Having lived in Paris for almost five years, I have grown to truly appreciate eating, good cooking, and the people who make up the food community. With the French government-mandated lockdown and closures of non-essential businesses in mid-March, it has been a weird few weeks. As one does during times of crisis, I turned to food for comfort. But quickly, what once brought me comfort turned to stress. With limited ingredients and opportunities to run for groceries, even as a seasoned cook, it was hard for me to see so many difficult and over-the-top recipes being splashed across the Internet. Curious, I turned to chefs I champion to see how they are cooking under a lockdown. These are their tips, recipes, and stories.
French Chefs Get Real on Instagram
“Top Chef France” is a show that really brings the country together and many of the past contestants have become household names. Spending Christmas in France with my partner’s family can be tough with a language barrier but the conversations truly start flowing when “Top Chef” is being discussed.
My favorite alumni to follow on Instagram and in life are multilingual chefs Alexia Duchêne, a semifinalist from last season, and Gianmarco Gorni from the current season. When the lockdown was announced, I watched from my phone screen as their Parisian restaurants closed and they went to stock up on essentials—including sourdough starter from beloved bakery Ten Belles (they were giving portions out to whoever wanted to bake at home), which Alexia grabbed so that she could make her famous crumpets in quarantine.
Gianmarco even started playing instruments in his stories, from the recorder to the keyboard on a downloadable app, and creating recipe videos in other languages to keep all of us in high spirits and entertained.
And of course, they both generously opened their home kitchens to the world so we get to see how these creative young chefs are coming up with meals, from full on tutorial videos with recipes to photos of simple dishes made using what they have on hand with how-to tips.
Alexia, known for her sauce- and seafood-centered cooking, showed us how to come up with a vegetable bouillon and stress-free rice bowls with cucumber and carrot tossed in sesame oil, lemon juice, and soy sauce with canned tuna.
Gianmarco, an Italian in France, showed us how to cook and eat delicious Italian comfort food, from tagliatelle with asparagus, to risotto with sausage, leeks, and mint through his concise IGTV tutorials.
Related Reading: The Best IGTV Cooking Shows
“Top Chef” Tomato Tips
As I stared at my four tins of canned tomatoes, I wondered, what would my favorite “Top Chef” contestants do if the challenge was home comfort cooking only using accessible ingredients? So I asked them!
As told by Alexia Duchêne over FaceTime video and Instagram messages:
I would pull out some beans, dried is best but canned will do, and use the canned tomatoes to come up with a chili of sorts. It’s amazing what you can do with just herbs and some salt and pepper. I like to eat my chili on top of rice with canned sardines or tuna.
Another option is to come up with a shakshuka, using whatever herbs, spices, and vegetables I have with some eggs. Right now, it’s all about using what I have to make food tasty as I’m not going out unless absolutely necessary.
As told by Gianmarco Gorni over Instagram messages and email:
I’m 100 percent Italian so I would make arancini with Italian sausage, something I almost always have but right now, you can find sausage from any major grocery store and just smash it up, and [add] arrabiata sauce. Risotto is actually easier to make at home than most people think and if I don’t use it all up for the arancini, I even have risotto for later! So first you make the risotto which might seem like a lot of steps but as you’ve seen on my Instagram tutorials, it’s not really. I like to prep my kitchen space with everything I need to make it as little stress as possible.
Then I would prepare the arrabiata sauce using the canned tomatoes. The recipe is so simple if you have dried red chili peppers, onion, and basil. When the sauce is ready, I would take out the risotto, form them into balls, stuffed with mozzarella, in my hands. Then I’ll roll them in flour, beaten egg, and bread crumbs and fry them up. Using the arrabiata sauce for dipping, this is comfort food in my hands, and who doesn’t like fried food and melted cheese? The cooking process is also quite therapeutic once you let yourself get into the rhythm.
See Gianmarco’s full recipe below. (And get even more canned tomato recipes on Chowhound.)
Italian Sausage and Tomato Arancini with Arrabiata Sauce
For the risotto:
- Olive oil
- Italian sausage, any sausage will do as long as it’s smashed [i.e. bulk sausage, or removed from its casing]
- ½ onion, yellow or white
- 100 grams of canned tomatoes
- 500 grams of rice, arborio is best but any short-grain can work right now
- 1.2 liters of chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 cup of white wine
- Salt and pepper
- 2 egg yolks
- 100 grams of parmesan cheese
For the arrabbiata sauce:
- Olive oil
- 1 onion, yellow or white
- 300 grams of canned tomatoes
- Dried red chili flakes
- Fresh basil is best but dried or frozen can work right now
For the arancini:
- 5 eggs
- 200 grams flour
- 500 grams breadcrumbs
- Neutral oil for frying
How to make the arancini:
For the risotto:
- We start by taking a saucepan, we put some olive oil and when hot, put the smashed sausage and cook until caramelized, a bit crispy if you prefer.
- Once cooked, transfer the Italian sausage in a bowl and set aside. Chop up the onion into small pieces.
- In the saucepan, add some olive oil and butter. Once the butter is melted, we add the chopped onion and we cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the rice and toast a bit. Pour in the the cup of wine and a pinch of salt. When the wine is absorbed, add the broth, stirring well.
- We let it cook for 16 minutes if you’re using arborio or until the stock is absorbed by the rice. When the stock is absorbed, the rice is cooked and you can add the canned tomato, parmesan cheese, egg yolks, cooked Italian sausages from step 1, and mix well.
- Put the risotto in the fridge as we need it cold.
For the arrabbiata sauce:
- Chop the onion and then put in a hot saucepan with some olive oil and cook it until slightly translucent.
- Add the canned tomatoes, sugar, salt, fresh basil, and chili.
- Cook at low heat, covered, for 20 minutes.
For the arancini:
- Take the risotto out of the fridge.
- Place some rice in your hand and flatten it into your cupped hand. Put 1 or 2 pieces of mozzarella cheese and close it like a ball.
- Freeze it for 10 minutes.
- After 10 minutes, roll the arancini in flour, then roll them in the beating egg and then finally, roll them in breadcrumbs.
- Fry the arancini in a pan with oil at 190°C for 3/4 minute (it depends on the size).
- Remove from oil and put them on paper towels.
- Serve the arancini with the arrabbiata sauce.