What Happened to Ottolenghi?

I went to London as planned and I might have said that visiting Ottolenghi, the famed Middle East, fusion, take-away shop, was my main interest in going there.  I don’t use the term “bucket list” very often.  I don’t think of my life in terms of a list of wished for experiences.  As I told a friend recently, I never really thought I would do anything unusual in my life and so I just take all of these unexpected opportunities that come along with a sense of surprise, but visiting Ottolenghi was something I did want to do.

Saturday morning, we looked up the address and wrote it on a slip of paper, including the adjacent Tube stop, and I put it in my back pocket.  The only question was whether we would eat there after wandering around Portobello Market or grab a bite after the matinee performance of War Horse.

But it started to rain, which I at first just responded to by pulling the hood of my fleece jacket over my head.   But as the day went on, the rain demanded an umbrella and then the wind began and we couldn’t even share an umbrella because it was constantly reflexing in the wind to where you had to use both hands,  one to hold the handle and the other to reform the nylon and metal skeleton into an umbullar shape.  It was constant.  And though we kept bringing it up, it just didn’t sound so good to go get a cold take-away salad and eat it standing on the sidewalk in the rain and wind.  I’ll tell you what sounded really good:  going into a cozy pub, ordering fried fish, chips, and beers, and drying out.  And that’s what we did and Ottolenghi went unrealized.

As though to mock me for my lost opportunity (would she do this?), Lynn Rossetto Kasper, of The Splendid Table, was featuring Yotam Ottolenghi on her show on that exact morning when I was not going to his shop.  I listened to the podcast one week late, as I always do, and learned there was a party going on that I didn’t show up for.

So I’m doing make-up cooking here.  There was a terrific little Middle Eastern convenience store right next to my hotel that I only discovered minutes before I left.  There, I greedily grabbed some feta and halloumi and stuffed them into my suitcase.  Can you believe there isn’t one recipe using halloumi in Plenty?  I find that surprising.  But I have farro from Tuscany, some roasted peppers put away by my own hands and now the key ingredient:  feta.  I have made this salad before and it is great with  everything, but especially any roasted or grilled meats.  This will make some great sides and lunches this week.

Farro and Roasted Pepper Salad

Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Serves 4 as a starter

Dressing

  • Juice of 1 medium lemon
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp.honey
  • 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika, plus extra to garnish
  • 1/2 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt

Salad

  • 3/4 cup farro
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 3 tbsp large,  salt-packed capers, rinsed or 10 pitted black olives, sliced lengthways
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano or picked thyme leaves
  • 2 large leeks, well washed, or 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 4 oz feta, crumbled

To make the dressing:  Whisk together all the ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Add farro and simmer until just tender.  If using leeks, briefly steam them in a large strainer set over, but not in, the boiling water.  Top with a lid.  When slightly tender, set leeks aside.  When tender,  drain farro in a sieve, rinse under cold water, and set aside.

Preheat a grill pan to high.  Use a small, sharp knife to cut around the stem of each bell pepper and lift it out with the seeds attached.  Put the peppers on the grill pan and grill, turning them every now and then, until they are totally black on the outside; this will take 30 minutes or more.  When ready, remove the pan from the heat and cover it with foil.  Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin.  Tear them by hand into roughly 3/8 inch-wide slices.  Do this step ahead and put multiple peppers in the freezer for various uses.

Place the cooked farro in a large mixing bowl and add the peppers, capers or olives, oregano or thyme, green onions and most of the feta, reserving some to finish.  If making ahead, hold the feta until serving.  Pour over the dressing and gently mix everything together.  Taste and add more salt if you like.

To serve, pile up the salad on a plate or bowl and finish with the reserved feta and a sprinkle of paprika.

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