Ten questions with Georgina Hayden and Whole roasted miso aubergine

Gerogina Hayden colour

I have known Georgie for longer than probably either of us care to remember. She is a great friend, a big part of Jamie Oliver's food team, and a talented food stylist, writer and cook in her own right. Her first book Stirring Slowly has just come out in the UK and is every bit worth the wait. It's a truly beautiful book full of warmth, stories and genuinely original recipes from a real lover of food. I want to cook it all.

Here, Georgie and I talk about orange blossoms and eating well, and she shares a recipe for her Whole Roasted Miso Aubergine.

What did you have for breakfast?

It varies; always a cafetiere of coffee, that’s standard, and today I had a slice of ‘Hackney Wild’ from E5 bakery, toasted and topped with my homemade roasted apricot and orange blossom jam. I love the bread at E5, it’s dense and chewy and exactly how bread should be. And the apricot jam is my latest addiction. As a family we’ve always bought apricots by the box during the summer, and usually eat them straight up or make classic jam, but making it this way is my new favourite method; the roasting adds a fantastic depth of flavour and the orange blossom makes them sing.

What was the first thing you learned to cook?

Because my family had a restaurant we were constantly surrounded by food and cooking, however it was probably something wonderfully childlike, like fairy cakes with my mum, at home, with red AND green glace cherries.

What’s your favourite smell?

Orange blossom, it transports me straight back to Cyprus and both my yiayia’s kitchens (it also acts as a fantastic face toner). Freshly ground coffee still excites me - there is nothing quite like it. And garlic frying in butter, not only is it delicious, but most of my mum’s cooking starts with garlic and butter, so it is also deeply nostalgic.

What was the best part of creating your cookbook?

I loved all of it; the writing, developing, styling… But if I had to pick one it would be the writing. I did it in stages and over a long period of time, to make sure it was as varied as possible. My cooking changes depending on the time of year, my mood, or what I am doing, so it was important to me that I had the space and time to write it. That way the book is hopefully well balanced.

What’s your most used cookbook/ food reference book?

Nigella’s How to Eat played a huge part in my culinary education growing up, as did Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries when I started working in a kitchen. How to Eat taught me everything I needed to know and I find The Kitchen Diaries is still one of the most inspiring cookbooks ever written. Other than these classics it would have to be Tessa Kiros’ Falling Cloudberries. When it came out it was my most used and loved book, the familiarity of the Cypriot dishes and the inspiration around the Finnish ones… Beautiful.

Where is your favourite place? (A shop, a beach, a village, a café …)

Our house in Phini, Cyprus. It has the most fantastic view over the Troodos mountains, and in Spring the smell of roses and almond trees is incredible. Also there is no internet and the reception is rubbish, which is heaven.

What are three kitchen utensils you cannot live without?

My walnut wood spoon - hand whittled by the wonderful Sophie from Grain and Knot. I adore it and feel like it could tell a million stories. From stirring my pinhead oats in the morning, to slowly cooked a ragu for hours on end, I use it for everything, it’s gorgeous.

Fine microplane - I remember when I first used one, I instantly felt like it changed my life! Never again would I have to scrape the lemon zest or parmesan out of the box grater. A thing of pure joy.

My Greek tomato knife - gifted to me by a dear friend, I adore this knife and it get used daily. It’s smaller than a paring knife, with a very fine serrated edge and wooden handle, and absolutely perfect for cutting ripe tomatoes (or any ripe fruits) without crushing them, very important in a Mediterranean kitchen.

Your worst kitchen disaster?

My first (of many!) was when I was about 7. My mum and sister were upstairs, and my mum always made us cornflake cakes growing up, so I thought I’d surprise them by making some too. I emptied a jar of nutella into a yellow plastic mixing bowl, poured in a load of cornflakes and confidently placed it on the hob. I can’t remember exactly what happened next; the fire alarm going off or just the smell of burning plastic, but needless to say my mum was there in a heartbeat and managed to stop me from setting the kitchen alight!

What or who inspires you?

My yiayia’s, my grandma’s. They are, and were, the most incredible cooks. Shopping seasonally, being frugal and making do, cooking instinctively. All skills that have been lost along the way. The are constant sources of inspiration.

What does ‘eating well’ mean to you?

To me eating well means listening to my body. I used to be terrible at it; skipping meals, waiting till I was ravenous. Now I try and eat at regular intervals, and I listen to what my body is saying. If I’m tired or craving meat, it’s normally that my iron is a little low (my anaemia fluctuates) so I make sure I eat more lentils, pulses, leafy greens and a bit more red meat. If I feel a bit bloated I try eat healthier, lighter meals, and if I am genuinely craving something a bit naughty I let myself have it. Life’s too short to feel guilty over food.

Whole roasted miso aubergine

I’ve met quite a few people who don’t love aubergine, and I can honestly say most of the time it’s because of the way it’s cooked. That rubbery, dry, slightly squeaky texture is pretty off-putting, but that’s purely because it hasn’t been cooked for long enough. Aubergines are a beautiful thing, and when given the right care they are stunning.

Take this recipe, for example – I treat the aubergines like a piece of meat, slashing them, marinating them and slow-roasting them whole. The result is a deliciously creamy and fragrant dish that takes little effort to make. The other bonus is that you don’t use much oil, as you cook the aubergines whole, so it’s light too.

Serves 4

  • a 3cm piece of ginger
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 small green chillies
  • 2 aubergines
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • groundnut oil
  • 200g vine cherry tomatoes
  • 4 spring onions
  • ½ a bunch of coriander
  • 1 lime
  • 1 tablespoon tamarind paste
  • ½ tablespoon honey
  • 3 tablespoons white sweet miso

Preheat your oven to 180°C/gas 4. Peel the ginger and garlic, and finely slice the chillies. Pierce the aubergines all over with a paring knife, as if you were making incisions into a piece of meat. Grate the ginger into a large mortar and pestle, and bash together with the garlic, chillies and a good pinch of salt until you have a thick paste. Mix in just enough oil to make it spoonable, then spoon the mixture over the aubergines and massage it into the incisions, really getting the flavours inside. Place the aubergines in a large roasting tray, dot the cherry tomatoes around, and pop into the oven for 40 minutes, turning a couple of times.

While the aubergines are cooking, trim and finely slice the spring onions and roughly chop the coriander, stalks and all. Put into a bowl, squeeze over the lime juice to coat and mix all together. Leave to one side. Mix together the tamarind, honey and miso and add enough water to make a thick glaze. Remove the roasting tray from the oven after 40 minutes, turn the oven up to 200°C/gas 6, and drizzle the miso glaze over the aubergines. Pop back into the oven for a further 15 minutes, to caramelise, then remove and leave to cool a little.

Working carefully, remove the stalks from the aubergines and discard them, then roughly chop the flesh in the tray into coarse chunks. Stir in the dressed spring onions and coriander and serve right away.

Recipe and image extracted from Stirring Slowly.

Whole roasted miso aubergine 1

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