It’s a sign of getting older when wandering around supermarket aisles aimlessly gives your heart joy. Little things, I suppose. The aisles of Waitrose yielded exotic pomegranate molasses and yuzu, and determined not to let them languish in the cupboard, I looked up ways to use them in dishes. Of all store cupboard ingredients, five spice is apparently the most underused in our kitchens. There’s a famous skit by Michael McIntyre about this which had me in stitches the first time I watched it.
I settled on reliable Ottolenghi with this cosy, comforting dish of oven-baked chicken coated with rich sauce and sweet onions. I fully vouch for its tastiness and ease of making. The original recipe calls for Charlotte potatoes as well but I left them out to go carb-free. For the life of me I couldn’t find fresh oregano anywhere except a whole plant in a pot which would have gone to waste so I resorted to dried oregano instead. I also halved the recipe to make the portions more manageable. It makes a lovely main course for a family dinner and also a great lunch for work. I put in a large handful of spinach (or any greens) at the bottom of my lunch container and whizz it in the microwave for a few minutes for a delicious midday break.
Chicken with prunes and pomegranate molasses
4 chicken drumsticks and 4 thighs, skinned (about 1kg in total)
2 large onions, peeled and quartered or a handful of shallots left whole
60g pitted prunes
15g grated fresh ginger
40ml soy sauce
45ml pomegranate molasses
1/2 tbsp maple syrup
60g sweet mango chutney
½ tsp whole black peppercorns
10g oregano sprigs or 2 tsps dried oregano
Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, then tip into a large casserole dish. Cover with a lid (or thick foil), and bake for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to 180C/350F/gas mark 4, and cook for two hours longer. Every now and then baste the chicken with the juices and turn them over to get an even brown colour.
When the time is up, remove the dish from the oven, baste the chicken again, cover and set aside to rest and allow the flavours to mingle.
Serve with couscous and a fresh crisp salad to balance the richness of the sauce. Or, with wilted greens for a lighter meal.
I tell you, the Ottolenghi cookbook has a wealth of tantalising recipes that I return to again and again. Chief amongst these are the griddled lamb chops with the amazing minty herby salty sweet marinade that doubles up as a sauce (which I should actually post at some point in the future since I’ve done it so many times) and a simple chargrilled broccoli dish with a dressing of oil, fried garlic and chillies. Notice the common factor in these recipes? The griddle pan. The caramelised lines of sweetness add depth and warmth to anything you chuck onto the pan. The only drawback is probably cleaning it after use. Trying to get into all those ridges and clean all the gunk can be a bit of a pain, but I’ve developed a nifty trick of wiping my non-stick pans down with kitchen paper whilst the oil and residue are just off the stove and still warm and therefore softer and easier to remove.
I got these blushing white-fleshed peaches from the grocer for such great value – 5 for 99p! That they were white instead of yellow peaches were just an added bonus. After having the griddle treatment, the warm and caramel-ly peaches still retained that wonderful light blossom-y peach flavour.
I’ve tweaked the original recipe a little, more out of necessity than originality because I just used what I had in the fridge! Ottolenghi used endives, watercress and baby chard leaves, and I just decided to chuck all those lovely different flavours out of the window and used rocket leaves instead, and I used Serrano ham instead of speck.
Serves 2 for a starter or 1 for a large main
2 large ripe peaches
1 tbsp olive oil
30g rocket leaves
4 slices of Serrano ham
sea salt and black pepper
1 1/2 tbsp orange blossom water
1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tbsp maple syrup
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- Place a griddled pan over medium high heat and let it heat up for several minutes.
- Cut each peach in half and each half into three wedges. Toss the peaches with the olive oil, salt & black pepper.
- Place the peach wedges on the pan and grill them for 2-3 minutes on the first side, until brown charcoal lines form, then flip over and grill them on the other side. Be careful as the pan would have heated up even more by then and the second side will not take as long to cook. Remove them from the pan and leave to cool.
- Whisk all the dressing ingredients together. Toss the peaches in about a third of the dressing.
- Artfully scatter the peaches, rocket leaves and ham slices over a serving plate and drizzle the dressing over the salad. There will probably be some dressing leftover, so don’t drench the salad in it.
Morcilla is a sausage made from pig’s blood, rice, onion and spices. Like a Spanish black pudding. The first time I tasted it was in Barrafina, served as a tapas dish with quail’s eggs and piquillo peppers. Oh, it tasted so good. Rich and unctuous and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. I was sold. Recently I went to Copita with a friend for dinner, and again we had morcilla. This time, on its own sliced thin. This was completely different, cured and streaked with fat like Chinese waxed sausage eaten raw.
Yesterday I tried reproducing the dish, but couldn’t find any quail’s eggs, so I had to settle myself with some larger-than-life scallops. I know. The hardship. I coped pretty well. The rest of the morcilla was crumbled into a tortilla. Both of these recipes came from the Barrafina book. All that protein and carbs would have made a pretty rich meal, so my token greens came in the form of chargrilled broccoli with chillies and garlic. It’s one of my favourite dishes from the Ottolenghi book. This is an excellent dish if you need some vegetables in your diet but want to jazz up the usual stir-fry. It’s moreish, and makes me feel virtuous eating all those greens!
If there were any cookbooks worth investing in, the Barrafina and the Ottolenghi cookbooks will be worth it. And they would make great Christmas presents for a keen cook!
Pork belly seems to be one of those cuts of meat that is coming back into fashion. The best one I’ve had so far was in Scotland where they studded cloves of garlic in between the belly layers accompanied with a delicious gravy that had hints of star anise and cloves in it.
There’s a recipe for roast pork belly in the Ottolenghi cookbook that I have been craving for a while, so one weekend when I was in the mood and had the time for it I had a go. Because of course cooking not only calls for adequate time, but the best of moods to produce the best results.
The white wine forms a herby bath around the meat so it stays nice and succulent. I babied this thing all the way through but the skin Just. Wouldn’t. Crackle. So I whacked up the grill at the end and it crisped up beautifully. With all the hard work I put into it I was so happy it turned out well! The relish that accompanies it is wonderfully sweet and tangy. The original recipe had rhubarb in it, but it’s not in season now so I just omitted it and altered the ingredient ratios.
Roast Pork Belly
1 bunch of thyme, chopped
1 bunch of rosemary, chopped
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and crushed
150ml of olive oil
1 piece of pork belly, 1.5-2kg
1/2 bottle of white wine
Coarse sea salt and black pepper
- Heat the oven to 250°C or its highest setting. Puree the herbs, garlic and olive oil roughly.
- Line an oven tray with aluminium foil. Lay the pork belly skin side down and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Spread and press the herb mixture all over the top.
- Turn the belly skin side up, wipe the skin dry with kitchen paper and sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Have a really light hand with this, I thought mine was sparse enough (see pic) but I had to scrape off bits later on as the meat shrinks and the salt forms a crust which prevents the crackling from forming.
- Roast for 1 hour, turning the tray around every 15 minutes so it browns evenly.
- Once the skin has formed some crackling, turn the oven down to 170°C and pour the white wine into the tray, carefully avoiding the skin. Roast for another hour. Cover with foil if the belly starts turning black.
- Turn the oven down to 110°C and roast for another hour, until the skin has crackled up completely and is thoroughly dried.
- If the belly doesn’t crackle, switch on the grill to medium heat and place the meat under it. Be careful as it will spit.
- Cut up the belly into portions and serve with relish. Enjoy!
Spiced red plum relish
5 red plums, stoned and cut into quarters
1 red chilli, halved and seeded
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
50-75ml red wine vinegar
100g caster sugar
- Place everything in a saucepan. Stir well, bring to a light boil and simmer for 20-25 minutes. Skim off any froth if necessary.
- The relish should have a jam-like consistency. Put a teaspoonful of relish on a sauce and run your finger through it, it should stay separated. Remove from heat and cool. The relish will keep for about a week or two and goes well with other roast meats.