G’day from Bristol! I write as a victorious Australian, offering well-meant but essentially cold comfort to my English colleagues and compatriots on the occasion of their loss in the Rugby World Cup. I don’t care about rugby. At least I didn’t previously. I’ve only recently gotten my head around the difference between League and Union. League (the final having just been played in Australia) and Union (the World Cup being played here in the UK) look, to all intents and purposes to anyone not a rabid fan, pretty much the same. That is to say, a game played on some nice spongey lawn in which men of gargantuan proportions grab each other in a manner reminiscent of long-lost ogres having a somewhat aggressive family reunion, and then scrabble around on said lawn like hungry chickens.
Having said that I enjoyed the game between England and Australia over the weekend, and not just because Australia won. I went on a very rare night out with a friend on Friday, very moderate drinking, good amounts of food taken on and home before midnight, yet I suffered the BITCHY BITCH HELL-BITCHES of all hangovers. I am sure it can’t have just been hangover, I was too sick. Anyway all day Saturday was spent mostly in bed, variously rocketing up from prone position in response to fast-moving nausea and then rocking back and forth like Girl Interrupted as the increased blood pressure attempted to blow my eyeballs out from the inside. Boyfriend put in a sterling effort looking after NewHuman all day and as such on Sunday, when I woke miraculously recovered (no doubt in part due to Australia’s sporting brilliance), some kind of reward for his hard work was required. Anyway by the time the rugby started I was beginning to regain a level of human-ness and, thus, the game will always be remembered fondly. By me.
I thought about what he’d like the most – meat, something smokey and barbecued, a nice pairing with beer – and decided to go vegetarian. I’m good to him and to his digestion. Also I’ve yet again left him with a vast amount to eat as never-ending leftovers on these single-parenting days he survives whilst I’m away.
I say Smitten Kitchen in the post title, which it is, but she adapted it from an Ottolenghi recipe so I’m firmly within my happy Ottolenghi place with this one. I went with her version cause I think I agreed with her changes but of course I made a few of my own, mostly involving doubling the amount of cheese involved. It was the right decision. I made this in a vast, vast rush, having gotten back from a lunch with visiting friends and only having an hour to get it prepped and cooked before presenting some of it to NewHuman for supper. It actually took just over that, all told, but was worth it. Not if you’re NewHuman, however. More to come on that front. Smitten Kitchen says this recipe is for four, but she might mean rugby players. It’s a lot. Good for leftovers.
1 large eggplant (or aubergine, I’ve no wish to be culturally insensitive), cut into 3/4-inch dice – I that is a bloody mammoth eggplant, so I used a lot of baby ones, total of around 600g. They were great as really didn’t need salting.
Salt and black pepper
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 celery stalk, in a 1/4-inch dice
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces (225 grams) orzo, a rice-shaped pasta, rinsed
1 teaspoon (6 grams) tomato paste
1 1/2 cups (355 ml) vegetable stock
1 to 3 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped – I used thyme, just leaves picked off, about a tablespoon
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest or more to taste, up to the zest of a whole lemon – I used about a dessertspoon finely chopped
4 ounces (115 grams) mozzarella, firmer is better here, cut into 1/3-inch dice – that’s like, one mozzarella ball. BALLS TO THAT. I used two mozzarella balls, about 200g in total
1 1/2 ounces (a generous 1/2 cup or 45 grams) parmesan, grated – I used more like 3/4 cup
3 medium tomatoes, diced
You’re supposed to generously salt your chopped aubergine and leave to drain in a big colander. I did that, actually, but cause I used lovely little baby eggplants it wasn’t really necessary. Next time I know. If you use MEGA EGGPLANT then do this step, rinse well and lay out on a tea towel or similar and dry properly.
Whilst they’re salting get on with chopping celery, carrot, onion and tomatoes. Chop chop. Chop. Chopchopchop. Shitload of chopping.
Stick your oven on to preheat at 180C.
In a nice big frypan, in two lots, slosh some oil and when it’s all lovely and warm over a medium-high heat chuck in the eggplant. SK says to cook it for 8 mins, stirring occasionally. I did it for more like 5. Was fine. Remove from pan with slotted spoon and drain well on kitchen towel. Both lots, do it.
In the same pan add the carrot, garlic and onion and cook for about 5 mins, trying not to let onion burn or brown or anything much. You’re trying to get the cooking going here but not add any bitterness.
Then add the tomato paste (I was generous with mine, put maybe twice as much in as recommended) and the orzo and cook for another two minutes or so. Right. Take it off the heat, and add (this is why you’ll want a nice big frypan) everything else – eggplant, tomato, cheeses, stock and thyme. It’ll look a little sloppy. That’s good. The orzo needs some liquid. A good twist of salt and generous amounts of cracked pepper stirred through will be required.
Shove it all into a big casserole dish and cover tightly with foil, then into the oven for 20 mins. After that time take the foil off – you want a lovely crispy top. I left it for about 30 mins without foil but go with what your own preference is (if you don’t like crispy tops we cannot be friends, you are clearly altered). Above is NewHuman caught in the act of actually spitting this out. His head looks mutant and huge. It’s mutant in real life, but not actually huge, it’s poor photo taking skills but really don’t be mad at me, be mad at him. Philistine.