It isn’t often that I’m waiting in anticipation for a new cookbook to come out. In fact, like many of you, I suspect, I did a big weeding out of my book collection a few years back and just kept the essentials. Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi, based upon recipes from his column in the Guardian UK as well as some new ones, has just come out in the United States and is a welcome newcomer to my bookshelves, making it an exception to my rules. So, last night, at the Williams-Sonoma on Columbus Circle, I found myself on line with several other fans of his cooking at a Q&A, book in hand for him to sign it.
I wrote about my visit to the Notting Hill location of one of his restaurants in London in my London Food Finds post on this site. It was such a revelation to walk into the shop and see the display of all of the gorgeous dishes from which to choose, knowing that each one was made with fresh ingredients and filled with layers of wonderful flavors. While at the table eating my lunch, I was shamelessly checking out what others had put on their plates, which I discovered yesterday while talking to the others who had eaten at his restaurants, is a common practice. With so many tasty and unique combinations, everyone agreed, that multiple visits to the various restaurants are required.
Born in Jerusalem, and having lived in London for the past 15 years, Yotam and his partners were inspired to bring to the English audience a wider view of Middle Eastern cuisine and the wealth of ingredients and flavors that he had experienced growing up in the region. You can see from the headnotes to his recipes that he draws upon his memories of eating dishes with his family, the contributions of his staff, and even, in the case of his Mushroom Lasagna, an article from Cook’s Illustrated. The message he would like to deliver, he said, is that this book and much of his cooking is a celebration of vegetables, each in its own way, and not to be afraid of using layers of spices and seasonings to add flavor to those dishes. The intriguing part of this philosophy is that Yotam doesn’t shy away from eating meat and fish, but he would like vegetables to be viewed in their own right, and not just as something extra to throw on the plate.
Several other sites have been raving about this book as well, so I’m glad to see that I’m not the only omnivore who has been looking forward to its release here on this side of the Atlantic. Serious Eats has been featuring several of the recipes (the ravioli one looks amazing). Yotam was on Martha Stewart yesterday preparing his Green Couscous and Garlic Tart, which would both be wonderful springtime brunch dishes. Look on Amazon or in your local book store for this volume and tell me that the pictures don’t make you want to start to delve right in and try to make these dishes. As he said, the techniques are simple so don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients; many of them might already be in your cupboard.
Will he be opening a restaurant soon in New York? Our crowd (and Martha) definitely want him to do so. As he said, however, and one of the secrets to his success in the UK, is that he and his team personally taste test everything every day, and he can’t imagine trying to carry out that level of quality control with locations on two continents unless he could find someone whose tastebuds he could trust absolutely. For the moment, then, we’ll have to rely on his cookbooks and, if we can swing it, that occasional trip to London to check out the latest additions to his restaurants.