sofabrother (the older) is in the middle of a self-imposed carbohydrate fast. That poses the cook (me) with somewhat of a challenge. We usually eat at least one pasta dish a week, and a few others that include rice, potatoes, noodles or croutons. Finding something to bridge the loss of the starch, that still fill stomachs; is a challenge sometimes. Especially when it is freezing cold and pouring down. And the fridge is scant. I had a few ends of things that were relatively fresh: so I turned to Yotam Ottolenghi’s veggie book “Plenty” – to see what he could come up with.
As I was browsing, this bit caught my eye: “In a tiny alley in old Jaffa there’s a little restaurant serving food to customers sitting outside at shared shabby tables.” One of my favourite restaurants ever is Abu Nassar on the Hill – just outside Jaffa – so my mouth started watering immediately. Yotam continues: “The place is heaving around lunchtime and everybody, more or less, is eating the same thing. The place is called Dr Shakshuka, after its signature dish, and this is, obviously, what everybody’s tucking into. Shakshuka is a North African dish with many variations. Some add preserved lemon, others feta and different herbs and spices. It is my ideal brunch fare. Cook and serve it in individual pans, if you have them, or in one very large one. Chunky white bread on the side is a must.’
I would happily eat Mediterranean cooking every day for the rest of my life. And, a day without tomato is a day wasted, as far as I see it. So Shakshuka seemed a perfect fit. Eggs – I don’t love so much and can stretch to one at a push – long as the yolk is firm. With crusty bread off the table, I needed a protein to bulk out the meal, so threw in some pork sausages I had languishing in the fridge. Not an ideal mix as they had cheese in them – but it was icy outside and I had no intention of leaving the house to buy more. I grilled them first, rendering out some of the fat and crisping them up, before putting them into the tomato mix to warm up, five minutes before I served it. They worked well enough. Though next time I’ll use a chunky chorizo type sausage that brings a little tang and extra fire.
I had a combo of fresh/some dry spices – so substituted here and there. And they worked just fine. The whole thing was delicious and definitely a keeper. Served two with a bit of sauce left over to plonk on toasted ciabatta for lunch the next day. Double the quantities if you’re serving four.Shakshuka Ottolenghi
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- 100ml light olive oil or vegetable oil
- 1 large onions, peeled and sliced
- 1 red and 1 yellow peppers, cored and cut into 2cm strips
- 2 tsp muscovado sugar
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 sprigs thyme, picked and chopped
- 1 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1/2 bunch fresh coriander, chopped
- 3 large, ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1/4 tsp saffron strands
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- Salt and pepper
- Up to 125ml water
- 4 free-range eggs
- feta cheese for serving
- In a large saucepan, dry-roast the cumin on high heat for two minutes.
- Add the oil and sauté the onions for two minutes.
- Add the peppers, sugar, bay leaf, thyme, parsley and two tablespoons of coriander, and cook on high heat to get a nice colour.
- Add the tomatoes, saffron, cayenne, salt and pepper.
- Cook on low heat for 15 minutes, adding enough water to keep it the consistency of a pasta sauce.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning. It should be potent and flavoursome. You can prepare this mix in advance.
- Make four little wells/gaps in the mix. Break an egg into each well.
- Sprinkle with salt, cover and cook very gently for 10-12 minutes, until the egg just sets (if you want your egg firm, break in 5 mins earlier).
- Sprinkle with coriander and crumbly feta and serve with chunky white bread. Or boiled potatoes.
Yotam Ottolenghi is chef-patron of Ottolenghi, London. His books are both brilliant. This recipe is from Plenty.
(The not great close-up is copyright campari&sofa, the rest of the photos are in the public domain.)