PSA about Yotam Ottolenghi — November 15, 2015

PSA about Yotam Ottolenghi

My partner and I are obsessed with Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks. We have nearly all of them: Jerusalem, Plenty, Plenty More, and now NOPI. They’re all astonishing. The two Plenties are particularly great for vegetarians: they’re 100% vegetarian-friendly, and they’re all what you might call modern vegetarian. Up until at least 1990, and probably more recently (pre-modern), the “vegetarian option” in a restaurant or at a wedding was something really boring like roasted vegetables or pasta with something boring on it. There’s a virtuous circle here: the more interesting vegetarian options are available, the more appealing it is to be a vegetarian (or at least, the less appalling it is to skip meat at a meal), which in turn leads to more people eating vegetarian food, which leads to a greater market for vegetarian cookbooks and vegetarian meals in restaurants, which leads to restaurants and authors producing more desirable options for vegetarians. Ottolenghi is at the head of this generation of vegetarian-friendly restaurateurs and authors.

NOPI is a bit of a different cookbook: he starts with recipes that he makes in the book’s namesake London restaurant, and adapts them for the home kitchen, rather than starting with the home cook in mind. (Ottolenghi gets into this in a recent interview on the Bon Appétit podcast.) I would like to single out one such recipe from his restaurant, which seemingly isn’t on the Internet yet: the savory cheesecake made with queso de Valdeón. It is spectacular; you can find the recipe if you use Amazon’s Search-Inside-the-Book feature, and look for the word ‘Valdeon’ (the search feature is smart enough that you can leave off the accent and it’ll know what you mean). The only reason I didn’t eat the whole thing within 24 hours was that I have a modicum (and only just) of restraint.

The cookbook says that the recipe isn’t easy, but I thought it was. Just run some digestive biscuits, some Parmesan, and some toasted pumpkin seeds through a food processor, press them down into a spring-form pan like you would for an ordinary sweet cheesecake; then caramelize some leeks, add a few kinds of cheese (again, same as for a sweet cheesecake), blend the cheese-and-leeks together with a mixer, pour into the spring-form pan, and bake until it’s set. There’s a step in the recipe where you pickle some beets and let them sit in the fridge for at least 24 hours, but that’s time-consuming rather than hard. It’s also not strictly necessary; when I brought the cheesecake to work for lunch, I didn’t bother carrying the beets with me, and it tasted extraordinary even without them. Oh, and I didn’t make the cheesecakes in individual ramekins, because I don’t own any; I followed the instructions for a single large cheesecake. Maybe the recipe would work in a jumbo muffin pan, which I do have. But if you have a spring-form pan, in any case, you’re set.

The NOPI book fills a certain fancy niche. It doesn’t have much for everyday vegetarian meals, but it does have sections for cocktails, desserts, and brunches, all of which look delicious. The few vegetarian dinners that it does have are well-curated.

If you’re just getting started with Ottolenghi, I’d recommend trying Plenty and Plenty More first. They’re indispensable.