I can count on half of one hand the number of cookbooks that have made me want to prepare each and every dish. And make no mistake; I have a cookbook collection that would rival any library or bookstore. Famous chefs, non-famous chefs, home cooks, every coast, every country, nearly every cuisine imaginable -- you name it, I probably have a cookbook about it.
So when I picked up Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi, I wasn't expecting more than a few recipes that I would try, with a great vegetable reference for my shelf. Boy, was I wrong!
Plenty is a work of vegetable genius that is totally accessible to the home cook, embraced by professional chefs and seen on the shelves at some of the most famous restaurants in the country. Check out Monica Pope's bookshelf the next time you are at Sparrow Bar + Cookshop. It has also been seen at Le Bernardin and The Savoy and been referenced by Gordon Ramsay, Alice Waters and David Chang.
Chef Yotam Ottolenghi was born and raised in Israel and now resides in London. First and foremost, he is not a vegetarian and makes no apologies for his carnivorism, but he does love vegetables and makes a lucrative living preparing them and selling them in his food shops in London.
In fact, he prepares vegetables so well, a British newspaper asked him to write a vegetarian column every weekend. He never considered himself a vegetarian, so it took some getting used to. And he did receive a few reader complaints when he recommended certain dishes with fish or meat.
Plenty contains more than 120 recipes and photography that will make you salivate. Instead of setting the book up by season, Chef Yotam decided to set it up by ingredient, as they are what's important anyway.
The book covers Roots (potato, carrots, parsnips, etc), Funny Onions (leeks, shallots, garlic, etc), Mushrooms, Zucchini and Other Squashes, Peppers, Brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, etc), The Mighty Eggplant, Tomatoes, Leaves: Cooked and Raw, Green Things (cucumber, artichokes, asparagus, wakame, etc), Green Beans, Pulses (lentils, chickpea, fava beans, etc), Grains, Pasta, Polenta, Couscous and Fruit with Cheese. You will be hard-pressed to find a vegetable not covered in this book.
Plenty presents each recipe with a mouth-watering photograph and introduces each recipe with a little bit of history, useful information about the ingredients and pairing ideas, suggesting dishes be served with either others from within the book or with fish or meats.
Chef Yotam also adds to each recipe a personal anecdote that makes you trust him and the recipes. Somebody didn't just compile a bunch of recipes they have no connection to and sell them to you. The chef grew up with the recipe, cooks it for his family or has prepared it in his shop -- or all three.
As a chef, Yotam can get specialty items, but he only lists ingredients that are available to the everyday consumer. He does give sources for alternative ingredients if the cook is wants to look for them outside their supermarket.
I didn't want to put down Plenty. The colors, tastes and textures captured by Chef Yotam and photographer Jonathan Lovekin are extraordinary. This has been the best cookbook I have read and cooked from all year. I've included three recipes here that are easy, light and jam-packed with flavor.
Barley and Pomegranate Salad Serves 4
1 cup pearl barley 6 celery stalks (leaves picked and reserved), cut into small dice ¼ cup olive oil 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar 2 small garlic cloves, crushed ⅔ teaspoon ground allspice salt and black pepper 3 tablespoons chopped dill 3 tablespoons chopped parsley seeds from 2 large pomegranates.
Rinse the barley with cold water, then place in a medium saucepan and cover with plenty of fresh water. Simmer for 30 to 35 minutes, or until tender but still with a bite.
Drain the barley and transfer to a mixing bowl. While it is still hot, add the celery, olive oil, vinegar, garlic, allspice and some salt and pepper. Stir, then leave to cool down completely.
Once cool, add the herbs, celery leaves and pomegranate seeds and mix in. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking; then serve.
Green Gazpacho Serves 6
2 celery sticks (including the leaves) 2 small green peppers, deseeded 6 mini cucumbers (12oz in total), peeled 3 slices stale white bread (4¼ oz in total), crusts removed 1 fresh green chile (or less if you don't want it too hot) 4 garlic cloves 1 tsp sugar 5¼ oz walnuts, lightly toasted 7 oz baby spinach 1 oz basil leaves 1/3 oz parsley 4 tbsp sherry vinegar 1 cup olive oil 1 1/3 oz Greek yoghurt about 2 cups water 8 3/4 oz ice cubes 2 tsp salt white pepper Croutons 2 thick slices sourdough bread, (5¼ oz in total) 4 tbsp olive oil Preparation:
Start with the croutons. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut the bread into 1" cubes and toss them with the oil and a bit of salt. Spread on a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes, or until the croutons turn golden and crisp. Remove from the oven and allow to cool down.
Roughly chop up the celery, peppers, cucumbers, bread, chile and garlic. Place in a blender and add the sugar, walnuts, spinach, basil, parsley, vinegar, oil, yoghurt, most of the water, half the ice cubes, the salt and some white pepper. Blitz the soup until smooth. Add more water, if needed, to get your preferred consistency. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning.
Lastly, add the remaining ice and pulse once or twice, just to crush it a little. Serve at once with the croutons.
Green Bean with Mustard Seeds and Tarragon Serves 4
1 1/4 cups green beans, trimmed 2 1/4 cups snow peas, trimmed 1 3/4 cups green peas (fresh or frozen) 2 tsp coriander seeds, roughly crushed with a mortar and pestle 1 tsp mustard seeds 3 tbsp olive oil 1 tsp nigella seeds 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped 1 mild fresh red chile, seeded and finely diced 1 garlic clove, crushed grated zest of 1 lemon 2 tbsp chopped tarragon coarse sea salt 1 cup baby chard leaves (optional)
Fill a medium saucepan with cold water and bring to the boil. Blanch the green beans for 4 minutes, then immediately lift them out of the pan and into iced water to refresh. Drain and dry.
Bring a fresh pan of water to a boil and blanch the snow peas for 1 minute only. Refresh, drain and dry. Use the same boiling water to blanch the peas for 20 seconds. Refresh, drain and dry. Combine the beans, snow peas and peas in a large mixing bowl.
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Put the coriander seeds, mustard seeds and oil in a small saucepan and heat up. When the seeds begin to pop, pour the contents of the pan over the beans and peas. Toss together, then add the nigella seeds, red onion, chile, garlic, lemon zest and tarragon. Mix well and season with salt to taste.
Just before serving, gently fold the chard leaves, if using, in with the beans and peas, and spoon the salad onto plates or into bowls.