Back to school: three words which filled me with fear and loathing as a child. As soon as school was out for summer up went the posters in the windows of Woolies and Smiths with their images of shiny new lunchboxes, pencil cases and compasses, their chalkboard message a warning to you not to get too comfortable in your towelling shorts and jelly shoes because it will all be over sooner than you can say ‘a 99 with strawberry sauce please’.
Even as a middle-aged parent, those three words still manage to stir an uneasy feeling deep within. It’s not just that I’m not ready – and I’m really not – for the 6.30 morning alarms, the packed lunches and the school runs, or the homework, the relentless washing of PE kits and *momentarily pulls head from sand* the impending secondary school transfer stress-fest. It’s also because I’m not ready to wave goodbye to summer. I’m not ready to squeeze back into jeans or buy ‘transitional’ footwear, for early nights and dryathlons, for the smell of barbecues to be replaced with that of bonfires, to cook or eat rib-sticking stews or mashed potatoes.
So I am for now going to be an Autumn denier (as in refusenik not tights). I am going to wear Havaianas until my toes turn blue, continue with a liberal daily application of St Tropez, read chicklit during the daytime and mix large Aperol spritzes each evening at 5.59pm. I am not going to attempt to clean the barbecue until the clocks go back and I am going to cook as if each meal were to be enjoyed overlooking the Med at sunset. Are you with me?
Burrata with muhamarra, roasted tomatoes, avocado and dukkah
This is Italy meets the Middle East in a plateful of summery deliciousness. I stole the idea from a lunch I had recently at The Eagle in Farringdon and added some muhammara, a Syrian red pepper and walnut dip, to make it a bit more substantial. Burrata, which is basically a creamy, slightly runny mozzarella, is terribly fashionable at the moment, but can, like mozzarella, be a little bland by itself. However, it comes into its own when paired with stronger salty or spicy flavours.
- 4 burrata, 100g each (I used the ones from Natoora, available from Ocado or online)
- 2 ripe avocados
- 6 ripe tomatoes
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 small bag rocket
- 4 flatbreads (my recipe for flatbreads can be found here, but shop bought is cool)
- 4 tbsp muhamarra
- dukkah and olive oil to finish
For the tomatoes
- Preheat your oven to 200°c and line a baking tray with parchment.
- Cut the tomatoes in half, rub each half with the cut side of a clove of garlic, drizzle over some olive oil, season with salt and pepper and bake in the oven for 45 mins to one hour until cooked through and beginning to caramelise around the edges.
For the muhamarra (adapted from Anna Jones’ A Modern Way to Eat)
- 75g walnuts
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 200g roasted red peppers, skins removed
- 2 slices day old bread, sourdough or wholemeal whizzed to breadcrumbs
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses or 1 tbsp balsalmic vinegar
- 1 tsp Turkish chilli flakes or pinch of normal chilli flakes
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- salt and pepper
- extra virgin olive oil, about 4 tbsp
- drizzle of honey to finish
- Toast the walnuts and cumin seeds for about 6 minutes in the oven (again preheated to 200°C (fan)).
- Put these and all the other ingredients except the oil and honey into a food processor and blitz. Anna says until smooth but I like mine with a bit of texture.
- With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil until the dip is how you like it in terms of consistency and flavour. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
- Drizzle over some runny honey and a bit more oil to finish. This keeps well in the fridge for about a week.
For the dukkah
- handful of toasted blanched hazelnuts, roughly chopped
- 1/2 tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds (I used a mix of black and white)
- 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- To make the dukkah, toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry frying pan until fragrant – about 1 min. Bash up a bit in a pestle and mortar, then add the hazelnuts, seeds, spices, oregano and sea salt and bash up a bit more so you are left with a chunky rubble. This keeps well for a couple of weeks in an airtight container.
Warm up the flatbreads, spread a tablespoon of muhammara on each, scatter over some rocket leaves, allow 1/2 an avocado, sliced, per flatbread, and three tomatoes then top with the burrata, sprinkling over about 2 teaspoons of dukkah to finish. Serve with chilled white wine and lots of imagination.