Showing posts with label Ottolenghi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ottolenghi. Show all posts

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Recipes: Khachapuri/Georgian pizza

This is a difficult recipe to get right. I first came across it on my trip to Georgia, the ex-Soviet state, last year. One of the culinary discoveries I enjoyed most was Khachapuri, a kind of pizza, but which contained very salty cheese called Sulguni. Khacha is Georgian for cheese and puri is derived from the Sanskrit for bread, just as a 'puri' is a puffy bread in Indian cooking.
Myself and Helen of Food Stories (a fantastically talented food blogger whom I'm amazed hasn't won any awards yet) were both on this trip. We've been mulling it over...where to get Sulguni? how do we make khachapuri when we don't have a tandoori style oven? what is the best recipe? Yes these are the things about which food bloggers lay awake at night, fretting.

Another thing that happened in Georgia, on the dusty trails lurching from kvevri to kvevri,! Our Helen met our Donald, a ferociously gifted wine blogger. They both like to party and the rest is history. They are now living together, a formidable team. Love in the blogosphere.
Helen and I have since been searching for convincing recipes. Part of the problem was nowhere in the UK sold Sulguni. The award-winning book The Georgian Feast contained a couple of disappointing recipes that just didn't seem right. The author suggested using Danish Havarti cheese and Muenster which was just wrong. Had she even been to Georgia, we wondered?
I tried another recipe from the New York Times which wasn't right either, lacking the yoghurt in the dough, giving a slightly sour taste.
Then Jerusalem, the book by Ottolenghi, came out, with a recipe for khachapuri. There is a sizeable Jewish population in Georgia, some of whom emigrated to Israel. (The food in Israel is excellent, being influenced by the Jewish diaspora, ie: everywhere). Khachapuri is a popular snack in Israel, hence it's inclusion in 'Jerusalem'.
So Donald, Helen and Chris Pople came over. Helen even found Sulguni in a Bayswater shop! Donald bought a kalashnikov of Armenian brandy ! We all decided it was the moment to taste every bizarro dairy product you have ever seen in Eastern European shops but were too scared to ask. You know that  glass of white stuff called 'Puck'? It's basically Dairylea but saltier therefore nicer.
There are two main types of Khachapuri: circular and boat/fish shaped. The 'fish' shape is reputed to be related to Christianity. In Tbilisi we were given the circular Khachapuri, 'megruli', filled and topped with cheese. In other parts of Georgia, you can have 'Ajarian' Khachapuri, which is sometimes topped with an egg.
Despite the Bayswater Sulguni being the 'real' thing, it didn't seem salty enough. One wants a stretchy mozzarella type cheese with a high salt content. Ottolenghi's solution of a mixture of feta, ricotta and halloumi did taste very authentic. However I disagree with one aspect of his recipe: brushing the dough with egg before baking. It wasn't like that in Georgia, in fact the circular version had almost a thin flakey dough encasing the very salty cheese. So it's still not right but we are getting there!
(Tweaked) Jerusalem Khachapuri recipe

250g strong white flour
10g quick acting dried yeast or 20g fresh yeast
1 egg
110g  plain yoghurt
60ml lukewarm water
1 teaspoon salt

40g halloumi cheese, cut into thin slices
20g feta, crumbled
60g ricotta or at a pinch, creamy cottage cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
a pinch of good dried thyme

Eggs optional
Extra salt on top

You know I've stopped sifting flour, I just give it a good stirring with a fork or a few twirls in the food mixer. Most flour nowadays doesn't have lumps and really they ask you to sift it so that it gets air in it.
Less washing up!
Anyway, don't bother sifting the flour, into a bowl, add the yeast, egg, yoghurt, water, then the salt. (Try not to let the salt touch the yeast before mixing, it slows down the rising, so Ottolenghi says to pour the liquid ingredients into a well and sprinkle the salt around the rim.) Mix it all together, cover and leave to rise. It's quite a slow rise. At least 2 or 3 hours.
Then divide the dough into three parts, rolling each part out into a circle 16cms in diameter (on a floury surface der!). Then stretch each end out into a boat shape. Shove the cheese mixture in the middle and try to close up the sides so it doesn't fall out.
Right, really important, preheat your oven up to as high as it will go. You want its maximum temperature, probably about 250ºC.
I've recently treated myself to a peel so I floured that lightly and carefully moved the khachapuri boats onto the peel. Then, because my technique is not yet that great, I managed to move the boats onto the floor of the hottest oven of my Aga. With an ordinary oven, use either a pizza stone, a bit of marble, or a preheated flat baking tray. You want that heat on the bottom, so don't put it onto a cold tray, you want to seal the bottom.
It takes about 15 minutes to cook. Have a look, see if it's golden and puffy.
You can break an egg into the boat as a topping if you like, then return the khachapuri into the oven for another five minutes.
Eat with a tarragon and walnut  salad, that's very Georgian.

Friday, 12 June 2009


@timhayward took me. I've been wanting to go for ages. I've got the book. What interested me about this place is that they do great things with vegetables. Vegetarian food has such a terrible image...all brown puddles, worthiness, hairy toes. You say the word 'vegetarian' and your heart sinks. It's the culinary equivalent of going on a protest march. And I'm a vegetarian. (I eat a bit of fish sometimes, when I'm out..)
Ottolenghi has enormous meringues in the window. Some people think they are never changed, that they are props, dusted occasionally. Tim and I stayed so late I can confirm that the meringues are fresh, new ones are brought out at night. By elves.
There are a few bar stools (hate bar stools. I'm short and don't like my legs dangling in mid-air, like a child) but the room is dominated by two long communal tables. Decor inside is white and glossy. Meringue-like. It could be a hospital except for the candlelight.
You are advised to order three dishes each. When they arrived I could see why, the portions are tapas-style. But the taste...every flavour was separate. The combinations...every mouthful an explosion of pleasure. Pink peppercorns, preserved lemons, purple fronds of cress and chives, pillowy goats cheese, caramelised nuts, smokey barbecue flavours, olive-oiled baby vegetables danced around on your palate. Some of the ingredients were getting up and doing the hokey cokey.
Tim and I gossiped, using our fingers to dip into our food. I was hard pushed not to lick the plate. We talked about digital versus print journalism and TV. How TV companies only pay what they call a 'sofa fee'; for £75 you sit on their sofa and talk for ten minutes. You fill a bit of airtime. How nobody wants to pay properly... trying to get your services for free because it is good for your 'profile'. (So true, one's 'profile' will slim down considerably on that kind of money). He alluded to a secret forum which sounded like a 'Bohemian Grove' for foodies; visions of food critics getting together in a forest, dancing naked around a fire, worshipping a giant Perigord truffle rather than an owl.
Complaints...I have a few, too few to mention. Well I will mention them. £120 for two and I was still hungry. No free bread. Why? Is it for people on the Atkins diet? Fortunately the drunk people sitting next to us on the communal table, one of them was actually moo-ing, gave us their half-eaten desserts, so we scoffed our way through the pudding menu at a bargain price. Passionfruit meringue tart...divine. Blackcurrant sorbet, not bad. Cheesecake, average, could get better in any Jewish deli. Some sort of ginger sponge thing, allright.
I went home feeling very inspired by Ottolenghi's food. Now going to work my way through their book's recipes...