Those of you who have visited here before have probably already figured out that I love Top Chef!  It’s one of my “must see” TV shows of the week. I watch for the drama, the cheesy preening of the Cheftestants, the snarky guest judges, Padma’s outfits, and, of course, the food. The show is in the midst of its fourth season and I can honestly say that I’ve never missed an episode. So when I found out about the recently released official companion cookbook to Top Chef, I had to have it!
For those of you who have recently returned from an extended stay on the planet Mars, Top Chef is only the hottest cooking competition on television. It is an exciting and slickly produced weekly reality show airing on Bravo TV , featuring sixteen aspiring chefs from around the country who compete for the title of Top Chef. Each episode features two challenges. The Quickfire Challenge is designed to test the chefs’ basic knowledge of cooking skills. The winner of each Quickfire is usually afforded immunity in the ensuing Elimination Challenge. The Elimination Challenges are themed challenges where the chefs, affectionately known as the Cheftestants, compete against each other to show their creativity and versatility in the kitchen. Each week a different celebrity chef joins the regular panel of judges to determine who will be asked to “pack their knives and go.”
The winner of the competition receives $100,000 to be used in the furtherance of his or her career, a feature spread in Food & Wine Magazine , a gourmet trip to the French Alps, and a showcase at the Annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen .
The Top Chef Cookbook contains over 100 recipes, as well as cooking tips, interviews, chef profiles, and behind-the-scenes stories from the series. The book is clothed in a white canvas cover inspired by the chefs’ jackets worn by the Cheftestants on the show. Cute, huh? Actually, it is a really sharp-looking cookbook with easy-to-follow recipes and lots of great big colorful pictures. If you’re a Top Chef fan, this book is definitely one to have for your collection. Heck, it’s a great book even if you hate the show!
My first creation from Top Chef: The Cookbook is a dish that I have been dying to try ever since I watched Padma practically lick her plate clean while eating it. I’m talking about the Fideos with Clams and Saffron that the infamous Ilan prepared on the show in Season 2. Ilan, himself, describes it as “one of the most delicious things on Earth.”
The recipe calls for fideos, which is a type of Spanish pasta similar to angel hair. It is very much like vermicelli, and the two are interchangeable in this dish. In Spain, fideos are broken into short pieces and used in place of rice in some dishes. The other main components of the dish are fresh clams, cream, and saffron. The pasta is baked in the oven and then cooked on the stove with the clams, white wine, and tons of caramelized garlic. Then, a saffron cream sauce with tender cauliflower is mixed in and the whole thing is browned under the broiler. It sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn’t. From start to finish, this recipe only took me about an hour to prepare.
I’m telling you, words cannot adequately describe how wonderful this dish was! The briny saltiness of the clams melded right into the mellow sweetness of the cream sauce, creating taste sensations that were out of this world!
Whether you loved Ilan, hated Ilan, or loved to hate Ilan, you must try his dish. I promise, you won’t regret it. I really think it just might be one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted!
If you’d like to have this cookbook for your own, stay tuned for my weekly Top Chef recaps. I will be giving away a few more cookbooks in the coming weeks.
Fideos with Clams and Saffron
Adapted from Top Chef: The Cookbook
1 pound capellini pasta
2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons saffron
2 cups cauliflower florets (I lightly steamed mine until crisp-tender first.)
1/3 cup olive oil
10 cloves garlic, peeled, but whole
1 pound fresh clams (I used cherrystone clams.)
1/2 cup white wine or seafood stock (I used wine. The clams make their own stock when they cook.)
Salt and pepper for seasoning
Chopped fresh parsley for garnish
Heat oven to 375 degrees F.
Break capellini into 3-inch pieces. Arrange pieces in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast in oven until golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
Heat broiler in oven.
In a small saucepan, combine heavy cream, saffron, and 1 teaspoon salt. Whisk to dissolve saffron. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat, stir in cauliflower florets, and set aside.
In a medium straight-sided skillet, heat olive oil and garlic over low heat until garlic begins to soften. Add clams, wine, and capellini to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Increase heat to medium and cover skillet. Cook about 4 minutes. Most of the clams should be opened. Remove from heat and discard any unopened clams.
Carefully divide clam and pasta mixture between four ovenproof dishes, filling each about half full. Top with cauliflower-and-cream mixture. Transfer dishes to oven and broil until golden brown.
Garnish with chopped parsley and serve warm.
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