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Shay... um, say yay for shakshuka

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

When chef du jour Yotam Ottolenghi talks about the food he eats and cooks, I immediately make a mental note to go look up some recipes for those very dishes. He's featured in The New Yorker food issue of Dec 3, 2012, and when I turned to the opening page with his portrait, the first thing that came to mind was: Take notes Nigella, now THIS is how you lick your fingers.
In the profile piece, Ottolenghi's friends talk about how the food at his delis and restaurants has to be "smiling" and he's been known to remove the food on display if it is not. The interviewer, Jane Kramer, wrote, "The smiliest dish I'd seen that week was shakshuka – a North African breakfast from Plenty, cooked and served in little cast-iron skillets".
I knew exactly what "smiling" food was after I made and ate shakshuka.
In his Guardian column a few years ago, Ottolenghi gave a recipe for shakshuka from his cookbook Plenty. There's also a video of him preparing the dish.
I didn't use the recipe but my dish has similar elements.
The essential ingredients are egg(s) and tomato sauce; the others are a bonus 
The tomato sauce is homemade and uses both fresh and tinned tomatoes. The lovely and flavourful cherry tomatoes add chunkiness and freshness to the dish.
But the star of the show, at least in my pan, is the egg. It is one of the freshest eggs I have ever bought – but it is certainly the most expensive. I was at the organic produce shop and picked up a pack of 10 eggs, paid for it and only checked the receipt when I got home. The pack cost RM13, which is almost two and a half times the price I usually pay for another brand of free-range eggs!
And it wasn't a mistake because I went to check the price at the shop the next day. Yikes!
With such expensive eggs, I told myself that I should have them fresh and not use them in baked goods, which is what I usually use eggs for. Shakshuka fits the bill.
I made the dish this way: Sauté some halved cherry tomatoes briefly in a skillet, add chopped garlic, then some tomato sauce. When it starts simmering, make a hole in the sauce, put in a sliver of butter and break an egg directly into the space. (I don't like a runny yolk so I broke it. Not so pretty, I know.) Cover the pan and leave until the egg (the white actually) is just set. Grate Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top and sprinkle some chopped spring onion around the pan. Serve with homemade crusty bread and eat straight from the pan.
I know this is not an authentic shakshuka, but it made me smile. And then I licked the sauce dripping off my fingers...

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