certainly not a lot of time. I was actually pretty nervous, as it’s not every day that you have a small amount of time to make two dishes for the first time, under the very watchful eyes of a chef of Francesco’s calibre. We set off the timers and for a while nobody spoke, I think we were all under pressure and a little tense! I only managed to relax with about half hour to go when pretty much I realised I could make it and finally had a sip for the Prosecco they kindly offered us. I was so concentrated of not making a fool of myself that I missed out on a beautiful artichoke salad chef made while waiting for our dishes to be finished. Crazy.
Time up, we all displayed our dishes, which were going to be scored on presentation, taste and creativity. Competition was fierce, and my companions made some great dishes! It had been interesting to see how we all made use of the ‘fixed’ ingerdients list we’d been given and the restricted extra budget we’d been allowed for some different ingredients, £5 which I spent on whipping cream, ricotta and icing sugar for my dessert. Amongst the set ingredients, celeriac, fennel, apples, hazelnuts, figs, self raising flour, eggs, polenta, free range chicken, lamb chops.
Francesco and Elisabetta tasted all the dishes and after indeed a lot of deliberation awarded the prize to Galina, a very worthy dinner – I had loved her dishes just as much! You can read all about them and find the recipes on her blog Chez Maximka. She will enjoy a one to one lesson with Chef Mazzei and a year worth of Grana! Amazing prize, well done Galina. I was very pleased with my own dishes, the dessert especially as it had been the most challenging (I have never used Grana in a dessert!). I was happy with my presentation skills, not used since my lesson with Master Koj years ago… he’d have been proud!
While my main of Lamb chops crusted in Grana, polenta, fresh rosemary and black pepper could have done with some wilted greens, the celeriac mash with it came out really smooth and sweet and went really well with the meat. The pudding was a gamble: Ricotta mousse with a hint of lemon in a basket of Grana and hazelnuts with caramelised figs in balsamic figs vinegar. I was so happy with this, it sounds odd but it’s well balanced between the sweetness of the ricotta and the salty crunch of the basket, with the addition of the caramelised fruit. Not hard to make as well but I really welcomed Francesco’s help showing me how to make the basket, something ‘really easy’ on books and internet but actually not that simple when it comes to try making it! My recipe is below.
We all went home with a Grana Padano goodie bag and lots of freshly cut cheese, which was fantastic! I gave some to friends as it’s just so good enjoyed fresh in ‘mollica’… I have been snacking on it for the last few days, confident it’s a boost of protein and nutrients as well as good fats. It was great to spend a few hours meeting not only Galina, but also Jo Simply Being Mum and Frank Frank About Food.
Thanks Grana Padano for inviting me to participate in such a challenging and fun event, and for Elisabetta, Francesco and everyone involved in organising this event, not least Nick Hallen who took these beautiful photos, reproduced with kind permission from Grana Padano.
Ricotta Mousse in a basket of Grana Padano
A tub of ricotta (300gr)
100 gr whipping cream
100gr icing sugar
A dash of freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 fresh figs, peeled and quartered
A tablespoon of caster sugar
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
A little balsamic vinegar
A handful of hazelnuts, chopped in small pieces
100gr of Grana Padano, grated
Heat a shallow frying pan of about 15-20cm diameter and place some of the grated Grana on it letting it melt first, then cook (it starts bubbling up). Once darker and harder (but not burnt) add some of the chopped nuts over the surface and removing from the heat, use a spatula to slowly lift the edges of the cheese disc, careful to keep it whole. Place on an upside down bowl (metal or ceramic) and ‘shape’ as a basket and let it cool. Repeat 4 times and set aside – they are fragile so take care!
In a bowl beat the ricotta with the sugar until smooth with no grains; whip the cream in a separate bowl and then carefully add little by little to the ricotta cream, adding a dash of lemon juice at the end. Set aside in the fridge. In a small pan add the figs, the sugar and let them caramelise adding a little lemon and a little vinegar as they dry to keep them moist and cooking. When ready to plate up, use a piping bag to pipe the ricotta mousse into the baskets garnishing with some of the chopped hazelnuts and a pink of cinnamon, and assemble the caramelised figs on the side of the plate, garnishing with a little balsamic vinegar (I used the fig based one which of course, fits perfectly but harder to find).
I was a guest of Grana Padano on this event and received no compensation; I was not requested to write this blog post, opinions are my own.