Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The lovely and talented Tana Ramsay

I'm lucky in that my job as a news and features writer allows me to meet and interview interesting people from time to time. And because I have a penchant for all things culinary, I've chatted with a number of chefs and cooks over the past couple of years. Last November I had the good fortune to meet Tana Ramsay, the wife of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay (he of Hell's Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, etc). Tana was in town promoting her latest cookbook - Home Made - and I have to say I dig her style.

Browsing through Home Made I found the kind of nourishing, comforting meals that I would make. Not terribly fussy, no ingredients you'd have to make an extra trip to a specialty food store to purchase. But at the same time her dishes aren't boring or commonplace.

A few days before my interview with her I decided to try out her recipe for sweet potato and carrot soup with chili oil (recipe below). One of the steps involved throwing a rind of Parm-Reg into the soup while it simmered, and then scraping off the melted bits in at the end and discarding what remained. Can I tell you what a difference that made?! I've made sweet potato soup plenty of times in the past and this one tasted so much richer. The chili oil sprinkled on at the end added a nice bit of heat as well.

When I told Tana during our interview that the Parm-Reg rind addition was a revelation for me, she explained that the rinds can always be wrapped up and frozen for later use. So if you've come to the end of your Parm-Reg, or your Grana Padano or Asiago for that matter, don't throw it away. Freeze the rind for the next time you're making a lovely soup - perhaps one of Ms. Ramsay's!

Check out my full interview with Tana Ramsay here.

Sweet potato and carrot soup with chili oil

2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
6 tbsp chili oil
2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, peeled and roughly sliced
1 garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped
750g or 1lb 11 oz sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
400 g or 14 oz carrots, peeled and sliced
2 knobs of butter
2 Parmesan crusts
1 sprig of rosemary
750 mL chicken stock (or you can use vegetable stock)
salt and black pepper
1 small tub of creme fraiche to serve

Place thyme leaves in a mortar and pestle and grind them. Add chili oil and leave to infuse while you make the soup.

Heat olive oil in a large pan on low-medium heat and fry the onions and garlic for 8-10 minutes, until softened. Add the sweet potatoes, carrots, butter, Parmesan crusts and rosemary (still in a whole sprig), season well with salt and pepper and let them sweat down until they start to soften. This tends to happen quicker if you cover the pan - use tin foil tightly sealed around the top of the pan if you don't have a lid.

Once the vegetables have started to soften, add the stock and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and simmer for 20-25 minutes until the vegetables are really tender.

Once you have reached this stage remove the Parmesan crusts and the rosemary sprig with a slotted spoon and scrape off any melted softened bits of Parmesan into the vegetables. Tip the soup into a blender and whiz until completely smooth (you can use your immersion blender for this as well). Check the seasoning.

Transfer to serving bowl(s) and serve with a spoon of creme fraiche in the centre, then drizzle with the thyme-infused chili oil.

Serves: 6
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour

Source: Home Made, Tana Ramsay, HarperCollins Publishers, 2008

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