Gordon Ramsay: Cooking for Friends
By Gordon Ramsay
Published by HarperCollins, 2008 hardcover $34.95; 274 pages

The growly and often foul-mouthed stickler for restaurant perfection shows a much softer side in this appealing book.

Chef, restaurant owner and Food Network celebrity, Gordon Ramsay is a hard-working and highly opinionated culinary superstar who recharges himself with relaxed family dinners as often as his hectic schedule permits.

In the book’s introduction, Ramsay admits: “I can’t sit at home with my feet up, reading the newspaper.”
But, he adds, “I am beginning to learn about being calm.”

Still, the critic in him never sleeps. After describing how his wife and four children are all eager participants in the family’s meal time, he notes that the emphasis in his home’s kitchen is always on the freshest and best ingredients available. That means regular trips to the farmer’s market for fresh produce, fresh meats and time in the kitchen for home-made sauces and stocks.

Having said that, he works himself into a fine lather against British cookery icon Delia Smith. Ramsay says he gave away all the Smith cookbooks in his collection when he discovered a recipe in one of them that called for canned mince. “Where’s the feel-good factor in that sort of compromise? It just gives the wrong message.” Well, Ramsay may burst an artery when he sees that Smith’s latest book is all recipes based on packaged ingredients, not a “how to cook” book, but a “how to cook when you’re busy” book, “cheats” she calls them on her website.

This little anti-Delia tantrum is vintage Ramsay and shows how seriously he wants to be taken about standards. It  also serves as a little warning about the recipes that follow. Ramsay takes off his chef’s gear in this book and focuses on many classic English dishes, often with a contemporary twist. None are very complicated and most are solid, hearty dishes, soups, stews, pastas, pies and roasts that promise savoury eating. There’s Alnwick Soup made with smoked ham hocks, onions, carrots, celery and potatoes, humble ingredients that are difficult to screw up but deliver fantastic flavour during cooking. Or a Broccoli, Stilton and Pear Soup that’s easy, easy, easy yet elegant enough for company. Or Walnut, Celery, Chicory and Apple Salad with a dressing of mayonnaise and yogurt, a simple take on the classic Waldorf.

But other recipes demand such things as conger eels, marrow, crayfish, quail’s eggs, pork intestines, duck eggs, black pudding and Branston pickle (mmmm, imagine that; an English jarred pickled relish by Crosse and Blackwell, according to Wikipedia . . . no home-made, Gordon? ), ingredients that might not be so widely available here.

In keeping with Ramsay’s theme of cooking fresh and in season, here’s his recipe for apple salad. No chicory? Use any salad green with an assertive flavour, such as radicchio or belgian endive. Turn it into a main course by adding chunks of left-over roast chicken or turkey, he suggests.

Walnut, Celery and Chicory and Apple Salad

2 heads chicory
4 celery stalks
2 medium apples
Squeeze of lemon juice
Handful of toasted walnut halves, chopped

Dressing:
3 tbsps. mayonnaise
2 tbsps. natural or Greek yogurt
½ tsp. celery salt
1 tbsp. lemon juice

First, prepare dressing by combining all ingredients in a bowl and seasoning with black pepper to taste.
Trim off bases of chicory and separate leaves. Scatter a few leaves over each serving plate. Trim and roughly chop celery and include any leaves, then place in a bowl. Core and thinly slice the apples, add to the celery and toss with a little lemon juice to prevent discolouring. Add half the walnuts and toss well. Divide among the serving plates and scatter the remaining walnuts over the top. Either drizzle the dressing over the salad or serve in individual dipping bowls on the side. Serves 4.

– From Gordon Ramsay: Cooking for Friends