It’s about 10 years since I met Yottam Ottolenghi when he was in Sydney for the Crave Sydney International Food Festival. In 2010, Yottam and partner Sami Tamimi had the first Ottolenghi deli in London’s Notting Hill, wowing locals with dishes characterised by Middle Eastern flavours, vegetables and simplicity.
Back then, Rene Redzepi of Noma fame was star of the festival; the uber-forager, though the Chef’s Showcase had a Middle Eastern flavour, hence Ottolenghi’s appearance. My friends, Ray and Jennice Kersh, pioneers in bringing native Australia foods to wider audiences with their legendary restaurant Edna’s Table were dismayed that indigenous flavours and culture were not being celebrated anywhere in the festival. So, they invited the visiting chefs to an informal lunch themselves in the Royal Botanic Gardens, preceded by a tour of the indigenous plants in the gardens. As committed lovers of native foods and Ray’s cooking, Simon Marnie of ABC radio and I co-emceed, and my son Blair donated his time as a waiter. See the menu here. The overseas chefs were enthralled, listening avidly, tasting and questioning. It was a memorable experience.
Not long after that, I was in London, and Ottolenghi assisted with a table at his restaurant Nopi. It was an eye-opener. Only fairly recently I ate at his newest restaurant Rovi, where he continues to celebrate vegetables and reinvent traditions such as fermentation and cooking over fire to serve some of the most exciting food in the capital.
A decade on, Ottolenghi is now a superstar. The Israeli-born, London-based chef has a massive empire of restaurants and eateries throughout London and his recipes are closely followed in The Guardian newspaper. He has a constantly growing number of cookbooks to match, including this most recent one FLAVOUR which is co-authored by Ixta Belfrage. He, and his collaborators, have done more than anyone to put vegetables centre stage with recipes to entice, excite and yes, make you happy.
Happy Ali is thrilled to share these most recent ones with you.
Ottolenghi’s Super-Soft Courgettes with Harissa and Lemon
Courgettes aren’t strictly speaking controversial, but they do tend to get a pretty lukewarm reaction from many, including, regrettably, two of our test kitchen colleagues. The reason for this is probably courgettes’ high water content, which tends to make them, well, watery. There are plenty of ways to combat this – frying and grilling are two examples – but we actually use it to our advantage here, cooking the courgettes slowly in their own juices, making them fantastically soft and enhancing their flavour by a long soak with fried garlic. (And in the process, we also managed to win over our two courgette-iffy colleagues, we’re happy to announce.)
The courgettes are very good hot, but are even better after 15 minutes or so, or even at room temperature, once the flavours have had a chance to get to know each other. Make them a day in advance, if you want to get ahead; just hold off on adding the basil until you’re ready to serve.
85ml olive oil
6 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 tbsp rose harissa
(adjust according to the brand you are using; see p. 20)
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1⁄2 preserved lemon, finely chopped, discarding any pips (10g)
1 1⁄2 tbsp lemon juice
1kg courgettes, finely sliced
10g basil leaves, roughly torn
1. Place a large, non-stick sauté pan on a medium-high heat with the oil
and garlic. Gently fry for 4 minutes, stirring often, until soft, golden and aromatic. You don’t want the garlic to become at all browned or crispy, so turn the heat down if necessary. Remove 3 tablespoons of oil, along with half the garlic, and transfer to a small bowl with the harissa, chilli, preserved lemon and lemon juice. Stir together and set aside.
2. Return the pan to a high heat and add the courgettes and 11⁄4 teaspoons of salt. Cook for 18 minutes, stirring often, until the courgettes are very soft, but are still mostly holding their shape (you don’t want the courgettes to brown, so turn the heat down if necessary). Stir through half the basil and transfer to a platter. Spoon the harissa mixture over the courgettes. Leave
to sit for 15 minutes, then sprinkle with a pinch of salt and finish with the remaining basil.