I woke up this morning and almost turned off my alarm, believing I had another day off. The cruelty of it all. Judging by the expressions on the faces of my fellow commuters on the Peckham Rye – Victoria this morning, you would think the world, not the bank holiday weekend, had ended.
Much like, I expect, everybody else, I spent most of the weekend overindulging on food and drink. One of the highlights was the great Ox Roast at The Ship who, in conjunction with Flat Iron, had procured a 250kg longhorn steer, fed it on a diet of London stout and roasted it on a spit for us all to enjoy. For the bargain price of £12, diners were each given a plate of the ox meat, along with a baked potato and some salad, and a pint of the very stout the beer had been fed on. My bovine pile of joy came from, as far as I could tell, different parts of the ox and had the wonderful combination of being quite rare in some places and rather well-cooked in others. The flavour was phenomenal, with a deep beefy flavour and a massive whack of smoke. Even eating it standing up in a slightly windy pub garden was a joy.
As well as this, I was quite busy in the kitchen. Especially on Sunday when we slow-roasted a whole lamb shoulder for lunch with my parents and dug out our Ottolenghi cookbooks to make a range of salads to accompany it: cous cous with tomato and onion, spinach with dates and almonds and, my favourite of all, squash with burnt aubergine and pomegranate molasses.
As with many of Ottolenghi’s recipes, the title doesn’t tend to give much away about the structure of the dish. ‘Squash with burnt aubergine and pomegranate molasses’, taken from his first and eponymous cookbook, is actually a plate of roasted squash, scattered with a medley of seeds and accompanied by possibly the best sauce ever: one made of burnt aubergines and pomegranate molasses. It is fairly similar to a baba ghanoush in the sense that it contains aubergines charred over an open flame (to give them a smoky flavour when you aren’t in possession of a smoker), lemon juice, olive oil and garlic. The omission of tahini and addition of pomegranate molasses is where the difference lies, making it less nutty and far sweeter than the traditional middle-eastern dip.
On Easter Sunday, drizzled over the seed-encrusted squash, this sauce was excellent, but what really impressed me was its ability to bring the leftovers to life. Pulling all of the clingfilmed bowls and tupperware from the fridge to cobble together a meal of leftovers can often be a bit uninspiring, but the addition of something fresh can perk it up a bit (my personal lifesaving ingredients are hot sauce, fresh bread or a poached egg) and a bowl of the burnt aubergine with pomegranate molasses did just that. On Monday I found myself with some cold lamb shoulder, a few spoonfuls of cous cous and some squash wedges which, with a bag of salad leaves and the seeds of half a pomegranate, made a fairly respectable lunch. What made it brilliant was covering it with huge blobs of the burnt aubergine sauce, dropped from a height with a spoon.
I think there are few that would not agree with Ottolenghi’s ability to combine some of the most beautiful middle-eastern flavours to create dishes that home cooks can replicate. Food from this region has been growing in popularity for some time and ingredients are becoming more widely available. I am lucky to have the excellent Persepolis in my neighbourhood, which sells a huge range of gems from the middle east, but I am also reliably informed that you can pick up items such as pomegranate molasses in Sainsbury’s and Waitrose. Lamb with aubergine is not a new partnership, but it is a good one, and one that I keep coming back to in a multitude of ways. Previously, any lamb that didn’t make its way on to the Sunday lunch plates would find itself in a shepherd’s pie; I think now it will find itself covered in a slater of this smoky, sweet, garlicky aubergine sauce.
Burnt Aubergine and Pomegranate Molasses
- 1 medium aubergine
- 150g natural yoghurt
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1½ tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp flat-leaft parsley, finely chopped
- Salt and pepper
Roast the aubergine over an open flame on the hob for around 10-15 minutes until the it softens and the skin becomes black and charred. I usually place the aubergine directly on the flame and then use tongs to turn it every couple of minutes. Once cooked, set aside to cool for a couple of minutes.
Once cool enough to handle, scoop out the cooked flesh of the aubergine and roughly chop it. Leave to drain in a colander for a few minutes and then transfer to a medium bowl.
Mix the aubergine with the other ingredients and serve.
From Ottolenghi’s ‘Ottolenghi’.