Welcome to this year's Piglet Community Picks! Until the Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks kicks off in March, we'll be posting weekly reviews of the best new books you cooked from in 2018—written by you. To see other reviews, head here. And to catch up on the books that made it into the main tournament, look no further.
“One person’s idea of cooking simply is the next person’s culinary nightmare,” Yotam Ottolenghi writes in the introduction to Ottolenghi SIMPLE, his seventh cookbook.
To me, “Ottolenghi” is a bonafide style of cooking, and it is far from my idea of a culinary nightmare. An “Ottolenghi-fied” dish means several things: The dish will involve robust and complex flavors; the dish might sometimes require 23 ingredients, like urfa biber, pomegranate molasses, tahini, and sumac; the dish will always be superb. In many ways, the recipes in SIMPLE uphold the concept of Ottolenghi-fication. They are also, however, completely doable for all home cooks.
“Simple” is how one might describe the recipes in this book when compared with Ottolenghi's six prior cookbooks. And the title is an acrostic poem of sorts, that makes the book a game—the letters in SIMPLE tell you the ways in which the book's recipes may be perceived as simple. They stand for “Short on time,” “Ingredients: 10 or less,” “Make ahead,” “Pantry-led,” “Lazy-day dishes” and “Easier than you think." And luckily, most recipes cover at least two of these concepts.
Take the Pappardelle with Rose Harissa, Black Olives & Capers, one of the dishes that covers all the S-I-M-P-L-E categories, and the first recipe I cooked from the book. The sauce was familiar to an Italian palate, yet briny and floral, like if my mother’s Sunday sauce took a dip in the Mediterranean Sea. Of course, you can see from my photo that I used—Ottolenghi, forgive me!—fettuccini, and not pappardelle. Though I made sure to acquire rose harissa, an ingredient I couldn’t count on my local grocery store having in stock, I mistakenly assumed I’d be able to find the wide noodles. Still, in this dish, the sauce is the star, and I maintain that pasta is pasta.
For brunch a few days later, I made Braised Eggs with Leek and Za’atar (S-I-M-P-L). (I'd already guessed an egg dish would be fairly easy, which may be why it wasn't labeled with the "E" indicating unexpected ease.) What was shocking, though, was to discover that the most time-consuming element of this meal was washing sand from the leeks, before seasoning them with bright with preserved lemon and cumin seeds—two ingredients I'm definitely adding to my pantry staples. The dish was just rich enough from the buttery leeks, za’atar-studded oil, and runny egg yolks, and so satisfying, I completely forgot to bring out the naan I assumed I’d need to round out the meal.
Baked Mint Rice with Pomegranate and Olive Salsa (S-I-L-E, as you won't want to make this too far ahead, and might have to look outside of your pantry for the ingredients) is a centerpiece at a table for two or 10—tart and salty, bright red and green. Moreover, it’s a foolproof lesson for how to make basmati rice. While stovetop rice can wind up oversaturated and stuck to the bottom of a pot, when it’s submerged in boiling water, covered with foil, and baked, the rice steams until just tender, every grain separate.
SIMPLE doesn’t claim to be a guide of tips and tricks to get dinner on the table in a jiff; it’s a roadmap to informally cooking with the bold, distinctive flavor profiles associated with Ottolenghi. Yet peppered throughout the book are bare-bones, supremely helpful cooking methods, like the baked rice, that can only be described as, ahem, simple.
"It's been said that eating cornbread on New Year’s Day brings you money in the new year. Honestly, I don’t like cornbread, but usually choke down a small piece for tradition. This year, I made Ottolenghi's Cornbread with Cheddar, Feta, and Jalapeño from SIMPLE—and OMG! It has all the extras you might think go great with cornbread (jalapeño, scallions, cilantro, cheddar), plus a few twists (feta, red onion, and nigella seeds). People went back for seconds and thirds, myself included. I’ll be making this again and again. It’s worth owning the book for this recipe alone."
"In all honesty, I suspected I would love this cookbook just as much as I love the author’s previous works. I could barely spare the time to read the chef’s introduction, though it is particularly relevant and useful in this book: It tells you how each recipe is labeled according to which qualities it fulfills. Got it. On to joyfully skimming through the recipes and flagging those that I wanted to try. It would have been more efficient to flag those that were uninteresting, because so many of the recipes look tempting.
"So, did I really need another Ottolenghi cookbook? The answer: a resounding yes. This is not a redundant cookbook. Rather it is yet another revelation from a truly special chef. These recipes have what I consider the hallmark of Ottolenghi gems: unusual and surprisingly appealing combinations of flavors. And they were indeed simple in the most successful and satisfying ways."
Have you cooked from Ottolenghi SIMPLE yet? Let us know what you've made (and learned) in the comments below!