If I say "Fat Duck" or "Heston Blumenthal", what is the first specific dish that springs to mind? I'd bet my bottom dollar it's either egg and bacon ice cream of snail porridge. The question is why these two dishes in particular have so grabbed the public's imagination.
I don't think it's that either of them is a particularly radical dish in terms of taste. OK, the ice cream is probably the more radical of the two because of the idea of a salty breakfast dish in your ice cream. But wait – pretty much all ice cream contains eggs – this one just contains a few more. And as for the salty bacon – how is ice cream with a salty meat flavour so very different from ice cream with a salty caramel flavour? Salted butter caramel ice cream, anybody? Sounds less peculiar when you think about it that way, doesn't it? Aaah, but what about the freaky snail porridge, you ask? Well, would it make you feel better if I told you it was snails served on an oat risotto? Probably – and that's pretty much what it is!
You see, the thing that makes these dishes seem so radical is not the taste – it's the playing around with our entrenched expectations. The chef knows that you expect eggs and bacon to be part of a savoury dish; and that you expect your morning porridge to be sweet and spicy or fruity. So the shock reaction that these dishes generate has more to do with what's going on in our brains than in our tastebuds.
The first dishes I ate like these that play around with expectations were chocolate spring rolls at Wickerwoods restaurant in Port Elizabeth and a chocolate and rosemary dessert soup at the lovely Bestial in Barcelona. And what can I say – I was hooked on the idea. But so far the only dish I've made along these lines is a savoury tarte tatin. Everybody expected a dessert and I presented them with a vegetable side dish. Voila!
I've always wanted to do more dishes like this – maybe a vegetable clafoutis; or some fruit soups; or savoury sorbets; or a pizza with a chocolatey topping… and this month's Waiter, There's Something in My… event gave me the perfect opportunity to experiment! Sadly, though, you all seem to think that the theme is too challenging, judging by the number of entries I've received 🙁 It's not – really, I promise!! Just look at all the suggestions I've given you! I am going to feel slightly foolish doing a roundup of fewer than 10 entries, so in the hope that my effort has inspired you, I'm going to extend the deadline to Friday 6 February. Please do join in – I promise you it's easier than you think.
I managed it – and I'm the Queen of Lazy!
This savoury bread and butter pudding is based around the idea of using the flavours of a classic Italian caprese salad of tomato, mozzarella and basil, but incorporating them into an eggy bake with thick slices of white bread. The end result was a resounding hit – kind of like a pizza casserole, with crispy bread on top and eggy, cheesy goodness mixing with the concentrated tomato and basil flavours below. Nick has voted that I make it again and if that isn't a vote of confidence I don't know what is 🙂
CAPRESE BREAD & BUTTER PUDDING (serves 2)
4-6 thick slices of day-old white bread
1 large ball of mozzarella cheese, sliced
2 ripe plum (or about 8 baby plum) tomatoes, sliced
a handful of fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
3 large or 4 small eggs
150ml milk or single cream
salt and pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
Pre-heat the oven to 190C and lightly grease 1 large or 2 small (about 10cm x 10cm) ovenproof dishes.
Butter the bread on one side only and cut each slice into 4 triangles. Cover the base of the dish with overlapping triangles of bread, buttered side down, with the bread points pointing slightly upwards.
Tuck tomato and mozzarella slices in between the slices of bread and sprinkle with half the basil. Season with salt and black pepper.
Add another layer of bread, this time with the buttered side facing up and repeat the step above to add the tomato, mozzarella, basil and seasoning.
Whisk together the eggs, milk/cream and oregano and pour over the bread layers as evenly as possible.
Place on a baking sheet in the pre-heated oven and bake for about 20 minutes or until the egg mix has set and the top is beginning to brown.
Serve immediately with a big green salad. This would also make a fantastic vegetarian main course for a dinner party – although you'll have to fight off the meat eaters!