Saturday, 30 January 2010

Dimbleby's dinners

My eyes snapped open at 0530am this morning but I managed, with heroic effort, to stay in bed until 0650am. It's now 9am and I've read all the papers, including all that stuff about John Terry - the least surprising sex scandal I've ever read about (and I've read a LOT, you know?? Titter) - including all the fun bits of The Guide, including all the recipe sections and Giles' excellent piece in The Times Mag about Americans who don't eat anything ( and dismissed the idea that the photo of him on the front of the Magazine made him look "old and baggy". I've also eaten a massive fry-up and had three cups of tea and one cup of coffee. God only knows how I'm going to fill the rest of the day, until it's time to have a fretful little nap at about 4pm, waking up at 7pm with no idea where I am, feeling queasy.

Just imagine how much earlier I would have woken up, how much worse the jet laggery would have been, how many more things I would have achieved in the cold, snowy dawn, had Henry Dimbleby, the chef and co-owner of healthy fast-food chain Leon and, most important, husband of my first boss, the journalist Jemima Lewis, not invited us to dinner last night.

We had lamb and posh macaroni cheese, red cabbage, roasted vegetables and then an apple tatin using, we were utterly scandalised but also thrilled to learn, Jus-Roll pastry. "Why do they leave off the 'T'?" wondered Henry. "To make it sound more friendly," I said.

Anyway, Henry had rested the joint of lamb for an hour - a WHOLE HOUR - which has got me resolved to do the same in the future. Just use hot plates, hot vegetables and hot gravy and then the less-than-boiling meat doesn't matter a whit. He also made the stunning posh macaroni cheese made especially for my sister, Hannah, who was also there and who had requested for dinner (because she is pregnant AGAIN) "a huge pile of carbs covered in cheese". It was, as carbohydrates always are, the star of the party.

I love macaroni cheese, but mine is very 70s - a floury, cheesy sauce. Nice and everything but Imake it with chedder and, goddamnit, it doesn't half leak grease and bleurgh like no-one's business and it can leave you feeling a bit... heavy.

Henry uses cream and morels as a sauce to bind the pasta and then bakes it in the oven covered in a lot of Gruyere. I didn't grab him by the ears and force him to tell me the exact recipe, because that's a bit like asking a doctor at a party about the funny stabbing pain you get behind your right knee from time to time. But at a guess, he does something like this:

Boil the pasta, saute the morels gently in some butter, with salt and pepper, for a few minutes, then pour in a lot of double cream and mix round for a bit until warmed through but not, I'd guess, bubbling. Then pour in the pasta and stir to combine. Turn out into a gratin dish and cover with about three times as much Gruyere cheese as you think you need and bake in the oven for, I'd guess, about 25 mins, probably 180 degrees.

It's just brilliant. I'm never going to make mac and cheese any other way again.

I thought Henry had a recipe blog but it turns out not! I shall just have to steal his recipes and post them here. But there is a new Leon cookbook coming out in September and it's going to change the way we all cook dinner - all the recipes have 8 ingredients or fewer and can be accomplished in 6 steps.


  1. YUM.

    I also add lardons of smoked bacon and leeks to mine - takes it to another level.

  2. woah! who needs the roast lamb, frankly? although it was very nice.... and from the Ginger Pig so had a good life.

  3. As this is the year of Mac & Cheese, I thought I'd share my favorite.

    Champagne & Truffle Mac & Cheese

    8-10 oz. pasta (baby shells)
    1/4 lb pancetta
    1/4 tsp grape seed oil
    1/4 Spanish onion diced
    .50 oz. wild mushrooms reconstituted
    3/4 lb smoked Gouda
    1/2 bottle brut champagne
    1/4 cup fat free chicken stock
    3/4 cup whole milk
    1 T white truffle oil

    1. Prepare pasta as directed, drain completely and set aside. 2. In a large saute pan, render down pancetta, remove and set aside (reserving 2 T for garnish). In same pan, add grapeseed oil and onions and sweat until translucent. Add mushrooms. As soon as mushrooms release liquid add pancetta back into the pan. Cook until crisp. (Do not over cook) Set aside. 3. In saucepan on low-medium heat, add champagne and cheese, whisking until smooth. Add milk and chicken stock. Continue whisking until creamy. Add pancetta mixture and truffle oil. Blend throughly. 4. Add well drained pasta to a large mixing bowl. Stir cheese sauce into bowl cover pasta. Garnish with crumbled pancetta and fresh parsley.

  4. I can confirm that Henry's recipe was inspired by The Draft House's Gratinated Macaroni & Wild Mushrooms. This is in fact, a classic French Gratin. The key to it is to use dried morels and mix their liquor in with the cream. I use Parmesan rather than Gruyere however. Glad you enjoyed (and apologies Henry if I have untied the sack with the squirming cat inside).