28 May 2011

Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

We have been spending a lot of cookbook time recently with Yotam Ottolenghi. Ottolenghi is an Israeli-born English chef. He has a a series of restaurants in England and this cookbook was all the rage. The cooking is not defined by a particular region though the influences are very Mediterranean and Middle Eastern. There is a lot of emphasis on vegetables and grains. He loves bold, bright flavors and cares about the ingredients. Of a philosophy of food Ottolenghi says:

"We take our food extremely seriously. We make everything – be it marshmallows, an elaborate upside down pear cake or a French bean salad - right from scratch. We don’t buy anything other than raw ingredients, and we only produce things that we would want to eat ourselves. We don’t use colouring or preservatives, we don’t freeze and we don’t refrigerate for long periods. We buy mostly local produce (that is, British and European), very often organic, and we cook to feed and to share, applying the same instincts as a home cook. But we are also perfectionists; testing and re-testing each dish until we get it just right; creating and maintaining beautiful and serene dining environments."

In 2002 he oped Ottolenghi, which was like a small deli and today there are 2 restaurants and three carry-outs. One of our favorites is a sweet potato gratin, so we are always on the lookout for chefs who make our humble favorite in new ways. This is a very interesting twist on our fave. the potatoes are rather thick and the skin is kept on. They are baked in a standing position for about an hour, then the cream is added for another half hour.

Sweet Potato Gratin

6 medium sweet potatoes
2 1/2 cloves garlic
250 ml heavy cream
5 tablespoon fresh sage
2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas mark 6. Wash the sweet potatoes (do not peel them) and cut them into discs 5mm thick.

In a bowl, mix together the sweet potatoes, sage, garlic, salt and pepper. Arrange the slices of sweet potato in a deep, medium sized oven-proof dish by taking tight packs of them and standing them upright, next to each other. They should fit together quite tightly so you get parallel lines of sweet potato slices (skins showing) along the length or width of the dish. Throw any remaining bits of garlic or sage from the bowl over the potatoes.

Cover the dish with foil, place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and pour the cream evenly over the potatoes. Roast, uncovered, for a further 25 minutes. The cream should have thickened by now. Stick a sharp knife in different places in the dish to make sure the potatoes are cooked. They should be totally soft.

This is a great way to solve that problem of getting the potatoes fully cooked. By standing them up, the potatoes have a nice visual look, too.

We liked this cookbook so much, that we could not wait for his next book to arrive...

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