Obsession is one of the character traits of perfectionism. I define it as a focus on an activity or item to the exclusion of all other contextual factors. Perfectionists at work, for example, might pursue a particular goal oblivious to the cost or benefits of that goal. Obsession might be fixed on quality to such an extent that it becomes the person’s own definition of what quality is, and it is one that is not aligned with the organisation’s strategy or requirements. While perfectionists think they are the eagle in the midst of turkeys, the cost of that might outweigh the benefits that they bring. It is tricky.
I have been thinking about obsession in this project of cooking through Plenty More from front to back. My own obsession in getting this project completed, but also Ottolenghi’s seeming obsession with packing flavour punch into recipes. Partly it is because I have had difficulty defining the philosophy behind this book. Who is it for? Other chefs? Unlikely, it is not chefy enough. Average home cooks? I doubt it, because the ingredients often require some searching and an extensive pantry. They are also often time consuming with many processes – not the sort of dishes that time-poor working parents can possibly make at the end of a long day. Home cooks who like to think they are chefy? Perhaps, but there is not enough variation in the book to satisfy this group.
Amongst the other options is the thought that perhaps Ottolenghi has written this book for Ottolenghi. A collection of recipes that attest to an obsession with flavour that takes the dishes towards perfection in that department, without consideration of the cost in time and money. A treatise in informal platings that are stunningly beautiful – colourful and with physical layers as well as flavour layers, but without the consideration of getting a complete meal on the table for 3 hungry kids and a tired partner.
And is this a problem? Certainly not, it seems, if the popularity of Ottolenghi’s books is anything to go by. And how do I think, now that I am about 2/3 through this project? Parts of the project have been utter joy, learning how he puts his flavours together, how he layers, how he plates. Parts have been tedious and I have procrastinated, sometimes for a week or two, over a recipe that seems far too complex for what it needs to be. The true question is, of course – how many of the techniques and special elements will I bring into my own cooking? How many of these dishes will I cook again? The answer to both is – not many. My concern at the end of the day is how can I put a visually pleasant, very healthy, satisfying meal in front of the family, and that does not extend to which sauce can I put on the baked potatoes, and shall I make a herb oil to drizzle over them too? While there might be regret that in today’s world that we don’t really have the choice to have home cooking for our family as our full time occupation, the reality is that most of us combine a life of paid work, volunteer work, hobbies, friends and home life (pets, gardens, kids, housework, maintenance and repairs, and cooking). I certainly do. And that means that I can’t spend 3 – 4 hours a day, every day in the kitchen, as much as I would love to.
The Roasted chapter is one that is lighter on time and complexity than some others, and the last of the two or three simpler chapters in this book before the recipes become more complex once more. The recipes are mostly ones that are primarily cooked in the oven, perhaps while a sauce is whizzed in the blender. While still not perfect for the average home cook, they are easier than many of the other chapters. For this chapter, I ordered some black garlic online (horribly expensive), cooked rhubarb for the first time in decades, and bought bunches of multi coloured carrots from the Markets (over-priced). It really is a beautiful chapter.
Highlights include – all of them, except perhaps Sweet Potatoes with Orange Bitters. While some of my friends have raved about this dish, I made it twice, but can’t find the magic in it that they did. It is a good recipe, sticky and dark with the molasses, but it did not receive the high accolades that the other dishes did.
book to read
Some of our write-ups on the recipes have not been published yet. The links will be added when they are published.
Beetroot and Rhubarb Salad
Roasted Butternut with Spices and Nigella Seeds
Red Onions with Walnut Salsa
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.