Yotam Ottolenghi: Barley Risotto with marinated feta






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.

Riverford Farm: Spiced Cauliflower

from Riverford Farm: Recipes for Everyday and Sunday, p.

A box of vegetables from Riverford Farm in Devon arrives every week at my home-away-from home in London. In the US, we would call RF a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) company, in other words, a service that delivers organic produce to the homes of subscribers. The smaller scale of the United Kingdom allows Riverford to scale its operations closer to a nationwide enterprise than CSAs can do in the States. At least, people in southwestern, northern and midlands England are within a Riverford Farm’s range (as far as I can tell, only Kent in England is out of luck). The box that arrives with seasonal produce also includes attractively-printed, hole-punched recipes that subscribers can compile over time. After I tried a number of them when I had a chance to cook for myself in London, I knew I wanted their collection of recipes when it came out. The recipes are not particularly fussy, on the homey side, and substantial.

Imagine my pleasure when a copy of the newly published book arrived as a birthday gift not long ago. I dove right into the contents. Numerous dishes jumped right into my line of sight: Cabbage, Bacon, and Potatoes; Sausage Stew with Celeriac and Kale; Roast Saffron Potatoes with Almonds and Bay; Lamb Cooked in Milk and Fennel; Spaghetti with Fresh Tomatoes and Almond Pesto.

One drawback to the book, which is common among cookbook writers who stress seasonal ingredients in their cooking is that Riverford Farm has organized their recipes according to month. Nigel Slater’s wonderful Kitchen Diaries is similarly organized. There is no question that I tend to look through cookbooks in line with the season, but more often the gardener in me wants to thumb a book according to what I have on hand to eat from my garden. After all, seasonal produce here in northern California doesn’t match seasonal produce elsewhere in the U.S. much less in the UK. It seems short-sighted to assume one climate among a cookbook’s readership. But that’s a small cavil.

This recipe for spiced cauliflower was the first recipe I made from the book. Lately, all I desire for dinner is one simple dish and a glass or two of wine. The spices in this recipe gave me an opportunity to use another birthday gift, a brilliantly designed spice grinder that has quickly become an essential tool in my kitchen. The flavor of freshly ground spices surpasses spices already ground when you buy them. I’d never seen a spice mill like this one before a friend gave it to me. It’s made by Kuhn Rikon and available at Sur La Table for about $20. I’ve used it for all sorts of spices. My cooking friends don’t know yet that this Rachet Mill, as it’s called, is in their future. I like supporting companies that offer competition to Williams-Sonoma. Sur La Table may have stores all over the west coast, but I understand it still struggle for survival.

If I had had the energy to make basmati rice to eat with the cauliflower, I would have done so.

Serves 4-6

Shadowcook: HA! Sorry, I can down an entire medium-sized cauliflower. You can, too, no doubt.

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

15g (1/2 oz) unsalted butter

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Shadowcook: If you buy one of the rachet mills I provided a link to above, then use whole seeds and grind right into the butter in the pan.

Pinch of turmeric

1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, crushed

2cm (1/2 sq inch) piece fresh ginger, finely chopped

1 cauliflower, cut into florets

1 teaspoon caster (superfine, baker’s) sugar

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped coriander (cilantro) leaves

Heat the oil and butter in a pan large enough to hold the cauliflower in one layer. Add the spices, onion, garlic, and ginger to the pan. When the mustard seeds start to pop quickly add the cauliflower, stirring vigorously. Add the sugar, season well, cover and reduce the heat. Leave for 10 minutes on a gentle simmer. Cover, and check the cauliflower is tender. Stir again, cover, and remove from the heat and leave to finish cooking for 10 minutes in its own steam.

Shadowcook: Don’t overdo the sugar. And you’ll be surprised at the liquid generated by the ingredients. Just watch to make sure the spices don’t burn.

Saveur’s Homemade Tomato Paste

from Saveur, #110.

In most respects, I’m not squeamish. It’s true I might duck the opportunity to witness the slaughtering of an animal, but I’d be there soon after to watch the butchering. But ever since I read years ago a study of the contents of your typical can of tomato paste, I have reluctantly used it. “Fly larvae” is all I’ll say. Hence, the appeal of this recipe in Saveur a while back. Seemed very straightforward. And so it is.

The Amish Paste plum tomato plants in my garden are performing wonderfully. What a tomato! Where has it been all my life? Forget San Marzano, Roma, and the others. This baby beats them all for meat and flavor.

The one drawback of this recipe is the ratio of tomato to paste. It takes one pound of good, meaty tomatoes to render two tablespoons of paste. If you have a bumper crop of tomatoes, I figure it’s worth it. At the end of the long, slow bake, the paste tastes like candy. It was tempting to stand at the counter and eat it with a spoon, the paste was so sweet and tasty. But I didn’t and you shouldn’t. Do what I did and freeze it in 2-tablespoon amounts.

First of all, you have to make it…

5 pounds ripe plum tomatoes

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

A food mill

1. Heat oven to 300. Roughly chop tomatoes. Heat 1/4 cup of oil in a 12″ skillet over high heat. Add tomatoes and season lightly with salt; bring to a boil. Cook, stirring, until very soft, about 8 minutes.

Shadowcook: If you don’t have a food mill, you’re only choice is to blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds and removing the skins before you chop them. Then you can put them through the food processor in batches after  this step. But it’s good to have a food mill.

2. Pass the tomatoes through the finest plate of a food mill, pushing as much of the pulp through the sieve as possible, leaving the seeds behind.

3. Rub a rimmed 13″ X 18″ baking sheet with 2 tablespoons of olive oil; spread tomato puree evenly over sheet. Bake, using a spatula to turn the purée over on itself occasionally, until most of the water evaporates and the surface darkens, about 3 hours. Reduce heat to 250, cook until thick and brick colored, 20-25 minutes.

Shadowcook: The tomatoes became scorched in spots for reasons that were not clear to me. I recommend keeping an eye on the tomatoes and turning the pan around in the oven once or twice over the 3 hours. Actually, I liked the flavor of the char in the paste at the end. I let it roast for only 2 1/2 hours before turning it down. The paste was very caramelized by that point. The aluminum foil I lined the pan with was not just useless but also a pain in the ass to remove afterward.

4. Store sealed in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one month, or freeze, wrapped well in plastic wrap, for up to 6 months.

Shadowcook: As you can see, I measured out 2 tablespoons on sheets of plastic wrap, folded them into packets and then put them all in one small ziplock plastic bag.