Monday, September 28, 2015

Cooking with Ottolenghi

Here's an unfortunate but much too common scenario: I can't think of what to make for dinner. There's no particular "experiment" I want to do, no particular new dish or ingredient I want to try out. I'm in a rut.

So I go online and search for something, inevitably finding some delicious idea or recipe along the way. But I did it once again: I neglected my cookbooks.

In the Internet age, it's so easy to overlook this great resource. Every once in awhile, I find I need to remind myself to crack a few open, look at the pictures, read the recipes. I'm rarely disappointed in what I find.

It was a recent Saturday morning that I cracked open Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, the 2013 publication by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, the London-based chefs and restauranteurs that have together authored this cookbook and its best-selling predecessor, Jerusalem.

It's a wonderful cookbook wish dishes of varying complexity, beautiful photographs and loads of flavor. I settled on two dishes that I figured I could execute for dinner over a couple of hours: 1) fennel, cherry tomato, and crumble gratin and 2) beef and lamb meatballs baked in tahini.

Both of these recipes were delicious, but we were really blown away by the gratin. Although I recreated the meatballs faithful to Ottolenghi and Tamimi's recipe, I added an extra player to the gratin: fresh sweet corn. It was a welcome player indeed! In fact, I think this recipe could be switched up to accommodate different vegetable combinations, depending on the season. I bet it would be delicious with butternut squash and onion in the winter, for example.

Beef and Lamb Meatballs Baked in Tahini
Adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Tahini sauce:
2/3 cup tahini
2/3 cup water
4 1/2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
Pinch of salt

1 1/4 oz. white bread, crust removed
10-12 oz. ground beef
10-12 oz. ground lamb
3 garlic cloves, minced
2/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tsp. salt (reduced from the original 1 tsp. in the recipe)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 egg, slightly beaten

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Grated lemon zest from 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Make the tahini sauce: Combine tahini, water, vinegar, garlic and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. The mixture should thicken slightly. Set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 400 F.

3. Soak the bread in water, then squeeze out the water and crumble the bread (it will be mushy) into a large bowl. Add the beef, lamb, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, allspice, cinnamon and egg. Using your hands, mix the ingredients until completely combined. Shape the mixture into golf-ball-size meatballs.

4. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add half the meatballs and cook for about 2-3 minutes, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides. Remove meatballs from pan and place on a paper-towel-lined plate. Repeat with the remaining meatballs.

5. Transfer browned meatballs to a 9 X 13 baking dish, arranged in a single layer. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven, pour the tahini sauce over and around the meatballs and return to the oven to bake for another 10-12 minutes until the meatballs are cooked through (I checked them with a thermometer to be sure they were 160 F degrees). Garnish with the lemon zest and additional parsley and serve.

Fennel, Corn and Cherry Tomato Gratin
Adapted from Fennel, Cherry Tomato and Crumble Gratin from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
3 1/2 oz. grated parmigiano-regginao cheese

2 1/4 lb. (about 1 large or 2 small) fennel bulbs, cut into pieces about of 1/2 to 1 inch
Kernels from 1 ear of corn (about 1 cup)
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 tbsp. sea salt (reduced from the recipe's 1 tbsp.)
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 cup heavy cream
10 1/2 oz. (about 1 1/2 cups) cherry tomatoes (I used sungold tomatoes)
1 tsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Preheat oven to 400 F.

2. Make the crumble: combine the flour, sugar and butter in a medium bowl and mix together with your hands until the mixture has a uniform crumb texture (don't overmix or it will become dough-like). Stir in the grated parmesan cheese.

3. Assemble the gratin: in a large bowl, combine the fennel, corn, olive oil, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Transfer mixture to a 9 X 13 baking dish. Pour the cream evenly over the mixture, then spread the crumble evenly over the top. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes.

4. Remove the dish from the oven and remove the aluminum foil. Scatter the cherry tomatoes over the top of the gratin. Return the dish to the oven and bake another 15 minutes until the fennel is soft, the top of the gratin is lightly golden and the tomatoes have shriveled a bit.

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