Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Simon Hopkinson's baked pasta with porcini

Last Friday a new cookery series started on BBC1, without much fanfare and rather anonymously titled The Good Cook. On closer inspection, this was the TV debut of Simon Hopkinson. Although Hopkinson was a notable chef (at Hilaire in South Kensington, before working for Terence Conran at Bibendum), he is widely regarded as one of our greatest cookery writers with his books Roast Chicken and Other Stories and Second Helpings of Roast Chicken.

I was delighted to finally see Hopkinson on the box as, on a personal level, his understated manner has always appealed to me. It is filmed in his West London flat which I recognised from an interview by Lynn Barber that the Observer Food Monthly published a few years ago. Despite some slightly jarring slow-motion sequences, it is a delightful programme. It covers quite a lot of ground in 30 minutes, including five recipes and whistle-stop visits to Italy for porcini mushrooms and Collioure in France for anchovies; I'd have preferred 45 minutes or even an hour in his interesting and relaxing company. (As my husband had been putting our daughter to bed while I was watching it, I happily sat through it again with him as we'd recorded it.) He is open and personable, reminding me of another great natural cook, Nigel Slater. He could be his slightly more reserved uncle or older brother.

On Saturday evening I cooked one of the recipes from the programme, following the recipe on the BBC website for baked pappardelle with pancetta and porcini. I used penne instead of pappardelle and doubled the quantities as I (wrongly) thought there wouldn't be enough for us. It was a bit involved, using several pans and taking longer than we thought, but the results were delectable.

Baked pasta with porcini
(serves 3–4)
1 litre whole milk
40g dried porcini mushrooms
80g butter
50g plain flour
salt and freshly ground black pepper
200g pasta (ideally pappardelle, but penne worked well)
100g pancetta (we used a pack of cubetti, rather than sliced rashers)
10 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan

Pre-heat the oven to 190°C/Gas Mark 5.

Warm the milk in a large pan until it just starts to simmer. Add the dried porcini and remove from the heat. Allow infuse for 10 minutes while you wash the pan. Strain the milk through a sieve into a bowl, using the back of a ladle to extract all the liquid. Set the mushrooms aside.

Make the sauce by melting the butter in the large pan, then stir in the flour and continue stirring over a low heat for 3 minutes. Pour the porcini-infused milk onto roux in the pan and whisk vigorously until smooth. Continue cooking over a low heat for about 10 minutes until the sauce thickens and starts to bubble. (This was quite tiring.) Lightly season with salt and pepper and set aside (I kept stirring it to stop a skin forming or you could cover the surface with clingfilm).

Meanwhile, cook the pasta and lightly fry the pancetta in a small pan (Hopkinson uses thinner slices pancetta which probably wouldn't require this step). Drain the pasta and combine well with the sauce, pancetta and porcini.

Butter an oven-proof dish and pour in the pasta mix. Sprinkle grated Parmesan over the top – plenty as we did, or reserve some for serving – and bake for 30–40 minutes until golden-brown and bubbling around the edges. Serve piping hot. We had ours with rocket, a deliciously tangy contrast to the rich pasta.

Earlier in the week I'd been to a fascinating tasting of Mediterranean wines at Theatre of Wine. I was tempted to buy a couple of the wines and I thought one of them, Volubilia Gris 2010 (Domaine de la Zouina, £8.50), a delicately coloured Moroccan rosé would be interesting with the rich, creamy, earthy pasta. This rather chic wine has a fresh, poised structure, aromatic red fruit with hints of exotic spices which, to be honest, would go with any number of dishes. It would also make a mouthwatering apéritif.


  1. I don't think I've read a thing of Simon Hopkinson before - what a delious author!

  2. Thanks for coming by Carol! Simon Hopkinson is a particular favourite (and probably fast becoming a national treasure in the UK because of his TV series).