is a big, beautiful book of simple vegetarian recipes by Jerusalem born London chef Yotam Ottolenghi. I couldn't help taking home a copy the last time I was at Dwelling
, my favorite little home store in downtown Jackson. The photos were simply inspirational, begging me to run home and turn my farmers market produce into Ottolenghi's eclectic Middle Eastern and Mediterranean-inspired creations.
The next time I cook from Plenty, I am definitely making the Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce on the cover.
At first glance, the recipes appeared innovative, healthy, and very doable. Why had I never thought of pairing saffron with cauliflower, roasted eggplant with pomegranate seeds, sweet potatoes with lemongrass? Yotam's Israeli background brings a whole new spin to vegetarian food.
It would take me a year to cook through all the great recipes in Plenty; the Cookbook Club was able to create an impressive spread in one night.
With so many seductive recipes and so little time, Plenty was the perfect first book for the Cookbook Club to tackle. The Cookbook Club is a group of home cooks with a passion for cookbooks. Our meetings are a potluck with a purpose, a food-centered book club, and a chance to cook together. We each chose a recipe or two from the book, and prepared a vegetarian feast. Many of these dishes would gorgeously adorn your holiday table, just in case you are starting to think about those things.
Frying cubes of eggplant in grapeseed oil lends a certain lusciousness to the Eggplant Sauce.
Ottolenghi's recipes are all about using the very best quality ingredients in season. Before choosing my dish from Plenty, I checked out the goods at the very last Jackson Hole Farmers Market (see last post
). Determined to get one last summer corn dish in before the snow flies, I found the last of the sweet corn and a few pristine eggplants--deeply purple, unblemished and firm. Ottolenghi makes sweet corn polenta by boiling corn kernels in water, then whizzing them in a food processor. The pureed corn is placed back into the cooking water and simmered stovetop like, well, polenta. Adding good quality feta at the end makes the dish.
The accompanying eggplant sauce is made by frying cubes of eggplant, then folding them into chopped tomatoes, white wine, and fresh oregano.
After the corn was cut from the cob, the polenta was incredibly easy to put together. The sauce can be made ahead of time, and actually improves with age. Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant Sauce
is the dish I'll dream about in the middle of January.
I will make this Eggplant Sauce again and again, even though I don't really like to fry.
Don't try this with less-than-perfect corn cut fresh from the cob.
Amy's Herb-Stuffed Tomatoes were a hit: Beautifully presented, and stuffed with the surprising combination of black olives, mint, capers and garlic, lots of garlic, with a bit of a Panko crunch. We deemed these the perfect lunch to have with a crisp green salad, or to serve alongside a Sunday roast. Me, I'd eat these for breakfast with a poached egg.
Amy has a reputation for making fine Indian food.
The Caramelized Garlic Tart was the recipe I was most wanting to try. It's ambitious, but Sarah was definitely up to the task. Instead of making one big tart, she made us individual ones. Doesn't everyone secretly want their own little creamy, custardy garlic tart? I know I do. These were a big hit with the Cookbook Club, and a recipe I will definitely want to make again. I'll save it for a day when I want to spoil some special people with a this creamy, goat-cheese and créme frâiche stuffed tart.
Sarah put her own spin on Plenty's recipe, making individual garlic tarts instead of one big one.
Thankfully, Julie had the good judgement to tackle one of Ottolenghi's luscious soups. This Moroccan and Italian-inspired Tomato, Semolina and Cilantro Soup was the epitome of comfort food, spiced up with cumin, coriander, and sweet paprika, and made hearty with semolina. Topped with a cap of Greek yogurt spiked with lemon juice, it was beautiful to place on the table. The spices were spot-on, making this not just another tomato soup. Another recipe for the permanent files, and a good one to make in the depths of the winter with good canned tomatoes.
This tomato soup comes together in less than an hour, but tastes like Julie simmered it all day.
Nanette found her Pear Crostini recipe in the dessert chapter of Plenty, entitled Fruit with Cheese. One look at Nanette's crusty toasts with goat cheese and sliced red pears, and we immediately decided to have dessert first; this dish makes a beautiful appetizer. Ottolenghi uses goat cheese and chervil to top the crostini, but we think you could use any pear-friendly cheese--gorgonzola dulce, taleggio, fontina--and still come out with a winner. Beautiful presentation, Nanette!
Ottolenghi's Pear Crostini entails quickly cooking sliced pear on a ridged griddle pan over high heat.
I love how Jessica uses the bottom of a pumpkin to hold her sour cream dip.
Jessica's Crusted Pumpkin Wedges with Sour Cream was expertly executed, but we all agreed the recipe lack pizzazz. Pumpkin is thinly sliced (keeping the skin on), brushed with olive oil and topped with a stuffing of Parmesan, breadcrumbs, parsley, thyme, garlic, and lemon zest. We weren't sure what it was missing, but we all agreed that Jessica did a great job. Maybe our palates just weren't tuned into pairing pumpkin with lemon. It was a pretty dish that would be a great Thanksgiving side, so if anyone would like to spruce it up for us, please report back.
Jessica gets an A for effort and presentation, but Ottolenghi's recipe was lacking something.
Fortunately, Jessica made two dishes, and redeemed herself with the fabulous Nutty Endive with Roquefort. Crispy, bitter endive is stuffed with butter-browned walnuts and Roquefort mixed with créme frâiche. You can serve the endive as a finger-friendly appetizer, or as a salad alongside a main dish. The buttered nuts are a must, but I think you could use any strong blue cheese. Radicchio leaves add contrast on the plate. I'll be making this for my next dinner party; the cheese mixture can be made ahead of time, and the endive assembled in just a few minutes. I like a generous sprinkle of freshly ground white pepper on top.
Did I tell you we were making Plenty of food? Yes, there's more...much more. Veronica's Portobello Mushrooms Stuffed with Melting Taleggio, Catherine's Saffron Cauliflower and Sweet Potato Wedges with Lemongrass Créme Frâiche, and Eva's Chickpea Sauté with Greek Yogurt are all not to be missed.
Veronica's Portobello Mushrooms with Melting Taleggio were so yummy, so comforting, and perfectly browned under the broiler. A great dish.
Notice how Ottolenghi loves using créme frâiche to embellish his vegetable dishes? I have also become a créme frâiche fan--less sweet than whipped cream, and more interesting than sour cream--it has dozens of uses in my kitchen. Don't buy it, make it: Place 2 cups of heavy cream (not ultra-pasteurized) in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of buttermilk. Mix and cover tightly with plastic wrap, or use a glass jar with a lid. Leave it on your kitchen counter for at least 8 and up to 24 hours. Stir and refrigerate for another 24 hours; it will thicken as it ages. Use within 2 weeks.
Eva, the only vegetarian in the group, knows how to make chickpeas sing. Her rendition of Yotam's Chickpea Saute was flavorful and filling, with layers of flavor from the mint, cilantro, garlic and bitter chard.
This is my new go-to cauliflower dish: Catherine's Saffron Cauliflower. Cauliflower is roasted in saffron-infused water and then tossed with the bright flavors of golden raisins, green olives, and fresh parsley. Great warm, great cold, and great for leftovers.
The Cookbook Club's verdict on Ottolenghi's Plenty? If you often stare at a head of cauliflower and wonder what else you could do with it, this book is for you. If your vegetarian cookbook collection needs updating with a splash of international flavors, this cookbook will get used. If you are passionate about lentils and chickpeas, there's a whole chapter on Pulses. The Cookbook Club loved the Turkish and Italian influenced-food, the heavy use of Moroccan spices, and of Greek yogurt and feta. I love the chapter entitled The Mighty Eggplant, and plan to cook my way through each and every recipe. (We also found Plenty to be a great book to curl up with by the fire and read like a novel, but we are all cookbook nerds.)
If you don't have room in your cookbook library for Plenty, many of the recipes are available online, and I'll post as many as I can here. Check the Index as we get closer to Thanksgiving, and hopefully you will find all of the recipes we made. For now, hunt down the last of the summer corn and tomatoes, and some perfect eggplants, and make the Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant Sauce. You won't be sorry. Leftover eggplant sauce can of course be served over traditional polenta (the feta makes it special, so spring for the good imported kind), pasta, or scooped up with crusty bread.
I could be perfectly happy eating Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant Sauce for dinner every night.
For a printable version of the recipe, click on the file below it.
Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant Sauce
- 2/3 cup vegetable oil (I prefer grapeseed oil for frying)
- 1 medium eggplant, cut into 3/4 inch dice
- 2 teaspoons tomato paste
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 1 cup chopped peeled tomatoes, fresh or canned
- 6 1/2 tablespoons water
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
- 6 ears corn
- 2 1/4 cups water
- 3 tablespoons butter, diced
- 7 ounces feta, crumbled (like Mt. Vikos imported from Greece)
- 1/4 teaspoon slat
- freshly ground black pepper
Fresh corn cooks down in its own cooking water, until it is the texture of polenta. In Yotam's words, it's "smooth, sweet, and soothing, a bit like a chunky savory porridge."
- First, make the eggplant sauce. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the eggplant and fry, tossing now and then, until nicely brown, about 15 minutes.
- Drain off as much oil as you can, or do what I did and transfer the eggplant to a paper towel-lined plate and pour off all the oil.
- Add the tomato paste to the pan along with the eggplant, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook for another minute.
- Add the tomatoes, water, salt, sugar and oregano and cook for about 5 minutes. Set aside, and warm up when ready to eat.
- Next, prepare the corn for the polenta. Remove the husk and silk from each ear, then chop off the pointed top and stalk. Stand each ear upright on its base and use a sharp knife to shave off the kernels. You want 1 1/4 pounds of corn kernels.
- Place the kernels in a medium saucepan and cover them with the water. Cook for 12 minutes on a low simmer. Use a slotted spoon to lift the kernels from the water and into a food processor; reserve the cooking liquid. Process them for a few minutes to break down the kernels. Add some of the cooking liquid if the mixture becomes too dry.
- Now return the corn paste to the pan with the cooking liquid and cook, while stirring, on low heat for 10 or 15 minutes, or until the mixture thickens into a mashed potato consistency. Fold in the butter, the feta, salt and some pepper and cook for a further 2 minutes. Taste and add more salt if needed.
- Divide the polenta among shallow bowls and spoon some warm eggplant sauce on top.
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I can envision Eva's chickpea saute next to my roast turkey next month.