A few months ago I bought a cast iron pan – red enamel on the outside and pale cream on the inside. I liked it so much, I couldn’t decide what to cook in it. I liked it too much to cook my regular meals in it; I needed to break it in with something special. When Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi turned up in my kitchen, the first recipe I decided to cook was Fennel with Capers and Olives: a provincial dish singing with flavour from the olives, capers and 15 cloves of garlic; tart with verjuice and sweet with sugar. I served it with macadamia nut ricotta and some toasted sourdough. I cooked it in my red enamel pan.
There really is happiness in watching thick slices of fresh fennel sizzling in a pan, as you wait for them to soften so you can braise them in flavour. And that’s why people rave about Yotam Ottolenghi’s books: the recipes make cooking a joy. The results feel cheffy enough that you could impress your friends, but the process and ingredients are accessible enough that you could prepare them on a weeknight without too much drama.
The book is sorted by cooking technique, rather than meal type. So: Tossed, Steamed, Blanched, Simmered, Braised, Grilled, Roasted, Fried, Mashed, Cracked, Baked and Sweetened. This feels like more of a style decision, than a practical one; but it’s easy enough to flick through for inspiration and it has a fat, red ribbon for bookmarking.
Ottolenghi does not shy away from dairy or eggs (the Cracked chapter is dedicated to the latter), but the dairy ingredients are often flavour embellishments, rather than integral components, so it’s easy to leave them out, or use vegan alternatives. Within the hefty 352 pages, you’ll find 50 vegan-friendly recipes, but that number could easily double with small tweaks.
After the fennel recipe, we tried the Spicy Chickpea and Bulgar Soup, which was a fantastic, comforting, warming dish with a ton of flavour. We even made the creamed feta paste that garnishes the top using marinated tofetta, by Blue Lotus Foods. Not every recipe in the cookbook has a picture, but we gambled on a couple of salads: raw veggies have never tasted as good as they did in the Raw Vegetable Salad (cauliflower, radishes, asparagus, blanched peas, basil leaves, olives and more) with a strong, tangy mayonnaise dressing (dairy dodgers, use your favourite substitute).
Ottolenghi’s cookbook also gave me a why-haven’t-I-been-doing-this-all-my-life moment when I spotted that he peels and finely dices citrus fruit to include in salads. The Parsley, Lemon and Cannellini Bean Salad includes the flesh of half a large lemon finely diced – delicious.
Most recently we cooked the Thai Red Lentil Soup with Aromatic Chilli Oil. Not only does Ottolenghi give you the tools to create food with incredible flavour, but the instructions aid you in making it beautiful too. This fragrant soup is garnished with sweet, juicy (and attractive) sugar snap peas, which have been quickly blanched.
It’s five for five, so far. This book is a must-have.