Sim­ple plea­sures

Yo­tam Ot­tolenghi is go­ing back to ba­sics with his new cook book. The chef and restau­ra­teur dis­cusses his foodie highs and lows with ELLA WALKER

South Wales Echo - - Food & drink Extra -

POMEGRANATE seeds, all the herbs, aubergines, sumac, olives, beau­ti­ful sal­ads and tow­ers of meringues – that’s what you think of when you think Yo­tam Ot­tolenghi.

But in his lat­est book, Sim­ple, the Is­raeli-British chef has gone for a more stripped-back ap­proach to recipe writ­ing.

This time around, his recipes are all about mak­ing life easy in the kitchen – ideal if you are cook­ing in ad­vance to save time, you only have a few in­gre­di­ents to hand or you are just feel­ing lazy. In hon­our of the oc­ca­sion, we grilled him on his foodie rec­ol­lec­tions...

ON HIS EAR­LI­EST FOOD MEM­ORY...

“MY pa­ter­nal grand­mother Lu­ciana, she was from Italy – both my gra nd­par­ents on my dad’s side em­i­grated from Italy to Is­rael – so I had quite a lot of Ital­ian food grow­ing up.

“One of my most won­der­ful and ear­li­est mem­o­ries is a dish she used to cook some­times which is called gnoc­chi alla ro­mana, which is re­ally not gnoc­chi as peo­ple know it made from po­tato, but made from semolina.

“Essen­tially it’s very few in­gre­di­ents; only semolina, milk, some but­ter, some cheese and eggs – you make it as you would a semolina por­ridge, but then you set it in a tray and cut it into cir­cles or squares, layer them over­lap­ping, put some cheese on top and put them un­der the grill.

“You get this cheesy crust, it’s the ul­ti­mate com­fort food, es­pe­cially for kids. It’s re­ally good and it is some­thing that re­ally re­minds me of my child­hood, but it’s still some­thing I’m very happy to eat any day.”

HIS UL­TI­MATE KITCHEN DIS­AS­TER...

“OH, there’s so many! So many things have gone wrong for me over the years.

“A few years ago, I had a woman come over to Lon­don from New York to write a long fea­ture on me for the New Yorker mag­a­zine, and she spent a long time with me, quite a few days, day-in-day-out. On the last day, on the ul­ti­mate end­ing to her time here, I in­vited her for din­ner in my house and I made a dish from Jerusalem.

“It’s a casse­role with chicken, cooked with rice in one pot, and half­way through the af­ter­noon, a friend called and said he’s go­ing to show up with his part­ner. I ad­justed the recipe quickly and added more rice and more water.

“But when we all sat down to have that very elab­o­rate meal, some of the chicken pieces were quite raw in the mid­dle, haha, and couldn’t re­ally be eaten. We all laughed about it – but she did men­tion it in her ar­ti­cle!”

HIS CULI­NARY HIGH MO­MENT...

“FOR me, every time a book comes out and I get re­ally healthy sales fig­ures, th­ese are my high mo­ments. It’s nice – ob­vi­ously – to sell lots of books, but it’s par­tic­u­larly nice for me, be­cause th­ese books are re­ally meant to be cooked from more than any­thing else.

“When peo­ple buy the books, I as­sume they cook from them – those are the mo­ments I’m very proud and very happy.”

ON HIS SON’S PEPPA PIG CAKE

“I HAVE to say it was a good cake! The recipe is from [my bak­ing book] Sweet.

“It’s a straw­berry and vanilla cake, and is very good for birth­day cakes, be­cause it’s both de­li­cious and very easy to work with. I wasn’t 100% happy with my Peppa Pig cake though, be­cause I was rush­ing it!”

Plum Friand Bake, in­set left, is just one of the sim­ple recipes from Yo­tam Ot­tolenghi’s new book Ot­tolenghi Sim­ple by Yo­tam Ot­tolenghi is pub­lished by Ebury Press, priced £25. Pho­tog­ra­phy by Jonathan Lovekin

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