John Whaite won the third series of The Great British Bake Off but his book, Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients, published by Simon & Schuster, shows his versatility beyond baking. Offering innovative, pared back recipes, it demonstrates simple and delicious home cooking – with impressive results.
The premise was to use only five ingredients per recipe, not counting the essentials of olive oil, butter, salt and pepper. Whaite admits that the idea of creating dishes with so few ingredients initially filled him with horror, but being the sucker for a challenge that he is, he embraced it wholeheartedly and actually came to see the beauty in it.
“When I began to pare back recipes and use fewer ingredients, I was reminded of the uncomplicated flavours of my childhood,” he writes in the introduction.
“I remembered my Aunty Mary handing me a punnet of cherry tomatoes. The smell of the tomatoes was so sweetly intense that all they needed was a drizzle of peppery olive oil and a few torn shreds of basil to complete them. It wasn’t necessary to lob a load of other components thoughtlessly at the plate; it was unassumingly perfect in its simplicity. That idea was something I wanted to return to.”
Winner of The Great British Bake Off
Whaite studied at Le Cordon Bleu, but his love of food came from learning at his mother’s knee. A food writer, television presenter and operator of his own cooking school, John Whaite’s Kitchen, he has divided the book into posh plates, many plates, worth the wait plates, everyday plates, hearty plates and morning plates.
Recipes such as Lime and thyme carrots with salmon fillets; Butterflied lamb leg with aubergine, yoghurt and sultanas; Sausage, kale and potato bake; and Chorizo and chickpeas braised in cider; make for speedy, delicious dinners. The dish featured here, Sweet Potato, Gruyere and Pecan Gratin, is proof that you don’t always need meat to make a meal.
The sweet plates are especially enticing. It would be hard to resist Brown-sugar Meringues with Hazelnut Butterscotch Sauce, but Self-saucing Orange Curd Pudding, and Coconut Macaroon and Lime Cheesecake sound appealing too.
Whaite says there will always be the temptation to throw something else onto the plate, but you shouldn’t be afraid to resist. It’s all about letting the ingredients do the talking.
“With just five main ingredients, plates of food can be created. That’s the premise. The promise is that the food will be perfect – not fancy, elaborate or technical – just perfect.”
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SWEET POTATO, GRUYÈRE AND PECAN GRATIN
1.2kg sweet potatoes
400ml double cream
sprig of rosemary
100g Gruyère cheese
Butter, for greasing
Sea salt flakes,
plus extra, to taste
Coarse black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6. Grease a 23cm (approx) pie dish (ceramic is best) with butter. Whatever you do, don’t use a dish with a loose bottom or you’ll be scrubbing your oven floor for weeks.
Peel the sweet potatoes and slice each very thinly – the author uses a mandolin or a food processor, but it can be done using a knife, with a straight eye and steady hand. After you’ve peeled each potato, rearrange the slices as though you were trying to stick them back together to reform the whole potato.
Wedge these bundles into the greased dish randomly and at different angles – treat them as though the potatoes were whole, just pack them tightly into the dish.
Heat the cream in a medium saucepan over a low heat. Add the rosemary with a pinch of salt and pepper. Once the cream comes to a simmer, remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 5 minutes.
Pour the infused cream over the waiting sweet potato. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes, then remove from the oven and take off the foil.
Coarsely grate the cheese and roughly chop the pecans, then scatter both cheese and nuts over the baked gratin. Return to the oven for a further 15–20 minutes, until the cheese top is bronzed and the sauce is bubbling. Allow to cool and set for 15 minutes before diving in.
Recipe and images from Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients by John Whaite, published by Kyle Books and reproduced with the permission of Simon & Schuster.
This story originally appeared in PS News online.