fennel-crusted aubergine salad with kale and pomegranate

As 2015 rolled to an end I was working on my pre-summer recipe repertoire and begun a bit of a love affair with fennel; the bulbs, the seeds and the fronds seemed to find their way into many a dish I created. Here, here and here are a few of them.

And now I am going to add one more to the list – fennel crusted aubergine served with a fresh and earthy kale and pomegranate salad.

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I must admit, this recipe was a bit of a ‘best-case scenario’ kind of thing – no one who I was cooking it for had much confidence that my idea was going to work. But it did! The eggplant came out beautifully soft and buttery sweet and the fennel fronds added a hint of smoky, liquorice crunch almost.

And it was so easy!

I sliced an eggplant into 1cm disks, salted them liberally and let them sit for about 20 minutes. I picked the fronds off a large fennel bulb and roughly chopped them, adding them to a bowl with a tablespoon of ground almonds, salt, pepper and a dash of cayenne pepper.

Once I had accomplished this task, I rinsed and dried the eggplant, I submerged each slice into a bowl of egg wash and coated both sides with the fennel frond mixture before placing them onto an oven tray, drizzling with olive oil and baking at 180°C for 30 minutes. I flipped them over at the halfway mark and topped each rondelle with a tiny dollop of butter – just for good measure.

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While the eggplant baked to delicious perfection, I shredded a bunch of kale leaves to form the base of the salad; dressed simply with extra virgin olive oil, a dash of apple cider vinegar and of course, sea salt and black pepper. I know kale is no longer the health food du jour, but I don’t care – I never ate it for its trendiness and actually like the taste; earthy leaves with a satisfying crunch and a savoury pepper favour boarding just on the edge of bitterness. Yum!

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The bronzed eggplant rings sat atop this deep green forest of kale, and for an added pop of colour, I added a scattering of pickled radish and some spherical sunset red pomegranate seeds. Each one bursting with sweet flavour to counterbalance the rest of the flavours.

Just a simple dish really, a feast easy to prepare that will blow any dinner guests away – and that’s even before they taste it!

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fennel, potato and aubergine anna

After turning my fennel fronds into a fresh and fragrant salad the other day, I had to come up with a way of using the actual bulb… shouldn’t that be the other way around?

What I love about fennel, and similar  vegetables like garlic and leek, is that they jam pack any dish with so much flavour but it’s never too overpowering which makes it perfect for fennel, potato and aubergine anna.

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This receipe is my fancified version of potatoes anna; a light French dish of potatoes baked in butter – similar to a potato bake, but I decided to jazz mine up with some fennel and eggplant.

Begin by thinly slicing some potatoes, I used about six large ones, as well as one eggplant. Salt the eggplant slices and set aside to draw out the moisture and bitterness.

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Roughly chop a bulb of fennel, similar to how you would an onion or leek and evenly spread it along the bottom of a large baking dish.

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Rinse off the eggplant and combine them in a large bowl with the discs of potato. Now is your chance to add any extra flavours – I added the chopped leaves of one sprig of mint and a handful of fresh parsley leaves, along with a good crack of salt and pepper.

Layer this mixture on top of the bed of fennel in as much chaos or order as you see fit, it works better if the discs are all laid flat.

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Now for the pièce-de-résistance; melt ½ a cup of butter (or any combination of butter and olive oil) and drizzle it over top of the heaped vegetables. Place the dish into a hot oven and cook for 30 minutes.

The beauty of this dish is the variation in textures you will end with; a bed of soft and steamy fennel, a layer of crisp potato slices on top of a firm bed of juicy potatoes and soft, creamy eggplant, a smattering of herbs throughout and a rich buttery sauce. The flavours meld together perfectly and the excess butter absorbs the aniseed bite of the fennel and the minty freshness.

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Serve hot on a winter’s night or cold with a fresh salad as a summertime lunch. The flavours are full enough to act as a standalone dish, but subtle enough to work aside fish, chicken or even beef.

spiced, sweet stuffed eggplants

I originally had planned to write a post on eggplant steaks but then I found this recipe and it seemed like a way better idea.

I recently bought myself a copy of Ghillie Başan’s book, Flavours of the Middle East – two-for-one deals always get the better of me – and it is filled with beautiful dishes, vibrant colours and interesting stories. Stuffed eggplants was my first dish, in a long list that I wanted to experiment with. They are a great combination of savoury aubergines, sweet dried fruit and a good kick of subtle spice.

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To begin, I mixed a diced onion with 150grams of minced beef – Ghillie’s recipe uses lamb but I wanted something a little leaner. I also added a tablespoon of cinnamon, a teaspoon each of cumin and nutmeg and a few teaspoons of brown sugar. I also added two tablespoons of dried cranberries for sweetness, two chopped dates for a caramel undertone and two tablespoons of pine nuts for a little crunch. I mixed it all together with half a can of diced tomatoes, a big grind of pepper and a pinch of dried thyme, and set it aside so the flavours could meld together.

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After bathing three partially peel aubergines in salt water for 15 minutes, I gently pan fried them in equal parts oil and butter until the skin was glossy and the flesh changed to a pale shade of yellow.

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I slit each aubergine down the middle lengthways, through as much of the flesh as possible, without puncturing the skin on the other side. With a tremendous balance of delicacy and might, I prised the eggplants open and compactly filled them with the meat mixture.

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I transported my eggplant boats into a bright red oven tray and doused them in the juice of a lemon, a healthy gulp of olive oil, a crack of sugar and a bit of water mixed with a teaspoon of sugar.

I baked at 200°C for 50 minutes – the first 25 minutes with a layer of foil overtop, the rest of the time uncovered. I basted each of them with the juices once I removed the foil just to insure they were nice and moist.

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Perfect hot or cold, this dish doesn’t require any sides or special garnishes – they are delicious (both visually and to the tastebuds) just as they are!

 

aubergine and sweet potato summer stack

Even though the in-between parts of seasons are problematic for guessing the weather forecast or planning a temperature-appropriate outfit, they are a great for a varying abundance of produce.

Unless you’re going to buy your produce imported or from a greenhouse, things that I try and steer away from, this recipe really is only viable while aubergines are in season. Even though it is warm and roasted, there are so many fresh and raw elements that it makes sense to limit it to the warmer months.

My aubergine and sweet potato stack is a dish stuck somewhere in between a roast vege salad and a plate of raw greens… in a good way! Layers of soft and warm eggplant, crisp discs of sweet potato and spinach leaves full of crunch, topped off with sweet smoked bell peppers, soft crumbly feta and capers for a salty pop.

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It’s so easy; the hardest part is stacking it all up without the tower toppling over!

Begin by roasting an entire red bell pepper under the grill of an oven, or, if you’re feeling dangerous, on a gas stove element. Roast on a high heat until the skin begins to blacken and blister; this will take a while but keep an eye on it and rotate it for even charring.

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Use this time to slice an aubergine into 1cm thick slithers, and one large sweet potato into 2cm thick discs. Getting a uniform consistency with the sweet potato will be difficult because they are such a beautifully ugly vegetable (one of the reasons I love them so!), but having nice even slices will make the stacking part a bucket load easier!

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Drizzle them in olive oil, turn the oven to bake, lower the temperature to 180°C and switch them the with pepper. If possible, bake the vegetables on different trays and place the aubergine on a lower shelf inside the oven. By arranging the trays like this, the eggplant slices will slowly bake without crisping, and by the time the sweet potato is cooked tender and golden, the aubergine will have garnered a soft texture; not too crisp but no longer tough and chewy.

Flip each rondelle after about 15 minutes and continue baking for a further 20 or until they look like they’re done.

In the meantime, slice the top off the smoky bell pepper and peel off the skin so you are just left with the tender red flesh. Slice into thin slithers and that component is complete!

Wash the leaves of one bunch of spinach and tear the leaves into manageable bite size segments. Fun fact: tearing the leaves, instead of cutting them, stops them from browning. Crumble some feta and once the eggplant and sweet potato are cooked, you’re ready to plate up.

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Begin with two mountains of spinach, on separate plates and pile alternate layers of eggplant, sweet potato and the remaining spinach with the utmost care – hold your breath so the tower doesn’t collapse if you think that’ll help.

Once you have exhausted your vegetable piles, dress with the snakes of red pepper and crumbled feta, top with a teaspoon of capers, a drizzle of olive oil and a grind of pepper.

Serve with a congratulatory glass of red wine – you deserve it!

ten steps to moussaka

Fun fact: Every time I talk about Greek food, I always mention my love of moussaka, yet I have never actually written a post dedicated to this hearty Hellenic feast. Until now.

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Moussaka is something that I can only make when I am home alone, and when I know that the house will remain empty for at least three hours. There are several reasons for this; it’s a long process, while the components are not entirely difficult, they are plentiful, I also manage to use every pot and pan we have and spread myself over every surface in the kitchen and a large portion of the dining table too. I don’t like people getting in my way while I’m in the kitchen and I find it even more infuriating when people think they’re being helpful by starting to tidy up for me before I’m done.

So, I had a few hours to myself the other day and wanted to take advantage for it. When I say you need a few hours I really mean it, minimum of two, or at least the ability start in the early evening, unless you want dinner around midnight.

For those who don’t know, moussaka is essentially a Greek lasagne. It uses eggplant in place of the pasta sheets and should be made with lamb mince. It is cheesy and warm, the aubergine is soft and salty, the sauce packed with flavour – the Valhalla of comfort food!

You will need:
2 eggplants
1 large egg
1 cup of breadcrumbs
2 potatoes (optional)
500grams of minced lamb or beef
1 large onion
a teaspoon of garlic paste
a large can of tomatoes or jar of tomato sauce
1 ½ cup of milk
1 cup of grated cheese
a pinch of nutmeg

Step one:
Slice our eggplants into round slices, salt them and set aside for about ten minutes. By adding salt to the eggplant’s flesh, the bitterness is removed – otherwise the whole balance of your dish could be upset.

Step two:
If you are going to use potatoes, now is the time to peel and parboil them. They will be used as the base of the dish, I don’t always bother with them, but that’s not to say you should completely ignore them.

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Step three:
Rinse the salt from the eggplants, whisk an egg and coat the eggplant in egg before bathing them in breadcrumbs. Experimenting as usual, I coated mine in a mixture of breadcrumbs and ground almonds, just to get another flavour in there. Drizzle the eggplant slices with a dash of oil and bake at 150°C for 30 minutes, flip them over at the 15 minute mark.

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Step four:
While the aubergines roast away, try and concentrate on something other than the beautiful smell escaping from the oven. There will soon be equally delicious aromas coming from your stove – it’s time to start working on your sauce. I use follow a simple tomato sauce recipe; garlic and onion sweated down in oil, a bay leaf and a dash of wine if I’m feeling fancy, salt, pepper, a can of tomatoes and a bit of tomato paste. Simmer on a low heat for about 30 minutes while you’re preparing the final components
.

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Step five:
Fry your mincemeat in a fry pan, drain the fat and reserve for later. Add the meat to the sauce once it has reduced nicely. It should be time to take your eggplant out of the oven.

Step six:
Now for the béchamel. As part of my zero waste policy, I use the fat from my mince to make my sauce. Butter can add a nice sweetness to a dish, but I like my béchamel on the savoury side. I know that using lard is not something most people are too keen on – so the choice is up to you. Melt two tablespoons of whichever fat you prefer and whisk in two tablespoons of flour and a pinch of nutmeg until it forms a thick dough-like paste. Slowly pour in the milk, whisking to combine until it thickens to the consistency of custard. Add ¾ of the cheese and we are ready to assemble!

Step seven:
Start with a smear of tomato sauce on the bottom of a large casserole dish, follow with a layer of potatoes, continue with the pattern of eggplant, béchamel, mince and back to eggplant until you run out – try and end with eggplant, you may have to do a mock run with eggplant first so you know how many slices make a layer and work out how many layers you can make from that. Pour any remaining cheesy béchamel overtop and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

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Step eight:
Bake at 180°C for 30 minutes, the top should be golden with a cheesy crunch – cover with tin foil if it looks like it might start burning.

Step nine:
Instead of staring through the oven door waiting for the dish to bake, I suggest you get a start on the dishes because there will be a lot of them. I ended up with two frying pans, 1 large and very dirty pot, 2 chopping boards, a mixing bowl and several plates, wooden spoons and ladles. But in saying that – I am a bit of a messy cook!

Step ten:
By far the easiest and most enjoyable – eat it! Serve with salad or nothing at all, just enjoy the rainbow of flavours and textures; the crunch of the cheesy top, the gooey béchamel as it mixes through the mince and the aubergines; the pièce-de-résistance, soaking up the juices of the tomato sauce while keeping the slightest crunch from the breadcrumbs. Smoky and soft, they will fall apart at the touch. Heaven.
 

cayenne-infused aubergine fries

One of the (many) perks of living in Europe, is how easily accessible such a wide range of fruits and vegetables are. Because of New Zealand’s geographical isolation, the cost of importing out of season produce is hardly economically viable, and vegetables that are grown in greenhouses, like tomatoes, lack that fresh, powerful flavour that real sunshine gives them.

Aubergine is one of my favourite vegetables; no doubt I have harped on about it numerous times already and I love that in Europe I can eat them basically all year round for almost the same price in any month; back home winter price can be at least three times the price in summer- sometimes even more!

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Even though I am the first to sing the eggplant’s praise, I am not in a hurry to admit that it isn’t the perfect vegetable – it does have one to two faults. One of those being that it has to be cooked. Well. Unlike many a vegetable that we find one our tables and plates during the warmer months, we cannot toss it through a salad like cucumbers or carrots, nor can we barbeque or pan-fry them; relishing the soft crunch as we sink our teeth into them. Eggplant requires a relatively lengthy cooking time – the kitchen isn’t exactly my ideal summer destination.

This recipe is something I picked up in el país vasco – the Basque country of northern Spain. Not only are they delicious, but they need hardly any prep time and can be left in the oven to cook while you do something a bit more fun!

I love the crunch that thinly sliced aubergine gets when it is baked in a hot oven. I find the nutty flavour of the eggplant is a real showpiece of this dish; subtle and savoury in contrast to the spicy seasoning I added.

While your oven is heating to 180°C, slice your eggplant in half, then into thin fingers about 1cm in width. The taller sections can be sliced in half, or even thirds. The fleshy centre isn’t going to crisp up as well as the firm outer layer; you can discard it if you want but I don’t like waste and it is delicious all the same.

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Now for the pièce-de-résistance; the spices are what really bring this dish to life. As I am not one for carefully measuring anything out, I will leave the proportions up to you. Place you eggplant fingers in a large bowl and liberally drizzle them with olive oil. Along with a dash of salt and pepper, sprinkle with cayenne pepper, chilli powder, a hint of ginger and cinnamon. While neither the ginger nor cinnamon are traditionally used in this tapa, the sweet, whispering undertones really enhance the flavour.

Toss the contents of the bowl until they are well combined, adding additional oil or seasoning as you see fit, before roasting for 25-30 minutes.

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Serve with a simple yoghurt sauce, like the one I used here, and some chopped parsley for a bit of freshness to cut through the spice. I think many people don’t see the benefits of eating spicy food in hot weather like this because it makes you sweat more; but sweating is actually a good way for your body to regulate its temperature and excrete toxins. The yoghurt sauce will cool your mouth while the spices warm your body – especially the cayenne pepper and ginger which are good for circulation. So, putting two and two together, I think what I am saying is that by eating my spicy eggplant fries every day, not only am I creating a delicious meal, but I am also doing wonders for my body! Oh, très fantastique!

chicken with a twist

As I mentioned the other day, I spend more than my fair share of time looking at food on the internet. I also got giving a pile of old food magazines recently, and they aren’t all too fascinating, but a recipe will pop up every once in a while that uses a really interesting flavour or ingredient. One that caught my eye was miso paste… and that is how my miso chicken was born!

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Miso is a salty paste made from fermented soybeans and has an interesting earthy and rich flavour. Because of its richness, I chose to roast aubergine and courgette with the chicken because they are both rather savoury vegetables, potatoes would also work well.

I used 6 chicken thighs for this recipe, my original intention was to marinate them in a mixture of 3 tablespoons of miso paste, the juice of a lemon some pepper and a splash of soya sauce but the paste is actually quite thick so would not have worked. Instead, spread half a tablespoon of miso paste onto each portion of chicken with a pastry brush, butterknife or spatula, covering as much of the surface area as possible before placing in a bowl with the lemon juice and soya sauce. Add crushed garlic if you fancy.

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The lemon juice will add a slight acidic tang to your end product while also tenderising your chicken during the marinating process. The saltiness of the miso is enough to season the dish, and I think it is wiser to add more salt at the end than to have a dish that is too salty.

Slice an aubergine and several courgettes into wedges and season with a teaspoon of ground ginger, ground caraway seeds, ground coriander seeds and ground fennel seeds. I also used a thinly sliced onion, a carrot sliced into thick sticks and a yellow bell pepper for colour. If you would prefer, you could add the caraway, coriander and fennel seeds whole for little bursts of flavour.

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Mix the chicken and vegetables together with ¼ of a cup of breadcrumbs for crisp and crunch, transfer to a large roasting dish and drizzle with olive oil. In mixing the two components together, some of the miso paste hopefully will have coated the vegetables; if it hasn’t then feel free to add a bit more to the vegetable wedges.

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Bake at 180°C for 45minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Sprinkle with chopped basil or parsley and serve straight from the roasting dish.

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winter is coming, part two

After my last post, and the little speck of winter before the little speck of summer before the current (hopefully) little speck of winter we are in at the moment, I noticed that I was a little bit sniffily. Having just arrived in a new city and starting a new job, the last thing I want is to be getting sick so I decided to give my body a little bit of a vitamin kick to stave off any signs of a cold for as long as possible, and what better way to do that with a truckload of vegetables?

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This recipe for a vegetable chickpea curry is not really something that I have taken and adapted, well not so much in the traditional sense. Instead of taking a recipe and adding one or two ingredients, I think the only similarity this recipe has with the original is the rice and chickpeas. So the recipe is more of a guideline than anything else because you can really put in anything you like!

This curry is an easy way to make sure that you are getting your ‘5 plus a day’ and it can easily be prepared in advance or even in a slow cooker left to simmer all day long. Here are the guidelines to make four servings, since I was only cooking for myself I did about half of it but it could be doubled or tripled or even quadrupled.

You will need:
An onion
A few garlic cloves
An eggplant
A zucchini
2 capsicums; I used red and green because they were cheapest but any colours are okay
2 carrots
2 tomatoes or a big can of canned tomatoes
2 large potatoes
A large can of chickpeas or 2 cups of dried chickpeas
A can of lentils or a cup of dried lentils
A cup of rice
spices such as curry powder, cumin, paprika, harissa, nutmeg and cinnamon
About a litre of cold water

Obviously, you can chop and change the vegetables, but I would suggest vegetables that you would roast, I once added mushrooms and they went all rubbery so that is maybe something to avoid, unless you  enjoy rubbery mushrooms…

First things first: slice you eggplant into thin discs and sprinkle with salt, cover them and set them to the side. This is to help draw out the bitter flavours of the vegetable. Ideally you should leave it for about half an hour, the longer the better but if you only have 10 minutes then that is okay too.

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You will be able to see this reaction happening; little beads of liquid will begin to form on the top of each slice and the flesh will start to turn a slightly darker colour.

While that’s happening, chop up the rest of your vegetables. I like to keep them chunky for the nice coloration of the dish and also so that you can really taste each one individually as well as part of the dish as a whole, it also saves a lot of time. I also didn’t peel any of them, once again this is something that depends on your preference but so much of the nutrients of these vegetables are in the skin. If you want everything to be cooked to the same degree, keep them all separate because the carrot is going to take longer to cook than the capsicum etc. I kept the onion, tomato and potato separate from the others.SAM_1451_edited

Once you have done this, rinse the salt of the eggplant and dry it off. It can now be added to the rest of  the vegetables and the cooking can begin!

In a large pot (and I emphasize the LARGE; I had to change pots in the middle of cooking because mine was too small and even in my biggest pot it was close to overflowing by the end) heat a dash of oil and add the diced onion and crushed garlic. I also add a sprinkle of sugar to caramelise the onions a bit as they cook and to add a hint of sweetness.

As the onions become translucent, add the vegetables and cook for about 10 minutes. When they are beginning to get a bit softer, I add the tomatoes stir until the have begun to break down. Add the rice and mix thoroughly, add the chickpeas, the lentils and the potatoes. If possibly, I advice you to use dried chickpeas and lentils because
1) they taste better
and
2) when using dried ones, they will release their starch as they cook which will make the dish creamier
but I know it is not always possible to find them like this.

Add a generous amount of the spices; about a tablespoon of each should suffice. You could also add a can of curry sauce or butter chicken sauce and add a cup less of water later.

The next step is to add the water that will cook the rice, chickpeas, lentils and potatoes. The amount of water you use depends completely  on the amount of each you are adding; I would suggest two cups for each cup of dry ingredient, if using canned lentils and chickpeas then a cup for a cup. As long as everything is submerged you should be okay. Stir and bring to the boil.

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The water will initially go a creepy brown colour, don’t worry about this as it is just the colour of the lentils’ skin. Once it is boiling, cover the pot and bring down to a simmer for about 30 to 40 minutes. If you’re anything like me you will want to check on it every 10 or so minutes, but if you’re not so nosey you can leave it; do some yoga, watch an episode of ‘Orange is the New Black’ (although I admit that its hard to just watch one episode), clean up the mess you have made all over your kitchen.

If it looks like it is running out of water you can add more but by the time it finishes cooking it should be a nice creamy mixture and the water should have mostly been absorbed. I know that so many recipes always so that you should ‘serve immediately’ but with this I say let it cool for about 10 minutes, it is far too delicious to serve up and not begin eating right away but it will also be very, very hot. I have burnt my mouth on it quite badly before, all because I didn’t have the self-control to wait…

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aubergine, roquette and lemon risotto for one

aubergine, roquette and lemon risotto for one

aubergine, roquette and lemon risotto for one

Okay, actually the recipe is for two but I ate it all for myself…
Adapted from a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, the smoky eggplant was a great contrast to the lemon’s zing!