Saturday, October 07, 2006

October 5, 2006: Om ali

While Michael prepared tostadas for dinner, I was working on dessert. I had chosen to have a go at om ali from my Nigella cookbook, not because it was one of the most mouth-watering but because it would use up some superfluous filo pastry. Described as "a kind of Egyptian bread-and-butter pudding", it probably did stick in my mind as one of the more intriguing recipes.

Om Ali

Set the oven to 150 degrees. Paint 200g of filo pastry sheets with 100g of melted butter, crumpling each loosely and plonking them on two baking trays. I was unsure whether Nigella meant that the sheets should get layered on top of each other or scrunched up side by side, so I did a tray of each. The recipe wouldn't be perfect this time around, but I'd probably work out the best option and prepare all the pastry as intended next time. That's active adaptive management, people! (I'm thrilled that I've just managed to explain my thesis topic using a cooking example. Humour me.) I've come to the conclusion that the pastry sheets should probably be scrunched up side by side, if possible, but it doesn't matter all that much. Bake them for about 20 minutes, until they turn crispy and golden.

Next turn the oven up to 240 degrees. Nigella recommends serving this in a 20cm pie dish, but that was nowhere near enough space for me. A 20cm dish with walls that are at least 5cm high will probably do, or a bigger dish with shorter walls. Butter your chosen receptacle, whatever it may be. Next you need about 300g of dried fruit and nuts. Nigella lists sultanas, diced dried apricots, flaked almonds, pistachios and pine nuts. I did her mix without the sultanas, 'cause I'm not really into them. Go with whatever combination of fruit and nuts you're into. Crumble pastry into the baking dish to cover the bottom, then sprinkle on some dried fruit and nuts. Keep layering the crumbled pastry and fruit and nuts until they're all used up.

Now heat a litre of full fat milk, 300mL of double cream and 100g of sugar in a saucepan and bring to the boil. As soon as it starts to boil pour it over the dish of pastry. Sprinkle some ground nutmeg over the top, ideally freshly grated, and bake it for 10 to 15 minutes.

I'm frequently of the attitude that the only desserts worth eating are desserts that involve chocolate, but this one really hit the spot on Thursday evening. The dried apricots were little jewels of chewy sweet-sourness in mellow milky pastry. I love desserts with nuts for the added texture and depth of flavour, and pistachios are a personal favourite for their incredible clash of green and purple. Here they looked especially festive next to the orange apricots.

When eaten fresh out of the oven, this has the typical butter-crisp top that filo gives, while the bottom is soft bloated milky pastry, and it is impossible to serve it neatly or attractively. After a stint in the fridge, the leftovers are much more firm and amenable to slicing. And here comes my biggest confession yet: Michael and I ate the leftover pudding for lunch the next day. It was fantastic, in that guilt-makes-it-more-delicious kind of way. As a more genteel alternative, might I suggest a room-temperature slice served with tea in the afternoon?


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