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Puttanesca – your simple games night recipe, with bonus XP
Hello, I’m Paul Flannery. I’m most well-known for bringing the cult TV show Knightmare to the stage back in 2013 and being an all-round nerdy comedian guy. What most people don’t know is I spent nine years working as a chef in kitchens up and down the country, preparing everything from pub classics to high end canapes.
While I would never refer to myself as a chef, I have collected a series of skills, secrets and techniques that I’d like to share with you to help elevate your home cooking, give you confidence when cooking to impress that special someone or just dish up something great for games night with your friends. Also, being an avid gamer, I thought it might be fun to include an XP meter, a levelling system and a skill tree so you can track your progress, more on this in later entries.
Aside from recipes, I’ll be providing you with equipment recommendations, practical advice on kitchen and ingredient management and revealing to you the essential short hand rules of law that that govern fine cuisine and will make everyone want you in their pub quiz team.
First up though, a simple recipe for games night;
The first thing to consider when cooking for anyone is how much you can get done before they arrive. Nothing will make you more calm/nervous than having everything ready to go vs fretting over the stove while your guests chat amongst themselves or, gods forbid, offer to help (they can help when it’s time to wash up!). Food can sense your fear, if it can embarrass you, it will. Dominate it, bend it your will and you shall hold in your grasp the power inspire a generation. Well, a room.
90% of all cooking is preparing and organising, if it can be done before time, it must be done before time. This dish can be made waaaay in advance, the day before if you like. Leave the sauce covered in the pot and all you have to do when folk get hungry is cook pasta while it heats up.
Ah pasta. The staple of students everywhere but dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that it’s also the mainstay of Italian cuisine too, who knew? Pasta might seem simple but, if over cooked, can easily turn to a ruinous slush. To give you an easy reference; when cooked properly, pasta should have the same texture and bite as cheddar.
Pasta is essentially a blank canvass for flavour and, if we were living in rural Italy and had access to their quality of fresh produce, you’d only need three ingredients. Sadly, I am cursed with living in North London, most of our tomatoes are a pale orange colour and were cultivated in the temperate climes of the Netherworld! *checks packaging* Sorry, the Netherlands.
Even the expensive “vine” tomatoes (all tomatoes are vine tomatoes) lack the easy sweetness of their Mediterranean cousins so, for the purposes of this recipe, we shall begin as we often shall, by taking the dark path and building from there.
CHOOSE YOUR PATH! DARK OR LIGHT?
Many of the recipes in this blog (and indeed, in life) can be started using the same simple method. A technique garnered from Auguste Escoffier, the father of 20th Century French gastronomy and LEVEL 20 Grand Mage. I start so many meals with this method; stews, soups, pasta sauces, chillies, risottos, even curries (shh). What this technique offers is a great base flavour for your dish, a deep pool of sweet and savoury to fill with whatever comes next. The key principle to decide before beginning this method; is your dish going to be dark or light in colour? This will indicate which colour of wine to choose. Everything else is the same, your inventory should look like this:
4x Garlic Cloves
Knob of butter (Not essential if vegan)
A good glug of Olive oil
1x large glass Wine
Chop the onion into squares the size of your thumbnail (Or Parmentier) +1 XP
Dice up the garlic as small as you dare +1 XP
Heat the oil and butter in a pan on medium heat (Do not allow the butter to brown!! Roll D10 for damage to your reputation and dinner if this happens).
Once the butter melts and begins to make a noise, add the onion and garlic. Push these around so they are cover in the liquid, reduce the heat to minimum and let them sweat.
I mean really sweat them down. The onions will become translucent, sweat them some more. Move them about the pan occasionally. Keep sweating them until you can’t tell onion from garlic, again, don’t let them go brown. At this point someone will probably pop their head into the kitchen and tell you something smells nice, they are correct. +1 XP if this happens
Once they’re ready, pour in the wine and increase the heat so it begins to simmer. Stir so that the contents become more symbiotic and let it reduce. A bit like with the sweating, this is a test of your nerve. I like to take it down until the contents of the pan can no longer be classified as a liquid.
Extra XP – Depending on what you’re making, there is an opportunity here to add one of the principle herbs or spices. EG – with this puttanesca add a star anise into the onions and garlic. + 1 XP
THE MIGHTY PUTTANESCA
Puttanesca – the dish of whores (literal translation!). Made traditionally from things found lying around an empty kitchen.
The main ingredients might seem like odd bed fellows but I guarantee you, once they are joined together they create a wholly new flavour all their own.
This will make about 6 portions
2x Star Anise (used in the onion sweating)
1x large jar of black olives
2-3 tins anchovies (Use capers if vegetarian. Use both if playing a Chaotic character)
For extra XP use the oil from the anchovies when sweating the onions +2 XP
1x chilli (dealer’s choice, how hot do you like it? You can always leave this out of course)
2x tins chopped tomatoes
Squeeze of tomato puree
1-2x glasses Red wine
Generous amount of parmesan (Leave out if Vegan)
500g pasta (any shape)
Chop the olives, chillies and anchovies into as smaller parts as you have patience for (you can pulse them in a blender if you must -1 XP). Add these and the tomatoes and puree to the dark path mixture. Add some red wine, make the sauce slightly too thin for your liking and let it reduce to your preference. Ideally it should cook for at least 20 minutes over a low heat. Fish out the star anise.
Once done, this sauce can sit in a covered pan for hours while you set up games night, your friends arrive and you can start having fun. Then, when they’re hungry, whack on the heat and start the pasta. You won’t even miss your turn!
(A note on seasoning – I will be writing a lot about seasoning your food in future entries. For the Puttanesca however, the anchovies, capers and parmesan provide all the salt required.)
Put your pasta in a pan of boiling, salted water. Make the water salty like the ocean. This will season the pasta and make the water boil at a slightly higher temperature.
MYTH – Putting oil in the water. Oil floats in water, adding oil to the pasta water is just a waste of oil
Pasta takes about 6 – 8 minutes to cook. Do not abandon your post! Keep testing it, move it around a bit. Just hold the line. If you find yourself alone, surrounded by fields with the sun on your face, you have ruined your pasta! Stay by the hob.
Maybe there’s some of that wine left? Enjoy that.
Once done (cheddar remember?), drain the pasta but don’t rinse it, we need that lovely starch to make the sauce stick. Mix it all together thoroughly. +1 XP IF PASTA IS PERFECT
This goes for all pasta dishes. Just plopping the sauce on top of a plate of naked pasta will have you deported from Italy.
Serve in deep bowls confident your lovely game elements will remain free of sticky finger marks and your friends will begin to marvel at your new found skills.
Note about silence
You’ll know when you’ve done a good job with the cooking because everyone will go quiet as they eat. First few times this happened it freaked me out, now I live for the silence!
+5XP if they go quiet
TOTAL POTENTIAL XP FOR PUTANESCA – 12 POINTS LEVEL 1
Paul Flannery – Treguard of Dunshelm and Kitchen Master