The Heart of the Matter—641.65 O918p

Plenty; Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi

Of the cookbooks that I have acquired this year, the one that I have gotten the most mileage out of is Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty; Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi. Usually books that so much money has gone into their presentation tend to be books that are prettier sitting on a coffee table then getting sloppy sitting on a kitchen counter. This does make for coffee table eye candy, but is so inspired and delicious that it is worth tainting its pristineness by getting some use out of it.

Ironically it is also another vegetarian cookbook, but where Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is an essential reference book as well as an instructional guide in learning to cook, Plenty is a book to inspire seasoned cooks. The little twist that Ottolenghi gives to each recipe are unusual enough that they expand a cook’s creativity of what is possible. One of the recipes that I tried first was his Swiss Chard, Chickpea, and Tamarind Stew. The combination of tamarind, caraway, and Greek yogurt seemed an unusual combination, but the earthiness of the chard, the sweetness of some rice, and the tanginess of tomatoes brought everything together in an unexpected and delicious way.

I think why I resonate so well with this book is the fact that even though it is a vegetarian cookbook, like Ottolenghi, I am not a vegetarian. However, I do tend to like to cook with vegetables at the center of a dish, and where cheese and often meat are usually treated as flavorings, not main ingredients. Almost every dish in this book is centered around vegetable, minus a couple in the “Pulses” section that are centered around beans such as his Hummus with Ful. Even in the section, “Pasta, Polenta, Couscous,” vegetables make up the majority of each dish.

Much of my cooking is driven by what we are receiving in our weekly produce box from the CSA that we are members of, so the layout of this book was very user friendly. The vegetables are mostly groups by vegetable family; roots, funny onions, mushrooms, squashes, brassicas, leaves, and green things, green beans, tomatoes, pepper, with eggplant getting a center stage and chapter to itself. Aside from the aforementioned “Pulses” and “Pasta, Polenta, Couscous,” there is also a section for “Grains” and “Fruit with Cheese,” both of which are mostly vegetable based dishes as well.

Most recipes each have their own full-page picture of the finished dish, which adds to coffee table want ability, but also shows how there is great potential for presentation for each dish. At the restaurant Ottolenghi, food is set on display in much a deli-esque fashion, and most dishes are intended to be served at room temperature. This also means that many are not dependent on the final executions needing to quickly get to the mouth, so many of his recipes are perfect for potlucks, or side dishes to other main courses the are temperature dependent.

I have gained many tips with this book. In many of his eggplant recipes he has you “burning” the eggplant to get a nice smoky flavor. This can be done one of two ways: on a gas stove top, covering the burners with foil and placing the eggplant over the flames for 10-15 minutes while turning with tongs, or under a hot broiler for an hour. I did the stovetop method to great success and made his Lemon and Eggplant Risotto. The first time I made it I couldn’t resist the temptation to sneak in a little saffron, which I found the second time around masked some of the awesome smokiness of the eggplant.

Recipes are all over the map with influences from Asia to Mexico, but most are a blending of his Mediterranean and Middle Eastern heritage, often blending flavor in an enticing way unlike most “fusion” food. In his recipe Roast Butternut Squash with Sweet Spices, Lime, and Green Chile, he has you tossing the squash with cardamom and allspice before roasting, and creating a dressing of Greek yogurt, tahini and lime. The addition of green chile and cilantro brings the flavors edging toward India, but still very Middle Eastern.

Plenty doesn’t waste any space on an obligatory dessert chapter, but stays close to its main subject: vegetables. There are plenty of starters, salads, soups, and sides sprinkled through the book, all of which could be hearty or light mains. Although there are plenty of recipes that incorporate eggs, cheese, or yogurt, there are many that are vegan friendly. Aside from the vegetable that is center to each recipe, most ingredients are easily found in markets, or easily substituted for something that can. None require fancy cooking equipment other than a good knife, cutting board, and a pot or pan. Instructions are straight forward, and accessible to learning cooks. This is not a book with more of the same, so for experienced cooks, there is enough inspiration to keep one engaged and curious to try more of his recipes.

I realize that I last left you with a squash recipe, but since that is what I cooking most of these days, I am leaving you with one more. Inspired by the aforementioned squash recipe of Ottolenghi’s, I enjoyed the sweetness of the squash perfumed by the addition of cardamom, so I did a little experimentation. Here is what I came up with…

Cardamom Winter Squash with a Pistachio Gremolata

Ingredients

2-3 lbs. Sweet Squash (Butternut, Delicata, Sweet Dumpling, Sugar Loaf, Pie Pumpkin)

1 tsp. Ground Cardamom (or approximately 10 cardamom pods, cracked open, shells discarded, ground)

Salt and Pepper

Olive Oil

Pistachio Gremolata

3 tbsp. Pistachios, toasted, coarsely chopped

1 tbsp. Orange Zest (you can use lemon or other citrus)

1-2 Garlic Cloves, minced

2 tbsp. Flat Leaf Parsley, minced

Olive oil, Pistachio oil or other nut oil

Salt and Pepper

 Preheat oven to 400°F. You can peel or not peel you squash depending on type or desired aesthetic. If leaving skin on, you’ll want to slice into half moons about ½ inch thick, if peeled you can still do half moons or cubes. Toss squash with cardamom, salt pepper, and enough oil to coat. Roast until tender (start checking after 20 minutes, stirring every ten minutes, times will vary do to size and type).

For the Gremolata: Mix ingredients. You can keep chunky by adding less oil and sprinkling on, or add more oil and some added salad greens for a warm salad. Good warm, or at room temperature.

Links to find:

Powell’s Books

AbeBooks

Amazon

Preface

My Story

A little background information….

I am currently a graduate student at the University of Washington’s Information School working towards my Master’s of Library and Information Science. My goal is to work in youth services in a public library setting. I live in Portland, Oregon (my grad program is online) where I have lived for the past sixteen years. I grew up in southwestern Wyoming, and lived in Idaho outside of Yellowstone for five years before moving to Oregon.

For most of a decade prior to school I worked as a produce manager in a natural foods cooperative grocery. There I got to work some of the greatest local farmers of the area, as well as the beautiful northwest bounty this region has to offer. Working with some of the finest and freshest produce inspired my desire to learn to cook and my love of good food. After a while I started to feel the limits of growth in my job and started asking, what next? At the time, moving over to a job in cooking seemed like a natural progression. I started looking into cooking schools, but the reality of personal debt (partly due to cookbook and cooking utensil obsession) was intimidating to start a new venture taking on more debt. The only way to get out of debt was to work more jobs, so for three years a worked an average of three jobs. I tried to get into the field and worked for a couple of different catering agencies and did some restaurant work. As I neared the end of my stint getting out of debt, the reality of pursuing a cooking career was starting to set in. I was entering my mid-thirties, and I did not see myself as a line cook working my way up while making minimal pay.

It took some soul searching as to the what now? It was scary to completely jump ship, and leave a decade career with nothing to show, but the idea of librarianship kept creeping into the back of my brain. In high school a good friend and I often talked about how we wanted to be children’s librarians, and she had recently gone and gotten her degree (after Ms. Smarty-pants had a few degrees already from Yale). Through these years I hadn’t lost touch with my love for children’s literature, and as the final Harry Potter had been released, I knew I was going to make the jump. It was scary, as I have said. I had absolutely no undergraduate schooling under my belt, I was entering my mid-thirties, and I was looking at 6-7 years of schooling. My goal then, as it is now, is to graduate before I turn forty.

My cooking habits have shifted since I started school. For the first three years I worked full-time so not to have to take on to much debt. I had learned my lesson. As school has gotten more rigorous, I only work part-time, but it still hasn’t left much time for days leisurely spent cooking and experimenting in the kitchen. I have to be very time efficient. Also, when leaving behind my produce department where I felt I had the first pick of the best of everything, I was scared I wouldn’t connect with the seasons as I had come to experience them. To offset this, we joined a CSA where we get a weekly box of produce May through December. Determined not to let any of this go to waste, it has kept me connected to the kitchen where otherwise I could easily have seen myself getting lazy, and living off of quesadillas. I now tend to cook a lot in big batches, making soups and casseroles to freeze for times when we aren’t getting our weekly share, or when we need a quick meal.

I love to read cookbooks, and have actually read a couple of tomes cover to cover. It has become a way that I relax, and to take a break from studying. As I work to become a youth services librarian, I don’t want to lose this part of me. This blog is my way to stay connected as well as unwind. It is all about self-interest, and to justify to myself why I have over 250+ cookbooks in my personal library.

To leave you with a little something…

This time of year we get a lot of these delicata squash. Now, my least favorite thing about working with winter squash is the peeling, but these darlings have such a thin skin that peeling is not always necessary. With the earthy sweetness of squash, I love to contrast is with a little saltiness, sourness, and smoke. A favorite dish that requires minimal effort is roasting it with some preserved lemons, olives, and smoked paprika, then adding a little feta to bring it all together.

Roasted Squash with Preserved Lemon, Plives and Feta

2 delicata squash

1 preserved lemon

2 Tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped

1 Cup black olives (I prefer the oil cured variety here)—pitted

1 Tbsp. smoked paprika

Salt and pepper

2-3 Tbsp. olive oil

4 oz. feta cheese

2 Tbsp. parsley, minced

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Scrub the squash extremely well, and since we are not peeling the squash you are going to want to find squash that hasn’t been grown or treated with pesticides. Slice in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Cut into half-inch crescent moons. Rinse the lemon, and cut into quarters lengthwise. Scoop out the pulp, cut once more lengthwise, then mince into tiny strips. Add the lemon, ½ the olives, thyme, paprika, salt, pepper, and enough olive oil to coat. Roast for about 45 minutes turning over every 10 minutes. Once cool slightly, add the parsley and feta. This can be served warmed or at room temperature. I sometimes will top salad greens with it.

Preserved lemons can be hard to find but are easy to make. Here are instructions from a favorite magazine Saveur.

Where It All Began—641.5636 M182 vc 2007

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

By Deborah Madison

Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone was one of the first cookbooks that I ever bought. At the time, the $40 price tag was extremely high for me, and it took several trips to Powell’s Books selling other books until I had enough credit to get this treasure. Looking back, I don’t remember how I heard about this book, and why I was so compelled at the time to trade my whole library for one cookbook, but I remember the feeling of “I have to have this book.” Ironically, I wasn’t even vegetarian anymore. I had been a vegetarian for seven years, and even a vegan for a couple as well, but was no longer either at the time of purchase. All I remember is patiently saving up credit until I could pay the $40 cover price.

At the time, I would not have considered myself much of a cook. A friend from my youth even once deemed me as domestically challenged, and the kitchen was my place for disaster. Every once in a while I would pull out a roommate’s copy of a Moosewood cookbook and experiment, but for the most part was not pleased. I chalked it up to my culinary deficiencies. At the same time, I was beginning a career in the produce business than ended up spanning a little over a decade, and I found many of the recipes in these books not having any sense of seasonality. It was maddening, even if at the time I couldn’t articulate exactly what my distaste for the books were. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone was different though. Immediately, I got the sense of seasonality and about eating food in its prime.

I owe a lot to this book. It was a perfect starter book, and here is where my passion for cooking began. More than any other, this book gave me my foundation in the kitchen.

In my early years, with each new cookbook, I would take the time to read all of the introduction materials that come before the recipes start. As I began to grow as a cook and started turning in empty wine bottles for real rolling pins, these beginnings sections were instrumental to my development. Reading authors’ philosophy helped me craft my own cooking philosophy. Also in these intros, many cookbooks speak about essential kitchen equipment. In Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Madison’s approach is genial. Where she is adamant about the importance of a good knife the rest she approaches with a “The Equipment I Use Most.” I used most of her list as I built up my kitchen, even though I still don’t own every piece of equipment that she mentioned (pressure cookers scare me), most have been very practical.

This book is as much reference as it is cookbook. Each page has leaf notes where she puts her wisdom into little side notes that are very useful, but don’t clog up the recipes. It has it sections on starters, soups, salad etcetera, but Madison’s section on vegetables, and her section on grains are chock full of useful information. In both, there are brief descriptions, and valuable handling and cooking methods, plus a few recipes beyond the basics. My favorite aspect of the book, and what I talk up most, is in her section on vegetables how for most each individual type there are leaf notes about “good partners” and “sauces and seasonings.”  Her good partners look at what things pair well with each vegetable, what fats, cheeses, fresh herbs, spices, acids, nuts, and other vegetables. Not every vegetable requires a sauce and seasoning segment, but those that do make reference to the many sauces and seasoning mixtures provided by book. Some of the other leaf notes provide vital information like being sure puncture some wholes in a spaghetti squash if roasting it whole in the oven, “or it will explode and make the most amazing mess.”

Madison is author of many cookbooks, but this is her masterpiece. She grew up in California, and her cooking history contains having been the head cook at the San Francisco Zen Center, Chez Panisse, and one of the founders of The Greens Restaurant. She now is living in New Mexico, and still puts out cookbooks on a regular basis as well as other food writing. Her cookbook The Savory Way is also high on my list of favorite cookbooks.

Other than reference there are a few recipes that I pull the book down regularly. I have tried many different recipes for Romesco Sauce, a Spanish pepper and almond sauce, and there are debates on what is the most authentic. Though Madison’s might not be considered as authentic as some, it is the one I have come to prefer, as I love the addition of hazelnuts. This is a great sauce to have in your cooking arsenal, as it not only is delicious and goes so well with all manners of vegetable, and meats, it is a great one to break out for vegan friends. Always a hit for potlucks is her Spicy Cooked Carrots Salad with Paprika, Feta, and Olives (in photo) and her Baked Spaghetti Squash with Gruyere and Parsley.

A favorite dish that I like to make is a white bean fennel salad that has it roots in Madison’s White Bean Salad with Green Olives and Tarragon. Many of the ingredients are the same, but I have altered in a way that it has become a standard in our home.

Fennel and White Bean Salad with Tarragon and Green Olives

Ingredients:

White beans (fresh cooked or canned)

Fennel bulb

Tarragon

Parsley

Green Olives (I love the anchovy stuffed olives)

Parmesan or Dry Jack cheese

Lemon zest

Sherry, Champagne, or good white wine vinegar

I don’t have any particular measurements here because this is all about the “to taste” method, and fennel bulbs can vary in range in size. I use a mandoline slicer for the fennel, and slice it as thin as possible, not too thin that it turns to mush, but thin enough that it is fairly translucent. I like to then rub a little salt into the sliced fennel to bring out its flavors and juices, and to soften it up a bit. If you are using canned beans be sure to rinse well. I prefer to use twice as much finely chopped parsley to tarragon, and I use varying amounts of olives. If I am using the anchovy-stuffed green olives I usually use a bit less than other varieties, I have also used black at times, but I prefer the look and flavor of green here. If I am using olive that need to be pitted, I like the look of cracking them in half. If they were pitted, such as the anchovy-stuffed olives, I usually roughly chop them. Mix the fennel beans, olives, and zest the lemon over top the mixture.

When adding the cheese, I usually prefer to use a vegetable peeler and make big peels, but smaller grating is fine. Usually I will mix some into the salad, and top with big curls for presentation.

Where you can buy:

Powell’s Books online

Amazon

AbeBooks