Selling a bounty of Mediterranean-inspired salads and delicious baked goods like muffins and meringues, London’s Ottolenghi restaurants have garnered a cult following for fast, fresh, tasty food. Its chef, Yotam Ottolenghi, put out a cookbook of the restaurant’s greatest hits a while back, but has now followed up with Plenty, based off his “New Vegetarian” column for the Guardian. And boy is it a beauty.
This spring is a big season for healthful cookbooks, with Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day and Marie Simmons’s Fresh & Fast Vegetarian, as well as the forthcoming Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck. Move over, Moosewood. Vegetarian-inspired cooking is taking over. And (at least as this book proved) even carnivores will be happy.
With more than 120 recipes, Plenty is organized by vegetable: Roots, Funky Onions, Mushrooms, Zucchini and Other Squashes, Peppers, Brassicas, the Mighty Eggplant, Tomatoes, Leaves, Green Things, Green Beans, Pulses, Grains, Pasta Polenta and Couscous, and Fruit With Cheese. While primarily Mediterranean-based, the book’s recipes reach as far as Asia and Mexico, often adapting old meaty favorites to be vegetarian. However, because the recipes aren’t divided into appetizers and entrées, it’s somewhat challenging in terms of planning full meals. Another slight annoyance for some home cooks might be the use of certain esoteric ingredients like sumac or lovage, and the use of multiple fresh herbs for each recipe (great if you have a garden, but herb shopping adds up at the store). But these are minor complaints, and if you live in New York City, everything would be accessible. We tried out three recipes from the book, including Caramelized Fennel With Goat Cheese, Green Couscous, and Roasted Butternut Squash With Sweet Spices, Lime and Chile. By far, our favorite was the couscous, which is tossed with a pesto made from four herbs, chopped arugula, and caramelized onions. The flavors were spot-on, and the arugula and onions tangle together in the couscous. The squash was vibrant and colorful, and the fennel sweet and crunchy, like the dessert of vegetables. These recipes made us want to cook more from the book.
While the recipes are stellar, the photography is what really helps this book pop. Each page is awash in color: scarlets, forest greens, tangerine, burnt siena — all the colors of the Crayola box, really. Like, almost unnaturally colorful. Which makes everything look really, really good. Happily, the taste is right on par with the looks, and we’d actually suggest this book over Ottolenghi: The Cookbook. Looks like Meatless Mondays might be extending.
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