When I began this project, I had no idea what its implications might be. I knew, obviously, that it would mean cooking a lot of dishes that I'd never tried before and a few that might not immediately tantalize me, whereas my natural tendency is to ignore recipes that don't have instant page appeal. I've already commented on how liberating it is to discover that you shouldn't judge a recipe on a first glance. On the one hand, cooking through one book is limiting (there are all those other books out there, calling me..); on the other, it opens up avenues that other books would not, because I simply wouldn't take them if I hadn't resolved to do so in advance. I insisted I wouldn't count, but I have now made over a hundred recipes from Cook with Jamie and that feels like an achievement. The corollary of that success is, of course, that I am reaching the end of certain sections of the book, which means that it is going to be increasingly difficult to 'cook with Jamie' every day. Watch this space for Life After Jamie (so to speak). For now, I have finished the dried pasta section; it is unsurprising that this is the first section of the book to be completed because dried pasta really is the ultimate everyday food, ideal for the home cook with a job to do as well as dinner to make.
I say that pasta is everyday food, but crab linguine doesn't feel like the culinary equivalent of a pair of worn slippers; it sounds simple but elegant (maybe the food version of a beaded flipflop: comfy but stylish). The book says that it is a classic on the menu at Fifteen (where I still haven't been, by the way, but I will definitely go). It also recommends buying freshly picked crabmeat, which I've managed to do lately by stopping off at the fishmonger on Thursday evenings (late night opening). To make the dish, I smashed up fennel seeds and mixed with chopped red chilli, lemon zest and juice, shaved fennel, extra virgin olive oil, white and brown crabmeat (more white than brown) and seasoning. This mixture warmed through in a bowl sitting on top of the pasta pan as the water came to the boil, while I shaved some asparagus spears lengthways. When the pasta water was ready, I moved the crab mixture and cooked the linguine before draining it and tossing it with the crab mixture, adding a little reserved pasta cooking water to lighten the sauce. To serve I divided it between pasta bowls and added fennel tops and the asparagus spears dressed with a little oil and lemon.
This dish is surprisingly delicate - it would work really well as a spring/summer dish, but it is probably good all year round. It is more sophisticated than most pasta suppers, but it certainly isn't difficult and is definitely repeatable. The flavour of the crab comes through very clearly, so people who are ambivalent about shell-fish should definitely beware. The sauce is light and unobtrusive; it coats, rather than clags, the linguine, in a seductive sort of way.
Having finished the dried pasta section, I should really name my favourites. I wouldn't rank them; food is a matter not just of personal taste, but also of the frame of mind you were in when you ate it. I can honestly say that I enjoyed all of the dried pasta dishes, but the recipes that stood out most were the spaghetti with mussels in white wine and basil oil, the fabulous honeycomb cannelloni and finally the truly fantastic fish lasagne, which is genuinely different and absolutely divine. Anyone who hasn't tried it, it is honestly a dinner to rave about - perfect dinner-party fare but also comforting and tasty even without any guests.