If Mark Bittman can be credited with teaching us “How to Cook Everything,” then Yotam Ottolenghi gave us the courage to flavor everything.
With “Ottolenghi Simple,” the newest addition to his cookbook repertoire, Ottolenghi directs us to uncomplicated home cooking while encouraging us to ask, “What if?” The recipes are paired down signature Ottolenghi style — simple and gratifying to execute.
The cookbook’s name literally defines the characteristics of each recipe. His “S” stands for “short on time,” “I” for “ingredients: 10 or fewer.” “M” means “make ahead,” “P” is “pantry-led.” “L” is for “lazy-day dishes,” and “E” tells you the recipe is “easier than you think.” Some are labeled with one letter of note, others are the complete “S-I-M-P-L-E” package.
A pantry friendly to Ottolenghi’s simplicity can occasionally call for less-than-simple ingredients to hunt down. But these aren’t so obscure as to remove the ease of putting together his recipes; in fact many of them can be found at that ever multifarious Trader Joe’s. The key is, with ready ingredients, any dish can feel simple. Once you adjust your pantry to Ottolenghi signatures — pomegranate, pistachios, eggplant and plenty of fresh herbs — you’re set.
With “Ottolenghi Simple” not only do the flavors he explores combine to accentuate the meal, but the textures as well — feta or Greek yogurt for creaminess, raw and cooked vegetables together in the same dish or pomegranate seeds for a surprising bright crunch.
His recipes may seem like an abundance of riches, but they’re always balanced, intriguingly flavorful and, in this case, satisfyingly simple.
Bridget Jones’s pan-fried salmon with pine nut salsa
In “Bridget Jones’s Baby,” this is the dish Patrick Dempsey’s character tells Renée Zellweger’s Bridget Jones he would have brought her: “From Ottolenghi,” says Dempsey, “delicious and healthy!” The thing is, no such recipe existed … until now. I love that Ottolenghi made this name-drop correct in retrospect. You could also cut up larger (and sweeter) caper berries instead of capers, if you prefer.
¾ cup currants
4 salmon fillets (a little over 1 pound), skin on and pinbones removed
7 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and black pepper
4 medium celery stalks, cut into ½-inch dice (1¾ cups), leaves removed but kept for garnish
¼ cup pine nuts, roughly chopped
¼ cup capers, plus 2 tablespoons of their brine
⅓ cup large green olives, pitted and cut into ½-inch dice
1 good pinch (¼ teaspoon) of saffron threads, mixed with 1 tablespoon hot water
1 cup parsley, roughly chopped
1 lemon, finely zest to get 1 teaspoon, then juice to get 1 teaspoon
Cover the currants with boiling water and set aside to soak for 20 minutes while you prep the salmon and make the salsa.
Mix the salmon with 1 tablespoon of the oil, a rounded ¼ teaspoon salt, and a good grind of pepper. Set aside while you make the salsa.
Put 5 tablespoons of the olive oil into a large saute pan and place on a high heat. Add the celery and pine nuts and fry for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the nuts begin to brown (don’t take your eyes off them, as they can easily burn). Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the capers and their brine, the olives, saffron and its water, and a pinch of salt. Drain the currants and add these, along with the parsley, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Set aside.
Put the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil into a large frying pan and place over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the salmon fillets, skin side down, and fry for 3 minutes, until the skin is crisp.
Decrease the heat to medium, then flip the fillets over and continue to fry for 2-4 minutes (depending on how much you like the salmon cooked). Remove from the pan and set aside.
Arrange the salmon on 4 plates and spoon on the salsa. Scatter the celery leaves on top. Serves 4.
Cauliflower, pomegranate and pistachio salad
This dish is a prime example of Ottolenghi style. Multiple textures, multiple flavors, all combined into one fabulous salad. You can purchase prepped pomegranate seeds, or to remove seeds from fruit, cut in half on the equator (say the stem and tip are the north/south poles). Place one half of pomegranate fruit-side down in your palm, keeping your fingers loosely spread. Over a large bowl, smack the fruit with the back of a wooden spoon. You should feel the seeds loosen and drop into the bowl. Continue to tap all over the outer part of the pomegranate half until the seeds have been removed. Remove any white pith that may have escaped.
1 extra-large cauliflower (about 1¾ pound)
1 small onion, roughly sliced (¾ cup)
⅓ cup olive oil
1¼ cups fresh parsley, roughly chopped
½ cup fresh mint, roughly chopped
½ cup fresh tarragon, roughly chopped
Seeds from ½ medium pomegranate (mounded ½ cup)
⅓ cup shelled pistachios, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1½ tablespoon lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Coarsely grate ⅓ of the cauliflower and set aside in a bowl. Break the remaining cauliflower into florets, roughly 1¼ inches wide, and add these to a separate bowl with the cauliflower leaves, if you have any, and the onion. Toss everything together with 2 tablespoons of oil and ¼ teaspoon of salt, then spread out on a large parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast for about 20 minutes, until cooked through and golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Once cool, put the roasted vegetables into a large bowl with the 3 tablespoons oil, the grated cauliflower, parsley, mint, tarragon, pomegranate seeds, pistachios, cumin and lemon juice, along with ¼ teaspoon salt. Toss gently, just to combine, then transfer to a platter and serve. Serves 4.
Plum, blackberry and bay friand
A prime example of a simple dessert that looks (and tastes) like you put in much more effort. You can use all variety of fruit in your friand. You can find fresh bay in the fresh herb section at the grocery store — I get mine at Walmart. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
7 ounces blackberries
4 ripe plums, pits removed, cut into ½-inch wedges (2½ cups)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Rounded ¼ cup granulated sugar
3 fresh bay leaves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1⅔ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 cup almond meal
⅛ teaspoon salt
5¼ ounces egg whites (from 4 or 5 large eggs)
¾ cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
Place the blackberries and plums in a bowl with the vanilla, granulated sugar, bay leaves and ½ teaspoon of the cinnamon. Set aside for 30 minutes. Don’t be tempted to leave them sitting around for longer than this, as the fruit will become too juicy.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Mix the flour, confectioners’ sugar, almond meal, the remaining ½ teaspoon of cinnamon and salt in a separate large bowl. Set aside.
Lightly whisk the egg whites by hand for 30 seconds, so they just start to froth. Stir into the flour mixture, along with the melted butter, until combined.
Tip the batter into a 9-by-13-inch parchment-lined baking dish and top evenly with the fruit and juices. Bake for 60 minutes, covering the dish with foil for the final 10 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling. Set aside for 10 minutes before serving. Serves 6 generously.
— Recipes from “Ottolenghi Simple” by Yotam Ottolenghi reprinted with permission from Ten Speed Press.
By Yotam Ottolenghi.
Ten Speed Press. 422 pages. $35.
Who should buy this? Ottolenghi fans who don’t have as much time to cook as they’d like. Fans of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine.