The other day my mother phoned me in a state of hysteria because, “Ottolenghi keeps trying to contact me!”. “Why would Ottolenghi be trying to get in touch with you?” Getting a bit huffy about my tone, she explained that in fact she felt rather unnerved by his behaviour: “He keeps sending pictures to my phone that I’ve not asked for!” Mind rapidly boggling at the prospect of a celeb-chef sexting scandal, and already picturing the Daily Mail headlines, along with photos of my mother holding up a pixilated iPhone, I tried to reason, “I really don’t think you’re his type, Mum, like really.” Not really listening, she continued “It’s just photo after photo of salads! So delicious but very disconcerting.”
After going all CSI: Cyber on the whole thing, it turned she wasn’t being obscene-text-stalked by Yotam Ottolenghi, but she was following him on Instagram and receiving notifications whenever the chef posted. After a brief panic during which she was convinced she’d lost her phone (the phone that was in her hand and with which she was speaking to me), I managed to guide her through the ‘unfollow’ process which, as you can imagine, occupied a significant portion of our lives that neither of us is getting back.
I love Ottolenghi, and I’m not just saying that because he might one day be my stepfather. He has brought pomegranates and za’atar into my life where once there were none. There is no meal I enjoy more than a really good piece of meat, accompanied by endless Ottolenghi-esque side salady what-nots.
Roasted Cumin Carrots, Green Beans, Feta & Pomegranate
This carrot and green bean salad is inspired by Ottolenghi, though of course he’d add about a dozen extra stages that I don’t have the patience or strength for. My mother, who hasn’t held a grudge and seemed to get over the trauma of his obsession of her relatively quickly, always makes this for Boxing Day lunch to go with a delicious fillet of beef. It’s perfect for that time of year when you’re just desperate for something a bit brighter than a Brussels sprout, and at warmer times of year when we might be eating outside, we have it with a roast chicken and little roast potatoes making it the perfect lockdown meal.
(Serves 4, as a side or serves 2 as a main)
2tsp cumin seeds
A bag of green beans, about 200g, topped and tailed if necessary
Glug of extra virgin olive oil, to serve
And here’s how to make them…
1 – Preheat the oven to 200°C.
2 – Cut any bigger carrots into – I’m unsure of the technical term here – sort of daggers, i.e. I cut them in half diagonally. Keep smaller carrots as they are, but chop off their manky little root hats.
3 – Put them into a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil, a generous pinch of salt and the cumin. Mix it all until the carrots are well-coated.
4 – Cook in the oven for around 20 minutes, or until the carrots are soft and starting to go a bit charred at the edges.
5 – Meanwhile, boil the green beans in water until they’re soft – around 6 minutes.
6 – In order to get the seeds out of the pomegranate, Jamie and Nigella will suggest you cut it in half and bash the living daylights out of each half with a wooden spoon over a bowl, until the seeds drop out. I have tried this technique and have never not ended up with pomegranate juice stains all over my clothes and kitchen surfaces, and seeds still in their pods. I prefer to just cut open the pomegranate and pick out the seeds with my bare fingers over a bowl in the sink, like a savage. Better still, buy one of those expensive pots of the ready-done seeds and save yourself the hassle of excision altogether.
7 – When the carrots are ready, put them in a layer on a platter, followed by the green beans, then crumble the feta over it, and sprinkle the pomegranate seeds on top of it all.
8 – Drizzle with a generous glug of extra virgin olive oil and season with a bit of salt and pepper.
Serve with meat and ideally at a dinner party to which you’ve invited just Ottolenghi, his husband Karl and my mum. Then watch her squirm with embarrassment.