The tastemaker and podcast host shares her love of pasta and a recipe for the perfect weeknight risotto.
Self-proclaimed “pastaphile”, chef and food writer Anna Barnett has been feeding friends for more than two decades. But over lockdown, she’s traded in real-life supper clubs for hosting her own podcast and virtual cookalongs. Here, the tastemaker shares her love of pasta, her dream kitchen design and a recipe for pumpkin risotto.
“I live for Italian cuisine. There’s a comfort and heartiness that is truly special.”
Following a successful career in TV and fashion, working for the likes of MTV, Channel 4 and the House of Holland, Anna Barnett decided to really tuck in to her long-standing love of cooking. Her debut cookery book, Eat the Week was published in 2015 and she has since written for The Independent, Vogue and Grazia.
Today, you’ll find her recipes, recommendations and interviews with renowned chefs in an online column for the Evening Standard as well as her latest book How to be Gluten-Free and Keep Your Friends. We’ve devoured them. In her new podcast, The Filling with Anna Barnett, she interviews the likes of Melissa Hemsley and Henry Holland, exploring their lives through the lens of food. It’s a deliciously good listen. And warning: it will make you hungry.
Catching up with Anna over taleggio-and-pumpkin risotto (her recipe is shared below), we chat about the nostalgia of cooking, its therapeutic powers and her insatiable love of pasta.
How did you start off as a chef?
My background is in TV and events, but I have always loved food, the ritual of cooking and sitting down and sharing what you’ve made. There’s an incredible, simplistic joy in even the humblest of meals. I’ve never formally trained, just cooked endlessly for the last two decades… probably longer! I started out hosting dinner parties that would, on occasions, feed 35 or more people, before moving onto ticketed supper clubs for 100 covers.
Which cuisine has the most influence on your dishes?
I live for Italian cuisine. There’s a comfort and heartiness that is truly special. It also has the most amazing ability to transport me right back to many a long, beachfront lunch. If there’s pasta on the menu I can’t opt for anything else! That said, I’m a huge fan of Asian cuisine – dim sum in particular. It’s an art form!
The kitchen is the heart of any home, but especially more so for you as a chef. What does yours mean to you?
The kitchen really is the heart of the home, I 100 per cent believe that! My favourite thing to do is cook for friends and family, spend hours prepping and serving up something amazing. An open-plan kitchen with an island is a must!
Describe your dream kitchen…
My new kitchen is pretty much how I had envisaged my dream kitchen: natural stone, calming lighting, a space that is as much part of and as designed as the rest of the space, if not more! There’s an enormous island where we can work from, entertain at and just hang out.
What’s your best advice for those who are more recently getting into cooking or baking?
Give everything a try. If it doesn’t work out the first time around, you’ll nail it the next.
What’s your ultimate comfort food?
Pasta, always! It’s one of those dishes that work no matter what time of year it is.
You’ve got a night off at home and you’re getting a takeaway. What’s your order?
Tayyabs in Whitechapel. We tend to go all-vegetarian as my husband is vegetarian. It’s incredible every time!
What are your favourite London restaurants?
Luca is incredible. Royal China, Llewelyn’s and Brat.
We’ve been thoroughly enjoying your Instagram Live cooking sessions. What has the response for these been like?
They’ve been so fun to do! I’ve loved being able to share my space and they’ve actually been really comforting to do. For that hour, it’s like you’re with everyone else watching!
Over the last year, it seems that more people than ever are discovering the joys of experimenting in the kitchen. What is it about cooking that brings you joy?
For me, it’s definitely meditative. It’s a way to relax and show people you care for them. On top of that, there’s an endless amount to learn and discover – that’s the exciting part.
Anna Barnett’s Taleggio and Pumpkin Risotto Recipe
Serves: 4 – 6
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes
450g pumpkin or squash
4 cloves of garlic
1.2–1.4l vegetable stock
Olive oil, a good glug
Butter, a large knob
1 large shallot, diced
4 sprigs of thyme, plus extra to garish
1 large, fresh bay leaf
450g Arborio rice
200ml white wine
30g Grana Padano, finely grated
Salt and pepper, to season
Lemon zest, to garnish
1. Preheat your oven 190°C. Drizzle the pumpkin with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, then throw in the cloves of garlic and roast for around 35 minutes or until the pumpkin easily mashes.
2. For the risotto, begin by heating your stock.
3. In a separate pan, heat your oil and butter together, add the shallots and cook over a medium to low heat for 10 minutes until translucent.
4. To the same pan, add the thyme, bay leaf and rice, stirring well for a minute or two before increasing the heat and adding in the wine. Stir constantly to avoid the rice sticking. Once the wine has been absorbed, begin to add in the stock, a ladle at a time, only adding in another once the liquid has been absorbed. Continue to do this until all stock has been used, about 20 minutes.
5. Add in your roasted, mashed pumpkin stirring it through until there are no lumps.
6. Next add in the taleggio and Grana Padano, stirring until melted and combined.
7. Season with freshly ground black pepper, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and lemon zest before serving.
Photographs by Kym Grimshaw and Anna Barnett
Listen to Anna’s podcast The Filling with Anna Barnett.