Leo gave me a book for Christmas that I had limited interest in reading – it was the autobiography of Gloria Steinem – so I exchanged it for a cookbook. I do consider myself a feminist but am more interested in cooking than how Gloria stays cute in spite of her feminism and her age.
I seldom buy cookbooks – has anything new been written since Elizabeth David? I’d wanted this one for a while, though, Ottolenghi’s Plenty. Why? Vegetables! I’m tired of my usual treatments of them. I bought my son, Jerusalem, also by Ottolenghi, for the same reason. If you buy locally you need to work to put some excitement into beets and parsnips in the wintertime. Different spices, treatments, combinations. Presentations. Ethnicities. “And,” I explained to his quizzical look, “it’s not as though you need to spend a mint on spices. The Co-op has a fresh and inexpensive quality selection in their bulk department. Best buy in town.”
Plenty was a couple bucks more than the $29 Steinem book and deciding not to belabor the fact that you could feed a person for almost a week for that price, the prevalence of hunger on the streets, the... well I DID say not to belabor, right... I think I would concentrate on the vibrancy of its photos and the usefulness of its suggestions. This is not a baking book, where you need to follow a recipe perfectly, it is a vegetable book, and suggestions do quite well, putting even direct orders to task. For instance, in Roasted parsnips and sweet potatoes with caper vinaigrette, I really liked the combination of those two vegetables with cherry tomatoes and a vinaigrette of lemon, capers, maple syrup and dijon mustard with a garnish of sesame seeds. My note to myself, though, is to “cut parsnips and sweet potatoes the same size, put all in the roasting pan at the same time and don’t forget the sesame seeds.” I did follow directions to a T the first time but now would spread out to make this dish my own. Little Moroccan oil-cured olives would be good in it. Whole heads of garlic cut in half and roasted along with everything else are just so. darned. good! And gorgeous.
Another idea, this of adding almonds and Medjool dates to arugula with a crumble of Turkish sheep’s cheese (I would use feta) with some dill and basil and red chard leaves? And adding pomegranate molasses to olive oil for the dressing? I really need that little February push of pomegranate. And dates. I think you can get most of the ingredients at the Co-op.
The photos are luscious: Small, thin watermelon wedges drizzled with some olive oil, basil leaves, Turkish cheese and thinly sliced onions with some coarsely ground pepper look wonderfully messy aside a scooped-out wedge of rind but I scarcely need a recipe for it. Oh, but doesn’t it sound good on this February morning?
I’m working from the back of the book forward as I write here, just as I worked from the front when I first got the book, cooking as I went. Supposedly I would meet myself in the middle if I continued in this manner, but the front of the book is more seasonal, so I may just have to go back there. But first, here’s a Quinoa salad with dried Persian lime, and I remember that someone told Leo to tell me that she wanted to know what to do with quinoa. Ottolinghi has lots of ideas. Dried lime skin, though, may not be available to most people. I happen to have slivers of it that I’ve had for a hundred years and now I’ve put some into a clean coffee grinder and made the powder the recipe calls for. Way to spend a half hour or so, Sharon. But Ottolenghi tells us that it is addictive, this dust, and so I will try it out.
As for quinoa, wouldn’t you agree with me that it should be used in the same way rice is, as a little starch, lighter than most? To cook it, Ottolenghi tells us, “Place (1 cup) quinoa in a saucepan with plenty of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 9 minutes. Drain in a fine sieve, rinse under cold water and leave to dry.” Here’s another quinoa recipe on page 228, “a simple salad for a spring brunch,” involving avocado and fava beans. Oh yum, especially when adding in lemons, garlic, and radishes, with cumin, olive oil and chile flakes. Another reason to anticipate spring.
In a recipe for Fried lima beans with feta, sorrel, and sumac, he tells us to use spinach and double the amount of lemon juice if you can’t find sorrel. That’s handy advice but I say get some seeds and grow it in any crevice you can find. The spear shaped leaves are wonderfully sour in omelets and stews and even salads and they are the first green in spring and the last in fall. I wouldn’t be surprised if I could still find a good leaf or two in my garden this weird winter.
Lentils and chickpeas, rices and quinoa are his starches, along with several kinds of beans, as in Mixed beans with many spices and lovage, another of the herbs I’m constantly urging you to grow for its celery/tarragon taste. Here’s another treasure – Caramelized fennel with goat cheese. I hope I remember this in fennel season. Yes, I am aware that the supermarket is liable to have it now. I may have to indulge.
Let’s face it, I’m not going to get back to the beginning of this book where I especially love a Spicy Moroccan carrot salad, which I may make tonight because I do have some of those big sweet Farmers’ Market carrots from either Greg or Paul, I can’t remember which. I loved the Beet, orange and black olive salad except for the olives. I think I’d substitute those little Moroccan ones next time. It’s served on bitter radicchio. But right now I am going to give you a recipe I haven’t tried yet but will as soon as I can get some endive.
Nutty endive with Roquefort
from Plenty, by Ottolinghi
- 1 ¾ oz Roquefort cheese
- ¾ cup Crème fraîche
- white pepper
- 1/3 cup roughly chopped pine nuts
- 1/3 cup roughly chopped walnuts
- 1 tsp butter
- 2 endives
- a few leaves of radicchio, Treviso or baby chard
Grate the Roquefort on a coarse grater and place in a bowl with the crème fraîche and some white pepper. Use a whisk to mix thoroughly to a thick mixture. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
In a hot frying pan lightly toast the nuts with the butter and a pinch of salt. Keep shaking the pan to get an even golden color on all the nuts. Leave to cool.
Trim the base of the endives and pick off the outer leaves. Trim a bit more to remove more leaves until you get to the core. Using your hands, smear each leaf with plenty of the Roquefort mix. Form bundles of six to eight leaves pressed together each leaf partly encased in a larger one.
Line a serving dish with some red leaves. Place a few bundles of endive on top, stacking them or leaving them standing against each other. Sprinkle generously with the toasted nuts and serve.
Ottolenghi suggests this as a ‘starter’. I think I would arrange single crème fraîched leaves on a platter and scatter the nuts over all the leaves for an hors d’oeuvre.
Ottolenghi’s Plenty! I think this kind of book is worthwhile when you need to put some vegetable energy into February. Is it worth all the coggs being jogged, the immense environmental and energetic expense that it takes to make a book like this? That’s up to you to decide. But remember that you can pass it on and around to family and friends. You might even get to taste the firstname.lastname@example.org