I have a big culinary crush on Yotam Ottolenghi.

I’ve never met the Israeli-born, London-based chef, restauranteur, cookbook author, and Guardian columnist, but I’m seriously considering a weekend trip to London this summer with a friend just to try his outposts in London. Notting Hill, Islington, Kensington, Belgravia, here I come!

How do I love thee? Allow me to count the ways:

He writes a weekly column called The New Vegetarian but is not a vegetarian.
His love and respect for vegetables are palpable.
He makes things like roasted aubergine with turmeric yogurt, crispy onion, basil, rocket, and pomegranate seeds.
He adores, cherishes, reveres eggplants (aubergines).
His inspiration is Israeli, Palestinian, Turkish, Mediterranean, and above all seasonal.
His “ideal solace for a gloomy winter night” is mushroom ragout with a poached duck egg.
The food he cooks is both familiar and not; simple in preparation yet complex in flavor; traditional and innovative.
And those glasses!

I mean, what is not to like?

To be fair, Ottolenghi has a secret weapon helping him out: partner and head chef, Sami Tamimi, who worked his way up through Israeli kitchens until moving to London in 1997. (You can’t, or shouldn’t, wax poetic about Ottolenghi without at least a shout out to Tamimi.)

In 2010, Ottolenghi published his second cookbook in the UK, Plenty, a book devoted solely to vegetable dishes. Granted, many of the dishes include rich cheeses, runny eggs, good quality oils, but make no mistake, it is an ode to food that comes from the soil.

Yesterday I wanted to both cook something out of Plenty and prepare something I could bring to my lovely, yet increasingly picky grandmother (although she would never admit to being fussy). I thumbed through the beautiful pages and settled on stuffed cabbage. Too many unknown ingredients in a dish can turn my grandmother off before she’s even tried it, so better to stick to more of a known quantity. (Avocados, chic peas, crème fraîche, stinky cheese, chili peppers, black pepper, almost every kind of meat, chocolate even, render a dish dubious at best.)

In this recipe, the cooked cabbage leaves are stuffed with a mixture of rice, vermicelli noodles, ricotta, toasted pine nuts, garlic, mint, and parsley, ingredients that say spring is right around the corner. (I’ve missed fresh herbs!) Before baking you pour a combination of dry white wine, olive oil, and vegetable stock over the parcels, which makes the dish smell wonderfully enticing from the oven. You’ll want to tear right into the mismatched bundles, which is exactly what my grandmother did when I arrived, the dish still hot from the oven an hour later.

Stuffed Cabbage with Rice, Ricotta, and Mint
From Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Serves 4

2 tbsp (30 g) unsalted butter
1.5 oz (45 g) vermicelli noodles (not the rice kind)
scant 1 cup (150 g) basmati rice
10 oz (300 ml) water
1 medium white cabbage or Savoy cabbage
2 oz (60 g) pine nuts, toasted and coarseley chopped
5 oz (150 g) ricotta (my post on homemade here)
1 oz (20 g) Parmesan, grated
3 tbsp chopped mint
4 tbsp chopped parsley, plus extra for serving
3 garlic cloves, chopped
6.5 oz (200 ml) dry white wine
3.5 oz (100 ml) vegetable stock
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp olive oil
salt and black pepper

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Break the vermicelli by hand into small pieces and add them to the butter, stirring for 1 or 2 minutes, careful not to let them burn. When the noodles start turning golden add the rice and give it a good stir. Then add the water and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a minimum, cover and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes before removing the lid and letting cool.

While the rice is cooking, cut the cabbage vertically in half. Peel off the leaves and blanch in boiling water for 6-8 minutes, or until semi-soft. (You can do this in batches, depending on the size of your pot.) Refresh the leaves under cold running water, drain, and pat dry.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Add the pine nuts, ricotta, half the Parmesan, the herbs, garlic, salt and pepper, to the cooked rice. Mix well with a fork. Use the cooked cabbage leaves to make parcels of whatever size you’d like, filling each one with a generous amount of the rice filling.

Arrange the stuffed cabbage leaves in an ovenproof dish (use cabbage trimming to fill in any gaps). Whisk together the wine, stock, sugar, olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper. Pour this over the cabbage and put the dish in the oven, baking for about 40 minutes or until almost all the liquid is evaporated. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan, return to oven and bake for another 10 minutes, so the cheese melts and turns golden. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Note: Next time I might be adventurous and try adding sauteed shiitake mushrooms to the filling mixture, or about 1 tbsp fresh lemon zest, or when it’s springtime, fresh peas—even though my grandmother said, “Don’t mess with it!”

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