Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Next Chef: Mark Peel

I admit it. I am a bit of a restaurant fussbudget. Although I do love to try new places, with few exceptions (judging on a curve as I do), I generally think the food could be tastier, the service more thoughtful, the offerings better selected. And yet -- even after all these years, Campanile is a place that rarely (if ever) disappoints. Their regular menu is tastefully simple, rustic yet refined, and grilled cheese night is well, nothing short of genius and routinely the best dinner out in LA. Even the big man -- who usually greets the idea of eating out with " Why would we go out when the food is better at home" (and then goes anyway) -- is easy to move to Thursday evenings at Campanile. One Christmas a few years back I made a perhaps seasonally inappropriate but totally delicious home version of Campanile's Croque Monsieur with Mornay sauce to rave reviews.
Without my prompting, James presented me with Mark Peel's New Classic Family Dinners on Christmas day. Within a couple hours I was baking the chef's puffy version of Yorkshire pudding and had scoped out my next test recipe -- Spaghetti with Mussels and Peas. Fresh blue-podded peas long ago replaced the summer corn in our little front yard and they (and I) have been waiting for a dinnertime showcase. Peel's simple recipe cooked olive oil, shallots and garlic until soft, added white wine and chicken broth brought to a boil and steamed the mussels for 3-4 minutes. The mollusks are taken from their shells, returned to the cooking broth (along with the strained liquid from the mussels) with chopped marjoram (an herb I rarely use) and butter and kept warm while the pasta cooks. The drained pasta and mussel mixture along with a dollop of olive oil and chopped fresh parsley are added back into the spaghetti cooking pot and given a few turns to mix the flavors before serving garnished with a few mussels in the shells.
In deference to the chef and his new book, I followed a few steps I generally ignore. Aside from shelling the cooked mussels, I purged them before cooking and rinsed lightly after. And, I begrudgingly strained the mussel cooking liquid. Peel, it seems, is religiously anti-sand and his exacting methods resulted in a mild, likable dish that seemed at once familiar and we grew to like better with each bite -- much like Campanile itself.

No comments:

Post a Comment