Not only do I enjoy drawing inspiration from the glut of locally grown, seasonal ingredients available at any given time, but combining them with culinary influences from around the world helps me to arrive at new and innovative recipes that simply celebrate the seasons.
The diversity and rich heritage of turkish food is one cuisine my appetite has thoroughly enjoyed exploring! Its refreshing, vibrant and complementary flavours seem to permeate Turkey’s warm and diverse geographical location at the crossroads between Europe and Asia.
With a culinary heritage rooted in fusion cooking, turkish food is a melting pot of Asian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Balkan flavours with a sprinkling of Western Europe influences.
Turkey’s plethora of dishes created from an abundance of sun-blushed ingredients enhanced by sweet spices and refreshing herbs plays nicely however, into the hands of our British summer harvest. Staple ingredients include sweet tomatoes, peppers and aubergine, and many a dish will include rich meats such as veal and lamb. Drawing on their Persian ancestry, it is also not uncommon to find the sweet-savoury mix in turkish food, often with the addition of seasonal fruit to savoury dishes – fresh apricots being a particular favourite.
The more I delved into the culinary background of this fascinating cuisine, I couldn’t help but think it was the perfect time of year to introduce this style of cooking into my kitchen.
The tomato season has been a little late this year, waiting for the small pockets of sunshine we luckily saw at the beginning of August. Now plump, ripe and ready to harvest, they are the perfect base to my turkish inspired dish. Now that this year’s organically reared spring lamb has had a couple of month on pasture, it is starting to become widely available and too ready for the cooking pot. Combined with beautifully blushed British apricots, I could start to see a very pleasing dish coming together!
In true turkish style though, I sought inspiration from two traditional staples; ezme and the Turk’s equivalent of pizza, lahmacun. Ezme is beautifully simple, allowing just a handful of ingredients to take centre stage. A simple, spicy salad made predominantly from tomatoes and peppers, ezme is sometimes served more like a paste, similar to what we know as Harissa, and was to become the base sauce of my lamb, apricot and feta pizza.
Slow cooked lamb and cherry tomatoes to add rich intense flavour, this pizza is taken to another level with the complementary sweet apricots and the salty feta. Sprinkled with some fresh mint to marry all the aromas, this is a truly delicious introduction to this diverse and interesting cuisine.
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
salt and peper
2 tbsp dried mixed herbs
2 tbsp chilli flakes
300g cherry tomatoes
250g – 300g lamb neck fillet
300g strong bead flour
1/2 tsp dried yeast
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
250g jarred peppers
1 medium chilli, deseeded and roughly chopped
Handful of coriander
1 clove of garlic, roughly chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 small red onion
Handful of parsley
2 – 3 apricots, depending on size
1. Pre-heat the oven to 150C/ Gas 2. In a large bowl add the zest and juice of 1 lemon along with the rapeseed oil, seasoning, dried mixed herbs and chilli flakes. Slice the tomatoes in half then toss in the marinade. Remove using a slotted spoon and place in a large oven-proof dish. Add the lamb fillet to the remain marinade, ensuring it is completely coated before adding it to the dish alongside the tomatoes. Put in the oven and allow to slowly cook for 2 hrs, until the meat is tender.
Whilst the meat and tomatoes are cooking, make the pizza base.
2. Put the flour in a large bowl, then add the yeast and a pinch of salt. Form a well in the middle of the flour and pour in 200ml of lukewarm water along with the oil. Bring the mixture together to form a soft, wet dough. Lightly flour a surface and turn out the dough, before kneading for 5 minutes until smooth in texture. Return back to the bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and leave to prove until double the size – this can take a couple of hours. If you prefer a thin crust, then this stage is not essential and make the base when the meat in already cooked.
3. To make the ezme pizza sauce base, roughly chop the peppers and place in a food processor along with the chilli coriander and garlic. Add the roasted tomatoes, reserving a couple to garnish the pizza when assembling. Blitz the ingredients on pulse a couple of times to achieve a very finely chopped consistency but not fully blended to a paste. Tip into a bowl before stirring through the tomato paste. Finely chop the onion and parsley before adding to the mixture. Using a fork, shred the lamb and combine thoroughly with the other ingredients.
Increase the oven temperature to 200C/ Gas 6 and place in a large baking tray or pizza stone to warm.
4. Roll out the pizza dough on a floured surface, large enough to fit on the pizza stone or tray. Spoon on the ezme and lamb sauce, sparing a little dough at the edge for the crust. Slice the apricots and scatter on top of the pizza along with crumbled feta and the reserved tomatoes. Slide pizza onto the stone or tray and bake for 15 – 20 minutes until the base is cooked through.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle with fresh mint leaves.
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