Chefs aren’t renowned for their sense of humour. Gordon Ramsay is famed for his short temper rather than his quick wit. Blumenthal’s not known for his banter, Jamie isn’t known for his japes. And perhaps Delia’s funniest moment involved a glass or two too many during half-time at a Norwich match.
But throughout February, chefs have been demonstrating that they do in fact have a funny bone. This season of Great British Menu has a Comic Relief theme, challenging contestants to create witty and playful dishes – with the winner getting to cook for Red Nose Day’s 25th Anniversary Dinner.
As is often the way, a lot of the humour comes from the judges’ reactions to some of the wackier dishes. “I’m shocked” said a dead-pan Jason Atherton when presented with Charlie Larkin’s Michelin-take on a doner kebab main called ‘Night on the Tiles’. “I wouldn’t have the nerve, would you?” gasped fellow contestant Stephanie Moon, poking the doner meat and kidney shish kebab presented inside a styrofoam box. Comedy gold.
Lots of the dishes have raised a smile for the right reason, though. Tom Aiken’s ‘Rabbit in a Hat’ consisted of stuffed rabbit legs with carrot puree, and Aiden Byrne’s ‘Mad as a Box of Frogs’ was, quite literally, a box of frogs – genius!
This isn’t everyday cooking, of course, but a battle amongst some of the best professional chefs in Britain. Take Tom Aitken’s Chicken Egg/Egg Chicken starter: 123 separate ingredients and 30 steps for a single dish. Now that is a joke!
For those of you who have neither the time nor the inclination to embark upon a marathon dish, we’ve created a pared-down dish to enjoy with Comic Relief on Friday 15 March. So why not make a big batch of Red Nose Ravioli, invite round friends, ask them to pay what they think the dish is worth, and donate the proceeds to the Comic Relief cause.
You will need a pasta roller to follow this recipe, unless you’re incredibly handy with a rolling pin!
Recipe: Beetroot and Fennel Ravioli
400g ‘00’ flour
4 medium eggs, lightly beaten
175g beetroot (approx. 4), cooked and peeled
250g ricotta cheese
30g parmesan cheese, finely grated
1/4 tsp fennel seeds, finely ground or fennel pollen
Pinch of ground black pepper
1. Mix the eggs and 00 flour to make a firm dough. If the dough is too dry, add half a teaspoon at a time of olive oil. Knead for 5 minutes. Wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes, or overnight.
2. Finely grate the beetroot and squeeze dry. Stir in the ricotta, parmesan, pepper and fennel seeds or fennel pollen.
3. Cut the pasta into 4 pieces, remove one quarter and keep the rest wrapped in cling film. Squash the first quarter flat, and pass through the widest setting of your pasta maker several times, folding the sheets between each roll. This stage helps to knead and strengthen the dough.
4. Gradually decrease the width setting on the pasta maker – one pass at a time – until the pasta is as thin as it will go without tearing. You may need to cut the pasta sheet in two if it becomes too long to continue passing. Lay out on a lightly floured surface.
5. Place teaspoons of the beetroot filling on half the pasta sheets. Spray with a light mist of water, or dab over a little water, to help the pasta seal. Lay the plain pasta sheets over the top, and press to seal, taking care to push air bubbles to the edges. Cut out ravioli circles using a ravioli cutter or plain circular cutters. Repeat with remaining dough. The ravioli can be made in advance and stored in the fridge for a few hours before cooking, covered in cling film.
6. When ready to eat, boil in plenty of salted water for 5 minutes. Serve tossed in butter or olive oil.