We became fans of Yotam Ottolenghi’s inventive, colorful, vegetable-centric cuisine after discovering his cookbook Plenty a few years ago, but for the chef and his partner, Sami Tamimi, the beginnings go even further back. This month, the duo behind four eponymous London restaurants is re-releasing their very first collection of recipes in the United States, called Ottolenghi: The Cookbook. Originally published in 2008, the book includes 140 dishes that put the restaurants on the culinary map, all inspired by the vibrant cuisines of the Mediterranean and many of which have become customer favorites.
In honor of the book’s release, we asked Yotam all about writing Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, his favorite ingredients, and what he’s cooking tonight. Read on for his responses and two sample recipes below!
And New Yorkers, take note: Yotam and Sami will be in our Columbus Circle store at noon on October 19th for a book signing and a conversation with Adam Sachs, the Editorial Director of Tasting Table. Come by to meet the chefs and taste canapés and sweets from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook. No matter where you are, you can submit questions for the authors by tweeting @williamssonoma with the hashtag #askottolenghi. Select questions will be chosen and answered after the event, so stay tuned!
This was actually your first cookbook. What made you decide to re-release it in the United States?
Demand! It wasn’t until the publishers realised how hungry American cooks were for the recipes in Plenty and Jerusalem that they decided to offer the public our original set of recipes.
How have your books and recipes evolved since you originally wrote this one?
Some new ingredients have become part of my day-to-day cooking — tofu, miso and date syrup to name just a few — as have a few new cooking methods, but the ethos behind the books and recipes has remained the same. I like to think each book is better than the last — we’re all learning, all of the time — but I refer to the first one daily and still feel very connected to it.
How do you and Sami work together in the kitchen? Who does what?
Sami divides his time between the three shop kitchens, and I’m based in the test kitchen, in Camden. We see each other most days to discuss and taste all the dishes, but we don’t cook together on a normal work day.
You note in the introduction how different recipe testing is from cooking. What were some of your biggest challenges when you first started developing recipes for books?
Making sure they worked for the home cook and, of course, that they were delicious! Before I started writing recipes, I never measured anything and a dish was different every time I cooked it. Now, I find it hard not to use a measuring spoon!
Describe the recipes in Ottolenghi: The Cookbook. What’s unique about them?
Sami and I think of the recipes as food with both comforts and surprises, familiar dishes with a surprising twist. There is nothing complicated about char-grilled broccoli, for example; it’s combining it with fried red chili and garlic — little bursts of flavour — that makes this dish such a signature one.
You are drawn to bold colors and flavors. What are some of your favorite ingredients to work with?
How many am I allowed?! If boldness is the criteria then sumac, chopped preserved lemon skin and barberries are some of my favourites at the moment.
How do these recipes compare to what you serve in your restaurants? How are they alike or different?
Some recipes from the book are so popular that our customers won’t let them leave the display: the broccoli, various roasted aubergine dishes, many of the cakes and pastries. The range served in the restaurants has obviously evolved greatly since the book was first published, and certain ingredients have become in-house favourites – freekeh, for example – and there is certainly more of an Asian influence on the menu than was felt in the early days.
Was it challenging to adapt restaurant dishes for home cooks?
Not really. We try to keep our cooking methods as simple as possible — vegetables taste best and retain their colour the less that is done to them. Some dishes require a fair bit of preparation, but there is nothing inherently challenging about them.
Do you have any tips for making bold, simple vegetable dishes at home? Any secret weapons (pantry staples, techniques, etc.)?
If you are making any kind of sauce or paste – spicy green zhoug, for example, or fiery harissa – make double and store the remainder in your fridge. A swirl of either through a soup, dotted on roasted vegetables or served alongside plain fish or meat with rice is a very simple way to make bold, simple dishes in an instant.
What are some of the recipes from the book you go to most often?
Aaah, the favourite child question! Such a tough one but, if I could only take one to my desert island, it would be the kosheri. With the brownies, of course, for pudding. Ask me tomorrow, however, and my answer will be different.
Tell us about the recipes we’re sharing today.
The galettes are totally moreish and, again, make a starter which can kick-start any meal. They are spicy, sweet, punchy and surprisingly light. The olive oil in the apple cake gives it an extra depth and intensity. It’s a cake which is light in texture but rich and mature in flavour. I love it!
What inspires you about living and working in London?
So much. All corners of the world are seen and felt walking and eating from one place to the next here, and there is a real appetite for experimentation when it comes to food, which I love. I love living near Hampstead Heath, crossing the river, driving and eating my way around the city.
What’s for dinner tonight?
After a day’s recipe testing and tweaking?! Hopefully a bowl of linguine with a simple tomato sauce.
Sweet Potato Galettes
3 sweet potatoes, about 12 oz/350 g each
9 oz/250 g puff pastry
1 free-range egg, lightly beaten
6½ tbsp/100 ml sour cream
3½ tbsp/100 g aged goat cheese
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
1 medium-hot chile, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C. Bake the sweet potatoes in their skins for 35 to 45 minutes, until they soften up but are still slightly raw in the center (check by inserting a small knife). Leave until cool enough to handle, then peel and cut into slices 1⁄8 inch/3 mm thick.
While the sweet potatoes are in the oven, roll out the puff pastry to about 1⁄16 inch/2 mm thick on a lightly floured work surface. Cut out four 2¾ by 5½-inch/7 by 14-cm rectangles and prick them all over with a fork. Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper, place the pastry rectangles on it, well spaced apart, and leave to rest in the fridge for at least half an hour.
Remove the pastry from the fridge and brush lightly with the beaten egg. Using an icing spatula, spread a thin layer of sour cream on the pastries, leaving a ¼-inch/5-mm border all round. Arrange the potato slices on the pastry, slightly overlapping, keeping the border clear. Season with salt and pepper, crumble the goat cheese on top, and sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds and chile. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the pastry is cooked through. Check underneath; it should be golden brown.
While the galettes are cooking, stir together the olive oil, garlic, parsley, and a pinch of salt. As soon as the pastries come out of the oven, brush them with this mixture. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing
Serves 6 to 8
Heaping ½ cup/80 g golden raisins
4 tbsp water
2¼ cups/280 g all-purpose flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
1¼ tsp baking soda
½ cup/120 ml olive oil
¾ cup/160 g superfine sugar
½ vanilla bean
2 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
3 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 3/8-inch/1-cm dice
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 free-range egg whites
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting (optional)
7 tbsp/100 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
scant ½ cup/100 g light muscovado sugar
scant 6 tbsp/85 ml maple syrup
8 oz/220 g cream cheese, at room temperature
Grease an 8-inch/20-cm springform cake pan and line the bottom and sides with parchment paper. Place the raisins and water in a medium saucepan and simmer over low heat until all of the water has been absorbed. Leave to cool.
Preheat the oven to 325°F/170°C. Sift together the flour, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, and baking soda and set aside.
Put the oil and superfine sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or use a whisk if you don’t have a mixer). Slit the vanilla bean lengthwise in half and, using a sharp knife, scrape the seeds out into the bowl. Beat the oil, sugar, and vanilla together, then gradually add the eggs. The mix should be smooth and thick at this stage. Mix in the diced apples, raisins, and lemon zest, then lightly fold in the sifted dry ingredients.
Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl, either by hand or with a mixer, until they have a soft meringue consistency. Fold them into the batter in 2 additions, trying to maintain as much air as possible.
Pour the batter into the lined pan, level it with an icing spatula, and place in the oven. Bake for 1½ hours, until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the pan.
Once the cake is completely cold, you can assemble it. Remove from the pan and use a large serrated knife to cut it in half horizontally. You should end up with 2 similar disks. If the cake is very domed, you might need to shave a bit off the top half to level it.
To make the icing, beat together the butter, muscovado sugar, and maple syrup until light and airy. You can do this by hand, or, preferably, in a mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the cream cheese and beat until the icing is totally smooth.
Using the icing spatula, spread a layer of icing 3/8 inch/1 cm thick over the bottom half of the cake. Carefully place the top half on it. Spoon the rest of the icing on top and use the icing spatula to create a wavelike or any other pattern. Dust it with confectioners’ sugar, if you like.
“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
Photo of Ottolenghi and Tamimi courtesy of Keiko Oikawa.