21 March 2010

March's Book of the Month: Made in Italy

Giorgio Locatelli's Made in Italy: Food and Stories is March's book of the month and was chosen by Angie. I asked her what inspires her so much about the book.

"I often ask people; 'if something terrible happened and you had to leave England, where would you most want to be a refugee?' For me the answer has always been Italy. Locatelli sums up the reason in the first paragraph of the book: "la convivialita", the pleasure of sharing a meal with others. When I was growing up, if people came to our home they would never leave without sharing some some food with us, so the Italian way of life is very close to my heart."

The book is presented in the style of the traditional Italian meal (antipasti, zuppa, risotto, pasta, pesce, carne i dolci) and as well as recipes, Locatelli shares with us some excellent information, anecdotes and stories about ingredients, how to treat them, Italian life, history, culture and its varied regions. Interwoven between the courses are delightful personal stories that give the reader a great insight and understanding of how food, love and life are one and the same for Italians.

20 March 2010

Ottolenghi- the visit!

Having explored the cook book I had to extend my research and see if my baking was up to scratch. I decided to head for the Knightsbridge branch, not the biggest, but very easy to get to with a car park close by and some other pretty amazing shops to hand, Rococo and Christian Louboutin, to name but two.

The window was so inviting with the signature puffball meringues piled high on quirky plates and oranges and chillis lining the window sill. Inside the various salads were sitting on their plinths and people were buzzing in and out, stocking up on patisserie, bread and all sorts of tasty treats. After a short wait for space at the small communal table lunch arrived on a vibrant pink plate. The salads did not disappoint full of interesting flavours, colours and textures that balanced beautifully. I chose a lightly spiced rice salad, a fresh and crunchy green bean salad and a soft and sweet butternut squash dish. In the cook book Yotam Ottolenghi explains how important it is to serve salads at room temperature so that the flavours can come into their own (it's chemistry!) and so all the freshly prepared salad dishes are served this way.
I couldn't leave without road testing the puds and can recommend both the cheesecake and the passionfruit meringue tart. The latter was a brilliant combination of mallowy soft meringue peaks balanced on a sharp passionfruit curd in a crisp pastry case.

Lunch got even better when Yotam walked in and I was able to whip out my cook book for him to sign. He was more than happy to chat as I explained about the cookery book club and the dishes I made for the last meeting.

2 March 2010

A feast for all your senses - and your stomach

There is no doubting that we were all bowled over by this month's book, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook. The prose, the photography, the ingredients and the end results are sublime. The book really is a feast for all your senses and Nigel Slater's review on the cover of the book couldn't sum it up any better: 'This is simply wonderful cooking...modern, smart and thoughtful. I love it!'.

The Ottolenghi philosophy is one of food bringing pleasure, that you can keep it simple and still delicious and that food should be fun - to buy, to cook and to eat.

What is surprising about the book is the sheer number of delicious vegetarian recipes - side dishes and main courses. And before all you meat-eaters run for the hills, you should give them a go! The attention to tastes and textures is so well thought out that for one evening, at least, you won't miss the meat.

So, let's cut to the chase! What can we recommend you get in the kitchen and make tonight? Would it be wrong of us to say - everything?!

A shocking big hit was the cucumber and poppy seed salad. Genius! We'll never look at the dull cucumber in the same light again. Who would have thought that a cucumber could be so good?

The chargrilled broccoli with chilli and garlic, a recipe that is synonymous with the restaurant, makes an exciting side dish.

Hands up if the thought of cauliflower conjures up memories of school dinners? Ooo, the smell! May I introduce you to the addictive cauliflower and cumin fritters with lime yoghurt? Eat hot, warm or cold, in a pita with houmous and some salad. Divine!

Oxtail stew with pumpkin and cinnamon. A real winter warmer - and boy did we need it on that cold night in February. A long, slow-cooked dish with hearty flavours, finished with a zing from the gremolata. It's one I'll be cooking again and again.

We served the stew with a mograbiah salad (in the book it accompanies the barbecued quail) but the lemony and herb spiced accompaniment worked really well with the stew. Mograbiah is a large variety of couscous common in the Arab world. It's also known as Giant or Israeli couscous. It's almost pasta-like in consistency, dense and chewy unlike normal couscous which has a more grainy texture.

As if that's not enough to tempt you, I'm going to appeal to your sweet tooth and your pudding stomach. Giant cinnamon and hazelnut meringues. They speak for themselves really. A trip to one of the restaurants or delis in London is well worth it just to see the piles of these in the window!

A quick run-down of our other tried and tested dishes:
  • Caramelised endive with Serrano ham
  • Portobello mushrooms with pearl barley and preserved lemon
  • Roast potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes with lemon and sage
  • Marinated turkey breast with cumin, coriander and white wine - try it also with chicken or lamb
  • Sardines stuffed with bulgar, currants and pistachios

And dishes we didn't get around to making but are at the top of our wish lists:

  • French beans and mangetout with hazelnut and orange
  • Marinated rack of lamb with coriander and honey
  • Turkey and sweetcorn meatballs with pepper sauce
  • Buttered prawns with tomato, olives and Arak
  • Brioche
  • Parmesan and poppy biscuits
  • Plum, marzipan and cinnamon muffins

The new book, Plenty, is out at the end of April. I'm looking forward to adding it to the book club list. If it's anything like Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, it won't be disappointing.



The plum, marzipan and cinnamon muffins have been spotted at the diner. How did they go down with the customers, Angie?

Another update

Recently tried the cherry and walnut bread at a friend's house - went perfectly with the creamy gorgonzola.

Also recommended is the coriander mayonnaise - slap it in a warm chicken sandwich on fresh white bread.