A first flirtation with Ottolenghi

My very dear friend Christine, whom I’ve known since we were 11, gave me a beautiful new cookbook for Christmas/birthday – Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem. I hadn’t even heard of Ottolenghi until last June when I was in London having dinner at the flat of another very dear friend, Henni. She showed me one of his earlier books, Plenty (which focuses entirely on vegetables), and told me he was basically ‘so hot right now’ in London, although she didn’t use those exact words! I’ve since discovered that his eponymous empire so far comprises three take-away shops in Notting Hill, Kensington and Belgravia (some with a few seats), a restaurant (plus shop) in Islington, and a brasserie (called Nopi) in Soho. If you know London you might surmise from this list of the city’s most thoroughly desirable areas that we’re talking about something quite upmarket here, and you’d be right. It’s not for nothing that they say on their website, “We like to think of ourselves as the haute couture of the food-to-go world”. I’ve yet to visit a single one of these outlets (which will be rectified on my next trip) but the descriptions I’ve read and the pictures on the website (and in the books) all speak of the most beautiful, sensual, vibrantly coloured and boldly flavoured food, all handmade from scratch from the best raw ingredients with the greatest of care and passion. Presentation is a big part of it too: the shops are well-known for their highly enticing window displays, a pyramid structure of platters and cake stands piled high with the prettiest tarts, meringues, cakes and pastries. I wish I could nick a few photos from the website but I think that might be a bit naughty so I’ll direct you there instead: ottolenghi.co.uk

So, in the last week I’ve made three dishes from Jerusalem, his latest book, which as you might guess focuses on food from this city. The first was a very good basic hummus recipe and the second was roasted chicken pieces with fennel, clementines (or, at this time of year, oranges) and Pernod, which I marinated one night and cooked for friends the next – a delicious and simple entertaining dish as all it needed was 45 minutes in the oven and some rice and green veg to go with it. The third recipe I attempted was for a late post-food-shop breakfast last Sunday which I practically inhaled, it was so delicious, and I can’t wait to make it again. I facebooked about it at the time, so excited was I, and had requests (including from Christine, the giver of the book) for the recipe, so here it is…

Shakshuka is, according to the book, originally a Tunisian recipe which has become very popular throughout Israel. There are many variations on this egg dish, the following being the one for summer and early autumn, with potatoes used in winter and aubergines in spring. These quantities will feed two to four people, depending on hunger levels. (I made half the amount and ate the lot myself, which was quite piggy!)

Shakshuka from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Shakshuka from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Dice two large red capsicums (peppers) into 0.5cm dice and sauté in two tablespoons of olive oil along with two tablespoons of harissa paste, two teaspoons of tomato purée, four cloves of garlic, finely chopped, one teaspoon of ground cumin and ¾ teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring, over a moderate heat for about eight minutes until the capsicum has softened. Add five large very ripe tomatoes, chopped, or two tins of chopped tomatoes, bring back to simmering point and cook for a further ten minutes, creating a thick sauce. Check for seasoning and then make eight little wells in the sauce. Take four eggs and four yolks and drop them into the sauce, one in each well. (When I made it I used all whole eggs but less of them). Simmer for eight to ten minutes until the egg whites are set but the yolks are still runny – covering the pan with a lid will hasten the process, if you want to do that. Remove from the heat and allow to settle for a couple of minutes before spooning onto plates and eating with buttered toast or bread. Enjoy!

Shakshuka from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Shakshuka from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Mamma Contaldo’s ricotta dumplings

I had such a satisfying day of cooking yesterday that it makes me feel warm inside every time I think about it! First I made apple chutney (more of that later), then for dinner I made ricotta dumplings with tomato sauce, a dish I discovered watching the fabulous Two Greedy Italians on telly with Antonio Carluccio and Genarro Contaldo. According to the BBC website, where I found the recipe (although I have just discovered it’s on the SBS website too), these dumplings are traditionally made in Contaldo’s home town of Minori, on the Amalfi Coast, on the feast day of the town’s patron saint.

Minori, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Minori, Amalfi Coast, Italy (royalty-free image, yaymicro.com)

(I’ve added the above photo to get you in the mood. I found it on Google Images and I’ve credited the website that it comes from so I hope I don’t get into trouble. Please excuse the watermark across it – although I bet you didn’t notice that until I pointed it out!)

Having never made fresh pasta before these ricotto dumplings seemed like a fairly simple place to start, but it wasn’t quite as easy as they made it look on TV! You put into a big mixing bowl 200g 00 flour, 225g ricotta, three egg yolks, 30g freshly grated parmesan, salt, pepper and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. Work this into a dough with your hand – it will come together eventually. (Watching the TV clip on YouTube again afterwards I noticed that they mixed the ricotta, egg yolks, parmesan and seasoning together a bit before adding the flour which seems like a good idea). Put your dough onto a floured board and knead for three to five minutes. Then, roll your dough into thin sausage shapes and, with a knife, cut into 2cm long pieces. You can sprinkle a little more flour over the dumplings to stop them sticking to the knife.

Before cooking the dumplings, make your sauce. Sautée three thickly sliced garlic cloves and one sliced chili in a good glug of olive oil for about a minute before adding two tins of good quality tinned whole tomatoes, cutting each tomato in half. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for five minutes. Meanwhile, cook your dumplings; the recipe says they take three to four minutes. Tip them into a large pan of salted boiling water. Put the lid on straight away to help bring the water back up to boiling and them remove the lid again. A helpful tip they mention on the TV clip is that once they float to the surface, they need a further two minutes on simmer. Lift them out with a slotted spoon and add them to the tomato sauce. Stir to coat, spoon into hot bowls, garnish with basil leaves and serve with extra parmesan to grate over the top.

Ricotta dumplings with simple tomato sauce

Ricotta dumplings with simple tomato sauce

I absolutely loved the simplicity of this meal but I’m not sure if my dumplings turned out as they’re meant to be since they were quite solid and doughy. They did say on the program that they would be heavier than their cousin, potato gnochi, but still I felt that they could be improved. Next time (and I can’t wait to make them again!) I’ll put a timer on for the kneading part to make sure I do that for long enough, and I think I’ll cut them a bit smaller. I was delighted with the sauce and couldn’t believe it needed so few ingredients, but I would say that it’s really worthwhile buying the best tinned tomatoes you can for this. I really like the Ardmona ones as they have a lovely thick juice.