We had a weekend of rather impromptu events recently. A regular diner had booked in a private event some time ago but had been unhappy with the proposed menu of Mediterranean delicacies from Ottolenghi and so had cancelled at the last minute. As we’d put a bit of work into the menu prep we opened it up to the public and it sold out in minutes. Regular readers will know that we’ve had quite a few Ottolenghi events under our belts. In fact at one point it was his books and those of Rachel Khoo that we could barely look at from having cooked so much from them! Anyway, spurred on by his recent and beautiful Mediterranean TV series we let him back into our lives!
Somewhat inspired by our recent jaunts to Ottolenghi’s Soho restaurant Nopi and our travels around Copenhagen, we did away with our typical fare of canapes and starters and instead served up a series of sharing plates to begin the meal. These were dishes that were taken through to the dining room whenever they were ready and which came on large platters for people to have a taste of as much or as little as they so wished. I felt this worked well for Ottolenghi’s cuisine as many of his recipes have one core ingredient that is cooked simply but which is paired with such flavours that the main ingredient is allowed to shine. I used his Plenty book to develop this part of the meal and the dishes were as follows:
Green gazpacho – this was a refreshing palate cleanser made with cucumber, green pepper, parsley, basil, walnuts and a subtle kick of chilli. It’s an inventive twist on the traditional tomato gazpacho. I might try it again but would swap the cucumber for tomatoes as I’m not a big cucumber fan.
Spelt, treacle and fennel bread – Not strictly Mediterranean but I had some Spelt flour leftover from our Scandinavian events. It’s a lovely and satisfying dough to work with and so I thought I’d treat our guests to a loaf or two to help start their meals.
Marinated pepper salad – red peppers are slow roasted and skinned and then marinated overnight in garlic and balsamic vinegar creating the softest, sweetest pepper you will ever taste. They were the star of the show on a platter with dressed watercress, capers and punchy mature Pecorino cheese. My tip for this dish is not to scrimp on the Pecorino. You don’t need a lot of it so it really is worth splashing out. I got mine from our friend Mario’s stall at the Leeds Farmers Market. He has a range of Pecorino’s on offer, just tell him what you’re cooking and he’ll pick the best one for you.
Caramelised fennel with goat curd – This was a very simple yet effective dish and even turned some fennel hating guests! Fennel was sliced lengthways and then fried in butter and olive oil until slightly caramelised. Ottolenghi calls for sugar to be added to the pan to create a caramel which the fennel is then returned to. I found that the heat of the pan made the sugar burn almost instantaneously, creating a horrid, bitter taste. I left this step out and instead dressed the cooked fennel in a sweet vinaigrette of lemon juice, honey, mustard, dill and rape seed oil – a lovely bright yellow colour! The fennel was then drizzled with some sharp goat curd (if you can’t get curd then just whizz up some soft goats cheese with natural yoghurt) and a scattering of toasted hazelnuts.
Sweetcorn polenta with smoky aubergine sauce – This was a very intriguing dish indeed! I had expected the recipe to include polenta but how wrong I was. This was actually corn kernels boiled briefly and then whizzed up to create a vibrant and creamy paste. This was then cooked down to thicken up and had feta cheese and butter melted into it to make a very comforting sweetcorn flavoured polenta! A spicy sauce made from slow cooked aubergines was then put on top to give a strong contrast to the polenta. I found Ottolenghi’s version of the sauce a little bitter and insipid (which is probably because I was using lots of out of season ingredients!) and so pimped mine with smoked paprika and harissa.
Stuffed onions – the final sharing dish was a fiddly one indeed! Onion petals are created by separating out all of the layers of the onion. The layers that were big enough, and which weren’t broken by my heavy hand were blanched in a mix of stock and wine and were then stuffed with a combination of herbs, cheese and breadcrumbs. These were baked in more wine and stock to create a very rich and creamy dish. I garnished with barberry as I felt the sour nuggets would be a good contract to the creaminess.
One steer we were given for this event was that chicken should be the main course. Using Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem as her inspiration, Susie served up a dish of roasted chicken with Jerusalem artichokes and lemon. Whilst it sounds like a simple dish, everything is marinaded in the complex flavours of tarragon, lemon, pink peppercorns and saffron. This married well with the moist chicken and the earthiness of the Jerusalem artichokes. For our vegetarian option, Susie adapted Ottolenghi’s lamb stuffed aubergines with pines nuts with lentils. the stuffing was smokey and spicy, pricked with paprika and tamarind. Both of these dishes were served with a green bean and caper salad, which was tart, fresh crisp and refreshing. Also alongside these were paprika roasted sweet potatoes.
I created a sorbet based on a delicious drink that I had been introduced to at Nopi. This was a mocktail of kumquat, passionfruit and rose, the beautiful flavours of which have stuck in my mind ever since. To recreate it I combined orange juice with a syrup made from Seville oranges and passionfruit. This created a tangy, fruity and refreshing sorbet with a wonderful colour of summer.
Dessert was an indulgent affair and for this Susie used a recipe from Ottolenghi’s first book of the same name. This was a baked caramel cheesecake with macadamia nuts. Something that is still served in his Ottolenghi deli – we hope we did it justice! A light, baked ricotta cheesecake which is them covered in a layer of fudgy caramel then topped with caramel coated macadamias for more texture. The macadamias were a bit of a revelation, as they just looked and tasted like popcorn! This was served with a blackberry coulis and a scoop of rich, decadent chocolate sorbet.
Our petit four for the evening were little biscuits filled with blackberry curd. Susie’s crumbly shortbread biscuits were a perfect vehicle for my tangy blackberry curd, and these were finished off with a sprinkling of crushed pistachio nuts.
All in all we had a very satisfying weekend of events with lots of clean plates and lovely comments. What made it very special was that on the first night it was all people who had never been to the Manor before and who had been wanting to come for ages. By putting on a public event so unexpectedly it had meant that they had a chance to book on at the last minute. This is what makes running a supperclub all the more worth it, when people are excited about coming and enjoy the food.