Ilan’s Top Chef Fideos, Vegetarian Style – With A Review Of The Top Chef Cookbook

Top_Chef_Fideos
Ilan Hall's Top Chef Fideos

I'm an avid fan of Top Chef. Our family has a standing date to watch it on TiVO every week. Of the cooking reality shows (Next Food Network Star, Hell's Kitchen and so on), it is the only one that features people who can really cook, and spends most of the time showing off their skills, not so much on the yelling, biting and scratching.

Season 2 of Top Chef was won by Ilan Hall, who was a line cook at New York's Casa Mono, a first rate Spanish restaurant. He was (in)famous for making mostly dishes from the restaurant and not taking a lot of chances. It is hard to fault him for a winning approach though, and all of his food looked incredible. In week 11, he made a dish of fideos with clams, cauliflower, and broccoli that looked amazing.  Everyone on the show, including Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, and Eric Ripert, freaked out about how good they were. The clams never seemed like a critical component of the recipe, so I felt pretty sure that a vegetarian version would work.

What are fideos? Simply thin noodles, broken into short lengths and toasted to a deep brown in the oven before cooking directly in a sauce. It might sound kind of strange to those of used to the Italian or Asian pasta traditions, but this is completely delicious. The toasting adds a whole layer of flavor, which in this dish is bolstered with cream, white wine, and loads of garlic.

I got the original recipe from Top Chef: The Cookbook, which my mom-in-law gave me. It would make a great holiday gift for anyone who is a fan of the show or should be. It is a very solid cookbook with incredible recipes, plus excellent features on the contestants, hosts, and judges, "making-of" info about each season and general funny stuff. Great graphic design too. I couldn't put it down; highly recommended.

Here is the recipe for Ilan's Fideos, adapted to be clamless. I added a lot more of the vegetables, which are really succulent and tasty. I did run into a slight problem with the recipe – when I finished the last step, the noodles were still kinda crunchy. I knew that wasn't right, so I added more wine and let them cook a couple extra minutes until they were al dente. The dish is rich, so though it is listed as an entree for 4, it might work even better as a side dish for 6-8.

Ilan Hall's Top Chef Fideos, Adapted to be Vegetarian
Serves 4 as an entree
Vegetarian; not vegan or gluten-free

  • 1 pound fideos or cappelini pasta
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
  • salt
  • 2.5 cups cauliflower florets (original recipe uses 1 cup)
  • 2.5 cups broccoli florets (original recipe uses 1 cup)
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 10 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • flat leaf parsley, chopped, for garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Break the noodles into 3-inch pieces. Arrange in an even layer on rimmed baking sheet. Place in the oven and bake until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. (ed note: I tossed them a couple times during the baking to keep the browning even. Get 'em nice and dark)
  3. In a large saucepan, combine the cream, saffron, and salt to taste, and place over medium heat. Bring just to a boil, whisking and watching the pot so the cream doesn't boil over. Remove from the heat, stir in the vegetables, and set aside.
  4. Preheat the broiler.
  5. In a large saucepan, heat the oil and garlic over low heat, stirring, until the garlic begins to soften and turn golden, about 15 minutes. Break the garlic up with the back of a wooden spoon, then add the wine and fideos. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine.
  6. Increase the heat to medium-high and cover the pan. Cook for about 4 minutes. (ed note: check the noodles now. If they are still crunchy, add more wine or water, cover the pan, and keep checking every minute until they are al dente). Stir in the vegetable and cream mixture and remove from heat.
  7. Divide the mixture among 4 ovenproof dishes (ed note: or one large casserole) and broil until golden brown, 2-4 minutes.
  8. Garnish with the chopped parsley and serve immediately.

fideos on Foodista

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Posted by Michael Natkin on Thursday, December 11th, 2008 in Books, Main Courses, Recipes.

13 Responses to “Ilan’s Top Chef Fideos, Vegetarian Style – With A Review Of The Top Chef Cookbook”

  1. December 11, 2008 at 10:00 am #

    Sounds fantastic! I was wondering if the Top Chef book was a good one. Thanks for the review.

  2. December 11, 2008 at 7:33 pm #

    Depending on the original recipe, I’d guess that the clams would let off a decent amount of juice, thus, you make up for it by adding the extra wine? Or maybe not at all…

  3. December 12, 2008 at 7:06 am #

    This sounds fabulous!! The recipe on the show seemed complicated to me, but this makes it sound very accessible. Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. Michael Natkin
    December 12, 2008 at 7:16 am #

    Oh, very good point! I’ve never cooked with clams so that didn’t even occur to me.

  5. December 12, 2008 at 7:44 pm #

    This is such a unique recipe! Ive book marked it to try :) I agree with you, Top Chef is a great show!

  6. December 13, 2008 at 2:40 am #

    Thank you also for the review on the book, I was thinking of giving it as a gift this Christmas! What a great site you have here! oh and if you have time will you drop by at Foodista ? We are building an online food and cooking encyclopedia ala wikipedia and you can also check out our recipes on the site as well :) Cheers!

  7. December 13, 2008 at 3:46 pm #

    I was wondering how useful the Top Chef cookbook would be if one is vegetarian or just not a big meat eater. I certainly hope there was more testing/rigor around those recipes than some of the Top Chef recipes that make it onto Bravo’s site! I was going to try to do a little feature each week of making one Top Chef recipe to go with the other TC articles I’m doing, but as I started to look through what was on Bravo’s recipe finder, the elliptical and shorthand nature of what was posted made it seem like frustration waiting to happen! Most seem like they were like sleepily dictated to someone after 2-3 hours/2-3 bottles of wine consumed in the stew room. :)

  8. December 13, 2008 at 6:36 pm #

    That sounds like a lovely recipe. I am familiar with that technique- I’m from India and we usually toast the thin noodles in hot oil till brown and then cook it in a sugar syrup. It’s great!

  9. Michael Natkin
    December 15, 2008 at 1:13 pm #

    Leslie – you know, not a ton of the recipes are veg, but you can definitely extract useful ideas and techniques from the other ones.

    Bharti – is that called falooda or sev? I’ve had than in a sweet drink in Indian restaurants, but not any other way. What is it called and what else is it served with?

  10. December 18, 2008 at 10:28 am #

    I’m a late fan for Top Chef since I only recently got cable, but I’m hooked. It’s great for a total amateur like me to see real technique and creativity in every episode.

    Since I missed Season 2, I’m very happy you posted this recipe–it looks delicious!

  11. December 18, 2008 at 9:54 pm #

    Toasting in the oven first? Hm, have to try that soon. Thanks!

  12. Stacy
    January 20, 2009 at 2:01 pm #

    Thanks for the recipe — I made it last night. It was tasty, but I had a couple of observations for anyone thinking of making it. I’ve seen a lot of fideo recipes that really emphasize toasting the noodles until they’re quite dark. I didn’t even let them get very dark, and there was still a faint “burnt” taste to the final dish.

    Also, for Step 6 here, it just didn’t work that way for me. Dried spaghetti doesn’t cook in 1/2 c. of wine in four minutes, especially when it’s toasted first. :) I added the cream mixture, but with the pot off the heat, the dried noodles just sat up in all directions.
    I had to keep adding milk and veggie broth for about another 15 minutes, with the pot on medium heat, and pushing the noodles down into the mixture, and even then they were a bit too al dente for me. :( Just my two cents.

  13. Michael Natkin
    January 20, 2009 at 2:39 pm #

    Hey Stacy – thanks for the note! I didn’t experience a burnt taste to the dish, but I did have the same problem as you at step 6. I already had an “editor’s note” there saying that it seems to need more liquid and time, but your email made me realize it wasn’t written clearly, so I’ve gone back to edit it. GastroGnome suggested that the reason the original recipe works for Ilan is that the clams release enough additional liquid to cook the noodles.

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