Food 2020 – The Great British Chefs Cookbook Club (Under the Olive Tree by Irini Tzortzoglou)

Saturday 3rd/Sunday 4th October, 2020 – Recipes (Moussaka, Griddled Courgette Ribbons with Crumbled Feta and a Mint Lemon Dressing, Brother Yiorgos’s Field Mushrooms with Smoked Vinegar Pork Sausage)

After a couple of months missing in action (I really didn’t fancy the August book – Cook for Charity – though I bought it to make a donation to the NHS, and in September I just didn’t have the time or inclination to lay hands on Great British Chefs: Vegetables) I returned to the Great British Chefs Cookbook Club. Because of the state of the house, and despite the fact that the kitchen is not part of the project, I’m pretty keen to produce easy to eat dishes that also provide more than one day’s food, so on getting hold of “Under the Olive Tree” by Masterchef 2019 winner Irini Tzortzoglou, it was the moussaka (page 162) that called to me, especially as I had most of the ingredients needed already to hand. And so, on Saturday morning I set about making the full quantity (serves 10), because as there are only two of us, that would give me another four evening meals when we need them most.

I didn’t add or remove anything in the recipe apart from for the pepper sauce where I used two long red peppers and and “ordinary” red pepper, though I did pay attention to suggestion that this was mildly spiced and doubled the seasoning. If/when I do it again, I may double them again to give it more punch.

Other things I would change would be the way the recipe is structured, without numbered steps. This means, in a page of densely packed text, and with four separate elements, I kept struggling to find the point I’d got to. Also, it would have been nice to have an idea about how long it would take me to get to the point where the dish went in the oven. As it turned out it was a good couple of hours, and slightly longer if you include the time taken to create the pepper sauce. I didn’t expect it to be a quick job, but would have liked to be given some guidance. Also, the amount of washing up generated was horrendous and may be a thing with this book… as I found out on Sunday morning.

So was it worth it? Yes, yes, it definitely was. The end result was warming, comforting, deep, a massive great hug on a plate. And unlike most commercially available moussakas, which are stingy on the aubergine and go instead for almost all potato, it was delightfully vegetable packed and thick with bechamel, with enough meat to make it the balance, quite the best moussaka I’ve had in a very long time.

The pepper sauce was good too and I would likely make that on its own for use with various other dishes. It was sweet and smooth and velvety, although I’m not sure it was needed with the moussaka which stood well enough on its own without any extra frills!

Alongside it I also made the griddled courgette ribbons with crumbled feta and a mint lemon dressing (page 93). I didn’t have any lamb’s lettuce so it had to be leaf free, but that was fine with me. Griddling the courgettes was a slow, fiddly job without a large griddle pan (I could manage a maximum of 8 slices at a time in the pan, and there were a lot of courgettes ribbons!) but was worth it. I ended up using slightly more feta than was specified, and I used a chestnut honey in the dressing because that was what I had. The crunch of the croutons was most satisfying, and the mix of sweetness, sourness and oil was very balanced and very, very tasty.

The salad also requires a quantity of pasteli (page 95), basically a caramel of honey and sugar packed with sesame seeds, and here I should add a warning. You will probably already know that you really do need to have everything ready to go when you start cooking caramel because you cannot walk away from it, you must stay with it and keep stirring. However, that’s not what I want to warn you about. I was at the stage of using the rolling pin to spread it out between two sheets of baking parchment, when the top sheet started to curl up. I made an attempt to straighten it and the mix shot out and stuck to my thumb and middle finger. This is dangerous cooking and today I have the burns to prove it! Still, at least it was my left hand, which is not my dominant hand. The pasteli was successful otherwise, and despite the warnings in the book it was very easy to break it into fragments to add to the salad. It sticks to your teeth very persistently when you eat it though.

And here I would just point out that I’d probably spent about four hours in the kitchen by this point… Yes, it was all worth the effort, but I think if I plan to make the moussaka again, I might well make batches of the meat and freeze them for when I need them, rather than doing everything all in one go. It should also be possible to make and freeze the pepper sauce, just to be ahead of the game when you decide you really, really need a moussaka for dinner. I also think I’d make the pasteli a day in advance, just to make sure I could take my time with it and not fall foul of a blisteringly hot concoction on the day.

It was a fabulous dinner nonetheless. And having had a fabulous dinner on Saturday, a cold, wet, miserable Sunday morning seemed like the perfect time to stage an escape to the Mediterranean, even if only by means of a frying pan (or two). After the success of the moussaka recipe, I had some mushrooms, eggs and tomatoes on standby for breakfast so why not wheel out another of the recipes, this time Brother Yiorgos’s Field Mushrooms and Smoked Vinegar Pork Sausage (to be found on page 63).

Up front, I have to confess that the smoked sausages were not available so I used Waitrose’s frankfurters because they are smoked and good quality. I don’t think the dish suffered from this substitution.

I was slightly concerned at the amount of red wine vinegar as at least two elements contained 2 tablespoons each. I needn’t have worried though. It simply left a slight sharpness that contrasted with the richness of the tomato and onion sauce and the egg yolk. A tablespoon of smoked paprika does lend quite a whack of heat to the sauce, so be warned if you prefer milder flavours and maybe experiment with a smaller amount. Personally, I’ll be sticking with the full tablespoon! The other thing I think I might do differently is chopping the onion fine rather than grating it and accepting that I’ll need to cook the sauce for longer. Oh, and if the purpose of grating the tomatoes is just to remove the skins, I’ll go for a quick dip in boiling water instead – it will be easier, and considerably less messy!

The mushrooms are lovely just fried in olive oil and butter and the sausages, with the addition of cumin and red wine vinegar really do hit new heights. Who knew you could make a frankfurter taste that good?! I didn’t poach the eggs in vinegared water, but that’s because I have an egg poacher which is decidedly less hit and miss for me, and I didn’t add any thyme at the end because it was raining so hard I wasn’t prepared to go out to the herb patch to get any. It didn’t make too much difference I don’t think, though perhaps next time I’ll add a pinch of dried thyme to the sauce instead.

Piled onto sourdough toast, the combination of elements was gloriously good, the egg yolk bringing it all together into a fantastically tasty whole. Do get the best eggs you can lay hands on for this. Your tastebuds will thank you!

I should point out though, that you’ll have a pile of pans to wash again. Two frying pans, a saucepan AND a poaching pan…

Brother Yiorgos’s Field Mushrooms and Smoked Vinegar Pork Sausage


For the tomato sauce:
  • 4 medium tomatoes
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Pinch of salt
For the mushrooms:
  • 200 grammes oyster, flat or Portobello mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Knob of butter
  • Salt and black pepper
For the sausages:
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 smoked pork sausages
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
For the poached eggs:
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 4 eggs
To serve:
  • 4 slices of bread, toasted
  • A few fresh thyme leaves
  • A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil


Tomato Sauce:
  1. Cut a slice of the top of each tomato then grate them using a coarse cheese grater.
  2. Grate or very finely chop the onion.
  3. Heat the oil in a pan over a medium heat then add the onion and cook it gently until it is soft.
  4. Add the tomatoes, paprika, sugar, vinegar and a pinch of salt and cook until the liquid evaporates and you are left with a smooth sauce.
  5. Keep it warm.
  1. Clean the mushrooms and slice any large ones.
  2. Heat the oil and butter in a frying pan and fry the mushrooms for 4-5 minutes.
  3. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Keep them warm.
  1. Heat the oil in a frying pan.
  2. Cut the sausages into bite-sized chunks and cook for a minute in the oil.
  3. Add the cumin and vinegar and stir to coat.
  4. Cook until the sausages are properly brown.
  5. Keep them warm.
  1. Poach the eggs to your liking.
  2. When the eggs are cooked, remove them with a slotted spoon and place on a plate lined with kitchen towel to absorb any excess moisture.
To serve:
  1. Toast your bread then spoon some mushrooms on top of it.
  2. Scatter the sausages around the plate.
  3. Top each plate with an egg, and add a dollop of tomato sauce.
  4. Scatter the dish with thyme leaves and drizzle on some olive oil.

And just to keep it up to date, this is the list of books so far:

  • Hong Kong Diner – Jeremy Pang
  • New Classics – Marcus Wareing
  • Planted – Chantelle Nicholson
  • Little Viet Kitchen – Pham Thuy Diem
  • Eating Well Everyday – Peter Gordon
  • Happy Food – Bettina Campolucci Bordi
  • Great British Chefs Cookbook
  • Simple – Yotam Ottolenghi
  • 80 Cakes From Around the World – Claire Clark
  • Scandinavian Baking – Trine Hahnemann
  • Andina – Martin Morales
  • Asma’s Indian Kitchen – Asma Khan
  • Crumb – Richard Bertinet
  • Casablanca – Nargisse Benkabbou
  • Bazaar – Sabrina Ghayour
  • Moorish – Ben Tish
  • Island Kitchen – Selina Periampillai
  • Charred – Genevieve Taylor
  • Mandalay – MiMi Aye
  • Salt & Time – Alissa Timoshkina
  • The Book of St John – Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver
  • Adventures with Chocolate – Paul A Young
  • Wok On – Ching-He Huang
  • Fire Islands – Eleanor Ford
  • Veneto – Valeria Necchio
  • Falastin – Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley
  • Cook for Charity – Various
  • Great British Chefs: Vegetables – Various
  • Under the Olive Tree – Irini Tzortzoglou

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