Olives and Aubergine – A Dining Club Love Affair
Every week, the dining club @St Johns hosts 20-30 guests. Each time we open our doors, we meet a new set of people, and each has a different relationship to food.
From anchovies to cheese, olives to pasta, most people who sit down at the table will have one pet hate. Some people have so many ‘problem foods’ that they are a little nervous when they first step through the door!
So I thought I’d write to reassure…
A dining club is different from a restaurant. Since we have a set menu, you can be sure that your meal has been given my full and undivided attention. We use fresh local ingredients, sourced just hours before they’re on your plate. Our love and devotion to the finest produce means that their flavour has often been radically transformed!
Take olives and aubergine. They have an honoured role in Italian cuisine, yet many newcomers to the club have had a bad experience with one or the other. Because both vegetables have a bold flavour and distinctive texture, they need to be handled skilfully in the kitchen.
If you have only experienced olives or aubergine in mid-priced restaurants or from the supermarket, then you probably haven’t tasted them at their delicious best. Writing them off before tasting them in their full glory would be like judging wine by drinking Lambrusco!
Quality ingredients, thoughtfully prepared can transform a dish. For example, I use a lot of olives from Liguria, which are smaller and have a subtler, gentler flavour than most olives from other parts of Italy and beyond. In fact olive oil from this part of the country is lighter precisely because of this.
For lots of people, the dining club can be very educational. In fact, one of the best parts of being a Chef is when I see my guests’ amazement as they are ‘converted’ to food that they thought they hated! The below recipe has seen recent success at the club. It’s even convinced life-long ‘phobics’ to give aubergine another chance…
Aubergine Parmigiana: I serve this meal, from southern Italy, as a starter. Reduced down until it is like jam, this is a very rich dish which one of my guests described as ‘sunshine on a plate!’
Also, it is a little known fact that some olives go well with mango and exotic fruits. After a little experimenting, I’ve found that olive caramel – a recipe developed by the legendary Spanish restaurant ‘elBulli’ – makes an unusual (and delicious) accompaniment to my passion fruit parfait or bavoir. Just a smear on the side of the plate is plenty – another exciting example of the versatility of olives.
At the dining club we can cater for people with food allergies, and promise not to serve anything too outrageous! But trust me, you’ll get the most out of your night @St. Johns if you come with an open mind. Sit back, relax and allow me to make the ingredients sing.
Until next time,