"I reckon that along with the Royal Doulton China this is one to pass on to the grandkids!"
You might have seen Yotam Ottolenghi's new programme on Mediterranean food which is gracing our television screens at the moment. In the usual style, pioneered by the likes of Keith Floyd, our Yotam is travelling around the Med, invading people's kitchens and knocking up plates of grub, just without some of Floyd's panache.
Yotam initially became famous for his London delicatessens, and the resulting cookbooks and appearances in newsprint. Obviously I don't know if you have ever been to one of the Ottolenghi stores - you might love them for all I know - but I have and I vowed never to return. Not that the quality of food was poor, on the contrary, it was pretty good- but my word, what a swindle.
Perhaps I was naive; after all, who in their right mind should expect change from a tenner for a piece of quiche and a small box of salad? Especially when you're buying from a smart shop on Upper Street in Islington? There are far too many champagne socialists and yummy mummies with husband's credit card burning a hole in their pocket to worry about a poor young Yorkshireman. (God that makes me sound a bit chippy - I assure you officer I'm not, but this type of con brings out a righteous anger from somewhere deep within me).
However, despite the prohibitive pricing policy in his stores, this does need not be a barrier to accessing Yotam's food. His various cook books are excellent and chock full of things you actually want to cook, rather than stare at absent mindedly before putting the book down and picking up the menu for the local Chinese. I really can't praise them highly enough actually, so if you have an awkward family member to buy a Christmas present for, give them one of his three books and tell 'em to get cooking.
I was lucky enough to receive Yotam's latest book, Jerusalem, which he wrote with his business partner Sami Tamimi, for my birthday and a couple of the recipes in there have already become weekday supper staples. Chief among these is shakshuka, which is a Tunisian dish of eggs poached in a spicy mix of stewed vegetables. That description probably doesn't do it justice, but I reckon that along with the Royal Doulton China it is one to pass on to the grandkids!
Suitable for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner, it really is a dish for all seasons and as long as you stick to the basic principle of vegetable, spice and egg then you can experiment and change things around to your heart's content. This is the version I made the other night with the ingredients I managed to find in the local greengrocer, but switch it up according to your own particular tastes! Courgette, green beans, broad beans, spinach, kale, the world is your allotment.
1 large onion, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 aubergine, halved and cut into cubes
3 red peppers, finely sliced
1 chilli, finely sliced
5 tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
small bunch of parsley, chopped
- Start by sweating off the onions and garlic in some olive oil in a pan with a lid over a low heat.When they have softened and the onions are translucent, turn up the heat to medium, add the spices and fry for a couple of minutes.
- Chuck in the aubergine, peppers and chilli and cook for another five or six minutes, then add the chopped tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and give everything a good stir.
- Now turn the heat down, put a lid on the pan and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Depending on the juiciness of the tomatoes you might think your shakshuka is a little dry - it needs to be fairly loose at this point - so add a drop of water to lubricate things.
- After about 15 minutes the vegetables should be cooked through and have coalesced into a dense, richly coloured stew. Stir in the parsley, taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper or any of the other spices if you think it needs it.
- Now, using a spoon make a couple of hollows in the surface of the vegetables and break an egg into each one. Now cover the pan again and cook for another 4-5 mins, but check after a couple to make sure the eggs haven't overcooked. You want the white to have cooked through, but the yolk to be nice and runny, a la the perfect poached egg.
- Spoon onto warm plates making sure you don't break the yolk and serve up to your lucky dining partner. All you need to go with it is a hunk of good bread and maybe some plain yoghurt if you fancy.
And that is it, nuff said...