Home chefs vary wildly in skill and experience – from people cowed by the prospect of poaching an egg, to those merrily spherifying using calcium alginate (modernist jargon for making natty gel balls from a liquid). Few cookbooks really try and bridge the gap – providing simple recipes that can be done by anyone, including children, to more complex dishes that will ‘wow’ your friends. Monica’s Kitchen is one of that rare group.
Monica Galleti is perhaps best known for her role in Masterchef, ruthlessly vetting candidates before they cook for her boss, Michel Roux Jr. She is an accomplished chef in her own right, a Senior Sous Chef at Le Gavroche, and her first cookbook draws on her experiences of her childhood in Samoa, as a working mother and of Michelin starred cooking.
Split into several sections based on a theme suchs as ‘A time for Friends’, the recipes are nicely set out and easy to follow. Measurements are sensibly metric and unfamiliar techniques are explained, some with accompanying photos. Ingredients are, on the whole, standard, but they do occasionally require a little tracking down (e.g. Pink Pralines and Pistachio Paste). I’ve tried out a number of the recipes and met with great success – easily my favourite is this:
Millefeuille of Chilli Chocolate with Raspberries and Pistachio Ice Cream
Ingredients – Makes Six
3 filo pastry sheets
70g butter, melted and heated until nutty brown (beurre noisette)
50g icing sugar
Chocolate Mousse Filling
240g good-quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids) in pieces – I used Valrhona Guanaja
50g caster sugar
2 medium egg yolks
350ml whipping cream
2 tsp chilli powder
100g caster sugar
200ml double cream
1 tbsp salted butter
230g raspberries, halved lengthways if large
15g pink pralines, lightly crushed (available online)
15g pistachio nuts (unsalted)
6 scoops of pistachio ice cream (recipe provided in the book)
Icing sugar for dusting
Pinch of chilli powder
For the mousse filling, melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, then take off the heat and let cool slightly. Dissolve the sugar in the water in a small pan over a medium heat, bring to the boil and let boil for 1 minute. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a large bowl and then gently pour in the boiled sugar syrup in a thin stream, whisking continuously as you do so. Continue whisking for 3-4 minutes or until thick and mousse-like. Carefully fold into the melted chocolate.
In another bowl, whisk the cream with the chilli powder to soft peaks and then gently fold through the chocolate mixture. Cover and place in the fridge for about 5 minutes to firm up.
Heat the oven to 180ºC/Gas Mark 4. Lay one sheet of filo on your work surface and brush with butter, then sift over a dusting of icing sugar. lay another filo sheet on top and pat down firmly with your hands, then brush with butter and dust with icing sugar as before. Repeat with the third layer of filo. Using a large sharp knife, cut the pastry neatly in half lengthways and then cut each piece across into about 12 strips. (You need 3 strips per portion, but you may need extra in case of breakages.)
Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Place the sandwiched filo strips on the tray, cover with another sheet of baking parchment and place another baking tray on top. Put a heavy weight, such as a casserole dish, on top to keep it flat. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown. Leave the filo to cool with the tray on top or the strips will curl up.
To make the caramel sauce, melt the sugar in a small saucepan over a medium heat and continue to heat until it starts to caramelise at the edges. Now stir with a spatula until all the sugar has caramelised. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream, taking care as it can bubble up rapidly. Stir in the butter and set aside to cool.
To assemble, put the mousse into a piping bag fitted with a large plain nozzle (or you can simply scoop it if you prefer). Put a small dot of the mousse on each large serving plate and lay a strip of filo pastry on top (the mousse will stop it slipping on the plate).
Pipe a thick line of mousse along one side of the pastry. Place a line of raspberries along the middle of the pastry, then pipe another line of mousse on the other side. Place another strip of filo on top and press down lightly, then repeat the mousse and raspberry layer. Position a third piece of filo on top of the mousse and berries, pressing it down lightly.
Drizzle the caramel sauce decoratively onto the plates and sprinkle with some of the crushed pralines and pistachios. Place a scoop of pistachio ice cream on top and sprinkle with pistachios. Dust the tops of the pastries with icing sugar and a little chilli powder and serve at once.
How does it taste?
Fantastic. I love the chilli/chocolate combo and the pistachios work really well. It looks beautiful on a plate and is relatively simple to assemble between courses as all the components can be prepped in advance, it’s great for a multi-course meal and scales easily.
Monica’s Kitchen is a great collection of recipes – i’ve spent several weekends working through it and barely scratched the surface. I love the blend of difficulty and influence – sophisticated cooking with an exotic flair. It would be a welcome addition to any kitchen and is particularly good if you enjoy dinner parties or entertaining.
Monica’s Kitchen, RRP £20, is published by Quadrille and available in all good bookshops.