Cook­ing sim­ply lith Dt­tolenghé

Yo­tam Ot­tolenghi aims to prove you don’t need an en­tire week­end to make one his recipes

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY VIC­TO­RIA PREVER Ot­tolenghi Sim­ple, Ebury £25 is pub­lished Septem­ber 6

Baked pota­toes, fish fingers and oven chips. Who’d have thought the day would come when Yo­tam Ot­tolenghi, the founder of Mid­dle Eastern fu­sion food, re­leased a cook­ery book (Ot­tolenghi Sim­ple, pub­lished this week) which in­cludes recipes for dishes like these?

Ad­mit­tedly, the sim­ple-sound­ing pota­toes are loaded with spinach and (very grown up) gor­gonzola; the fish fingers are co­conut-crusted and the oven chips coated in oregano and feta. But this is a new di­rec­tion for the chef, whose recipes have long been dubbed ‘too much work for a week­night’.

The man him­self ad­mits some de­bate be­tween him and co-writ­ers, Esme Howarth and Tara Wigley over the baked pota­toes: “We had to give them an Ot­tolenghi twist and they do fit the flavour pro­file” he in­sists.

Howarth and Wigley have both worked with him for sev­eral years, help­ing de­velop and test recipes at his test kitchens in Cam­den.

What was the cat­a­lyst for a book seem­ingly the an­tithe­sis of all things Ot­tolenghi? Per­haps the con­stant teas­ing about the lengthy lists of some­times hard to source in­gre­di­ents, and recipes that can take a day to pre­pare that we are used to?

Ot­tolenghi ad­mits to feel­ing some pres­sure on that front, when even fam­ily mem­bers com­plained. “My sis­ter had said ‘I love your food, but I don’t have time to cook it!

I work and have kids — I have a busy life!’”.

He de­fends him­self against the labour in­ten­sive la­bel. “I kind of get it, as many of my recipes can be, but a lot aren’t. The as­sump­tion has been that Ot­tolenghi recipes are for week­ends or when you have a long time. I wanted to show that they could be easy and leave peo­ple in their com­fort zone.”

So he, Howarth and Wigley (all busy work­ing par­ents) set about writ­ing the book — which in­cludes some new dishes plus pared down ver­sions of ex­ist­ing ones.

A con­ver­sa­tion with Wigley in the early stages of plan­ning, es­tab­lished that ‘sim­ple’ meant dif­fer­ent things to each of them. “For some of us it was some­thing quick. For oth­ers, it was food pre­pared ahead that just needed warm­ing up, or maybe not hav­ing to shop for spe­cial in­gre­di­ents.”

So they de­vised six cat­e­gories, mak­ing an acro­nym of ‘sim­ple’. Each recipe is marked with one more let­ters — ‘S’: ‘short’ in time; ‘I’: 10 or fewer ‘in­gre­di­ents’ ; ‘M’, for ‘make ahead’; ‘P’: ‘pantry’ — us­ing items most of us have in our stores; ‘L’ is ‘lazy’ — the lower ef­fort dishes and ‘E’ ‘eas­ier’ than you think.

There are also sug­gested menus for all oc­ca­sions, from mid-week sup­pers (like seeded chicken schnitzel; new pota­toes with peas and co­rian­der and cu­cum­ber and lamb’s let­tuce salad) to full-on themed feasts.

Those al­ready stocked up with stan­dard Ot­tolenghi sta­ples shouldn’t need to go shop­ping as, for once, there are no new spices or other un­usual in­gre­di­ents, only a list of his top 10 store cup­board in­gre­di­ents. “Things I love to cook with, rely on a lot in the kitchen and will keep on cham­pi­oning un­til, I hope, they be­come a lot of peo­ple’s ‘ev­ery­day’ in­gre­di­ents.”

At home, he says he’s both an ‘s’ and an ‘m’. “I do like the ‘short on time’ recipes as I’m re­ally busy” he ad­mits, but also likes to be able to make things in ad­vance. “For daily cook­ing, I can put things to­gether in an hour.” He ad­mits though that his part­ner, Karl, does most of the week­day cook­ing. “He’s still at home with the boys (their sons Max, 5 and Flynn, 3) so he does a lot of the batch cooked food they love. He’s much bet­ter at that than I am.”

His fam­ily has def­i­nitely af­fected his cook­ing. “When I was liv­ing in a house­hold of two, it never made sense; but now both Karl and I are keen on batch cook­ing — which is use­ful if you don’t know if the kids will eat what you have for them.”

Grat­i­fy­ing to hear that as a par­ent, he strug­gles with the same is­sues many of us face daily. He doesn’t seem too phased though: “They’re good ac­tu­ally, gen­er­ally speak­ing. They eat veg­eta­bles and love fruit, so I try to give them lots of that. I don’t mind giv­ing them the odd pizza once in a while — it’s good to eat what you en­joy, so long as it’s in mod­er­a­tion.”

He’s prob­a­bly harder to feed than his sons.

“I’m sur­rounded by food all day, so it’s hard to muster an ap­petite and I of­ten tend not to eat at home. Maybe a glass of wine, some nuts or cheese to calm things down in the week.”

At the week­end he cooks more, but def­i­nitely re­lies on the sort of recipes he in­cludes in the book.

“One of the most sim­ple is a dessert that I do all of the time at the mo­ment. It’s a baked cus­tard with straw­ber­ries and rhubarb. It makes a big im­pact but with very lit­tle work. You just mix the in­gre­di­ents, put them in a pan for five min­utes, then bake the straw­ber­ries in the oven. I’ve been do­ing it at the week­end and ev­ery­one thinks it’s far more so­phis­ti­cated than it is.”

Will he be us­ing any of these recipes for Rosh Hashanah? “I don’t know where I’ll be, but there are quite a few chicken recipes in th book. The one that would work the best is my take on Chicken Mar­bella, which has olives and dates and is a great recipe to cook for a big event like that. Peo­ple love it. I serve it with a baked rice with pome­gran­ate seeds and olives. And a lovely cin­na­mony cake.”


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