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How Ixta Belfrage infuses her Italian roots with Latin American flavour

Chef, Ottolenghi protégé and author of recipe book ‘Mezcla’ — Ixta Belfrage’s love for food is inspired by Italy, Brazil, Mexico and beyond. During this episode of A Slice of Life, Ixta Belfrage talks us through how her unique upbringing with influence from Italy, Brazil and Mexico nurtured an approach to cooking like no other. As Ixta prepares her prawn lasagne with habanero oil, she explains how becoming a chef wasn’t always on the cards: “I tried out loads of different jobs… I started (and quit) a couple of art degrees. When I say it out loud, it seems so obvious that should have been my calling because I was so obsessed with food, but it took me a while”. Now working alongside Yotam Ottolenghi in the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen, Ixta has developed an understanding for developing sumptuous yet convenient recipes: “I’m extremely grateful to Yotam… Layering flavours is something that I really learned from him, and textures as well. I’ve always been a huge fan of citrus, herbs and chillies, but that layering of flavour and textures is such an Ottolenghi hallmark — that’s definitely something that I’ve been inspired by”. Watch the full episode of A Slice of Life with Ixta Belfrage, as she brings her favourite Mezcla recipe to life.

Released on 11/18/2022


[cutlery clattering]

Do you cut in the funny bits

as well, or I don't know.

Or do you prefer it to be quite serious?

Cause I can't remember what I said.

[light airy music]

Calling myself a chef kind

of gives the impression

that I know how to do a lot of things

that I don't know how to do.

I'm not classically trained.

And quite often people ask me,

How do I cook this?

Or How do I do that?

I'm like, I don't know.

Because the way I cook is very instinctual.

I kind of just make it up as I go along.

And I'm a big believer

that there should be no rules

when it comes to cooking.

I grew up in Italy cause my dad worked

with Italian wines.

So I was exposed to some really great Tuscan food

from a very young age and also Brazilian food.

My mom's Brazilian.

And Mexican food

cause my dad's dad lived in Mexico.

People always ask me like,

What's the overlap in those three cuisines?

And I think the only overlap

in this context is kind of me and just the fact

that I grew up with those cuisines.

So now when I'm cooking,

I feel like I can just draw from all of those.

It just sort of is a subconscious thing rather

than a conscious decision.

As long as it tastes good,

I think it makes sense.

So Mezcla means a mix or blend

or fusion in Spanish.

So the book is about fusion cooking.

The introduction is about my love

for Brazil, Mexico, and Italy.

And a lot of my favorite recipes

in the book are a sort of a Mezcla mix

of those three cuisines.

[light airy music]

So I'm making my Prawn and Habanero lasagna

which is my favorite recipe from Mezcla.

And it's a great sort of representation

of Mezcla cause it's a little bit Mexican.

The habanero obviously very much Italian

cause it's a lasagna.

And in its sort of first incarnation,

there was a Brazilian element in there too.

So first we need to start off

by making the ragù and it is a prawn ragù.

So I'm just gonna finally chop the prawns,

which is the base of the ragù.

It kind of has the exact taste, texture

of a meat ragù but with the taste of prawn.

It's really special, I think, anyway.

I've always been obsessed with food.

I've been obsessed with food

since I had sort of conscious thought,

but it definitely wasn't something

that I thought I would do professionally.

I tried out loads of different jobs.

I was a travel agent for a while.

I sold power and gas door to door.

I started and quit a couple of art degrees.

When I say it out loud,

it seems so obvious that sort of

that should have been my calling

cause I was so obsessed with food.

But it took me a while

and I certainly had no idea when I started

out that recipe development was a job.

I had no idea that the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen existed.

So loads of different things to do with food

but not working in a restaurant kitchen

which I have so much respect for the people

who do that because my favorite place to be is

in a restaurant, but I'm not cut out for it.

I made this for my launch party a couple

of weeks ago and it went down a storm.

People are always really surprised by it.

They're like, Prawn lasagna? What?

But then when they try it, they're like,

My god, this is really delicious.

To cook well at home,

I think this is a really obvious answer

that probably everyone says

but it's so important to taste as you go

and to make sure that seasoning is just so important.

You need a lot of pepper for this lasagna.

So I said it in the book.

I think in the recipe, I say about 50 twists.

So these tomatoes are kind of

where I want them to be.

So you can see the onions are softened,

the tomatoes have sort of broken down

and become sort of thickened.

The oil's starting to split.

So we're in a good place.

So now I'm gonna add,

well actually first I'm gonna turn the heat

all the way up and then I'm gonna add the prawns.

Just give that a really good mix.

My mom is an incredible person

but not a very enthusiastic cook.

That's kind of how I got into cooking

because I felt that the food we were having

at home was so boring.

And my mom said to me at one point,

she got so exasperated with the arguments

that she used to have with the little kid

that wanted nice food,

that she sort of just said, If you want this,

all this food that you're talking about,

you're just gonna have to learn

how to cook yourself.

So you can see the prawn liquid starting

to come out of the prawns.

So that's gonna get even more liquidy.

Now, we're just gonna keep on cooking it

until that liquid's been reabsorbed

into the prawns.

So just to lock all that flavor in.

My kitchen is very small.

Well, actually it's not that small,

but it's smallish.

But, it's got everything it needs.

I haven't actually done much to it

since I moved in apart from like add some shelves

that have like dried chilis and things like that.

Put some art on the walls, lots of plants.

It's a small space but I love it.

For now, it does the trick.

So now that most of the liquid has been reabsorbed,

I'm gonna add some tomato paste and miso

and then just cook that tomato paste

out for about three minutes.

I'm gonna add some wine and let that bubble away.

Also gonna add a very important ingredient

the habanero, which is gonna give

it a really delicious like fruity,

smokey, hot chili-ness.

It's my favorite dried chili.

And now I'm just gonna add preferably fish stock.

But I've actually only got water.

So now we're just gonna let

that simmer away for about 18 to 20 minutes.

I definitely wouldn't have written Mezcla

were it not for having worked

in the Test Kitchen or having written Flavor.

So I'm, yeah, extremely grateful to Yotam,

who's just been the most amazing boss.

And layering flavors is something

that I really learned from him.

And textures, as well.

And I mean, I've always been a huge fan

of citrus and herbs and chilies.

But yeah, definitely that layering of flavor

and layering of texture is such a sort

of Ottolenghi hallmark.

That's definitely something

that I've been inspired by.

Just get your oven preheated

to about 200 degrees fan.

So I think this ragù is pretty much ready,

so I'm just gonna taste it

to make sure that...

Yeah, that's really good.

And now we are ready to prepare the lasagna.

So I'm gonna start by putting a layer of lasagna

in the bottom.

And the great thing about these fresh ones is

that you can just rip them really easily.

Then cover with a layer of the ragù.

And then I'm gonna go with a good drizzle

of cream all over.

A layer of Parmesan.

And then also some chives.

And then I'm just gonna keep building that up.

My best friend in Tuscany,

her family ran a restaurant called, Locanda La Lina

and her granddad used to make all the pasta

for the restaurant in their family house.

So whenever I was at their house,

I would always go and hang out with him

and he did it in the laundry room.

So I was associate fresh pasta and laundry.

I like the smell of fresh laundry.

So I spent a lot of time with her family.

So that was very much a part of my childhood.

So I've got this habanero oil,

or you could use chili oil

or you could use just regular olive oil, whatever.

Whatever you like.

But I do like to bake this habanero oil

to drizzle on.

And now it's ready to go in the oven.

If you're not a very confident cook,

I would really recommend getting cookbooks

from all over

and getting to know different ingredients

and different cuisines

because that's the only way that you'll start

to feel confident in using those ingredients

in your own cooking and coming

up with your own combinations

and mezclas, if you will.

Okay, here we go.

It's ready.

So now it's time for the finishing touches.

A little drizzle of cream.

Seems unnecessary, but I promise you it's not.

And then a drizzle of the habanero oil.

And there we have my Prawn and Habanero lasagna.

[jazz music]

[jazz music]

I haven't actually had any breakfast

so I'm really looking forward to this.

My favorite recipe in Mezcla.


It's very hot but it's really good.

It's also very spicy,

but that's the way I love it.

I hope you enjoy it too.

[jazz music]

Starring: Ixa Belfrage