Archives for posts with tag: Yotam Ottolenghi

“Good-bye to…food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths…and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you…Do human beings ever realize life while they live it? — Every, every minute?”

Oh Thorton Wilder. I know you’re relegated to the dustbin of high school English classes but this quote from Our Town gets me every time. I haven’t read Wilder in years but this weekend, in between working a new job, visiting the Whitney Biennial and the Francesca Woodman show at the Gugg*, and generally avoiding people in green, I read multiple applications for the Board I’m on, students eager to get into an academic summer program.

Someone’s application made a reference to Our Town and my mind wandered to this passage. Food and coffee and freshly ironed dresses, hot baths, sleeping, and waking up…In the words of Rodgers and Hammerstein, these are a few of my favorite things.

Wilder in mind, I set out for this weekend’s simple cooking pleasure. With the weather warming up, but the farmer’s markets not yet stocked with the first produce of the season, an in-between, intermediary meal was in order. Something to welcome the spring and sun and longer days, and gently bid farewell to the unfriendliest of seasons (although kind of friendly this past year).

My hand reached for Plenty on the shelf. That’s the cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi I wrote about here two weeks ago. It would have to be the caramelized garlic tart. The perfect early spring food: the lusciousness of cream, the lightness of pastry, the fragrance of rosemary and thyme. It’s letting go of winter and greeting spring simultaneously. It’s warm and cool, light and dark, sweet and savory, like March itself.

The Ball jar above is filled with cream, crème fraîche, eggs, salt, and pepper. Its final destination: the all-butter puff pastry, to be filled with caramelized garlic, two types of goat cheeses, rosemary and thyme. In the words of a friend, “I do.”

Caramelized Garlic Tart
From Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Serves 8

1 sheet all-butter puff pastry (approx. 375 g)
3 medium heads of garlic, cloves peeled and separated
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
scant 1 c water (220 ml)
3/4 tbsp sugar
1 tsp chopped rosemary
1 tsp chopped thyme, plus a few twigs to finish
1/4 lb (120 g) soft, creamy goat’s cheese (I used Caprichio from Spain)
1/4 lb (120 g) hard, mature goat’s cheese (I used smoked goat cheddar from Redwood Hill, CA)
2 eggs
1/3 c (100 ml) heavy cream
1/3 c (100 ml) crème fraîche
salt and black pepper

Have ready a shallow, loose-bottomed, 9-in. (28 cm) fluted tart tin. Thaw the puff pastry if frozen for at least 40 minutes before handling, then line the bottom and sides of the tin. Place a large circle of wax paper on the bottom and fill with dried beans. Let rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C). Place the tart in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, with the beans. Remove the beans and wax paper, then bake for another 5-10 minutes, until the pastry is golden. Set aside, leave the oven on.

While the tart is baking fend off vampires by preparing the garlic. (A trick by the way to peeling all that garlic is putting the cloves in a jar, like a Mason or Ball jar, and shaking hard for about one minute. At least half the skins will fall off that way.) Place the cloves in a small saucepan and cover with plenty of water. Bring to a simmer and blanch for 3 minutes, then drain well. Dry the saucepan, return the cloves to it, and add the olive oil. Fry the garlic cloves on high heat for 2 minutes. Add the balsamic and water and bring to a boil, then simmer gently for 10 minutes. Add the sugar, rosemary, chopped thyme, and 1/4 tsp salt. Continue simmering on medium for 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the garlic cloves are coated in a dark caramel syrup. Breath in deep. Set aside.

To assemble the tart, break up both types of goat’s cheeses into pieces and scatter in the pastry. Spoon the garlic cloves and syrup evenly over the cheese. In a jug or bowl whisk together the eggs, creams, 1/2 tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour this over the tart filling to fill the gaps, but make sure you can still see the garlic over the surface.

Reduce the oven temp to 325 F (160 C) and place the tart inside. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the tart filling has set and the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool a little. Remove from tin, lay a few sprigs of thyme on top and serve warm with a crisp green salad.

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*If you live in NYC I highly encourage you to visit the Whitney Biennale, up until May 27th. Head straight to the second floor for Latoya Ruby Frazier’s black and white photographs—these are worth the visit alone; then check out Werner Herzog’s film, an ode to c17 Dutch painter Hercules Segers set to the music of Ernst Reijseger, also on the second floor. And then check out the little room toward the back of the second floor gallery with the Forrest Bess (by Robert Gober) installation: chilling. Then head up to the fourth floor rehearsal space of Michael Clark, British dancer and choreographer, who, with the dancers in his company, have taken over the entire floor. You get to stand around and watch them rehearse through April 8th.

Finally…worth a trip to the Guggenheim to see Francesca Woodman through June 13th. Woodman was a prolific photographer with a very short career, basically 1975 to 1981. I loved the Providence photos in particular.

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!”

Forget salt and pepper, garlic and lemon. The most successful seasoning for what we eat is a good pinch of nostalgia.

I could spend all day reading Nigel Slater. Correction: I have spent whole days reading Nigel Slater.

Slater is one of the best cooks writing today. His food is simple and straightforward, not unlike Jamie Oliver’s or Yotam Ottolenghi’s; it’s seasonally-driven, basic, and satisfies cravings you didn’t know you had. His writing has filled seven cookbooks and countless articles for The Guardian. His 2004 memoir, Toast: the story of a boy’s hunger, kept me up one night until I had no more pages to turn.

When Tender was published in the U.S. last year, combining the UK edition’s two volumes into one 600-page tome, I was eager to get my hands on it and smudge the pages with buttery fingers. Organized by ingredient (this seems to be a popular method in UK cookbooks), I stumbled upon the Beet chapter and not one, but two, cake recipes therein. This guy’s good.

Of course a cake that includes beets, melted dark chocolate, poppy seeds, and crème fraîche called to me, especially one that promised a molten lava center. I remember wanting to make this for my sister Hope’s birthday back in November but decided it was too risky. At last I’ve embarked on the project, during my own birthday week no less.

Turns out this chocolate cake is dreamy, silky, and not too sweet; the beets keep the cake moist without offering a beety flavor. Think carrots in a carrot cake, or zucchini in zucchini bread. The cake is served with tangy crème fraîche and poppy seeds, a playful take on the classic beet and sour cream flavor combination in eastern European cooking.

To serve, I thought of the china I keep in my cupboard that belonged to my father’s mother, my namesake, whom I never met. Reading Nigel Slater always makes me a little nostalgic, and the old, delicate china that once belonged to Mahala McLaughlin seemed like a fitting presentation.

Serve to friends. Serve with love. And you don’t have to tell anyone there are beets inside, unless, like me, they’re into that kind of thing.

Incredibly Moist Chocolate Beet Cake
From Nigel Slater, Tender

8 ounces (240 g) beets, unpeeled and rinsed (approx. 2 beets)
7 ounces (200 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 c (60 ml) hot espresso
7 ounces (200 g) butter, room temp, cut into small cubes
1 cup (135 g) flour
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 heaping tsp baking powder
5 large eggs, separated, at room temp
1 cup (190 g) superfine, or caster, sugar

Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch (20 cm) springform cake pan, then line with a disc of parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).

Cook the beets, whole and unpeeled, in boiling, unsalted water for 30 to 40 minutes, with the lid slightly askew. They’re done when a knife can easily pierce through the flesh. Drain and rinse in cold water. When cool, peel them, and pulse in a food processor until they’re a rough purée.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pot of simmering water. Do not stir. When the chocolate is just about all melted, turn off the heat, and add the hot espresso, stirring only once. Add the butter to the melted chocolate, pressing it into the chocolate but not stirring. Leave to soften.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder. Put your egg whites in a mixing bowl. Stir the egg yolks together by hand.

Working quickly but gently, stir the butter into the melted chocolate, and leave for a few minutes to cool, then stir in the egg yolks. Fold in the beet purée. Whisk the egg whites by hand or using a stand mixer until stiff, then fold the sugar into the egg whites. Fold the egg whites and sugar into the chocolate mixture, careful not to overmix. Fold in the flour and cocoa.

Transfer quickly to the prepared cake pan and put in the oven, turning the temperature down to 325 F (160 C). Bake for 40 minutes; the rim will just barely be separating from the edges and the center will still be a bit wobbly when gently shaken.

Let cool completely in the cake pan on a wire rack (it will sink a little in the center). Loosen around the edges with a butter knife after a half hour or so. Only remove the cake from its pan when it has cooled completely. Serve in thick slices with crème fraiche and poppy seeds. Grandmother’s china optional.

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