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
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