For any most Chefs, the starting point of any new dish is always the ingredients. Great chefs will think endlessly about their appearance, aroma, texture and flavour. Only when you understand and respect the essence of an ingredient can you properly come to enhance its flavour through cooking. The uncomfortable truth is that most cooks are lazy and they simply don’t bother to learn the history of basic ingredients, their origins and how they are grown. I often ask young chefs in my kitchens to explain the differences between black, white, green and pink peppercorns and most of them have never even thought about it. Something so basic and commonplace as a peppercorn is totally taken for granted and I constantly challenge the chefs around me to be aware of the ingredients that they use everyday and awaken their senses.
We live in a world of senses. Everything we experience is captured and brought to our consciousness only by our senses and nothing makes the senses feel more alive than the act of eating. We draw on all our senses when we eat; sight, smell, touch, taste and sound. At our restaurant we will be developing ideas that play on these senses to enhance the culinary experience but we will always be guided by nature and our kitchen will reflect the seasons. After all, nature is our maestro.
One of nature’s gifts right now is aubergine. They are one of my favourite summer ingredients as they are great at soaking up flavours and work brilliantly in stews, tagines, curries and smoky Middle Eastern dips such as Baba ganoush.
Aubergines also marry perfectly with lamb in the classic Greek dish, Moussaka. The name is actually Arabic, and it’s known, in various forms, from Egypt to Romania. A good moussaka is a joy to behold with cinnamon spiced lamb mingling with the aubergines and a delicious creamy, béchamel sauce. In my recipe I’m serving it with a minted pea puree and green salad…what more do you need?
MOUSSAKA WITH MINTED PEA PUREE
- 600g minced shoulder of lamb
- 75 ml olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon cumin
- 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 150 ml white wine
- 2 medium aubergines cut into 1 cm slices
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat two teaspoons of olive oil in a large pan and sauté the chopped onions without colour. Add the minced lamb mixture and fry over high heat for 3 - 4 minutes. Add the white wine, chopped tomatoes and oregano as well as the tomato paste. Simmer gently for 20 - 30 minutes while preparing the rest.
For the cheese sauce
- 500 ml milk
- Fresh parsley stalks
- 1 bay leaf, torn into small pieces
- 6 whole black peppercorns
- ½ small onion, peeled and studded with 3 cloves
- 40 g butter
- 30 g plain flour
- 75 g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat milk, onion pierced with the cloves, bay leaf, parsley stalks, and peppercorns until boiling. Remove from heat and leave to seep for 20 minutes before straining. Melt butter in a medium saucepan, stir in the flour and cook over a low heat for five minutes. When smooth, start adding some of the strained milk mixture. Stir until smooth, and slowly add more milk while constantly stirring. Cook for 10 - 15 minutes until the sauce thickens. Add half the cheese to the milk mixture and season with salt and pepper. Pass through a fine sieve.Preheat oven to 200°C/ 400°F/ Gas 6.
Heat olive oil in frying pan over medium heat and fry the aubergine slices until tender and lightly coloured on each side. Layer the base of a shallow ovenproof dish with the half of the sliced aubergines and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover the aubergines with the lamb mixture, then cover the lamb mixture with the remaining aubergines. Pour in cheese sauce and sprinkle remaining Parmesan cheese over top. Bake for 25 - 30 minutes until the top is golden-brown and bubbly. Serve with minted pea puree and a green salad.
MAJORCAN-STYLE STUFFED AUBERGINES
BERENJENAS RELLENAS A LA MALLORQUINA
This recipe is from our new cookbook Modern Mediterranean: Sun-drenched recipes from Mallorca & beyond available on Amazon now!
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Preparation time: 15 minutes
- 4 aubergines (eggplant)
- 150ml/5fl oz/2/3 cup olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
- 250g/9oz minced (ground) pork
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- 350g/12oz tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded and chopped
- 1 tbsp tomato purée (paste)
- 1 tsp sweet paprika (preferably Mallorcan Tap de Cortí), plus extra for sprinkling
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- 200ml/7fl oz/scant 1 cup white wine
- 1 tbsp plain (all-purpose) flour
- 200g/7oz Manchego cheese, grated
- 50g/1¾oz/1 cup fine breadcrumbs
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the grill (broiler) until hot. Heat the oven to 180c .Cut the aubergines (eggplant) in halve lengthways and scoop out the flesh, leaving the shells about 1cm/½in thick. Chop the aubergine flesh and set aside. Brush the shells with a little of the olive oil and grill (broil) until soft, about 10 minutes. Arrange the shells on a baking sheet and set aside.
Heat the remaining olive oil in a heavy saucepan over a low-medium heat and fry the pork for 5 minutes, until browned. Add the onion, garlic and thyme and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato purée (paste), paprika, cinnamon, wine and the reserved chopped aubergine. Stir in the flour and cook for about 5 minutes, until all the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is dry.
Fill the aubergine shells with the stuffing mixture and top each with grated Manchego, breadcrumbs, a drizzle of olive oil and a little paprika. Bake in the oven for 10–15 minutes. Serve immediately.