Yotam Ottolenghi has been massively internationally influential in the last decade. He has changed the way we think about food on a much larger scale than just his own work—he has influenced so many people in the food space that it actually changed the current, moving us collectively more towards vivacious herbs and middle eastern spices.
I first heard about Mr. Ottolenghi on Smitten Kitchen, in a post about hummus where Deb Perelman called Jerusalem “(a) stunning new dream of a book”. I have that book, which is very beautiful. I would recommend getting it just for the amazing photography, of both the food and the city. That said, I must admit I have only made a few recipes from it over the years, at least in part due to the complexity of the dishes and some difficult to find ingredients. I know people who have taken that book on as a project, and it is a serious one. Kind of the Tartine Bread book of the home cooking world.
Well, turns out I am not the only person who saw it that way. In response, Mr. Ottolenghi has created, with Tara Wigley and Esme Howarth, Ottolenghi SIMPLE. Biggest question: IS IT SIMPLE? Waffling answer: kind of. In comparison with his other works, yes! In comparison with many other cookbook writers, it’s neither complicated nor particularly simple. Even the SIMPLE system (S for Short on time, I for 10 ingredients or fewer excluding salt pepper oil etc, M for Make ahead, P for Pantry, L for Lazy, E for Easier than you think) is honestly a bit complicated. You will still need to outfit your pantry for this book, so I would look through the whole thing, decide what you want to make, and make a list of any ingredients that you will need to order online (such as nigella seeds and black garlic) or (as in the case of preserved lemons) make weeks in advance. Some of the ingredients have different names in the U.S. as well (for example, lamb’s lettuce = mâche), so get ready to Google.
Alright, it’s not the simplest, but is it worth it for someone willing to put in a little extra effort? Yes! Especially if you like the classic Ottolenghi flavors of herbs, citrus, and cumin, with vegetables front and center, go for it! This book is wonderful. It will surprise you with new flavor combinations, and help you to create some truly delicious meals. I ended up loving it for the opportunities it gave me to learn about new flavors and ingredients.
I made: Mustardy cauliflower cheese (p. 92), Spinach and gorgonzola baked potatoes (p. 135), Orzo with shrimp, tomato and marinated feta (p. 193), Gnocchi alla romana (p. 198), Lamb and feta meatballs (p. 204), Spring roast chicken with preserved lemon (p. 229), Chicken Marbella (p. 229), fish cake tacos (p. 254), Brunsli chocolate cookies (p. 290), Mint and pistachio chocolate fridge cake (p. 288).
Would make again: Mustardy cauliflower cheese (p. 92), Spinach and gorgonzola baked potatoes (p. 135), Gnocchi alla romana (p. 198), Lamb and feta meatballs (p. 204), Spring roast chicken with preserved lemon (p. 229), Mint and pistachio chocolate fridge cake (p. 288).
Quick answers to important questions:
- Is it necessary to spend a bunch of money for new equipment? No.
- Are the ingredients expensive? No.
- Are the ingredients difficult to find? It is possible to choose only recipes that don’t have any unusual or difficult to find ingredients. However, if you find that too limiting (which I would), you will need to find some of the ingredients online. Also, in for a penny in for a pound, I’d just make preserved lemons, which will take 3 weeks to cure but are worth it.
- Can I use ingredient substitutions? Yes, if you need to the recipes are pretty flexible.
- Are the recipes complicated? See above for more on this. I do not find them super complicated, but I also don’t think they’re simple enough to make that the theme of the book. Also, the SIMPLE system itself is a little complicated.
- Can I feed kids from this book? Yes, though you may need to make some small adjustments depending upon their tolerance for green things.
- Is this book on my side, trying to help? Yes. I think the whole point of this book is to be easy and helpful to home cooks who want to make this style of food.
- Is the text of the book helpful and/or interesting? Yes. Mostly it includes advice for how to make the cooking process easier or do parts in advance, and ideas for variations and dishes to serve alongside.
- Are recipes on one page or do I have to keep flipping back and forth while cooking? ALLof the recipes are on one page or spread. You never have to flip back and forth while making a dish. This is an amazing feat, and I appreciate the care so much.
- Is this book beautiful and would it belong on a coffee table? The design and photographs are very pretty. It would be fun to flip through, but the true coffee table book is Jerusalem.
- Did I learn and grow as a cook while using this book? Yes, absolutely. Starting with preserved lemons, a revelation!
- Are ingredients given in weight? Yes! Even vegetables and fruits, which I appreciated very much.
- Is there advice on how to make ahead/store/reheat food? Make ahead, yes. Store and reheat, not as much, this book really wants things eaten when they’re fresh.
- Can these recipes be adapted for different dietary needs? Yes. With a little know how, you can adjust for dairy free or allergy diets. For the vegetarians and vegans, though, you may find it nicer to start with Mr. Ottolenghi’s Plenty and Plenty More, which are both plant based recipe collections.
- Can kids help with these recipes? Some of them seem like great candidates for that, like the chocolate fridge cake (p. 288).
- How delicious is the food? Mostly very delicious, though sometimes the seasoning was a bit strong and I might scale it back the second time around.
- Are the recipes healthful? Can they fit in to a balanced diet? Yes.
- Is there a set of values underpinning the book? Absolutely. Celebrating the flavors of fresh produce and herbs is a big one, and also inspiring us home cooks to embrace more vegetables and herbs and nuts and spices in our everyday lives.
- Good gift? Yes, absolutely! Especially good for people who already love to cook and are looking to expand the flavors and ingredients they use a bit.
TLDR: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Ottolenghi SIMPLE will help home cook learn and grow in their knowledge and skill set. A great cookbook, especially for those open to lots of herbs and citrus, and a really nice gift.
Find Ottolenghi Simple, published by Ten Speed Press, wherever you buy books, or get it from Amazon! Plan it out and cook it up!