Elizabeth David and Yotham Ottolenghi. Opposite ends of a scale.
Ms David is about simplicity, using the flavours of the key ingredient to make a dish shine. Mr Ottolenghi is always asking how can I pack more flavours and textures into this dish? Rather than accentuate the flavours of the key ingredient as David does, he takes them as a base and layers herbaceousness and spiciness, sauciness and sourness, crunchiness and creamy and nuttiness on top of that base. Both styles are glorious, but there are no overlapping portions in the Venn diagrams of David and Ottolenghi.
While simple is the best description of David’s dishes, Ottolenghi’s food ranges from moderately complex to highly complex – not in terms of technique but due to the number of processes, ingredients, dishes used and time taken. Less complex dishes exist, but home cooks remember the difficult recipes, even above the flavours of the dishes.
I have been more circumspect than general opinion – perhaps I had chosen the dishes that ranged from slightly complex to moderately complex and had not yet been tainted with the too complex refrain. Until. This project came to the previous chapter of Plenty More titled Simmered. I nearly buckled under the weight of the complexity of that chapter, and I dreamed of cooking through one of Elizabeth David’s books.
But, when it all seems dark, persistence will reap rewards. There must be a pocketful of sayings with the same message. “It is always darkest before dawn.” “Energy and Persistence conquer.” “Let me tell you the secret that has led to my success – my strength lies solely in my tenacity.” The determination to finish that chapter was rewarded with the next one, Braised, where dishes are simpler, free-er, lighter, and, in my humble opinion, more delicious.
The key message of this delightful chapter is, again, balance, and the magic that comes from a dish where it is balanced overall, rather than having every element on the plate individually balanced. It is really a special magic that comes when the attention is on the plate as a totality.
Because of this, the observation that it is difficult to pair Ottolenghi dishes with others is reinforced in this chapter – serving one of these recipes together with other dishes would deflate that magic. Most of his dishes are meant to be eaten alone, at least as a complete course, and often as a meal on its own.
And again we were reminded that just when you don’t think a recipe is going to work – the combination of ingredients will never work – they do, somehow, and the result is fantastic! This is the genius of Yotham Ottolenghi.
There are some standout dishes in this chapter. The Stewed Lettuce with Parmesan Rice, the Buckwheat Polenta, the walnuts with the lentils and radicchio. The so called Indian Ratatouille, I have a problem with that name, but it’s magnificent. So is the Iranian Vegetable Stew.
Some of our write-ups on the recipes have not been published yet. The links will be added when they are published.
lentils, beans and grains
Iranian Vegetable Stew with Dried Lime
this is a living post and will be updated as more of the recipes are published. most of ottolenghi recipes are online, if you are looking for them. yotham’s column in the guardian is a good place to start.