Friday, 23 May 2014

memories of a persian dinner + a whipped ricotta and radish tartine

o's whipped ricotta and radish tartine
 radishes – plump, squat globes the colour of ruddy pink cheeks, much like those of my kashmiri relatives. i buy bunches of them at my local grocer, their leafy heads tied so tight, it evokes memories of the ponytails mama used to style my hair into. radishes look pretty shaved into thin rounds that show their contrasting crimson rim and white interior. they are presented whole at my parent’s lunch table. baba bites the crunchy flesh, alternating with curry scooped with roti. their peppery heat compliments whole spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric and red chilli that are an essential feature of pakistani food.

it was in my early teens that baba introduced me to omar khayyam iranian restaurant in islamabad. it is where i had my first taste of kebab koobideh on a bed of buttered white and saffron rice, garnished with jewel like barberries. dinner concluded with petite glasses of iranian tea sweetened with saffron rock sugar. baba explained that the rock sugar is to be held between the front teeth whilst sipping the tea, allowing the hot liquid to flood the mouth on a tide of sweetness. he also told me about their breakfast ritual of noon-e-panir-e-sabzi (literally bread, cheese and vegetables). freshly baked flatbread is served with a plate of radishes, feta cheese, assorted herbs (usually mint, tarragon and spring onion) and walnuts. the flatbread is torn and topped with cheese, herbs and walnuts as desired. i had my first taste of this a decade later at colbeh in london. it is a communal dish that accompanies most persian meals, probably because the herbs and radish act as palate cleansers. 

i love the simplicity and versatility of noon-e-panir-e-sabzi. it combines some of my favourite ingredients. there is flatbread baked in a clay oven to start with and salty cheese refreshed by the bright herbaceous salad. this explains why it inspires many of my sandwiches and tartines. i have, on occasion, substituted the saltiness of feta for a mild, creamy ricotta and also introduced different garnishes like black sesame seeds and pul biber. the variation that features regularly at our brunch table is a tartine of radish and whipped ricotta. i introduced it to o for weekend brunch, made with thick slices of freshly baked rye and honey soda bread.

in noon-e-panir-o-sabzi, the bread, cheese and salad are served whole, allowing everyone to customise their morsels. i follow this pattern by laying out bowls of whipped ricotta and whipped feta along with chopped herbs, sliced radish, nuts, seeds and seasoning in pinch pots on the table. this manner of brunch has become a firm favourite of o’s and is perfect for summer. we had these tartines on a recent sunday afternoon, when summer made a full show of herself in london. it was so hot that i had to immerse the radish slices in a bath of ice water to revive their crunch.

whipped ricotta and radish tartine
{radish and whipped ricotta tartine}

two hundred and fifty grams ricotta
a trickle of olive oil
a small bunch of radish
sourdough, soda* or iranian barbari bread

to garnish
two spring onions
a small handful of chives
black sesame seeds to scatter
flaky salt
toasted walnuts
pul biber

* soda bread is quick to make, as it does not require proving. i make mine with rye and honey the recipe for which is here.

start by whipping the ricotta. i do this with the help of the s blade of a food processor. ricotta can vary in texture. the firm kind requires a scant trickle of olive oil to help it whip. the consistency of the whipped ricotta should be spreadable and akin to a loose cream cheese. 

once whipped, place the ricotta in a bowl for serving. the instructions remain the same for whipped feta.

wash the radish. remove and reserve the leaves. they are really tasty stir-fried or in an omelette. place a bowl of ice water next to your chopping board before you slice the radish. slice thinly, placing the slices in the ice water as you go. this retains crispness.

chop the spring onions thinly on a diagonal (white and green parts). then chop the chives. mix the two herbs and place in a bowl. place the toasted walnuts in a bowl and the flaky salt, sesame seeds and pul biber in pinch pots.

drain the radish slices and pat dry with kitchen towel. pile them onto the plate. lay all the ingredients on your brunch table along with a basket of bread. compose a tartine to your specifications and tuck in. 

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