Anyone who reads and tries Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes will know that his food is lovely and not that difficult to prepare. And anyone who’s eaten in / been tempted by the window displays in his shops in Kensington, Notting Hill and Upper Street will know that that same food ain’t cheap when someone else is making it for you.
Being aware of both of those things, I’d never really felt the urge to go Nopi –Mr Ottolenghi’s restaurant in Soho that opened last year to an excited fanfare and a predictable response: nice, but a little dear.
However, a friend and I were tempted in a few weekends ago when passing and in the mood for a late brunch. We both rather enjoyed it. The restaurant (including the loos) is beautiful, expensively furnished and very comfortable. Which goes someway to justifying the cost. The couple of dishes that we had were certainly very pleasant. I’d say it’s the perfect place for ladies who brunch and lunch to sit with a glass of fizz and eat a few plates of beautifully sourced and presented food. Particularly if they’re not of the inclination to put that food together themselves.
Anyway, real point being that in Nopi I had an excellent example of what I reckon is close to the ultimate brunch dish: Shakshuka. Or slightly spicy tomatoes and baked eggs to you and me.
Ottolenghi’s version at Nopi is heavy on softened bell peppers and is finished with super tasty dollops of smoked labneh. I suspect it’s more or less the recipe that’s in his book Plenty (with the addition of the labneh for the restaurant).
When I decided to hash up a recreation a couple of days back, I had neither peppers nor strained and smoked yoghurt. But decided that this was not a problem.
Indeed a small amount of research suggests the key ingredients in this traditionally North Afrikan dish are those spiced tomatoes and baked eggs and beyond that there are plenty of variants. Sure, peppers are used in many recipes, but leaving them and the labneh out, and adding plenty of well softened white onion and smokey paprika chorizo instead, does not prevent the dish being labeled a Shakshuka.
Perhaps more importantly for my stomach, the changes I made to Ottolenghi’s method worked well enough for me to do it all over again with very little amendment and an equal amount of satisfaction the next day.
Honestly, this is a very good and very easy brunch. The reason why I think Shakshuka may be the perfect weekend brunch dish is that it works just as well as a hangover cure as it does as a virtuous, sustaining and moderately healthy dish. Do have a crack and let me know how it goes if you agree. It’ll definitely be cheaper than ordering it from a waitress.
Couple of thoughts to finish with:
(a) the chorizo I used has a strong paprika flavor and is quite spicy. This worked really well. If you have a go at this dish and your sausage is not of the same style, add a teaspoon of paprika and perhaps a sprinkle of dried chilli flakes;
(b) technically it should probably be eaten from the pan that it is cooked in. You’ll see I plated up. This is because my housemate’s omellete pan is an expensive Le Creuset anodised one and I value my life too much.
That is all.
Serves one. Obviously multiplies easily. You could probably decant the mix into separate pans before baking the eggs if you want, or alternatively just carefully spoon out onto plates. Smaller one egg portions finished off in ramekins would work too.1/2 tspn cumin seeds
1/2 medium white onion – sliced into crescents
6cm of chorizo (ideally one with plenty of heat and paprika) – sliced into 2mm discs, each disc then quartered
2 sprigs of thyme – leaves only
1 bay leaf
1 tspn golden caster sugar
handful of parsley – stems and leaves separated. Both chopped.
handful of coriander – stems and leaves separated. Both chopped.
1/2 tin plum tomatoes and juice
1/2 tspn cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
Dry-roast the cumin seeds in a small frying pan for 2 minutes. Add the onions and sweat them in a splash of oil and a pinch of salt until they start to soften. Avoid colouring them. Add the chorizo, the thyme leaves, the bay leaf, the chopped parsley and coriander stalks and the sugar and continue to cook for another 5-8 minutes so that the chorizo starts to brown and its oils have escaped.
Add half a can of plum tomatoes (usually about 2) with the corresponding amount of juice, the cayenne pepper (and paprika if your chorizo needs supplementing) and about 50ml of water. Encourage the tomatoes to break up a little bit with a wooden spoon and cook on a low heat for about 10 minutes, reducing the liquid until the point that if you create a hole in the mix, the liquid doesn’t rush back in. Add half your chopped coriander and parsley, stir, taste and season with plenty of salt and pepper.
Making sure the heat is at its lowest point, remove the bay leaves, make two holes and crack your eggs into them. Cover the pan with a lid and cook for about 7 minutes until the egg whites have just a little bit of wibbly watery stuff on top. Take the pan off the heat now (as they’ll carry on cooking whilst you faff around plating up or as you eat it – and you want runny yolks). Sprinkle over the remainder of chopped parsley and coriander and devour your Shakshuka with some nice flat bread to mop up the tomato and those runny yolks.