On October 21 I saw Bruce Springsteen….. (Because the Night video from that show)
..and also attended The Cookbook Store’s event featuring Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi who were introducing their latest book, Jerusalem. The recipes all come from their shard home city, where they were born in the same year, Sami on the Arab east side and Yotam in the Jewish west.
I honestly don’t know which I was more excited about. (I did not wear plaid to the cookbook event but I did wear plaid to the concert. No bandana, I swear.)
If you read Cheese and Toast occasionally you may know that I am obsessed with their vegetarian cookbook Plenty. Why? Because the recipes look amazing, taste amazing and they always work. Really. I do have a bit of a track record of experimenting with new dishes for dinners I’m hosting. Like clockwork, 45 minutes before guests arrive, unwashed hair and pajama pants on, I’m panicking in the kitchen with dramatic wails of “just call Pizza Pizza, it’s going to be a disaster!”
But to be honest, that was years ago before I figured out the folly of my ways. So much better to make a simple roast chicken and caesar salad, be mellow and enjoy a glass of wine rather than clutching the Chianti bottle, face pressed against oven door hoping the souffle will rise. This does not tend to set a relaxed tone for guests.
All of this to say, that I would make any recipe from the Ottolenghi series of cookbooks for the first time even for The Boss himself. They’re foolproof in my experience.
For this reason, I was really interested to hear Yotam and Sami talk about their testing and recipe writing process surrounding their third book, Jerusalem.
Did I mention they were warm and charming? Utterly even. I do not think anyone there would have disagreed.
ON TESTING RECIPES:
Sami and Yotam explained that their goal when writing the recipes was to “not think like chefs”. They put a lot of effort into testing and their testers were home cooks. The Jerusalem cookbook uses quite a few ingredients that might be tricky to find in a pinch (But as they joked, “once you Ottolenghize your cupboard, you’re OK”) so they list substitutions 90 percent of the time for more difficult to find items. And though they obviously take great care with combining ingredients and flavours it was a bit of a relief to hear “if you miss one ingredient, you’re OK”.
(this was an interesting contrast to the Thomas Keller event (for the Bouchon Bakery cookbook) where though all the recipes are carefully tested til perfect, Chef Keller said he doesn’t really aim for the “home cook” because he can’t define the term. He knows home cooks that can barely boil water and some that are as good as himself…and then I am sure he winked right at ME in the 18th row. Oh stop.)
They’re definitely not shy on flavour, referring to themselves as strong and gutsy with the belief that the food should taste as vibrant as it looks.
Sami confessed to eating store-bought tortelleni with Parmesan and pepper when lazy (what a relief!), Yotam said his most comforting food was lentils and rice with some yogurt and caramelized onion.
HOW THEY CHOSE THE RECIPES
They both agreed that though they tested and made many more recipes that were included in the final version of Jerusalem, they only put in anything they truly, truly loved and dropped anything else. They also talked about the photo shoot for the book (as you can see from the soup pic the photos are stunning) explaining that they did not use a food stylist, preferring to have the food presented “as it fell on the plate” without too much intervention. So they actually shot about 8-10 photos a day (which is apparently unheard of).
WHERE TO GET INGREDIENTS
In Toronto helpful audience members recommended Spice Trader (877 Queen Street West) and Arz Fine Foods (1909 Lawrence Avenue East). Both are worth a trip whether you need anything or not, so it will be a fun and delicious mission.
You can also order online at the Ottolenghi website to buy ingredients such as Palestinian za’atar.
If you want to try a couple of recipes before purchasing this book, I’ve blogged about a few from PLENTY such as the vibrant Sweet Winter Slaw, Socca with Roasted tomato and onion and the Celeriac and Lentil Salad with Hazelnuts and Mint.
Or just get the damn books. Best excuse to visit The Cookbook Store three times in a row.