Chargrilled asparagus, courgettes and haloumi salad

Haloumi has to be one of my all time favourite cheeses. Saying that, I also am prone to drooling over and consuming any mozzarella (smoked, unsmoked) in sight, comte and any blue cheese that is made by Neal’s yard. This recipe actually calls for manouri but it works really well with haloumi. As the weather turns into full-on summertime, this is perfect for alfresco dining and gets the most out of the seasonal asparagus. The one issue with this salad is that it is probably best to use the ridged griddle pan mentioned, however as I don’t have one of these just yet I just used my trusty cast-iron pan. This salad is a sensation, even if in the picture it looks more like a tofu stir-fry—probably due to the choice of plate! Of all the Ottolenghi salads I have tried as yet, it is my favourite and could possibly be the best salad mankind has ever invented … well, that might be going a bit far … but do try it, it is delicious alongside a rack of lamb or grilled fish.

Chargrilled asparagus, courgettes and haloumi salad

350g cherry tomatoes, halved

140ml olive oil

24 asparagus spears

2 courgettes

200g haloumi cheese, sliced 2cm thick

25g rocket leaves

sea salt and pepper

Basil oil

75ml olive oil

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

25g fresh basil

pinch of salt

black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 170C. Mix the tomatoes with salt , pepper and 3 tablespoons olive oil.

2. Spread out on a baking sheet lined with parchment skin side down and roast for an hour or until it looks partially dried. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

3. Break off the tough end of the asparagus and blanch in lots of boiling hot water for 4 minutes. Rinse with cold water to stop the spears from cooking any further, drain well. Put the asparagus into a bowl and add 2 tablespoons olive oil along with some salt and pepper to taste.

4. Slice courgettes very thinly lengthwise (a vegetable peeler will do the trick). Mix them with a tablespoon of olive oil along with salt and pepper.

5. Heat your griddle pan on high until it is extremely hot. Grill the courgettes and asparagus, turning to grill evenly. Remove and leave to cool. Fry the cheese on the griddle pan in the remaining olive oil till golden.

6. For the basil oil, food process all the ingredients till smooth. Assemble the salad in layers and drizzle with plenty of basil oil.

Serves 4–6

(Recipe from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, Yotam Ottolenghi, Ebury Press)

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Aubergine-wrapped gnocchi with sage butter

Aubergines are a gift to all vegetarians. I eat mainly vegetarian and have no qualms or prejudices, but seriously, nothing beats a good sea bass or roast beef fillet. Normally it is quite hard to find great and I mean GREAT vegetarian dishes but now that Ottolenghi has emerged it seems that we are spoilt for choice. I have noticed that Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi love using aubergines in their recipes. This is a fabulous thing as everyone loves a good aubergine. Aubergines are great. They are especially tasty when drenched in butter or soaked up with oil. Mmm oil. Ottolenghi: The Cookbook really should have been included in the Observer Food Monthly’s 50 best cookbooks of all time issue (Aug 2010). The list, although it included many great cookbooks, didn’t seem as comprehensive as it could have been. Madhur Jaffrey has so many interesting and flavourful cookbooks, and the one and only included was her An Invitation to Indian Cookery, when I think the Ultimate Curry Bible is her best one yet—her cooking isn’t solely Indian cookery. Everyone I am sure will have their two cents to add about what was left out, but it was a really interesting read and OFM did pull out some obscure cookbooks and opened my eyes to ones I hadn’t thought to look at.

Since recently moving to the ‘big smoke’ of London, I thought it was a necessity that we visit the flagship Ottolenghi based in Islington. As to be expected, the place was stunning: huge colourful meringues and beautifully tasty apple maple cakes on display. I was drooling as soon as I stepped in the door. I had to order the famous beef fillet—and was an instant convert, especially so because I love my red meat on the rare side. I also had an amazing samphire and baby new potatoes salad that was coated in extra virgin olive oil and some sumac. Of course I had to get the roasted aubergine salad which was mixed with tahini … mmm it was a mighty good day that day.

Aubergine-wrapped gnocchi takes a bit of planning in advance. I (at times regretfully) never seem to read the recipes through before starting them. I always find something to make, post-it note it then compile my market list of what I need to buy for it. The reading of the recipe is done when I am already in the kitchen, an hour before I hope to eat dinner. For this dish that was a bit of a shame as we didn’t get dinner till really really late. The recipe should be started ideally the night before but 4 hours in advance will do. The thing I found about the dish is that if you don’t slice the aubergine slices uniformly and neatly the end result won’t look so appetising! But it will always taste absolutely fabulous.

Aubergine-wrapped gnocchi with sage butter

1 small to medium aubergine

4 Tablespoons olive oil

20g unsalted butter melted

15g Parmesan cheese, grated

Ricotta gnocchi

30g pine nuts

250g ricotta cheese

2 free-range egg yolks

35g plain flour

40g Parmesan cheese, grated

1 Tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 Tablespoon chopped basil

1/4 teaspoons grated nutmeg

salt and pepper

Sage butter

90g unsalted butter

20 sage leaves

pinch of salt

1/2 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Dry roast the pine nuts till golden in colour. Transfer to a bowl and add ricotta, egg yolks, flour, parmesan, herbs, nutmeg and salt and pepper. Stir well and cover, refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

2. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cut the aubergine lengthways into 5mm-thick slices. Lay on to a baking tray and brush with oil. Roast in the oven for 15-20 mins or until the aubergine is tender and golden. You could always chargrill them instead.

3. Shape gnocchi and roll into 8 or 12 long balls. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and drop a few dumplings in at a time. When they rise to the surface this means they are done, take them out and drain on kitchen paper, then brush them with the melted butter.

4. When the gnocchi has cooled down, wrap the aubergine piece around one and do the same with all other gnocchis. Place them into a greased oven dish and sprinkle with Parmesan. Place them into the oven 10 mins before serving time giving them about 10 minutes in the oven to heat through.

5. To make the sage butter, put the butter into a pan over a moderate heat. Simmer for a few minutes until the butter turns a light golden brown, remove from heat and immediately add the sage, salt, lemon juice. Return the pan to the heat, giving it a few seconds to cook lightly.

Serve gnocchi with the sage butter drizzled on top.

Recipe from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook (Ebury Press).

Ottolenghi: Green pancakes with lime butter

Yotam Ottolenghi’s new book Plenty is on my number-one list of cookbook classics. What is excellent is that all the recipes are vegetarian, and although I am a fond lover of fish and meat, I find myself salivating at these recipes. Such moreish recipes like ‘parsnip dumplings in broth’ or the more exotic sounding recipes like ‘soba noodles with aubergine and mango’ where you think to yourself: ‘no this couldn’t possibly work?’ end up delighting your tastebuds. I used to pass by Ottolenghi’s recipes in the Guardian as I must admit I was a bit sceptical. It seemed like he loved using raisins (ick!) in a majority of recipes and fruity elements mixed with savoury, which are or should I say ‘were’ my ultimate food hell.But now I am an absolute and utter Ottolenghi convert and have tried about five recipes so far that have worked a gem! I have now come to the conclusion that this man is a genius! As you can tell, I couldn’t be more enthusiastic.

The cookbook is divided into categories based on the main ingredient and the overall presentation is very clean looking. This is quite hard for me being a bit of a messy cook: first of all the cover is white and now the book already looks like it has caught some onion, oil stains and other food splatters; second of all there is a lot of white space around the images which doesn’t help with the kitchen spills. I don’t have a copy of Ottolenghi’s last book which was a huge success and got tremendous reviews, but I think that the layout and text design is much more attractive and simpler than the last one.

The green pancakes instantly appealed to me. I always think of my best friend Kushana when I see recipes with fritters or pancakes as she was the one person who introduced me to them years ago. The most astonishing aspect of the recipe is the lime butter, who could resist the combination of lime, coriander, garlic and chilli added to the wonderous thing that is butter? The flavours all work really well together and the texture is definitely more pancake-like (quite thick) than it is fritter or rosti-like. One thing to note about the recipe is the baking powder. Although there is a lot, it doesn’t taste overpoweringly like baking powder because the other ingredients balance it out nicely. Due to my greediness, I only took a couple of quick shots of this meal but the picture does not do justice to the most deliciouness of this recipe!

Green pancakes with lime butter

250g spinach, washed

110g self-raising flour

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1 free-range organic egg

50g unsalted butter, melted

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin (use freshly ground if you can)

150ml milk

6 medium spring onions finely sliced

2 fresh green chillies, thinkly sliced

1 free-range egg white

olive oil for frying

Lime butter

100g unsalted butter, at room temperature

grated zest of 1 lime

1 1/2 Tablespoons lime juice

1/4 teaspoon of salt

1/2 teaspoon of white pepper

1 Tablespoon chopped coriander leaves

1/2 garlic clove, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon chilli flakes

Make the lime butter by putting the butter in a bowl and mixing it with a wooden spoon till soft and creamy. Add the ingredients for the butter and mix well. Tip out into cling film and roll out into a sausage shape. Twist the ends to seal and chill in the fridge till firm.

Add spinach to a pan with a little hot water to wilt. Drain and squeeze out all the moisture when cool. Chop and set a side.

Now make the pancake batter. Add flour, baking powder, melted butter, whole egg, salt, cumin, and milk in a large mixing bowl and whisk till smooth. Add the spring onions, chillies and spinach and mix with a fork. Whisk the egg white to soft peaks and gently fold into the batter.

Heat a frying pan on med-high heat. Add olive oil and for each pancake, ladle 2 Tablespoons of batter into the pan and press down gently. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side or till you get a golden-green colour. Continue until all the batter is used up. Serve with the lime butter and some salad on the side.