So when Cowie and I planned our latest dinner party it was only natural that it took on an Ottoleghi feel. Feeling confident having followed some of his recipes carefully, we decided to branch out and use the book as inspiration rather than treating it like a copy of the ten commandments. Our menu was:
Starter: Communal watercress salad with griddled nectarine, goats cheese and mandarin oil dressing
Main: Whole sumac BBQ salmon with fregola and sumac yoghurt
Dessert: Apricot semolina tart
For the salad we simply griddled some nectaries assembled a large salad of watercress, soft goats cheese and slices of prosciutto. We then sprinkled it with a dressing made from Nudo mandarin olive oil and white balsamic and a few turns of salt and pepper. It looked stunning and was wolfed down with great enthusiasm.
Kicking off dinner parties with shared salads like this where everyone can help themselves whilst having a drink is a great way of taking some of the strain out of being a host. It saves washing up and can be prepared really easily. It allowed us to concentrate on doing justice to the salmon...
As a result of our excellent turbot, we decided to source our wild side of salmon to feed 12 from Moxons. It costs more. But when it is the star of the show, it's worth it.
I whipped up a marinade of olive oil, sumac, salt, pepper and sumac and left it to rest for half an hour whilst we got the BBQ up to heat. The logistics of BBQing a whole side of salmon are simple. But daunting. One wrong move and the fish falls apart and everyone goes home hungry. Having collected lots of advice from various books and websites I dived straight in with Cowie almost shouting at me to play it safe and cook it in foil... Pah...
Here's what to do:
1. Clean the grill and then oil it so it's nice and slippy
2. If you aren't marinating the fish, then make sure you oil the skin
3. Disperse the embers so that you aren't cooking directly above them - it's much better cooking on indirect heat as it avoids burning
4. Place the fish skin side down
5. Attend to your fish with unwavering concentration
6. When the time is right, use two spatulas/fish slices and use quick jabbing movements and turn he fish quickly
7. Only turn your fish once
8. The fish will only need a short amount of cooking on the flesh side
9. Remove from the heat and serve
Our salmon took around 15-20 minutes of gentle cooking before it was ready. The smell of heat on fish skin is one of my favourites.
To our delight the salmon was perfect. The skin was so crispy and fragrant that fish skin haters lapped it up with glee; the flesh teased apart and made serving it a doddle; and It was still thrillingly medium rare. Phew!
The yoghurt dressing with sumac, lemon zest, chilli and clutch of herbs from the garden offered a fresh creamy counterpoint to the vibrant fish. The exotic, lemony flavour of sumac was very subtle, but utterly delicious. It's got us hooked!
A bowl of fregola mixed with cous cous hazlenuts, tomatoes and herbs wasn't half bad either! Another doff of cap to Ottolenghi.
After the success of a semolina rhubarb tart earlier in the year we decided to make the most of a glut of apricots by making them into a tart. It's very easy and tastes great. The night before simply make a semolina cream by heating 1 1/2 cups of milk spiked with vanilla and when it gets hot add 45 grams of fine semolina and 55 grams of caster sugar. Stir this as it heat and bring to the boil. Cook for a little longer and when it is smooth and thick remove from the heat. Allow it cool a little and then beat in 3 egg yolks. Set this aside in plastic bowl and cover with cling-film that hugs the cream to avoid a skin forming. Then on the night of the dinner party blind bake some dessert pastry, allow to cool and then spoon in the semolina cream. Now you can get arty. Arrange your slices of fresh apricot in geometric patterns and paint with apricot jam. Then bake until the apricots have become soft and the top has turned golden.
We served it warm with some vanilla ice cream. But it is probably better (and easier to serve) cold. The tart apricots had turned sweet with their juices combined with the smooth semolina cream. The only disappointment was that there wasn't enough for seconds! You could do the same thing with gooseberries or raspberries...
It was one of our most fun dinner parties to date. We managed to balance cooking interesting food whilst also taking as much stress and time consuming preparation out as possible. It's a great formula, and one we are going to repeat.