Honestly I couldn’t wait. There is no justification and I really should have saved my pennies but I just had to get my hands on the new ‘Jerusalem’ by Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. It is a real rollercoaster ride, culture, color, religion, all entwined in this amazing kaleidoscope of a book about food from a land I have never been to, but have known about since time began. Inspiring, partly because the list of ingredients are so exotic and alien, date syrup, pomegranate molasses, tahini, zatar, but also because the mere sound of such food and novel combinations starts my heart, mind and taste buds racing, where is this going, how will it look, will I like it? So, in between frantically fielding the ‘little people’ I have been flicking through my new treasure, seeking out new recipes, learning about a new cuisine and being totally overwhelmed by the wealth of ingredients available in Jerusalem.
To date I have cooked a couple of cakes, the semolina, coconut and marmalade and the clementine and almond syrup, a wonderful roasted cauliflower salad, the beetroot salad, the shashuka, and the grilled fish skewers with hawayej and parsley. A rainbow palette of spices, color and intriguing combinations and all delicious. How lucky are we to live in a country with ingredients and products at our finger tips to have the opportunity to replicate some of these exciting recipes?
I adore all the seasons and am hugely stimulated by the changes that each season brings, which manifests itself most obviously in my life through food. Autumn is a rich season, there is so much outstanding produce available it is hard sometimes not to be overwhelmed by the choice. Though curiously, we have a houseful of guests this weekend and I am completely sitting on the fence as to what to cook, just too spoilt!
The reason for the house party is shooting, or as the blue one charmingly calls it ‘fighting the birds’. Mainly pheasants, possibly a partridge and a few ducks. The prospect of a freezer full of game birds is rather exciting. This year we exhausted resources long before Easter so I am itching to get cooking again as I adore all of the above and just believe you have to be a little creative as to how to keep the menus interesting. I am not going to wax lyrical about how good these birds taste, or indeed how nutritionally good for you they are, as I trust you tend to either like them and cook with them, or tend to keep a wide berth. My gut instinct with all game birds is that they have long been overcooked in this country, dried out to a dehydrated skeleton of their former selves, tasting like leather and hard on the jaw, and my own view and one our family subscribes to, is that most birds really don’t need as long in the oven as previously thought. The net result is we now have a repertoire of game recipes that are approached with excitement, as opposed to trepidation, mainly because the meat is tender and dripping with flavor.
On that note please let me introduce you to and encourage you to try this divine ‘Pheasant and pomegranate salad with raspberry vinegar’. It breaks away from anything traditionally ‘pheasantish’ and is extremely good for that reason. It combines tender, warm pheasant with roasted hazelnuts, crunchy fennel, velvet avocado, peppery watercress, jewels of pomegranate and of course the crucial raspberry vinegar, all rather reminiscent of the recipes from ‘Jerusalem’. It is light, yet Autumnal, pretty (always important in my view) and stacked full of healthy ‘things’ to ward off all those filthy germs that the little people keep collecting. It works well as a starter but can be a main course with a loaf of crunchy bread. Well worth a punt as it just is so pleasingly different. Don’t be put off if you can’t find raspberry vinegar, smashing a few handfuls of fresh raspberries in with white wine vinegar is a very satisfactory substitute.
Pheasant and Pomegranate Salad with Raspberry Dressing
Serves 6 as a starter, 4 as a ‘girly’ lunch and 2 for a hungry couple!
1 large fennel Bulb or 2 small
1 bag of watercress
1 pomegranate seeded
1 handful of hazelnuts toasted in the oven for 10 minutes
1 ripe avocado
1 lemon – juiced
Toasted ciabatta breadcrumbs (optional)
2 tablespoons of raspberry vinegar
6 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of honey or maple syrup
salt and freshly ground pepper
Whisk all the above ingredients together
1 . Roast the pheasant in the oven at 180 for 25 – 35 minutes – roast with plenty of butter and a good shake of salt and pepper. The key here is to let the bird sit for 20 minutes before stripping the meat off, also pheasant does not need to be cooked for hours and hours – most birds in an efficient oven will be perfectly cooked in 25 minutes.
2. Using a mandoline or a very sharp knife slice the fennel into strips, and the avocado. Toss together with the toasted chopped hazelnuts, watercress and pomegranate, drizzle lightly with olive oil and lemon juice.
3. Place the shredded, warm pheasant on top of the salad and dress with the raspberry vinaigrette, serve immediately.
And for the curious cook: ‘Jerusalem’ by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, available from most bookshops and of course, Amazon.