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otam Ot­tolenghi’s recipes are the star of soirées the world over. Myr­iad colours, tex­tures and flavours knock your guests’ socks off, but not be­fore you’ve prob­a­bly spent hours in the kitchen chop­ping, stir­ring, toss­ing and plat­ing to his in­struc­tions. But one of the world’s most in­flu­en­tial chefs and cook­book authors has dis­cov­ered sim­ple recipes can also be the most re­ward­ing.

“A few years ago I was asked to do a spe­cial sup­ple­ment with sim­ple recipes and at first I thought, gosh, how do I make sim­ple?” he laughs. “I took on the chal­lenge and I soon re­alised that hav­ing a re­straint like that made things re­ally in­ter­est­ing.”

The chal­lenge made him think about cook­ing dif­fer­ently. “When it came time to think of a new book I sat down with my team and we tried to think, what does sim­ple cook­ing re­ally mean?”

It turns out it de­pends who you talk to. Their re­search found sim­ple cook­ing means some­thing dif­fer­ent to dif­fer­ent peo­ple. The re­sult is a cook­book with a sys­tem that caters to var­i­ous def­i­ni­tions.

The word ‘sim­ple’ be­comes an acro­nym rep­re­sent­ing these var­i­ous in­ter­pre­ta­tions of sim­ple cook­ing and the recipes are cat­e­gorised ac­cord­ingly: S for short on time; I for 10 in­gre­di­ents

or less; M for make ahead; P for pantry; L for lazy; E for eas­ier than you think.

“If I wanted to cook some­thing in the morn­ing for that evening, then I’d go to the recipes with an M for make ahead, which is re­ally use­ful if you’re short on time and in­gre­di­ents,” he says.

The book re­ally cap­tures the essence of easy cook­ing or ‘cook­ing with ease’, as Ot­tolenghi prefers to say.

“We re­ally made sure that all the recipes are re­ally doable in one way or another and break the per­cep­tion that the recipes in my books are only for spe­cial oc­ca­sions,” he says.

Those who have been in­tim­i­dated by his recipes should per­haps look for the ‘eas­ier than you think’ recipes.

“Some­times you just read the ti­tle of a recipe and you think that’s too dif­fi­cult be­fore you even scroll down. You think, oh, I don’t have an ice-cream ma­chine, or if it’s got pro­fes­sional terms that put peo­ple off, like con­fit, so you im­me­di­ately think that’s very cheffy and it’s go­ing to be too hard.

“But ac­tu­ally the com­mit­ment and chal­lenge is not as bad as you think.”

The main chal­lenge for Ot­tolenghi was over­com­ing his own per­cep­tions of what con­sti­tutes sim­ple cook­ery.

“When you cook for a liv­ing you kind of lose per­spec­tive on what is sim­ple. But for some peo­ple three com­po­nents might be okay but four is too much,” he says. “But I want peo­ple to un­der­stand that you can get quite a lot of flavours, big flavours even with sim­ple cook­ing.”

He also points out that home cooks can make their own choices when they look at recipes.

“Some­times I think peo­ple look at recipes and think you have to stick strictly to them, but, re­ally, with a lot of books and recipes there’s a lot of flex­i­bil­ity. Recipes are guide­lines, sug­ges­tions even – you can al­ter them how you wish.”

His home life played a role in the man­i­fes­ta­tion of the Sim­ple con­cept, too.

“I have two young kids and the one thing that I of­ten think about is cat­e­gory P, which is pantry,” he says.

“I come home and I haven’t re­ally had much time to think about what I’m go­ing to cook, so in the pantry I al­ways have rice, cous­cous, pasta, and I rum­mage at the bot­tom of the fridge for some herbs. So for me it’s a very use­ful cat­e­gory.”

One thing he’d never taken into ac­count when writ­ing his cook­books was the wash­ing-up.

“We ac­tu­ally con­sid­ered how much com­mit­ment you need for each recipe, how much wash­ing-up, how much shop­ping. This was the chal­lenge once we had the con­cept.”

The length of in­gre­di­ent lists also came un­der scru­tiny. He thought about how to break down recipes to fewer in­gre­di­ents but still get a great re­sult.

“Con­sider all the dif­fer­ent styles of cook­ing all over the world – think about the num­ber of in­gre­di­ents in a Thai or In­dian curry, where you start with a lot of in­gre­di­ents to cre­ate the base,” he says.

“Then you think of some­thing like Ital­ian cook­ing which is tak­ing very few in­gre­di­ents that are very, very good. I don’t think there’s one right way or wrong way; they’re just dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to cook­ing.”

Ot­tolenghi knows he has con­nected with at least one home cook.

“It’s def­i­nitely go­ing to work for my sis­ter,” he says. “When I told her I’m do­ing this book called Sim­ple she said ‘Fi­nally I can cook your recipes’.” See page 32 for stand­out recipes from Ot­tolenghi Sim­ple.

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