Cookbook road test: The Tucci Table
The theme… Some cookbooks are visually inspiring but don’t deliver on the recipe front and are cool in tone; others are like a glimpse into someone’s life – warm and inviting, with recipes that make you want to join the family party. The new book by American actor Stanley Tucci (of Devil Wears Prada, Hunger Games and, more recently, TV series Fortitude fame) and his wife Felicity Blunt falls into the latter category. It makes you want to draw up a chair at their kitchen table, be part of their family, dive in and eat the food.
The tale of how the two met is moving as well as funny. I won’t spoil the story – you need to read it. As well as recipes the two of them cook together with the family, the book includes favourite dishes from Stanley’s late wife Kate, who he describes as ‘a wonderful and generous cook’. That was some task, though, because the recipes were never written down, so he and children Isabel, Nicolo and Camilla have spent many hours trying to re-create them.
You’re getting the idea… This is a book with heart and soul – and I like it very much. As Stanley says: “The dinner table is the anvil upon which we forge our relationships – be they ties of family, of friendship, of new love or of old.”
What about the recipes? There’s a broad mix, from sausage rolls to ravioli to casseroles to blueberry pie – a melding of culinary cultures, from Italian to American (that’s the Stanley influence) to British (via Felicity). My only criticism is that the recipes are all in imperial measures, which I know is still the norm in the US but in Britain is unusual so I’m surprised the conversions weren’t included in the book.
The recipe test… I tried out the roasted pork belly (you need one from a good butcher), using a piece that was just over a kilo in weight. The only thing I changed was scooping off some of the fat from the tin before making the gravy, as I’m not keen on overly fatty gravy – and there’s already so much richness in the meat. It’s a good recipe, though (you can’t beat the combination of fennel, garlic and pork). You’ll need a set of cup measures…
Roasted pork belly
“Our friend, chef Adam Perry-Lang, once arranged for what seemed to be about 20lbs of pork belly to be delivered to our house. Needless to say, we became obsessed with perfecting the ultimate crackling. After a few trials, we found the method below to be consistently successful. However, all of your methods will be for nought unless you have a nice, thick layer of fat on your meat,” says Stanley. “By cooking the pork over the roasting vegetables, you end up with a delicious, thick gravy that combines the sweetness of the vegetables with the salty, pork meat juices without you having to do too much.”
- One 2½ to 3lb pork belly, skin scored crosswise
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 1½ tbsp fennel seeds
- 2 good pinches of sea salt
- 1½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 onions, sliced
- 3 carrots, halved lengthwise
- 2 celery stalks, cut into thirds
- 1 whole head garlic, unpeeled, sliced in half
- 1¾ cups white wine
- 1¾ chicken stock
- 1 tbsp plain flour
- Ideally, take your meat out of the fridge for a couple of hours before you want to cook it to bring it to room temperature. This also allows the fat to dry out, making for better crackling.
- Preheat the oven to 475°F (about 230°C fan oven).
- Place the thyme leaves, fennel seeds, and salt in a mortar and pound them with a pestle. When they are ground, pour in the olive oil and mix until they form a thin paste. Rub the paste into the pork belly skin, working it into the scored skin. The oil will help the herbs stick to the pork. Make sure to rub the paste into the bottom of the belly, too, so it imparts as much flavour as possible to your meat.
- Place the pork belly on a roasting rack set in a deep baking pan. Roast the pork for about 30 minutes, until the skin has started to puff and turn golden. Remove and distribute the vegetables and garlic underneath the rack. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F [about 160°C – or 140° fan oven] and bake for one hour more.
- Pour half the wine and half the stock into the pan and continue to bake for 45 minutes more. Check that your meat is utterly soft, then remove from the oven; otherwise, continue cooking until the meat starts to fall apart. Note that every piece of meat you cook will be a little different – some will have more fat, some a little less. When the meat is done, let it rest for 15 minutes or so while you make the gravy.
- Remove the rack from the roasting pan and set the pan on the stove top over a low heat. Whisk in the flour until the mixture starts to thicken. Add the remaining stock and wine and bring to a simmer while mashing the vegetables into the liquid. Pour the mixture through a sieve into a bowl, pushing on the solids with the back of a spoon. Discard any solids left in the sieve and transfer the gravy into a warmed boat.
- Coarsely chop the pork into pieces of meat and crackling and serve on a board with the gravy on the side.
- Serve with mashed potatoes or basic risotto and roasted vegetables. Alternatively, serve with English roast potatoes and apple sauce.
The Tucci Table, by Stanley Tucci and Felicity Blunt (Orion, £25), is out now