One of my best friends gave me a copy of Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty for Christmas this past year -- the gorgeous, soft-padded-hardcover cookbook of vegetarian recipes culled from Ottolenghi's veg-head columns in the UK's Guardian. Neither the author, the gift-giver, nor I am a vegetarian, but that has absolutely no impact on the appeal of this book. Browsing through these lusciously photographed recipes will inspire even the most die-hard carnivore.
Most of the recipes in this collection tend to riff on classic Mediterranean spices and combinations, but the nuanced, creative layering of texture and flavor really sets the collection apart. Beet, orange and black olive salad, for example, sounds fairly common and familiar until the orange blossom water and chopped parsley hit your sensory receptors. Subtle tweaks and additions like these make all the difference in the world, and are what really make this book unique.
The single best thing I've cooked in 2013 so far was the caramelized garlic and goat cheese tart from page 38 of Plenty -- a recipe that I plan to replicate at every opportunity.
Three heads of garlic sounds like an overwhelming sulphurous miasma, but the cooking technique (blanch, drain, then simmer to a syrup with a touch of vinegar, sugar, and fresh rosemary and thyme) produced an elegant, sophisticated, and tender result. Filling the tart with both fresh chevre and aged goat gouda (I used Midnight Moon from Cypress Grove) added depth, nuttiness, tang, and texture that counterbalanced the delicate earthy sweetness of the garlic. And the pure butter puff pastry tart shell... well, we all know how delicious that is when done well. I leave such pastry details to the pros, and bought a package of Dufour from the frozen section of Whole Foods.
The rest of the filling for this quiche-like recipe was hardly a dieter's dream -- eggs, cream and crème fraîche -- but we found that we didn't even need to use all of this lipidinous liquid to fill up the shallow tarte once all the cheese and garlic was nestled in there. Thanks to the Provençal herbs in there (and, probably, the fabulous 2009 Girard Old Vine Zinfandel we paired with it), the richness does not overwhelm. This would be a perfect vegetarian main course for any season, any meal, and any gathering.
The introductory quote for this dish from the author's recipe tester Claudine really says it all: "I think this is the most delicious recipe in the world!" Bold words, but remarkably hard to dispute.