Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, Kicks Up Mom Food

The first cookbook written by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi was released in the US this fall. Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. Photo credit: Jonathan Lovekin

Photo credit: Jonathan Lovekin

If my adult children are coming over for dinner and I ask them what they want to eat, the answer is always the same:

“Mom Food.”

These two simple words encompass the entirety of the foods they grew up with, their Shabbat and holidays favorites, the dishes that would be waiting for them when they came home from college on break. It includes Bubbie’s k’mish bread and carrot mold and Mike’s special pudding that they downed after their braces were tightened or when their wisdom teeth were pulled.

As each of our children has married (three out of the four kids married in the last three years!) I have made a cookbook for each new bride, filled with recipes, photos and memories. “Mom Food” has found its way into the next generation of kitchens.

Then along came Yotam Ottolenghi.

Cooking my way through his bestsellers, Plenty and Jerusalem my whole family fell in love with the rich and complex flavors found in his recipes. So much so that I ordered a second copy of Jerusalem to keep in Chicago, where two of our children and their families live. So much so that on a recent visit to Chicago, when I texted our son Brett, “What do you want me to cook for dinner?” I got back the reply “Yotam! Yotam! Yotam!”

“Mom Food” is definitely moving in a new direction!

Ottolenghi: The Cookbook was released this fall in the US.

It is actually the first cookbook these two master chefs wrote together, before the astonishing success and critical acclaim of Plenty and Jerusalem. The hallmarks of what would become their unique style are evident — bold, flavorful recipes, fresh ingredients, culinary diversity, imagination, and an honest appreciation for the simple pleasure that delicious food brings.

As in their other cookbooks, the stunning photos will inspire you to start cooking. NOW.

Ottolenghi and Tamimi both hail from Jerusalem — Ottolenghi from Jewish West Jerusalem, Tamimi from the Muslim neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Ottolenghi is a highly regarded chef and owner of four eponymous deli-cafe restaurants, as well as NOPI, a more formal restaurant, all in London. Tamimi is a partner and head chef at Ottolenghi.

The book also chronicles their own personal stories, their food philosophy, and other assorted anecdotes and reflections. You will feel as though these two chefs are at your side, chatting away while you cook.

The enormously talented chefs Sami Tamimi (left) and Yotam Ottolenghi Photo credit: Keiko Oikawa

The enormously talented chefs Sami Tamimi (left) and Yotam Ottolenghi
Photo credit: Keiko Oikawa

Ottolenghi: The Cookbook leads off with a description of the chefs “Favorite Things,” the go-to ingredients that form the basis of their flavor palette. This cookbook includes a substantial section of recipes for baked goods (breads, savory pastries, cakes, muffins, bars, cookies, to-die-for brownies and more) and the chefs offer helpful tips on baking tools, ingredients and techniques.

The recipes were originally written using metric measurements. The newly released American version includes both metric measurements and our system of cups, teaspoons, etc. That ‘translation’ explains why some measurements will seem odd (i.e. 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon butter). That does not, however, interfere with the overall ease of the recipes or the pleasure of cooking them. A handful of recipes are made with pork or seafood or mix meat with dairy; the rest are perfect for a kosher kitchen.

The first of the book’s four broad categories is “Vegetables, Legumes and Grains.” Fresh, bright salads, hearty soups, sophisticated rice dishes and eggplant galore entice on every page. Their fennel gratin recipe is a one way ticket to culinary bliss. More on that in a moment.

Next is the meat and fish section, from which I chose “Roast Chicken with Saffron, Hazelnuts and Honey” to test first. A quick trip to the Middle Eastern market near our daughter and son-in-law’s home in Chicago yielded bargain price saffron and a big bag of shelled hazelnuts. This dish was a perfect choice for Shabbat dinner — easy to prepare, loaded with flavor, beautiful to look at, and the aroma wafting out of the kitchen was out of this world. A winner!

What to try next? Time to dig into the baked goods category. Why not whip up some brownies? The Ottolenghi restaurants in London are known for these, and now I know why. Deep, dense, dark, decadent…and not on any diet that I know of! Not only is the recipe sensational, but there are useful tips for less-than-expert bakers like me to prevent you from over baking the brownies. I brought the batch to my high school Hebrew students who gave them rave reviews.

The final category is called “Larder” and includes recipes for all sorts of items that are lovely to have on hand and that are called for in other recipes in the book. You might be surprised to see how easy it is to make tahini from scratch, and once you do, you’ll look for excuses to pair this delicious sauce with vegetables, fish and more.

Which brings me to the day after Thanksgiving. A houseful of family, including our son-in-laws parents and brother. What do you serve for Shabbat dinner the day after everyone has stuffed themselves on Mike’s legendary, sensational turkey and dressing? The perfect repast for this “no poultry please” Shabbat is a full-on Ottolenghi meal. With challah.

We began with a favorite salad from Plenty: “Sweet Winter Slaw,” a combination of cabbages, mango, macadamia nuts, and a dynamite sweet-spicy-savory dressing. From Ottolenghi I tested “Marinated Eggplant with Tahini and Oregano,” “Panfried Sea Bass with Green Tahini and Pomegranate Seeds,” and the aforementioned “Fennel, Cherry Tomato and Crumble Gratin.” Each dish was devoured with enthusiasm and rave reviews, but the Fennel Gratin (recipe below) induced sighs of pleasure and repeated trips to the kitchen to get second and third helpings. A truly sublime dish! And perfect fare for these bitterly cold winter nights.

Recipe reprinted with permission from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. Photography credit: Richard Learoyd © 2013

Recipe reprinted with permission from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. Photography credit: Richard Learoyd © 2013

As long as I keep getting these blissful reactions at the table I am happy to let the credit for delicious “Mom Food” go straight to the talented team of Ottolenghi and Tamimi!

Fennel, Cherry tomato, and Crumble Gratin

serves 6 to 8

2¼ lb / 1 kg fennel bulbs
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp thyme leaves, plus a few whole sprigs
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp coarse sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
scant 1 cup / 200 ml heavy cream
1⁄3 recipe Crumble (below)
3½ oz / 100 g Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
10½ oz / 300 g cherry tomatoes, on the vine
1 tsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C. Trim off the fennel stalks and cut each bulb in half lengthwise. Cut each half into slices 2⁄3 inch / 1.5 cm thick. Place in a large bowl with the olive oil, thyme leaves, garlic, salt, and pepper and toss together. Transfer to an ovenproof dish and pour the cream over the fennel. Mix the crumble with the grated Parmesan and scatter evenly on top.

2 Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil and arrange the tomatoes on top. You can leave some on the vine and scatter some loose. Scatter a few thyme sprigs on top. Return to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes. By now the fennel should feel soft when poked with a knife and the gratin should have a nice golden color. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for a few minutes. Sprinkle the chopped parsley over and serve hot or warm.

makes about 1 pound 5 ounces / 600 g

21/3 cups / 300 g all-purpose flour
½ cup / 100 g superfine sugar
¾ cup plus 1 tbsp / 200 g cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

1 Put the flour, sugar, and butter in a bowl and mix with your hands or an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment to work it to a uniform bread crumb consistency. Make sure there are no lumps of butter left. If using a mixer, watch it carefully. Within a few seconds, a crumble can turn into a cookie dough. (If this unpleasant scenario happens, roll it out thinly, cut out cookies, bake them, and dip half of each cookie in melted chocolate.)
2 Transfer the crumble to a plastic container. It will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days or for ages in the freezer.