We grabbed five minutes with Masterchef 2017 runner-up Giovanna Ryan to chat about her food obsessions, ingredients she couldn’t live without and what the future holds…plus a sublime, summery recipe for fennel panna cotta.

Giovanna will be doing a demonstration at this year’s Daylesford Summer Festival on Saturday 20th May, making bruschettas with our organic Market Garden produce.


WHAT BEING ON MASTERCHEF TAUGHT ME AS A COOK:

I can’t tell you how much I learnt on Masterchef! Because of the time constraints I learnt how much you can actually get done in a very short space of time, although no one really needs that much time pressure at home! I think the most important thing I learnt was to only put something on the plate if it needs to be there. In the earlier episodes I threw so much at one dish when half it wasn’t necessary and was distracting from the main event. Working with professional chefs and getting feedback from John and Gregg I got much better at editing my dishes.


BEST THING ABOUT THE MASTERCHEF EXPERIENCE:

The opportunities that we got on the show were just incredible. Working with professional chefs like Sat Bains and Paul Ainsworth, cooking for the cast and crew of Holby City, cooking for the former American ambassador and just being able to cook in that kitchen over and over again. And South Africa. Obviously South Africa.


WORST THING ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE:

It was hard when you got negative comments about your food or something didn’t go as you’d planned it, but the worst part was without a doubt the eliminations. Yes, it was a competition, but we spent so much time together and we all became really close, particularly towards the end. Alison leaving after filming together in South Africa was especially sad. They’re all such a great cooks and wonderful people.


WHAT I COOK AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK:

I roast a chicken every Sunday. It’s such a great resource and very economical if you use a whole one. I make stock from the carcass and use the meat for lunches during the week and for quick mid-week suppers.


Giovanna Ryan Masterchef UKUNDERUSED AND UNDERRATED INGREDIENTS:

Forgotten cuts of meat and offal are making a comeback in restaurants but I think people are still scared of using them at home. Cuts like pork cheeks and hanger steak are so delicious and much cheaper than their more traditional counterparts.


WHAT’S ON MY FOOD “BUCKET LIST” (SOMETHING I WANT TO COOK OR EAT ONE DAY):

I love Japanese food, especially sushi. I really want to visit Japan to taste sushi from the masters.


equipment/ingredient I COULD NOT LIVE WITHOUT:

My pasta machine. I’ve been making pasta since before I can remember. It’s incredibly easy (as long as you have a machine, hand rolling is a nightmare!) and it just tastes so much better than the shop-bought equivalent.

My desert island ingredients would be celery, fennel and shallots. It sounds a very dull but I use these three pretty much every day as they form the base for most of my stocks and sauces.

 


FAVOURITE MID-WEEK SUPPER FOR ONE OR TWO:

I’m obsessed with burrata at the moment. I make a very quick pasta with peas, pea shoots, basil, burrata and toasted pine nuts. It’s delicious and completely foolproof.


WHAT I’D MAKE AT THE WEEKEND FOR A BIGGER CROWD:

I just got a fancy gas barbecue so I’m cooking everything on it.  A lovely rosemary and garlic marinated, butterflied leg of lamb on the barbecue is unbeatable, served with some focaccia and loads of salad. When it’s not so warm outside I’ll make something like porchetta with hasselback potatoes or poussin with calvados and apples. I’ll always make ice cream too. Home made ice cream is delicious and I learnt from the best (my mum).


IF YOU COULD GIVE US your top TIPS FOR THE KITCHEN WHAT WOULD THEY BE?

Always have a decent chicken or vegetable stock in the fridge. You’d be surprised what a difference it makes to sauces and soups. If you’ve had a roast chicken at the weekend, reserve the bones and boil them up with an onion, some celery and a couple of carrots for a couple of hours. Strain off the liquid, season and you’ve got a lovely stock for the week.

If you’re entertaining, cook something that you can leave in the oven and pull out when your guests arrive. You want to enjoy yourself, not be flapping around at the last minute.

Don’t be afraid to experiment. It so easy to get stuck doing the same things over and over again because you know they work but you’d be surprised what you can achieve if you give it a go. I use lots of different cookbooks, foodblogs and instagram to get inspiration for new ideas and recipes.


Giovanna Ryan MasterchefWHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR WHEN SOURCING INGREDIENTS?

I always try to buy and cook things that are in season. It makes so much sense if you think about it – the ingredients will always be better quality if you buy them when they’re meant to be grown and they haven’t been shipped from the other side of the world. Sourcing meat properly is a big concern of mine. If you can, you should always get your meat from a local butcher or farm shop. A good butcher will be able to advise you on the right cut of meat for your needs and should be able to tell you where it came from so you can make an informed choice. They have such a wealth of knowledge that you just can’t get at the supermarket and they should be championed.


THE COOKBOOK I CAN’T PUT DOWN:

There are so many! I love cookbooks that you can read all the way through. Giorgio Locatelli’s book is like this, I love all of the stories about him growing up and his early career plus the recipes are excellent. La Cucina is a wonderfully huge volume that contains pretty much every Italian recipe and all of the regional variants – it’s amazing. I also have a very old copy of La Repetoire de la Cuisine that my boyfriend gave me when I found out I was going to be on Masterchef which was completely invaluable. The Flavour Thesaurus is an excellent place to find inspiration.


HAPPY PLACE:

In the winter, in my kitchen at home or in the Alps, skiing. In the summer, in my parents’ garden. My mum’s a very keen gardener and she has the most incredible fruit and vegetable patch which yields the most wonderful produce at the height of summer. I have no idea how she does it!


THE FUTURE: 

I’d absolutely love to work in the food industry. The Masterchef experience has really opened my eyes to all the opportunities there are. My very long-term dream is to open a little butchers’ shop with a restaurant attached with my boyfriend who’s been a butcher for 12 years. My more short-term plans involve a series of supper clubs and pop-ups so watch this space. Apart from that, just being paid to cook for people or to write about food would make me very happy!


Fennel panna cotta with blackcurrant ice cream

and candied almonds

This is a re-working of one of my favourite Masterchef dishes. Fennel is one of those things that really divides people but I’m assured by some of the most vehement fennel-haters that this combination works a treat. It’s an ideal dinner party dessert because absolutely everything can be made well in advance. If you want to make it even easier for yourself, both the panna cotta and the ice cream work perfectly well by themselves.

(makes 4)


Fennel Panna Cotta
PANNA COTTA

500ml double cream

2 ½ sheets gelatine

50g caster sugar

1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon fennel seeds, ground in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar

For the ice cream:

200g blackcurrants – frozen ones are totally fine

3 egg yolks

300ml double cream

50g caster sugar

For the candied almonds:

30g chopped almonds

50g caster sugar

fennel fronds, to serve

 

Method:

For the panna cotta, soak the gelatine in cold water. Heat the cream in a saucepan with the sliced fennel, sugar and ground fennel seeds. Bring to the boil and leave to infuse for 15 minutes.

Strain the cream mixture through a fine sieve and stir in the gelatine. Divide the mixture between four dariole moulds or ramekins and place in the freezer for 20 minutes then in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

For the ice cream, gently heat the blackcurrants in a pan until they begin to break down. Pass through a sieve, pushing the mix through with a spoon until you have a thick coulis.

Heat the cream in a saucepan. Whisk together the eggs and sugar then add the hot cream and whisk again thoroughly. Return the mixture to the saucepan and heat gently, stirring constantly until thickened. It’s ready when it coats the back of a spoon.

Beat in the blackcurrant coulis and churn in an ice cream machine. If you don’t have one, no problem, just pop the mixture in a freezer-proof receptacle and freeze for 3 to 4 hours, stirring every hour or so.

For the candied almonds, heat the sugar in a tablespoon of water in a non-stick saucepan until the sugar has melted but before it starts to colour. Add the chopped almonds and stir vigorously until the sugar has crystallised and dried out completely. Transfer onto some baking paper to cool.

Ten minutes before you’re ready to serve, take the ice cream out of the freezer and the panna cottas out of the fridge. If you’re using dariole moulds, dip each one in some warm water then turn out onto a plate.

Scatter with the almonds and some fennel fronds and serve with a scoop of the ice-cream.

Find more of Giovanna’s recipes on her website www.littlebrixtonkitchen.co.uk and instagram @giovannaryan.