This is one of the hardest letters I've ever had to write. Please know that, whatever follows below, you were my first love and for that you will always have a place in my heart.
I remember when we met – I had no idea who you were. All I knew was that there was this guy who contributed recipes to one of the magazines that came with the Sunday papers. The recipes often sounded so good that I'd clip them out and paste them in my big index book, and when I made a couple, I realised that they tasted as good as they looked. It was only after I recognised some of the recipes in a book I saw at a friend's house that I realised this guy who had written Kitchen Diaries was YOU, my secret Sunday pleasure! Of course, it didn't take long for me to buy and read Kitchen Diaries from cover to cover, and my love for you was undiminished. If anything, it grew! Our relationship was warm and comfortable, like a favourite coat.
But of course, we don't live in a vacuum. Things were bound to change, and women like to try on new coats.
It started off very casually. Another Sunday magazine, this time from a different paper, left at my house by a friend. It was the thrill of the new vs. the familiarity of a sure thing. I flicked through the pages until my eye alighted on dishes so gorgeous I could hardly tear my eyes away. I was dazzled by the colours, I could taste the fresh flavours. It was as if a veil had been lifted from my eyes!
But of course, I was sensible – this could be no more than a passing dalliance. My heart already belonged to another. That is, until I made his cake. Oh, the cake. So rich and caramelly and fruity. So clever and easy. And suddenly there was a voice in my head saying "what if?". What if you and I aren't meant to be? What if THIS is my destiny, this rollercoaster crazy ride of exotic flavour combinations and riots of colour?
You're still young – I know you will be fine, move on and find somebody else. Please believe me, dear Nigel, when I say that it's not you, it's me.
I think I'm in love with Yotam Ottolenghi.
What more can I say? I can guarantee you that once you taste this salad, you will be in love too. Resistance is futile – just go out and buy the book!
The recipe is not a quick throw-together kind of salad – in fact, it may be a good idea to roast the tomatoes the night before, like I did. But none of the constituent steps is difficult, and the end result is so extraordinarily good that you won't mind the bit of fiddle. The only change I made to the recipe was to substitute haloumi cheese for the manouri used in the original. Either way, the combination of flavours, textures and colours is sublime. Enjoy!
CHAR-GRILLED ASPARAGUS, COURGETTE AND HALOUMI SALAD (serves four to six)
350g cherry tomatoes, halved
140ml olive oil
coarse sea salt and black pepper
24 asparagus spears
2 large courgettes
200g haloumi (original recipe calls for manouri), sliced 0.5cm thick
Preheat the oven to 170C. Toss the tomatoes together with three tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread them out, skin-side down, on a baking tray lined with parchment or foil and roast in the middle of the oven for 50 minutes, until semi-dried. Set aside to cool.
Trim the woody bases off the asparagus with a vbegetable peeler and blanch in boiling water for four minutes. Drain and immediately refresh in cold water until all vestiges of heat have gone. Drain again, then transfer to a bowl and toss with two tablespoons of the oil, salt and pepper.
Slice the courgettes very thinly lengthwise (a mandolin would be very useful for this job, or a vegetable peeler – I just used a large and very sharp knife and a steady hand!) and dress with a tablespoon of the oil, salt and pepper.
Place a ridged griddle pan on a high heat and leave for a few minutes until very hot. Grill the courgettes and asparagus, turning after a minute and making sure you have mice, clear char marks on all sides. Remove from the pan and leave to cool.
Brush the remaining oil onto the griddle pan, lightly dust each haloumi slice with flour and fry the haloumi for 2-3 minutes per side, until there are clear griddle marks on both sides. Drain on paper towels.
To make the basil oil, blitz all the ingredients in a blender until smooth.
Arrange the rocket, vegetables and cheese in layers on a flat serving plate, showing off the contrasting shapes and colours. Drizzle with as much basil oil as you like and serve. With crusty bread, this would make a great starter, althbough ours was a substantial side dish for a roast chicken braai with friends.
Other Ottolenghi recipes on the blogs:
Abby from Eat the Right Stuff also made this salad
Niamh from Eat Like a Girl made his grilled peach and speck salad
David of David Lebovitz made his choc-dipped Florentines
Wendy of A Wee Bit of Cooking made his saffron pasta with spiced butter
And last but not least, this post is my entry into this month's edition of Snackshots, the themed monthly foodie event hosted by the talented Michelle over at The Greedy Gourmet. The theme is (you guessed it!) salads and you still have until 16 June to get your entries in!