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

Two Italian ways with squid (and fennel)

Given that I had the second half of the chutney to make on Sunday (before the apples started to get too old) I wanted something simple to cook for dinner. Just as well considering we didn’t end up eating until 10pm! I’d found a recipe for a lovely looking tomato, fennel and squid salad in Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italy so I popped up to Illawarra Road (taking in the Marrickville Festival while I was at it) for a fennel bulb and some squid – everything else I already had. I realised when I started prepping the ingredients later that the squid were pretty huge and I’d only need to use half, hence squid part two a couple of days later…

Take four medium squid (or two large ones as I did – I bought the tubes so no gutting or cleaning required; next time I’ll be braver as it’d be nice to have the tentacles too), slice them open along one side and flatten them out. Score the inside flesh in a criss-cross pattern with a knife. Cut 200g of tomatoes (I had vine ones, but the recipe suggests cherry and plum tomatoes) into chunks and put in a big bowl along with a half a red onion, finely sliced. Pinch the ferny tops off your fennel bulb and save for later, and finely slice the fennel and add to the bowl. Add the juice of one lemon and one orange, a teaspoon of dried oregano, three tablespoons of red wine or herb vinegar, seven tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and toss together. That’s a lot of liquid so I actually eased back slightly on the vinegar and olive oil.

Cook the squid on a griddle pan (or a barbecue) so you get nice charred bits. Before putting it on (and make sure the pan is seriously hot), rub the squid with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and chili flakes on both sides. I found it quite hard to cook the squid as they need three to four minutes each side and they very quickly start to curl up, so I had to wrestle with them with two sets of tongs to try to keep them fully in contact with the pan! It might well be easier with smaller squid, I think. Once they’re cooked, slice them into wide strips on the diagonal and add to the salad, tossing everything again. Serve sprinkled with the zest of one lemon and the reserved fennel tops.

Tomato, fennel and squid salad

Tomato, fennel and squid salad

This was a lovely light, quick supper that tasted to me of Mediterranean holidays! The squid had that wonderful chargrilled flavour (and we had a house full of smoke!) and the oregano, citrus juices and the aniseed of the fennel all worked beautifully together. Mr T wasn’t too keen on the red onion and I tend to agree that the amount could be reduced a bit, but the salad does benefit from some to give it a bit of kick.

On Tuesday I used up the rest of the squid in a pasta recipe from the same book: simply, spaghetti with squid, or, far more romantically, ‘spaghetti con calamari’. Sauté, stirring often, a finely chopped fennel bulb (tops reserved, again) along with two cloves of garlic, finely sliced, and two teaspoons of fennel seeds, freshly crushed. (The smell of sweet, spicy, aniseedy fennel seeds in your mortar is divine.) Turn up the heat and add four baby squid (or two large ones) cut into rings, a finely sliced chili and a large glass of white wine and stir until the liquid is reduced by half. Now turn down to a low simmer and cook your pasta – I used fettuccini, rather than spaghetti, because that’s my favourite. I was a little worried that the squid would go hard and rubbery in the 10 minutes it takes for the pasta to cook, but it didn’t. When the pasta is done, drain and toss with the squid mixture. Remove it from the heat and add about five tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, the reserved fennel tops and a handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves (I actually forgot the parsley but it didn’t seem to matter). Toss it all together and check the seasoning. Serve sprinkled with the zest of a lemon.

Fettuccini with squid (before the pasta is added)

Fettuccini with squid (before the pasta is added)

After tasting it we squeezed over the juice of said lemon as well which really lifted it and gave it some zing. Also providing some added punch were the two chilis I included (rather than one), seeds and all. I also loved the warmth of the fennel flavour, intensified by the fennel seeds. It was so delicious and so simple and quick to make – I’ll definitely be adding this one to my week-night repertoire!