A Tale of Two Courgettes

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Courgettes, waiting to be stuffed

Two courgettes walk into a bar.

One of them is standing upright, bowtie properly affixed; white oxford shirt tucked into his pleated khaki pants. The other looks like he had a rough night. Slooping slightly to the side, his hair is slick and syrupy. He’s got some kind of lanyard tied around his waist like a belt. His shoes are grimy, the leather well-worn, the soles falling off. His smell is a bit more pungent than the first courgette. Maybe a hint of musk?

“Man, what’d you get up to?” says the first courgette to the second.

In a refined Received Pronounciation accent, he raises his jaw line, straightens his posture, and says to the first courgette: “I spent the evening in a marvelous warm bath with a lovely cocktail of organic vegetable broth, sweet pomegranate molasses, plenty of dried mint, and heaps of freshly ground allspice.”

The first courgette begins to feel a bit intimated. Despite his sleek exterior, he knows deep down in his soul that he can’t hold a candle to this eloquent mess.

“Oh yeah, dried mint, I’ve got some of that too!”

“What a sweet elixir with crushed garlic cloves, and fresh cilantro finely chopped blended with the rice that fills my insides…”

The second courgette undoes his soiled white bowtie and sits on a stool. Raising his voice, he calls down the bar “Waitress, could I please have some Greek yogurt drizzled with blend of mint leaves and olive oil?”

“Uhh, and a sprinkling of parsley for me please!”

**********

I realized last week that there were recipes for stuffed courgettes in both Plenty and Plenty More, by Yotam Ottolenghi (for whom I have already proclaimed my fangirldom.) I’m unsure of why it took me so long to try either of them, but I decided to make them both back to back, a few days apart.

Stuffed Courgettes from Ottolenghi's Plenty (The First Courgette)

Stuffed Courgettes from Ottolenghi’s Plenty (The First Courgette)

Despite my narration above, I should insist that both recipes have merit. The first one is an excellent weeknight main dish, prepared in under an hour (simmer time: 40 minutes.) It is flavorful and healthy and not that complicated.

Stuffed Courgettes from Ottolenghi's Plenty More (The Second Courgette), just before cooking

Stuffed Courgettes from Ottolenghi’s Plenty More (The Second Courgette), just before cooking

The second one, however, takes the whole idea of a “bastardized version of a Turkish original” (as Ottolenghi so proclaims in Plenty) to a whole new level. More ground allspice, more dried mint, plus a tomato, cumin, some garlic, tons of chopped cilantro, and perhaps my most favorite ingredient in any sauce – pomegranate molasses. With a simmer time of at least 1 hour and a half, this is more suited to a weekend afternoon cooking project in advance of a dinner party. (He suggests you serve them the next day, cold or at room temp.)

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Stuffed Courgette from Plenty More – the Second Courgette, ready to be served

For the recipes: I’ll leave you to find the first here, on The Guardian.

For the second one, well, you’re just going to have to pick up a copy of the book.

One particularity to these recipes is that you’re not instructed to use the scooped-out courgette flesh in the stuffing. In order to do something with the flesh of the nine courgettes I stuffed last weekend, I made a simple cold vegetable soup.

First: sauté a chopped onion in some neutral-tasting vegetable oil. Once soft, add the courgette insides (and one more fully chopped courgette, if you have one – because the addition of some courgette skin will give the soup a nice color.) After about 3-5 minutes, cover the veg with broth (vegetable or chicken) and allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Take the pot off the heat and add one large skinned, seeded, chopped cucumber, and one or two avocados, cubed. Mix with a hand blender, allow to cool, and adjust seasonings (salt, pepper, lemon or lime juice, as you wish.) Makes for a delicious cold summer soup, even picnic-worthy if you have a clean empty juice jar lying around. (Made about six servings.)

An Ode to: Ottolenghi

For my birthday, about four years ago, one of my best friends handed me a large package wrapped in brown paper. She squirmed with excitement, her shoulders scrunched up towards her earrings, her grin spread from ear to ear.

“I hope you don’t have it already!” she was practically bouncing as I considered the heavy gift, which was obviously a book.

Roasted Sweet Potato with Orange Bitters

Roasted Sweet Potato with Orange Bitters

The brown gift-wrap revealed a masterpiece that would end up changing my life. “Plenty,” by a man whose name I had never laid eyes on and could barely pronounce – Yotam Ottolenghi.

Brussels Sprouts with Pomelo and Star Anise

Brussels Sprouts with Pomelo and Star Anise

I received this book just before embarking on a weight loss journey that, in the course of nine months, would see me lose a third of my body weight and get me down to a “normal” weight for the first time in my adult life. My re-orientation to focusing my meals around vegetables, rather than pasta, rice, or cheese – was helped along by Plenty, which, although written by a carnivore, is a vegetarian cookbook.

Mixing things like maple syrup, Dijon mustard, and capers… adding coriander (cilantro) to typically Italian dishes… caramelizing garlic cloves in balsamic reduction. All of these things seem commonplace to me now, thanks to the East-meets-West cuisine of this Israeli chef living and working out of London.

Root Vegetable Mash with Wine Braised Shallots

Root Vegetable Mash with Wine Braised Shallots

The sequel to my favorite cookbook, called Plenty More, was released last autumn and served as holiday vacation bedside reading, as I devoured the new recipes from cover to cover.

Plenty. Plenty More.

Plenty. Plenty More.

Traveling to London a few weekends ago with a pack of French girlfriends, I took the opportunity to dine in the restaurant run by Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. The experience managed to live up to my (admittedly very high) expectations – the kind of dining experience where literally everything is perfect. The server was flawless and kind, the dining room intimate and lively, the kitchen exposed and exciting, the bathrooms sublime and surprising.

Butternut Squash with Polenta and Tempura Lemon

Butternut Squash with Polenta and Tempura Lemon

As for the food, the things I can’t get out of my head, even two weeks later, are the small details. The chipotle syrup in my tequila and citrus cocktail. The oyster mayonnaise upon which my cabbage and poached mackerel rest, the salty flavor bringing me back to my New England origins.

A delicious hot mess: Brussels Sprout Risotto

A delicious hot mess: Brussels Sprout Risotto

The grande finale was the raspberry sorbet that crackled in my mouth – “What’s in this that makes that popping effect?”

“It’s poppy candy!” replied my waitress with certainty and a smile. I laughed, nodded, and was glad to learn the British term for Pop Rocks.