Inspired by one of my favourite London restaurants and cookery books, we recently held an Ottolenghi evening for the London Cooking Club at my home in Islington.
Every month, I choose a theme, cookery book or cuisine, and have a group of readers of The London Foodie come to my home to cook, eat a delicious meal, drink and talk. I distribute a suggested menu a week or so prior to the event, the participants choose their dishes and I e-mail out all recipes. Each person contributes a dish and accompanying bottle of wine.
I thoroughly enjoy these evenings as they are proving to be a great way to meet other Londoners who stumble upon this blog and who are passionate about cooking and good wine. As much as I like eating out and finding some of the London gems I write about, I also love cooking and this was primarily the reason why I started The London Foodie.
We had a great time at our Ottolenghi event and all recipes were taken from "Ottolenghi The Cookbook" and "Plenty". I got to meet five new members that evening in addition to other familiar faces. We were 10 cooks-diners and the dishes are shown below.
1. "Sweet Potato Galettes" - prepared by Patrice, an investment banker from Mauritius, these were surprisingly light with a rich savour of goats cheese, thyme and sunflower seeds. This was a lovely canapé and well matched with Patrice's excellent choice of demi-sec Cava.
2. "Green Gazpacho with Pear Crostini" - the recipes come from "Plenty" and were beautifully executed by Kelly, an Australian who arrived in London a few months ago, and with whom I had been in contact for a while but never met. An avid foodie, Kelly used to organise a similar cooking club back in Sidney called Food Safari, and on her arrival in the UK after a 24-hour flight, she made her way to brunch at Ottolenghi!
We loved the fresh, herby flavours of her green gazpacho and felt that the pear crostini which were griddled, and topped with creamy slivers of goats cheese were perfectly accompanied by the chilled, bone dry Manzanilla sherry she brought.
4. "Char-grilled Asparagus, courgettes & Manouri Salad" - I was happy that Cara, aka Gourmet Chick, came to this event as she's been a supporter of my blog from its early days. A lawyer turned journalist for the Financial Times, Cara is also an excellent writer, restaurant reviewer and accomplished cook. I love reading her witty reviews and have been greatly inspired by her blog.
Her salad had some delicious flavours, was perfectly cooked and was served with Dr G's caramelised garlic tart.
5. "Char-grilled Seafood, Fennel & Lime Salad" - I chose this dish as it is one of my favourite recipes from Ottolenghi's first cookbook . I like its fresh, summery flavours and the combination of aniseed fennel, thinly sliced red onions, dill and griddled squid and prawns, with lime juice and pomegranate seeds.
6. "Harissa Marinated Chicken with Red Grapefruit Salad" - I had never tried this dish before and was pleased that Austrian interior designer Gerald decided to make it. A trained chef, Gerald had also been to Ottolenghi's cookery classes at Leigh's.
The chicken had been marinated in spicy harissa and had taken on its intense flavours. We were also impressed by Gerald's choice of Provençal rosé wine to accompany it. This was an excellent dish and perfectly executed and one I will make sure to try again.
7. "Roast Pork Belly with Spiced Red Plum, Ginger & Rhubarb Relish" - one of the stars of the evening was Hugh's roast pork belly. It was deliciously succulent and tender and with perfect crackling. The accompanying relish was slightly spicy and was a great match to the sweet pork meat. It was Hugh's first time with us at the cooking club, and after his ace pork belly, we hope to have him back again.
8. "Marinated Aubergines with Tahini & Oregano" - we loved the exotic middle-eastern flavours of this dish prepared by Linda, one of our regular members. Originally from Hong Kong, Linda has lived in the UK for most of her life, and works as a financier at an American investment bank in London.
9. "French Beans & Mange-tout with Hazelnut & Orange" - this is a dish I prepare regularly so I decided to add it as an extra accompaniment on the evening. The beans and mange tout are quickly blanched and seasoned with hazelnut oil, orange blossom water, chives and salt and pepper. Dry roasted hazelnuts and thinly sliced orange peel are also added to the final dish.
10. "Kosheri" - May, the Malaysian writer of the excellent blog "Slow Food Kitchen", prepared this delicious dish which was a mix of rice, vermicelli noodles & lentils served with a spicy tomato sauce. We greatly enjoyed the buttery flavour and unusual combination of textures in this dish and felt it went well with the meaty main courses.
11. Orange Polenta Cake - it was the first time that Elizabeth Truss and husband, Hugh O'Leare, came to our cooking club. After Hugh's excellent pork belly debut, Elizabeth came up trumps with a deliciously moist upside-down cake made with polenta (Italian cornmeal flour) and oranges. So discreet was Elizabeth that I was surprised to find out a few days later that she is a Conservative MP in Norfolk. Both Hugh and Elizabeth were delightful company and a dab hand in the kitchen and we look forward to having them back for future evenings.
This was one of the most successful London Cooking Club events - all the dishes worked out perfectly and there was a great mix of people. It was also when we were visited by Alastair Grant, an Associated Press photographer, who stayed with us for a while and took some lovely shots of the evening for various US, Canadian, Middle-Eastern and Asian publications (see links here).
As in previous London Cooking Club meetings, most people were meeting for the first time that evening but still a shared sense of fun, camaraderie and above all, love for good food prevailed. I would like to thank all the guests for being so kind and for the effort they put into cooking all those delicious dishes and for sharing them with us.
Our next meeting will be in on 25th September 2010 and the theme will be “Portuguese Cuisine” inspired by one of my favourite food writers Tessa Kyros and her cookery book “Piri Piri Starfish”. Please visit our Facebook page “London Cooking Club” or e-mail me if you would like to take part.