In the latest "Cook the Books" bookclub, we've been reading Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential.
I'm actually faintly ashamed that I hadn't read it before. I have had many people tell me that I had to read it because I would love it, but somehow I never got around to it. And they were right - I did just love it.
I loved his no-holds-barred style, I loved the minutiae of life in a professional kitchen and I loved how clearly you could hear his voice. It reads very much like his narration on some of his TV shows. So I guess he didn't have a ghostwriter. Which makes for a pleasant change!
I am not one of those enthusiastic amateur cooks who imagines going pro one day. I don't want to run a pub, or a cafe, or win Masterchef (unless I get a newspaper column out of it). I like my sleep too much. But getting a comfy lounge chair view of the life was brilliant.
It was quite difficult to choose something to cook that represented the book for me. Would it be something piled into a ring? Would it be garnished with snipped parsley? Would it be the sort of beef daube Bourdain says he likes to eat on his days off? No. It had to be gnocchi.
I loved the story from early on in his career about the hotel chef being asked by some mobsters to make some old-fashioned gnocchi Genovese. I also found it funny (typical of the Gallocentric restaurant training I guess) how very scornful Bourdain is about Italian restaurants.
In the incident with the mob, Bourdain comments that the chef probably hasn't made gnocchi or meat sauce from scratch in years. Now, I couldn't find a really Genovese meat sauce recipe, so I went with the classic pesto. Which turned out to be a good thing, because I ended up serving this to vegetarian friends.
For my gnocchi recipe, I turned to Giorgio Locatelli. Locatelli specifically states in Made in Italy that not all professional kitchens are swashbuckling pirate ships like Bourdain describes, and his kitchen is definitely not, so I thought that tied in nicely too.
It took a couple of goes to figure out what the paste was supposed to feel like, in order to have them cook to light, fluffy clouds. But I got there! Fresh pesto, extra cheese on top, and a side dish of warm barbecued vegetable salad (baby leeks, aubergine, courgettes and peppers in a lemon and garlic vinaigrette). It wasn't pretty, it wasn't restauranty, it was vegetarian and it certainly wasn't French. But I don't think Bourdain would hate it.