Ten days ago, this book came to my attention and after a surprisingly brief interval, I had it in my hands. I had never heard of the Ottolenghi mini-empire in London, probably because I last went there in March 2007, and hardly had any time to take a full foodie tour of the city. Also, I guess I'm not very trendy, so I was kept in the dark as to the existence of their three cafés-restaurants-delis.
Anyhow, behind the Italian name Ottolenghi hide, not only Yottam Ottolenghi himself, but also his partner and co-chef Sami Tamimi. Both come from Jerusalem, one an Israeli boy of mixed European descent, the other a Palestinian, and their food obsession has led them both to London. The food is rich in colours and flavours, the savoury recipes ripe with lemons, fresh herbs and tons of garlic. The book has a huge array of recipes for vegetables, making even much-hated veg like cauliflower appetizing. It also gives many ideas for pulses and grains, so all in all it's a good investment for vegetarians and others looking for new ideas to use up those veg box leftovers. But that's not all, folks, baking is another strong point of the book, as apparently it is in their delis. Breads, focaccie, cakes, brownies, biscuits, many many goodies for the keen home baker to reproduce. Nothing very fancy (no three-layer cakes with complicated icings) but everything totally mouthwatering.
I chose to start with the radish and broad bean salad and the roast chicken with za'atar and sumac, but given that I had only one lemon and no fresh coriander or parsley, I had to cheat a little. Nevertheless this was a fantastic dinner with distinctly Middle-Eastern flavours.
The salad was good and pretty, with the wedges of radishes and the green gems of broad bean halves, the cumin and the saltiness of preserved lemons.
The chicken was absolutely delicious, with the tang of the roast lemon, the sweetness of the onions and the za'atar, which is a tangy/herby/sesamey combo of its own. I omitted the stipulated allspice and cinnamon as they didn't appeal much to me. My za'atar already contains sumac so I used only that, and not too little of it ( necessary if you want to taste it in the finished dish). I also left out the pine nuts at the end because I was too exhausted for them.
Roast chicken with sumac, za'atar and lemon (adapted from Ottolenghi The Cookbook)
1 free-range chicken, cut into four
2 red onions, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tbsps olive oil
1 1/2 tsp allspice (pimento)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp sumac
1 lemon, thinly sliced
200ml chicken stock or water
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp za'atar
20 g butter
50g pine nuts
4 tbsps flat-leaf parsley, chopped
In a large bowl, marinate the chicken with the onions, lemon, garlic, oil, spices (bar the za'atar- but since I used only that I put it in and added extra before roasting), stock, S&P. Leave in the fridge to marinate overnight or a few hours.
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Transfer the chicken and its marinade to an oven tray, skin side up. Sprinkle with za'atar and roast for 30-40 mins.
Meanwhile melt the butter in a frying pan and brown the pine nuts.
Serve chicken with the nuts, parsley, a drizzle of oil and more sumac/za'atar if you wish.
More recipes I can't wait to try :
Puy lentils with sour cherries, bacon and gorgonzola
French beans and mangetout with hazelnut and orange
Asparagus and samphire
Grilled aubergine and lemon soup
Roast chicken with saffron, hazelnuts and honey
Sticky chocolate loaf
If you want to find out more about the author, read his weekly column in the Guardian.