Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals – the test
“I’m going to show you how to put a whole meal on the table in 30 minutes flat!” So begins the latest TV show and spin-off cook-book from Jamie Oliver. The premise is simple – to demonstrate to people that by being organized you can create a complete, delicious meal when you get home from work, without compromising on quality.
This was the challenge I set myself – to select one of the complete menus from the book, and cook it from start to finish in thirty minutes. After a quick flick through the book I decided on Wonky Summer Pasta with Herby Salad, and Pear Drop Tartlets.
A couple of caveats: I tried to pick a menu where all the ingredients would be easily available in any supermarket. However, pre-made small, deep shortcrust pastry cases almost defeated me, but I eventually found them in my fourth different supermarket and an hour of driving around. They weren’t particularly deep either, but beggars can’t be choosers. The recipe called for three different types of fresh herbs, but I left out one of them (the mint for the salad) on the basis I don’t have a herb garden and I couldn’t justify the cost of a third bag of herbs. I also used a hand-whisk rather then a free-standing mixer to beat the egg whites, which cost me a few minutes as I couldn’t do anything else simultaneously. Finally, I used dried tagliatelli instead of fresh chopped pasta, but I put it in the pot sooner to accommodate the longer cooking time.
I started the stopwatch, and got cracking. I turned on the oven for the tarts, got my equipment ready and began boiling the water for the pasta. I spooned jam into each pastry case, chopped tinned pear quarters and divided them between the tarts. I was 5 minutes in at this stage.
I separated 2 eggs between two bowls, added sugar to the whites and started whisking. Once it was stiff I put it aside and started making the sauce for the pasta – I added extra-virgin oil, salt and pepper to the egg yolks, as well as parmesan I had grated in the food processor, and the juice and zest of two lemons. The clock had ticked well past 15 minutes at this stage, and a slight air of panic was setting in.
Once I realised the next step involved pounding half a bunch of basil in a pestle and mortar and then chopping the other half I knew the thirty minute goal was a fantasy. I ploughed on regardless, and added my two types of basil to the egg mixture and mixed it all together.
My pan of water had been boiling for so long now I had to top it up with water from the kettle, and chaos had descended by the time I put the meringue mixture onto the pear tarts and put them in the oven. In the turmoil I forgot to add vanilla extract to the mixture first, but given that by now all the kitchen needed was crime-scene tape around it I don’t think I would have found it under the debris anyway.
I dumped the pasta in the pan and started the salad. To save time I chopped the bacon with a scissors as I dropped it into the frying pan, and then I dumped a bag of rocket and watercress into a salad bowl, tore up the tarragon and added that too. While simultaneously turning the bacon, stirring the pasta and watching the tarts I added grapes to the salad mixture. Unsurprisingly I forgot to add fennel seeds to the bacon.
The thirty minute mark was by now a distant dot behind me.
I dried off the bacon pieces and threw the dressing together – balsamic vinegar, extra virigin olive oil, the juice of half a lemon and some salt and pepper. I turned off the oven and left the tarts on the shelf with the oven door open to cool, sprinkled the bacon over the salad and put it on the table with the dressing.
I drained the pasta in a colander and mixed it into the sauce – Jamie recommends adding some water from the pasta, but I didn’t need it.
Total time: 55 minutes 27.8 seconds.
Stress levels: 7/10
I have a huge amount of respect for what Jamie Oliver has done to educate people about healthy eating and not compromising on quality, but the reality of what he is trying to achieve with his thirty minute meals may have the inverse effect of alienating people from cooking. Trying to prepare that meal in thirty minutes was a nerve shredding experience, fraught with disaster, that turned my kitchen into a battlefield. The primary issue with multi-tasking like that is not so much that it took longer then expected, but that by being delayed at one stage can effect something else you’re cooking simultaneously. In my case, because the bacon didn’t cook quick enough and it took more time to make the dressing, it meant the pasta was in for too long, so it ended up over-cooked.
Ultimately, this type of experience removed the pleasure of cooking from assembling a meal. The dinner would have benefitted by being simplified down to just one course – the problem is trying to do too much at once. The salad looked and tasted like it was thrown together, and the pasta sauce would have benefitted from more care and attention. The pear tartlets saved the day, but unfortunately who has time to make dessert for a mid week dinner? Maybe next time I’ll skip the main course and just start off with the pudding!