It was my wife who suggested that I entered MasterChef. After 39 years of working in advertising, I was getting tired of it – and I rather fancy that advertising was getting tired of me. “You should cook”, she said. “Everyone loves your food. You need to get on one of those TV programmes.”
I was born in north London immediately after the Second World War. Half of the street was a bomb site, so I wasn’t allowed out to play. Instead I'd be in the kitchen with my mother, standing on a chair to stir puddings, roll pastry and even cut vegetables. This love of cooking was reinforced at the age of 12 when we went on a family holiday to the south of France. I'd never seen such exotic food. I applied to study catering at school but the headmaster convinced me to focus on art and design.
Winning MasterChef isn’t a passport to instant success. It opened a few doors – I worked for Michel Roux, Raymond Blanc, John Williams at the Ritz – but realised I had to come back to earth. I took a job as a chef, wrote a book and magazine articles, did some radio and TV, then started teaching and doing private parties. And from August I'm going to be helping friends who run a Greek restaurant in Heathfield.
I’m very keen for people to learn how easy it is to create simple, nutritious, inexpensive food for themselves. That’s what I’ll be demonstrating at Firle Vintage Fair on 9th, 10th and 11th August, including this recipe.
Serves 4 people
For the pasta
200g ‘tipo 00’ pasta flour
2 whole eggs, beaten
Large saucepan of boiling water
Generous amount of salt
For the sauce
2 large handfuls of baby plum tomatoes, halved
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed with sea salt
2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzle
2-3 handfuls of fresh spinach
Salt & freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for finishing
Bowl of grated parmesan (more or less to taste)
Bowl of chopped parsley
Half a glass of dry white wine
Method for the pasta
Place the flour into a food processor and, with the motor running, add the beaten egg in a stream until the dough begins to come together. (Italian nonnas – grandmas – do this all by hand.) Remove, knead to a smooth ball and wrap in film. Refrigerate for 15 minutes, then use a pasta machine to roll out the dough and cut it into wide tagliatelle strips. Dust with flour and set aside.
For the dish
Heat the oil in a large pan and add the tomatoes, followed by the crushed garlic. Add salt, pepper and the wine. Simmer gently while you cook the pasta in well-salted water for just 2 minutes. Lift the pasta from the water and add it to the sauce, along with a couple of spoons of the cooking water, then toss well together. Gently stir in the spinach. Serve in warmed bowls with a generous amount of grated parmesan, chopped parsley and a final flourish of extra virgin olive oil. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.
As told to Mark Bridge
First published in Viva Lewes magazine issue 155 August 2019