from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, Jerusalem, p. 109.

I dreaded looking at the date of my last post. July, 2012. And now I see that the last recipe I posted was also a one by Ottolenghi. I suppose he’s been a lot on my mind.

I have to confess that I went a while without cooking much. Now that the weather has cooled and I’m often writing at my table, it’s nice to have a task to turn away to when I need perspective. Happily, Ottolenghi’s terrific new cookbook has given me lots of opportunities to step away.

Of the three cookbooks he has produced this one is the best, in my opinion. From the standpoint of shelf appeal, it has far more recipes that look interesting than ones that don’t. And now that I’ve tried eight of them, I can vouch for more of them than I could in his other books. Some of the recipes in his previous books erupted like brain farts. But when they worked, they were the creative outbursts of a genius mind. This time, Ottolenghi got his cookbook mojo together.

To give you an idea of how appealing the book is, here are the recipes I’ve made — then I’ll describe making the risotto.

  • Roasted butternut squash & red onion with tahini & za’atar
  • Roasted cauliflower & hazelnut salad [with celery and pomegranate seeds, flavored with cinnamon and allspice]
  • Shakshuka [a tomato-red pepper sauce with the flavors of cumin and an egg poached in it at the last minute]
  • Swiss chard with tahini, yogurt & buttered pine nuts
  • Wheat berries & swiss chard with pomegranate molasses
  • Chicken with caramelized onion & cardamom rice
  • Lamb meatballs with barberries, shallots, yogurt & herbs
  • Saffron chicken & herb salad (which doesn’t begin to do justice to this salad made sliced fennel, cilantro, mint, basil, with an orange-honey-saffron vinaigrette reduction)

The only recipe that failed to meet my expectations was the one with wheat berries. It took forever for them to soften — and I made sure to buy the ones described as soft. A friend of mine had no better luck when she tried the recipe. Otherwise, I enjoyed the others. Ottolenghi is unusual in his ability to consistently and successfully surprise home cooks. Sometimes the surprise comes in the combination of flavors. At other moments it’s the addition of one seemingly banal element that transforms the dish. Sauteing pine nuts in butter is an example of the latter kind of surprise. Buttered pine nuts is his main party trick in this volume. Try it. The following risotto falls into the category of Surprise Caused by Combination of Flavors: feta, caraway, and smoked paprika.

To sum up, Jerusalem is well worth a pilgrimage to your nearest independent bookseller. I haven’t cooked so much from one book since… when? Ruth Reichl’s Gourmet Cookbook? Naomi Duguid’s Beyond the Great Wall? Anything by Marcella Hazan? A cookbook writer for the ages.

So, to begin…

1 cup / 200g pearl barley

2 Tb / 30g unsalted butter

6 Tb / 90ml olive oil

2 small celery stalks, cut into 1/4-inch dice

2 small shallots, cut into 1/4-inch dice

4 garlic cloves, cut into 1/16-inch / 2mm dice

Shadowcook: Really, Yotam? It wouldn’t have been sufficient to say “finely diced”?

4 thyme sprigs

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

Shadowcook: I used pimetón. It added a lovely aftertaste of smoke — until, that is, the caraway kicked in.

1 bay leaf

4 strips lemon peel

1/4 tsp chile flakes

Shadowcook: I experimented with Aleppo pepper, but now I think red pepper flakes would have given it a firmer boost.

one 14-oz / 400g can chopped tomatoes

scant 3 cups / 700ml vegetable stock

Shadowcook: I used chicken broth.

1 1/4 cups / 300ml passata (sieved crushed tomatoes)

Shadowcook: Seemed unnecessary, so I left it out and I’m glad I did. The ratio of liquid to grain worked quite well without it.

1 Tb caraway seeds

Shadowcook: Too much. I would cut this amount in half next time. The caraway overwhelms the paprika, lemon peel, and chile flakes.

10 1/2 oz / 300g feta cheese, broken into roughly 3/4-inch / 2cm pieces

1 Tb fresh oregano leaves

Rinse the pearl barley well under cold water and leave to drain.

Melt the butter and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a very large frying pan and cook the celery, shallots, and garlic over gentle heat for 5 minutes, until soft. Add the barley, thyme, paprika, bay leaf, lemon peel, chile flakes, tomatoes, stock, passata, and salt. Stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a very gentle simmer and cook for 45 minutes, stirring frequently to make sure the risotto does not catch on the bottom of the pan. When ready, the barley should be tender and most of the liquid absorbed.

Meanwhile, toast the caraway seeds in a dry pan for a couple of minutes. Then lightly crush them so that some whole seeds remain. Add them to the feta with the remaining 4 tablespoons / 60ml olive oil and gently mix to combine.

Once the risotto is ready, check the seasoning and then divide it among four shallow bowls. Top each with marinated feta, including the oil, and a sprinkling of oregano leaves.

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