It probably won’t come as much of a surprise when I confess that, like a lot of food-minded folks, I own every single one of Yotam Ottolenghi’s six cookbooks. They’re on bookshelves, also underneath bowls of fruit, between jars of tea and heritage beans, stacked among cookie sheets and cutting boards. And now there’s another to add to the pile: The British Israeli chef’s seventh book, “Ottolenghi Simple,” comes out in October from Ten Speed Press.
This latest cookbook, which Ottolenghi wrote with Tara Wigley and Esme Howarth, with photographs by Jonathan Lovekin, presents 130 recipes that are focused on simplicity. Ottolenghi’s cooking has always been more accessible than aspirational, but some of his cookbooks (“Nopi,” “Sweet”) do require a fair bit of technical expertise, so it’s comforting to have an undemanding volume to add to the stack. The celebrated chef began his cooking career as a pastry chef and currently has a number of restaurants in London, where he’s long been based (he grew up in Jerusalem, where his father was a chemistry professor at Hebrew University).
To help simplify, so to speak, just what Ottolenghi means by “simple,” there’s a helpful color-coded outline in the introduction of the book. The six letters of the word “simple” stand for, in order: “short on time,” “10 ingredients or less,” “make ahead,” “pantry,” “lazy” and “easier than you think.” There’s some elaboration of these terms, and each of the recipes is marked with the relevant letters in handy color bubbles. It’s a cute trick, although it doesn’t do much to simplify the book.
I guess from Ottolenghi’s standpoint these are simple recipes. There are many that are fairly quickly assembled, often in one dish or pot; lots of soups and stews and salads; and a happy surfeit of dishes that are composed of things roasted on sheet pans. If you’ve already been cooking Ottolenghi’s food, then the staple ingredients (sumac, tahini, za’atar) are likely already in your cupboard.
What’s particularly noticeable about this cookbook is the emphasis on what could be called modern comfort food. These are dishes loaded with flavor, heavy on vegetables and herbs, spices and sauces, and reliant on texture, color and juxtaposition.
One of the best dishes in the book is one of cherry tomatoes, charred under the broiler with herbs and spices, then loaded while hot into the center of a mound of chilled thick yogurt and spiked with Urfa chile flakes. The ingredients are familiar to Ottolenghi devotees, but the combination is surprising — and utterly delicious. Other dishes display a similar inventiveness, taking stuff most of us have on hand these days but switching around either a component or a technique so that there’s something simultaneously comforting and compelling.
The chapters are divvied up into basic categories (raw veg, cooked veg, meat, dessert) and at the conclusion of the book there are menu suggestions, from brunch to feasts, as well as a list of descriptions of “Ottolenghi ingredients” — the now-familiar pomegranate molasses, tahini, barberries, etc.
It’s a useful and engaging book, filled with the kind of dishes that have made Ottolenghi’s broad and well-deserved reputation — and, yes, the recipes are simple enough, although it’s a conceit that seems both unnecessary and rather contrived. It’s not like the chef made his name with hopelessly complicated dishes; rather, his cooking has always been as approachable as it’s been addictive. But regardless of the effort required, this is food that’s worth putting on the plate, and another cookbook that’s very much worth adding to the collection.
Cookbook of the week: “Ottolenghi Simple” by Yotam Ottolenghi (Ten Speed Press, $35)