Whatever happened to Delia Smith? You know who I’m talking about, the bestselling English cookbook writer and renowned television personality. Before there was Nigella, there was Delia. Perhaps she is still big across the pond, but it’s been awhile since I’ve seen head or tail of her in this neck of the woods. I remember watching her on the Food Network years ago, instructing in her straightforward and somewhat starchy style. Compared to the razzle and dazzle of the new generation of television chefs, she seems like a throwback. There’s no coyness, no simpering, certainly no cursing and throwing pans across the kitchen. With Delia, it’s all about the food.
How to Cook Book One was my very first real cookbook. By real I mean the kind of cookbook that teaches technique, that is focused on real food made from fresh ingredients–the opposite of the land of dump-and-pour Rachel Ray style of cooking that I once inhabited. Using her recipes I made some of the best dishes of my life and realized that I wasn’t hopeless in the kitchen. With a truly good recipe, anyone can make something fantastic. The trick is separating the wheat from the chaff. Delia’s cooking is wheat.
When I turn on the Food Network these days I am almost always disappointed. The lineup is full of shows like Top Chef, Chopped, and The F Word–insipid reality shows where the food is distant to the antics of the participants. Shows like Delia’s actually taught people how to cook, but it seems that people who want to learn how to cook are no longer the network’s primary audience these days, which I think is a shame. Maybe one day we’ll get bored with the reality tv model and it will all come full circle. But in the meantime, I have Delia’s books.
Delia Smith’s Classic Fresh Tomato Sauce
Serves 2-3 (enough for 12 ounces/350 grams pasta)
2 lbs/8 oz/1.15 kg fresh ripe tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, peeled and crushed
approx. 12 large leaves fresh basil, torn into pieces
Parmigiano Reggiano, to serve
salt and freshly milled black pepper
1) To skin the tomatoes pour boiling water over them and leave them in the water for exactly one minute. Drain and gently peel off the skins. Reserve 3 of the tomatoes for later and roughly chop the rest.
2) Heat the oil in a medium saucepan, then add the onions and garlic and cook gently for 5 minutes, until they are a pale gold. Add the chopped tomatoes and about 1/3 of the basil. Season with some salt and pepper.
3) Simmer the tomatoes on very low heat for 1 1/2 hours, or until almost all of the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes are reduced to a thick, jam-like consistency, while stirring occasionally.
4) Roughly chop the reserved tomatoes and stir them in along with the rest of the basil leaves.
5) When serving the pasta, cook for one minute less than usual. Return it to the saucepan after draining and mix with the sauce, cooking for one minute. Serve with a sprinkling of the parmesan cheese.