You’ve seen the Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver on TV, but have you ventured to try any of his recipes?

Truth be told, I’ve never even watched a single full episode of his TV programme. But I do like to cook, and the Essex lad exudes a charm that reaches beyond a TV audience, so one day, I followed two recipes in his Return of the Naked Chef cookbook.

Pasta 1
farfelle with Savoy cabbage, pancetta, thyme and mozzarella

I’d like to say that I prepared the meal in as much time as one episode allowed, but marketing to purchase all the ingredients in any average recipe of Oliver’s takes you to at least three places and half a day’s worth of journeying and traipsing.

I must say that Carrefour is still the most well-stocked, accessible supermarket – you can get herbs like sweet basil, thyme, tarragon, sage and spearmint there at $1.95 per packet. There’s a wonderful stall in the Tekka wet market run by Mr Chew, sells dill, bay leaf, thai basil and sweet basil and both Chinese and English parsley. It’s tucked away in a nifty corner but you won’t miss it.

Pasta 2
Single serving

This pasta dish uses an olive oil base. It called for Savoy cabbage, which I couldn’t find at all, so I substituted it with baby bok choy, which is readily available at most local wet markets (but not available at ang moh supermarkets – argh).

My friend Melvin Ryan Tan would prolly be aghast at all the green bits in the pasta and swear on his life that if it were the last dish on earth he would pick out all the cabbage before he would deign to ingest a single morsel, but not all the green stuff inside is cabbage – it’s thyme!

The most time-consuming part of preparing the meal is picking the leaves off the stems. I bought three packets because the total amount of thyme both recipes required was “three handfuls”, and I spent at least an hour picking the leaves.

Chicken 2
fantastic roasted chicken

I’m not tooting my own horn, but Oliver really names this roasted chicken “fantastic”. Most roast chix are marinated with rosemary too, but not this one. It’s supposed to be served with potatoes and a strange vege I’ve also not been able to get: celeriac. Can anyone advise me on this, please? Quite a few of his other recipes use celeriac too.

Chicken 1
Close-up of the chicken

Instead of using potatoes and celeriac, I used Japanese yam instead – didn’t complement the chicken so well though the main dish was outstanding enough to wow on its own. In comparison to the pasta dish, the roasted chicken was cheaper and easier to prepare. Bow-tie pasta is easily available and affordable, but pancetta and buffalo mozzarella are expensive and only available at atas ang moh supermarkets.

But the effort was well worth it. The food lasted two people for about three meals – dinner, supper and lunch next day. 😀

The gratification that comes with reading Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks can’t be found elsewhere I think. They have such unabashed character and warmth – in the first one, The Naked Chef, written way back in 1999, he’s swinging bachelor on his moped; in the second one, Return of the Naked Chef, he’s married to Jools, whom he refers to as “my lovely missus”; in Happy Days with the Naked Chef, he’s got a new baby – and in the next, the second baby has arrived and he presents a collection of family recipes.

Lovely stuff from someone halfway across the globe, totally worth half a day of grocery shopping each time you cook with him.

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