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The Stirring Review: Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
Mary Whiting (11/02/2011)

Published by Ebury Press Price £25 ISBN: 9780091933685

Photograph of Mary WhitingIt was the spicy winter couscous that first did it. This was one of the weekly Yotam Ottolenghi vegetarian recipes published in The Guardian a couple of years ago. What an amazing, imaginative, unusual and utterly scrumptious recipe! Soon, every guest had been given it and every guest had loved it. And all agreed that this was something different.
 
Many Ottolenghi columns later, The Guardian gave away a booklet of ten recipes from his book, Plenty. Almost every recipe I tried was a winner. Obviously the next step was to get the book, which is where I am now, gradually going through it. I’m still marvelling at his continuing originality, ingenuity, his wide knowledge of a multitude of ingredients and what can be done, so imaginatively, with them. He seems to know intuitively what will work with what to create yet another wonderful and astonishing taste explosion.
 
And the recipes are not difficult. No advanced skills are required, though time for a lot of ‘prep’ is. In fact, I’d guess some recipes, such as his versions of ratatouille and paella, could be great for making with children, especially perhaps a group of children, as there’s plenty of activity – peeling, chopping, slicing – for them to do, and a fantastic feast at the end. In fact many of the recipes involve quite a lot of work. This is a book for people who like to cook, and who have the time to do it. Meals-in-minutes it ain’t. My ultra-favourite recipe (so far), very full tart, has to be one of the most purely scrumptious things I’ve ever eaten, but the workload is huge. No guest will ever be given it because after all that labour we’ll want to drool over every last crumb ourselves.
 
But don’t let this put you off or you’ll miss a plethora of good eating. As long as you like messing about in the kitchen you’ll earn yourself something terrific. And, to be fair, some recipes are fairly quick, such as Shakshuka, a North African speciality, and the tomato semolina and coriander soup, both utterly delicious.
 
I do have a few grumbles however, although I’m guessing some may not be the fault of Ottolenghi and are certainly not unique to him. For one thing, the book is huge – and very heavy. At almost A4 size, a good 3cm thick and weighing 1.3 kilos (3 lbs), I long for those paperback days when 20 recipe books would fit on 30cm of shelf – and what a bargain they were too! This book looks beautiful, as it should with numerous full-page, and sometimes two-page, colour photographs and line drawings, but what a monster in the kitchen.
 
Cover of Plenty by Yotam OttolenghiAlso, and as with many chef’s recipes nowadays, cooking times can be so much longer than those given, and in this case sometimes more than twice as long, even after I’ve felt sceptical and chopped things up smaller than instructed.
 
Thirdly, and surprisingly, there is a table of contents at the front of the book and an index at the back but no alphabetical index of recipes. So if you want to look up the wonderful very full tart, you won’t find it under V. Instead, the Contents and Index both group recipes under headings such as ‘green things’ or a recipe’s main ingredient, but never under categories such as ‘starters’ or ‘main dishes’ – and as the recipes for starters and main dishes, like other categories of recipes, are scattered through the book, it’s impossible to know where to look. And why does the Contents list six mushroom recipes while the Index gives ten? I do wonder what the editor was doing here. I’ve found it essential to write my own
index of favourite recipes on a spare page.
 
However, this is a highly original book and absolutely worth getting – at least, at first, from the library. Try, amongst other things (and especially if you want to show off), soba noodles with aubergine and mango (page 112), tomato semolina and coriander soup (page 130), chickpea, tomato and bread soup (page 218), multi-vegetable paella (page 80), Tamara’s ratatouille (page 74), ultimate winter couscous (page 262). And whatever else you choose to cook, go to page 84 for very full tart. Just allow plenty of time.

 

Author: Mary Whiting Email: mary@whitings-writings.com


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