I’ve got this habit when I leaf through a cookbook for the first time of tearing little strips of paper to bookmark recipes I’m particularly eager to try. I’ve only spent an hour with Yotam Ottolenghi’s new “Plenty More” and already I’ve gone through a good portion of my notepad. No doubt I’m going to have to start cooking soon.
Ottolenghi’s “Plenty” in 2011 was one of those watershed books, full of vibrant and original recipes that changed the cooking of many who bought it. It initially arrived without a lot of fanfare, but word quickly spread as fevered fans thrust copies into the hands of their friends. I must have passed out a half-dozen copies myself.
The pleasure both “Plenty” and “Plenty More” comes from the British chef’s canny mixing of familiar and strange. His dishes often are like meeting an old friend at a costume ball – at the same time fun and also a little disconcerting.
What could be more familiar than a carrot puree? But rather than the silky, buttery mix we might be expecting, Ottolenghi purees carrots coarsely and folds in fiery harissa sauce. Then he spoons it onto a platter spread with lemony yogurt and tops it with chopped pistachios and drizzled olive oil.
This kind of trick is played over and over. A grapefruit salad is sprinkled with the Middle Eastern spice sumac. The familiar tomato-and-watermelon combination is served as a gazpacho, with lots of celery. Fava beans are cooked with lemon, paprika, allspice and cilantro. Butternut squash is roasted with cardamom and nigella.
It’s not just flavor combinations that he twists. Techniques and ingredients are shuffled almost like playing cards.
Zucchini is broiled until blackened and takes the place of eggplant in a “baba ghanoush” made with goat’s milk yogurt and Roquefort. Lentils are cooked, crushed and finished with tahini and cumin. Cauliflower is baked into a savory cake, with rosemary, Parmesan and sesame and nigella seeds. He bakes a puff pastry pithivier stuffed with savory sauteed mushrooms rather than sweet almond cream.
As we’ve come to expect, we’ll have to find room in our pantry for new ingredients. I’m already on the lookout for dakos – which he describes as barley rusks from Crete that he is mildly obsessed over. And fresh curry leaf, pot barley (unpolished barley), various dals and seeds and even bitters make an appearance.
It’s all quite heady stuff. And in the hands of a less talented cook, it might sound more than a bit over-the-top. But Ottolenghi has a tightrope walker’s balance. And as we learned from “Plenty,” his recipes repay our trust many times over.
I can’t wait to start cooking.
Crushed carrots with harissa and pistachios
From Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Plenty More.” This recipe was not tested by The Times.
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra to finish
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
10 large carrots (2 1/4 pounds), peeled and cut into slices 3/4-inch thick
Scant 1 cup vegetable stock
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons harissa paste
Grated zest of 1 lemon, plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup Greek yogurt
Scant 3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped
Salt and black pepper
Place the olive oil and butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the carrots and saute for 6 minutes, stirring often; they need to soften and take on a bit of color. Add the stock, turn down the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and cook for another 25 minutes, until the carrots are completely soft and there is hardly any liquid left. Transfer the carrots to a food processor, add 3/4 teaspoon salt, and blitz briefly to form a coarse paste. Leave to cool and then add the orange zest, garlic, harissa, half the lemon zest and some black pepper. Stir to combine.
Mix together the yogurt, lemon juice, the remaining lemon zest, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
Spread the yogurt out on a serving platter and spoon the carrot mixture on top. Sprinkle with the pistachios, drizzle with a little olive oil and serve.