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This is without a doubt the best cookbook I have ever read. I'm afraid this will be rather a long review because I am so passionate about this book I would really like to explain it in the best detail I can. I have made headings so feel free to only read the ones that interest you (for example the first few sections will probably only be of interest to you if you are trying to decide whether or not to buy the book).
Mixing styles of cooking and ingredients from all over the world this is not any one 'type' of cuisine. Ottolenghi is perhaps best known for its infamous pastries and meringues that are so proudly displayed in their windows but the savoury food is just as tasty. There are several Ottolenghi restaurants throughout London and they offer such a spectacular range of INCREDIBLE food that you would never imagine they would divulge their food secrets in a recipe book for all to use but lucky for us they have!
DESIGN AND AESTHETICS
I ADORE cooking but I'm never overly bothered by recipe books as I like to experiment and find that there are so many amazing recipes online that you don't really need to take up precious kitchen space with a bunch of books that (because I'm vegetarian) I will only make a handful of recipes from. So when my partner of 5 years gave me this as my birthday present I was a little surprised and (dare I say it) slightly disappointed! The food on the cover looks great but it just looks like any other cookbook.
Inside however is a different story - the first dozen or so pages are an introduction - to the cooks, the recipes, the restaurant, the philosophy, etc. (More about this below). The design is lovely - first red type on white pages then white on red. Beautiful pictures and well laid out. Nice thick matt paper. Lovely graphic design. The rest of the book is good looking also - tantalizing pictures that take up entire pages and double-spreads. Good sized font, nice aesthetics.
THE BOOK'S INTRODUCTION
The introduction is VERY long! At first I thought it was excessive and didn't think I would bother reading it, however once you have tried a few Ottolenghi recipes you find your passion for food and GOOD cooking fired up and I personally yearned for more background. I wanted to know HOW they came up with such incredible taste combinations and sure-fire recipes. The introduction has a one page PRE-introduction I suppose. I guess they realize that most people won't want to read an introduction that long and so they do a shorter one with large print right on the first page. Their description of how Ottolenghi began really fires you up as their excitement and passion for good and creative food is really contagious! The rest of the introduction is very long and outlines their food impulse and philosophy, the history of the Ottolenghi restaurants and the cookbook, backgrounds on the two cooks and then (my favourite bit) a run down of all their favourite ingrediants. They write:
"We are not the tye of systematically thorough chefs who are incredibly well versed in all kinds of exotic ingredients (you could easily embarrass us by naming some French cheese that we haven't got a clue about). Rather, we tend to have some star ingredients that feature over and over again, components which we love and feel at home with. These are the basic building blocks of our recipes"
Luckily many of these ingredients are mine also! They have a long list and describe each product, why they like it, what they do with it, etc. This gives you the information and confidence to do like them and experiment using these 'basic building blocks'
Now for the proper stuff....
The recipes are divided up into 'Vegetables, pulses & grains', 'Meat & Fish', 'Baking & Patisserie' and 'Larder'
There are about 50 recipes for Vegetables, pulses and grains, maybe 25 for meat & fish and possibly 60 or so for baking and patisserie (which is what Ottolenghi are best known for). The larder section has about a dozen recipes for basics such as different kinds of pastry and preserves like jam, curd and mayonnaise.
Each recipe has an introduction which describes how they developed it, what it goes well with, variations you can try, tips, etc. There are many sweet and funny anecdotes throughout and the personalities of the chefs shine through.
The ingredients are clearly listed down the side and the steps are broken down and numbered making it easy to follow. Most of the dishes also have a picture so you can get an idea of what it should look like (helps when thinking about how large to chop ingredients, etc).
Being a vegetarian I mainly use recipes from the vegetables, pulses and grains section and baking & patisserie but I have cooked some meat dishes for family and friends too.
Some examples to whet your appetite are:
Ottolenghi's famous meringues and macaroons
Marinated turkey breasts in cumin, coriander and white wine
Kosheri - a delicious Egyption rice, lentil and noodle dish
An amazing new spin on carrot and peas
Aubergine-wrapped ricotta gnocchi with sage butter
Parmesan & Poppy biscuits
Many of them may sound quite basic or boring but Ottoleghi balances the flavors in such an accomplished manner that they bring new life to old ingredients and dishes.
There is honestly not a single thing I have cooked from this recipe book that I haven't had people absolutely RAVE about when I served it to them!
I recently made the cucumber & poppy seed salad, chargrilled brocolli & olive oil crackers for a large buffet and I couldn't believe the reaction! One woman took it upon herself to approach everyone she knew there and MANY strangers to tell them how incredible they were and to try and serve them to people. I had so many guests approach me to ask if I was the one who had made the dishes and to actually 'congratulate' me! See, probably none of those three dishes would get you very excited when you see them written down or if you were to imagine them sitting on a buffet but when they are cooked Ottolenghi style they are completely transformed!
Ottolenghi are famous for their macaroons. I'd never made them before but last week we had a large number of eggs so I decided to give them a try. I made three different kinds (chocolate, salty peanut caramel and lemon & basil). Again, I was FLOORED by the reactions! People kept telling me I had to open my own shop and that they were the best sweets they'd ever had.
I am no fantastic cook at all but these recipes have convinced my family and friends that I am!
The recipes are so advanced that you (and your family or dinner guests) will feel like you are really treating yourself to a special meal. I quite often eat in a really nice restaurant and find myself thinking that it is nowhere near as good as something whipped up from this book. Some of the recipes in this book are so special that they actually make really good gifts - I often make some pastries or crackers from the book and take them as gifts when visiting somebody.
The chefs talk you through how they discovered or developed these recipes with you which provides you with the information you need to be able to develop new and exciting recipes yourself. Your confidence in cooking will definitely grow from using this book and from reading through the various recipes and information sections.
Because there are so many new takes on quite standard dishes (roast chicken, greens, etc) you may actually find yourself enjoying foods you thought you were sick of or just plain didn't like. Its a great way for introducing greens into a childs diet.
If you are looking for a recipe book to pop on your shelf next to the Jamie Olivers that you can pick up and choose something from an hour before you want to serve dinner this is perhaps not the best choice for a few reasons:
Price - I personally tend to buy quite cheap cookery books or get the more popular ones (Jamie Oliver, GoodFood, Delia, etc) at car boot sales or second hand bookshops. This book is considerably more expensive than most at £25 and is not as large as you might expect for the price. Several of the recipes also call for quite expensive ingredients. Sometimes they offer you a cheaper alternative but to really make the recipe as well as they do it takes good ingredients.
Hard to find ingredients - if you live in London, no problem. You'll have to make the effort to seek out a Middle Eastern shop or a well-stocked health food shop but the odds are there'll be one not too far away. However, if you're out in the sticks like me and are limited to supermarkets and small green grocers you might have to compromise on some of the ingredients.
Difficulty - the trick to getting the recipes right is to follow the precise instructions exactly. Sometimes this is a little tricky or tedious. For example, when preparing the chargrilled broccoli you are told to boil the broc for no more or less than 2 minutes. I have done it for as little as 30 seconds more before and noticed a distinct difference! It also tells you to make sure you completely dry the broccoli before the next step. This can be a little tricky or just take a lot of waiting but if you don't do it the whole rest of the recipe will not work! What makes the dishes so amazing is the balance of flavours so there is often a lot behind the dish. For example a simple radish and broad bean salad you might assume to have only a handful of ingredients but this recipe calls for about 20!
Time - Once you get to know the recipes you find the time it takes to make some of them reduces dramatically but because the instructions are so detailed it often takes quite a while to cook even the simplest of dishes in the cookbook because you have to THINK while you're cooking and be paying attention to the recipe. Also, none of the recipes tell you exactly how long it will take to make.
Ottolenghi doesn't just teach you great new recipes but a completely different way of cooking and gives you the information and confidence to build from their expertise and experience and experiment on your own. I would describe this as a cookery book rather than a recipe book - it teaches you how to COOK rather than just listing recipes for you to reproduce.
I said at the beginning of this review that I was a little disappointed to receive this as a gift from someone close to me but I can honestly say it is perhaps the best present I've ever received. The book has completely changed the way I cook, re-ignited my passion for good food and cooking and is used on a weekly (and often daily) basis. I've found myself enjoying cooking from the book so much that I am always looking for new opportunities to use it, looking for excuses to cook for people or make pastries for them as a gift!
I can only hope that one day they will be bringing out another book (though if it comes to that I may never leave the kitchen!) but in the meantime they also put new recipes up on their website.
Without a doubt the best cookery book money can buy!
This is a great book based on the recipes you see in the window of their wonderfully enticing restaurant in Islington.
Ottolenghi the cookbook is a really well designed book with stunning photography, I bought the book for a specific reason which I will come to later, but I have been suprised by the quality of the food i've created from the recipes.
With 304 pages the book is thinner than many others and there is a 20 page pre cursor introducing the restaurants concept and the chefs themselves.
This is followed by a section for starters, a section for salads which are an Ottolenghi speciality, then main courses, breads and desserts.
The photography throughout is exceptional the meals look excellent, the food has a certain eastern flavour using lots of beetroot, haloumi and fine eastern ingredients, the amount of vegetables used make me feel healthy cooking them. Garlic and lemon are essentials in the meals and really show off the eastern mediteranean taste of the restaurant.
For me the reason I bought it is because I find the fresh bread and enormous rose water meringues stunning, I have loved making these and understand the concept much better now. The recipes are easy to follow and do require quite a few ingredients but once you buy them once you have them for future meals.
Overall I would say this is a really nice cookbook, it does add something extra to the mix and the photographs are stunning, I really enjoy the book and think I will get a lot more out of this in the future.
The book is available for £16 on Amazon and £14.98 through Marketplace.