savory

Heavenly Housewife has been singing the praises of Yotam Ottolenghi lately. She’s even taken an Ottolenghi cooking class in London after waiting forever to get in. Yes, that’s how popular this chef has become in the UK. She posted some delicious treats from the class and then, good heavens, she made some of his salads! That’s a sure sign that she truly adores this chef. I wish we were in London taking Yotam’s classes together. Wouldn’t that be fun? London, Heavenly, Steven, Yotam and me: who could ask for anything more?

Yotam Ottolenghi-style roasted eggplant with labneh, za’atar and pomegranate molasses

Yotam Ottolenghi-style roasted eggplant with labneh, za’atar and pomegranate molasses

Last week while browsing in some colorful Mission Neighborhood shops before it was time for our table at Locanda, I spotted a gorgeous cookbook graced by this eggplant dish. It looked like an objet d’art, a jewel! As you might already guess, the book was Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi. The American version is published by Chronicle Books LLC, right here in San Francisco, very cool! It is packed with a whole lot of exciting vegetarian dishes. I like it so well, that I’ve already prepared four of them, so more to come. The photography in the book is mind-blowing. Our compliments to the photographer, Jonathan Lovekin, and to Yotam Ottolenghi, of course.

I had to adapt the recipe because I didn’t have all the ingredients. Pomegranates are not in season right now, so I used small drops of pomegranate molasses instead. The sauce calls for buttermilk and Greek yogurt, but I used labneh, since we had some already. I prepared my own za’atar, as we have all the individual ingredients in our pantry. The lemon thyme, I’m thrilled to say, comes from my own community garden plot. This is the first recipe that calls for it that I’ve made since planting that lovely herb.

Lastly, the recipe calls for roasting the eggplant at 200F for 35-40 minutes. I think that must be an error. Surely it was supposed to be 200C. The publisher must have forgotten to convert to Fahrenheit. It should have been at least 400F. I waited about 35 minutes before cranking up the heat and only then did my eggplant really start to brown and cook.

Otherwise, this dish was sublime. Thanks, Heavenly Housewife, for introducing Yotam Ottolenghi’s cooking to our table!

Yotam Ottolenghi-style roasted eggplant with labneh, za’atar and pomegranate molasses

For the eggplant:

3 medium to large Italian eggplant, cut in half the long way, stems on
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp fresh lemon thyme, minced; plus several sprigs lemon thyme
½ tsp pomegranate molasses
Black pepper to taste
Pinch Aleppo pepper
Kosher salt
2 tsp za’atar*

For labneh sauce:

2 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed
3 tbsp extra virgin arbequina olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
1 cup labneh
½ cup water or more

*For the za’atar :

3 tbsp sumac
1 tsp dried Greek oregano
1 tbsp pan dry-roasted sesame seeds, cooled to room temperature and ground
Pinch savory
½ tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Pre heat oven to 400F.

Place eggplant halves, cut side up, on a baking dish. Use a sharp knife to make incisions in eggplant flesh in the shape of diamonds/ lozenges without piecing the skin. Brush halves with equal amounts of olive oil. Repeat until all olive oil is absorbed. Add salt, peppers and minced thyme. Tuck some of the seasonings in the little crevices of the eggplant. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes, or until flesh is soft. Broil eggplant for few minutes towards the end, just to give them some color. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile prepare za’atar by mixing all ingredients together, set aside.

Place labneh in a bowl. Whisk in ½ cup of water, olive oil, salt and mashed garlic. The sauce should be fairly thin. Add more water here if needed. Set aside.

Arrange eggplant halves on a serving platter. Spoon over some labneh sauce, top with a few drops of pomegranate molasses, sprinkle za’atar over that, followed by a few flowers of lemon thyme

Store leftover za’atar in a tight container in the refrigerator for up to a month. Sprinkle it liberally on salads, rice, humus, yogurt.

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Delfina is my favorite restaurant in San Francisco. I really love other places, like The Slanted Door and Gary Danko, but to me Delfina reigns supreme. They make Italian food with a California influence, or perhaps it’s vice-versa? We’ve been going there for years now to celebrate special occasions. The reason we enjoy Delfina sparingly is not because of the price as it’s affordable. Rather, it’s because it’s small and very popular. Thus you need a reservation well in advance unless you’re willing to wait interminably. And it’s only for special occasions that we ever get around to planning things. I keep wishing that they’d expand their business so it would be easy and convenient to get in last minute. But at the same time perhaps it’s better this way: small and of consistently high quality. Well enough free advertisement for Delfina!

warm white bean frisée salad with grilled calamari

Last week, I was channeling Delfina and decided to try reproducing what for me is one of their signature dishes: warm bean salad and frisée topped with grilled baby calamari. I love the creamy texture, the earthy flavor of the beans, the tanginess/bitterness of the greens and the yummy umami flavor of the grilled baby squid. The restaurant serves this as an appetizer, but at home I made it into an entrée. I’ve no idea what their recipe is so I improvised. Nevertheless, it turned out marvelously!

warm white bean frisée salad with grilled calamari

1 cup great northern beans, picked over then soaked in water for 3 hours
8 baby calamari and tentacles, cleaned and drained
3 pressed cloves fresh garlic
Juice of 1 lemon
Zest of half lemon
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of dried savory (less than 1/3 tsp)
Pinch of dried sage (less than 1/3 tsp)
4 tbsp olive oil plus more for finishing
½ head of frisée, cleaned and cut into bite size pieces
1tsp water
1 tsp sherry vinegar

Drain soaked beans then transfer to a pot and fill with water to about 1 inch above level of beans. Bring to a boil then reduce temperature to medium/low and simmer till soft but not mushy. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Add more water if needed.

Once beans reach the texture that you like, add salt, olive oil, 2 cloves of garlic, dried savory and sage. Continue to simmer. Transfer about 2 cups of beans to a bowl and blend with a stick blender (or in a food processor) for few seconds. Return blended beans to pot, and simmer on low heat.

Meanwhile, fire up the grill and bring temp to high (450F). Season your baby calamari with salt, a clove of crushed garlic, pepper, some lemon juice and zest. Grill baby calamari for no longer than 4 minutes total, two minutes on each side. Cooking it longer will make it rubbery.

To make the salad, mix frisée with salt, pepper, lemon juice, sherry vinegar, water, olive oil and toss with your hands to coat the leaves completely with dressing.

To assemble the dish, place salad in the center, add a ladle or two of bean around it followed by calamari on top. Drizzle a bit more of olive oil and another squirt of lemon and voilà!

Note: It did take time to make, but that’s part of the inventing process. Sun Fat had two types of fresh squid, clean ones from China and whole wild ones from the Monterrey Bay, near here. I decided to go local. The disadvantage is that I had to clean them. It is a bit gruesome, but now I know how so I’ll be mentally prepared for next time.

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