Anna: We decided that we wanted to do a proper blow-out feast, after the many abortive midweek Ottolenghi meals that we’ve cooked.
Kirstin: We wanted to give it a full crack of the whip!
Anna: Luckily neither of us was working this afternoon, because it was potentially going to be a massive faff.
Tom: But was it?
Anna: If either of us had been doing it on our own, yes. With the two of us it was still a faff.
Zoe: But was it an enjoyable faff?
Kirstin: Yes, we watched wartime documentaries in between, while things were in the oven.
Anna: And we sang along to the Brandenberg double-violin concerto as we peeled five heads of garlic, clove by clove. Between the two of us it took 40 minutes. The two most annoying things were the cloves of garlic and the bloody cardamom pods.
Kirstin: But you have such good wrist action, Anna! (Zoe guffaws)
Anna: How do you know about my wrist action? It’s all those years of violin playing! With the cardamom pods I had to get Kirstin to open the window. Two tablespoons of cardamom pods, and you had to bash them all up, and take all the seeds out of all the pods! It was about 40 pods! It was like, Christ, take me now. I bashed my head with the pestle. Or was it the mortar? Anyway, we cooked the “Watermelon and feta” to start. I’m going to compare it against the Nigella recipe. Her recipe is watermelon, feta and black olive. She has olives, lime juice, mint and flat-leaf parsley, rather than basil. But everything else is the same. So we cooked that, and then “Caramelized Garlic Tart”.
Kirstin: We called it Vampire Pie.
Anna: And then “Roasted Butternut Squash with Sweet Spices, Lime and Green Chilli”.
Kirstin: Well I would never make a pie if it was up to me. So it was nice to make something that challenging.
Zoe: You’re not a pie person, really.
Kirstin: I like eating pie, but not making it.
Tom: So what did we all think of the salad, first?
Anna: The saltiness of the feta with the sweet of the watermelon worked really well.
Kirstin: I’d definitely make that again. Definitely. Also, it’s gluten free. And it’s no carbs, so it’s Atkins.
Zoe: I saw it and thought: I’ll remember those ingredients and make my own version. I’m a big basil fan. And it looked amazing. It’s so inviting.
Anna: So inviting you went back for more after the second course!
Kirstin: We weren’t sure if it was a dessert or a starter, because of the watermelon.
Anna: Zoe had it as both.
Zoe: Wrong side of the tracks. I like to be unconventional.
Anna: And it was dead easy. There was just chopping and assembly involved.
Zoe: What I liked about this whole meal was that it was communal. I liked the big platters, and diving in. It was really relaxed.
Anna: My problem with this watermelon salad, though, is that I feel he’s ripped it off from other people. Nigella did it eight years ago.
Kirstin: But she will have ripped it off someone else.
Zoe: But isn’t that life? It’s like you see someone wearing something, and then you copy them. It’s an evolution.
Anna: On to the Vampire Pie. I wanted to cook this because of the photo. I’ve done that with a lot of his recipes and then regretted it. But I didn’t regret this at all. I love cheese, I love garlic, I like pastry. It was great because we were peeling those cloves together. I don’t know if I could do it on my own.
Tom: You didn’t make the pastry, did you?
Anna: No. Anyway, if you’ve got a sous-chef who’s handy at peeling garlic…
Kirstin: I loved it! It was really nice!
Anna: I actually coudn’t taste the garlic that much. It was more of a texture than a flavour.
Zoe: You’re getting poetic now.
Kirstin: It was very subtle.
Tom: I was expecting it to be glowing with garlic, but it wasn’t.
Anna: You blanche it, and then you caramelise it, so it gets about 20 minutes. There was quite a lot of cheese, though, so it will be interesting to see if we have mad dreams. The squashy thing, this gets down to my frustration about Mr Ottolenghi. I enjoyed eating it and would like to serve it in the future as a side dish. But I’m not going to bother because it was a faff. You made the tahini sauce…
Kirstin: And I chopped up the limes…
Anna: That was a faff! I’d think this would be nice… and then think do I want to faff around with cardamom pods and deskinning limes? And you have to get a pastry brush and paint the spice mixture onto every individual slice of squash! Jamie would go bish bash bosh and with this you have to paint them!
Kirstin: And the brush broke.
Anna: There are so many steps! And when you put them all together…
Zoe: But you could take the concept, and be inspired by it. What I like about it, is that I look at it and I’m inspired. It looked amazing.
Kirstin: I don’t like tahini, it would appear.
Anna: I really liked it. I think that would go really well with lamb. What did you think, Tom?
Tom: I liked it, but not as much as the Vampire Pie or the salad. So if this was the biggest faff of the three, then I thought it was the least exciting.
Anna: If I went into the Ottolenghi deli and it was there, I’d put it in my salad box. But would I cook it again for a party? Not unless I had a lot of time to kill. But because it was cold, we had everything done. We just reheated the pie, which he said you were allowed to do, and everything else was prepared. That was one thing that was really nice about this meal.
Zoe: That was nice, actually. And visually it was so pleasing.
Anna: It wasn’t too orange. We were a bit worried about that. I’d probably do the watermelon salad again, and the Vampire Pie, maybe for a picnic, or if I was having veggies around for dinner. But not the squash.
Kirstin: I’d only do the salad again. I’d do the pie again if Anna was here, holding my hand. And I need some baking beans.
Anna: It’s all right. Father Christmas will sort you out.