Friday, October 7, 2011

August/September Cook Club: PLENTY by Ottolenghi

sweetcornpolenta

PLENTY BY OTTOLENGHI
COOKBOOK SCORE: 3.81

TOP SCORING DISHES: Garlic Soup with Harissa, Crusted Pumpkin Wedges with Sour Cream, Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango, Quinoa and Grilled Sourdough Salad, Castelluccio Lentils with Tomatoes and Gorgonzola, Mushroom and Herb Polenta, and Figs with Basil, Goat CHeese, and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

LOWEST SCORING DISHES: Mushroom Lasagna, Roasted Butternut Squash with Sweet Spices, Lime, and Green Chile, and Avocado, Quinoa, and Fava Bean Salad

ottolenghiThe turn of the seasons between August and September seemed like the perfect time to have the absolutely gorgeous cookbook, Plenty, as our cookbook.  As it turned out though, the period of August and September is a weird time to whip up produce focused dishes – it is kind of like going shopping for clothes between seasons. The produce (like clothes) were kind of neither summery nor autumnal.  But we managed to cook up some delicious dishes anyways ;)

I originally came across Plenty during one of my (many) amazon.com browses (it is a good way to take breaks from work!). Plenty caught my eye because of its cover photo of eggplants with buttermilk sauce (the description of the dish doesn’t do it justice!) – beautiful purple eggplants, covered in a white sauce punctuated with the ruby red pomegranate seeds. When I finally broke down and ordered Plenty, I was not disappointed. Unlike our last cookbook, “Ten,” the cookbook was filled with beautiful photos of dishes whose titles ordinarily wouldn’t tantalize me. (plus, bonus, the book has a padded cover!! Love all those little details).

There were two main final reasons why I wanted to introduce Plenty as our August/September cook club book. (1) the cookbook is entirely vegetarian – it is authored by British chef, Yotam Ottolenghi, who is not a vegetarian but was tapped by London’s The Guardian newspaper to write a weekly column of vegetarian recipes; I had always wanted to work in more veg dishes into my repertoire and, admittedly, often feel like a meal isn’t a meal without some meat. But I was ready to have my opinion changed and Plenty has definitely added some great veg dishes to my life. (2) my friend, and fellow cook club member, Julie, highly recommended the cookbook to me – she had tried numerous recipes out of Plenty and was enthusiastic about the results.

So, here we are… how was Plenty? Check out our reviews below (and while you are at it, check out our friends at A Cookbook A Month’s review of Plenty).  The reviews are categorized under the same headings as listed in the cookbook.

For your cooking pleasure, two recipes from two of the top scoring recipes:

Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango

Serves 6

Ingredients
½ cup rice vinegar
3 tbsp sugar
½ tsp salt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ fresh red chile, finely chopped
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1 cup sunflower oil
2 eggplants, cut into ¾-inch dice or into ¼ inch thick strips
1 and 2/3 cup basil leaves, chopped (if you can get some use Thai basil, but much less)
2½ cups cilantro leaves, chopped
½ red onion, very thinly sliced

Directions
In a small saucepan, gently warm the vinegar, sugar, and salt for up to 1 minute, just until the sugar dissolves.  Remove from the heat and add the garlic, chile, and sesame oil.  Allow to cool then add the lime zest and juice.

Heat up the sunflower oil in a large pan and shallow-fry the eggplant in three or four batches.  Once golden brown, remove to a colander, sprinkle liberally with salt and leave there to drain.

Cook the noodles in plenty of boiling salted water, stirring occassionally.  They should take 5 to 8 minutes to become tender but still al dente.  Drain and rinse well under running water.  Shake off as much of the excess water as possible, then leave to dry on a dish towel.

In a mixing bowl, toss the noodles with the dressing, mango, eggplant, half of the herbs, and the onion.  You can now leave this aside for 1 to 2 hours.  When ready to serve, add the rest of the herbs and mix well, then pile on a plate or in a bowl.

Figs with Basil, Goat Cheese, and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Serves 4

Ingredients
1 shallot, finely chopped
½ tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp pomegranate molasses
salt and black pepper
3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
1½ cups arugula
¾ cup mixed purple and green basil leaves
8 ripe figs, at room temperature
2½ oz young and creamy goat cheese

Directions
Place the shallot, mustard, and pomegranate molasses in a medium bowl.  Add some salt and pepper and whisk vigorously as you slowly pour in the olive oil.  You are aiming for a homogenous dressing.

Add most of the arugula and basil leaves to the dressing, reserving some to finish the salad, and toss gently.  Lift the dressed leaves onto a large serving plate, spreading them out to line it.

Cut the figs vertically into quarters and arrange over the leaves.  Next, dot the figs and leaves with teaspoonfuls of cheese.  Scatter the reserved leaves on top, drizzle with extra oil and season with some salt and pepper.

***REVIEWS***

Roots

Surprise Tatin
Julie’s Surprise Tatin
Score: 3.5

This was indeed a tasty surprise, really nice combination of sweet caramel/sundried tomatoes and savoury goat's cheese with juicy potatoes. It also looks pretty and goes well with a green salad as suggested. It's a perfectly nice dish, but doesn't get full marks just because there are so many more outstanding Ottolenghi recipes :) Like most of his recipes, it's not complicated to put together but does take time to assemble.
sweetpotatoparsnip
Elaine’s Roasted Parsnips and Sweet Potatoes with Caper Vinaigrette
Score: 4.5

This was very moreish (ie what the Brits say to mean it's so nice that you want to keep eating more once you've started!) and would make the perfect roast dinner side. Super easy to make since the oven did most of the hard work (no need to peel/cut/dice garlic, rosemary, and thyme). For the dressing I went a little lighter on the capers and added more maple syrup to suit my taste because I was worried that the capers would be too overwhelming but to be honest once the veggies absorbed the dressing it wasn't such a strong flavor at all. I loved that tomatoes were only added in the last 10 mins of cooking, just long enough for them to warm and pop!

Funny Onions

Amanda’s Stuffed Onions
Score: 3.0

I gave this dish a 3 because I wasn't a huge fan of the flavors, but everyone else seemed to enjoy it. There seemed to be too much of a contrast between the feta and tomatoes and the onion. I have to confess that I forgot to include bread crumbs in the stuffing mixture, which maybe affected the flavor somewhat. Overall, the recipe was super easy to make, and is one that is great for when you have tons of other hands-on cooking going on, which is why I was disappointed in the end product.

Garlic Soup from Plenty
Anjali’s Garlic Soup with Harissa
Score: 4.25

I love garlic (and am thus, definitely not a vampire). Thus, I chose this dish. If you buy pre-peeled garlic, this is super simple. Otherwise, it might have been a bit work intensive. I will note that I minced the garlic in the food processor before adding it in, and I think this was a mistake, because the pieces later did not puree well. This made the soup quite watery, which was solved by the recipe's request for a dollop of Greek yogurt. The results were a hit at the party. The harissa added great flavor and I had plenty left over to put on sandwiches/eat with pita.

Mushrooms

IMG_1276
Rachel’s Marinated Mushrooms with Walnut and Tahini Yogurt
Score: 4.0

I did not have high hopes for this recipe, but I loved it. Would be a really nice side, or serve over lettuce for a main. I swapped out the fava beans for lima beans because I was unable to find fava beans in my grocery store. Next time, I will double the marinade -- it's delicious.

DC Cook Club Comments: “The flavors combined really well in a surprising way. The walnuts were so crunchy and yum, and I liked the lima beans and mushrooms.” “Loved the mix of textures with the bite of the mushroom and the crunch of the walnuts. The tahini yogurt added a great flavor.” “Good, but needed some more flavor.”

Lisa W.’s Mushroom Lasagna
Score: 2.0

I am always looking for a good lasagna recipe. I was very excited about this one since it is vegetarian. When I chose it I did not know that the sauce was b├ęchamel. How brilliant, right? Not so much. The b├ęchamel tasted amazing by itself. However, an hour later when it was baked in the lasagna with the porcini and fresh mushrooms, it lost its flavor. The entire lasagna was over-powered by the porcini mushrooms. Perhaps the lasagna would have tasted better if I had used spinach lasagna noodles as recommended. However, I could not find these noodles in my local grocery store. Overall, my husband and I decided that lasagna needs marinara sauce. Period.

Zucchini and Other Squashes

ZucchiniHazelnut
Elaine’s Zucchini and Hazelnut Salad
Score: 3.5

This was super simple and fast to make, no more than a 20 min job! I wanted this to be more salty though so if I were to make it again I would increase the amount of balsamic vinegar used and/or parmesan cheese added at the end. Perfect summer salad to go with grilled meats.

IMG_1273
Monica’s Stuffed Zucchini
Score: 3.5

Surprising flavor (sweet!) and I loved the texture of the rice contrasted with the zucchini. DC Cook Club Comments: “Zucchini was a bit soggy and stuffing was lacking flavor.” “Very good, surprisingly sweet. The texture was nice, thought it might be too mushy.” “I liked the stuffing, but I’m not the biggest fan of zucchini.” “Pretty, but oddly bland. Maybe bump up the spice?”

Butternut Squash
Leanne’s Crusted Pumpkin Wedges with Sour Cream
Score: 4.8

I picked this dish at last minute when I realized one of my other choices used produce that was no longer in season. And I am so glad I did! It was relatively easy to make--I was concerned at first, because the topping that was supposed to crust the pumpkin wedges wasn't sticking to the pumpkin, but in the end it didn't really matter. The dill and sour cream sauce that went with the pumpkin was a perfect match. Also, this was the favorite from the people who tried the dishes I made.

butternut squash amanda
Amanda’s Roasted Butternut Squash with Sweet Spices, Lime, and Green Chile
Score: 2.0

The flavors of this dish were somewhat lacking and it seemed to be a little too labor intensive for the end product. I would have preferred to use lime juice instead of lime slices to enhance the flavors. I did love the combination of yogurt and tahini--the sauce was very tasty and unique. One positive that came from trying this recipe was that I cooked with a new spice (again!)--cardamom. It is a very interesting spice and hope that it turns up in other recipes again soon!

Brassicas

cauliflower
Anjali’s Saffron Cauliflower
Score: 3.5

My mother recently bought me saffron from a spice souk in Dubai, so I was eager to start using it! The recipe was pretty straightforward. It was not my favorite but is a simple side that I could use again in the future.

IMG_1261
Jackie’s Broccoli and Gorgonzola Pie
Score: 3.0

I originally chose this recipe for a few reasons: (1) J LOVES broccoli, so what is better than a buttery cheesy broccoli pie? (2) I was making it for our DC cook club party and it didn’t have to be served piping hot and (3) I’ve been wanting to try my hand at making more pies. Well… at least one of the three reasons worked out (#2). I had some missteps along the way… This pie is made with puff pastry, also a bonus because I could just purchase the frozen puff pastry instead of having to make my own crust. I’ve never used the frozen puff pastry before though and defrosted the pastry without unfolding it first – so I had to roll out the pastry but it never quite reached the size of my springform pan. Solution: create a broccoli and gorgonzola POT PIE (no real crust on the bottom and sides, baked up in pot instead of a pie pan). Not quite a “pie,” and I do agree with one of the comments below that this would probs have been better as a traditional pie. J also couldn’t attend our DC cook club party as it turned out, so didn’t meet objective #1. I was a bit disappointed with the results. Everything smelled delicious as I was cooking it together, especially the leeks (this was also my first time cooking with leeks, and I think that I successfully managed to clean them of all their sand and dirt, and cook them). But, the actual results were pretty bland and the flavors didn’t come all together. I think next time, I would mix all the ingredients together before baking so you really get a taste of everything in one bite (the recipe called for first the leek mixture, then the broccoli, and then “dotted” with gorgonzola).

DC Cook Club: “There was a surprising flavor in there that I couldn’t figure out, but I love broccoli plus cheese, so good job.” “Great taste, would have preferred a more typical presentation.” “Yummy. Loved the pastry shell and cheese, made the broccoli very edible.” “Yum! Great way to use broccoli.”

The Mighty Eggplant

Soba with Eggplant and Mango
Amanda’s Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango
Score: 5.0

Based on reviews from the last round of cook club, I like the soba noodles. They're super easy to prepare, and delicious! This recipe did not let me down. I loved the combination of flavors and was glad to snack on the leftovers for the next few days. The recipe said to fry the eggplant and I decided to saute it instead--turned out great and I loved the flavor. I also eliminated the red onion at the end, and did not miss it at all! Uncooked onion is not my favorite, and I feel that it would have overpowered the dish too much. Soba is going to become a staple in my kitchen.

Tomatoes

Quinoa Sourdough Salad
Leanne’s Quinoa and Grilled Sourdough Salad
Score: 4.7

I recently started trying quinoa recipes which is why I chose this dish. When I was reading the actual ingredients I was a little worried since it sounded kind of bland. Luckily, I was wrong--while there really isn't any dressing on this salad, because there are so many herbs, it was incredibly flavorful, and really healthy too!! I would definitely make this again.

Leaves, Cooked and Raw

Spinach, Egg and Pecorino Pizza
Julie’s Spinach, Egg and Pecorino Pizza
Score: 4.5

Delicious! Even though it's totally unorthodox an probably banned in Italy, I'm a big fan of Pizza Fiorentina (spinach and egg) found elsewhere. As this was a Middle Eastern version of the same - without the tomato sauce and with zatar and sumac instead - it could hardly fail to please, and actually I think I liked it more. Don't be put off by the picture; I managed to overcook the dough a little courtesy of my temperamental oven but it was moist nonetheless.

Green Beans

edamame noodles 2
Sonia’s Warm Glass Noodles and Edamame
Score: 3.5

This was a good dish with a nice mix of sour, salty, and spicy. I was surprised that the recipe called for the juice of 4 limes, but the other ingredients (sugar, tamarind) mellowed it out into a nice tangy flavor. I thought that this was a unique recipe--I hadn't used glass noodles in the past and normally only eat edamame as an appetizer—but it didn't have a "wow" factor for me.

DC Cook Club Comments: “I loved the surprise spice balanced by the acidity of the lime juice. I could eat a whole bowl of these for a light summer meal.” “A little spicy for me, but overall very good. Glass noodles are awesome!” “Awesome!” “Noodles were an unexpected texture, looked like rice noodles, but much more dense. Just something to be aware of with mung noodles.” “Good flavor, but somehow insubstantial.” “Loved the spice!”

Pulses

IMG_1270
Jackie’s Castelluccio Lentils with Tomatoes and Gorgonzola
Score: 4.8

Let me tell you, finding castelluccio lentils was quite the expedition. Or, well, finding the puy lentils that I replaced them with (as ok’d by the cookbook). The idea is using lentils that didn’t get too soggy too quickly. I eventually found myself at the bulk aisle of Whole Foods (thanks Sonia for the tip!) and bought an excessive amount of lentils (had problems equating pounds of lentils to how much was called for in the recipe). But this actually is a-OK with me, because I LOVED THIS DISH (and have actually bought more tomatoes to cook this again). The recipe was more time consuming than I expected (the roasting of tomatoes took about 1.5 hours), but it was worth it. Mixed together with the lentils and roasted tomatoes were sliced red onions marinated in a delicious vinegar mixture. I had served this with gorgonzola on the side (in case guests weren’t blue cheese fans), and I must say, I love it with and without. The brightness of the acidity in the vinegar and the tomatoes balanced out the earthy lentils wonderfully, and the blue cheese gave it that extra oomph. And it is even better the next day, after all the flavors have more time to marinate together. So, I was really happy with this (plus, my first foray into cooking lentils… lots of firsts with this cook club). Definitely making this again!

DC Cook Club Comments: “I enjoyed the tomato and red onion mixed with the earthy lentils.” “Yummy! Blue cheese was a definite must, but I’m not such a fan of raw onions, so I could do without them in the future.” “Excellent. Tomatoes were perfect.” “These were great. Ate them all up!” “Really nice! Tasted fresh and flavors really work together.” “Definitely enjoyed the blue cheese and lentils.”

Amanda’s Spiced Red Lentils with Cucumber Yogurt
Score: 4.0

I chose this recipe based on the small hit of fall weather Texas has been having. Soups and stews are my favorite when the weather gets cooler, so this dish seemed like an obvious choice! The recipe was pretty easy to put together, and it introduced me to some new spices I had heard of, but never cooked with. I was unable to find curry leaves, but Anjali assured me that it wouldn't have a negative impact on the recipe. She was correct! The lentils were flavorful and hearty. The recipe suggests to generously salt the dish before serving, and they were not kidding. The salt helped the flavor tons, as well as the addition of butter just before serving. :) I will be making this one again.

Grains

IMG_1272
Monica’s Avocado, Quinoa, and Fava Bean Salad
Score: 2.5

Good flavor, but it was more like guacamole at the end. It's okay, I made it! I'll take the blame.  DC Cook Club Comments: “Great taste, texture too creamy.” “Good textures, but something missing with the flavors.” “It was hard to discern the different ingredients and flavors, but I would use this as a dip or spread for crackers in the future!” “I feel like quinoa and avocado combine to make an unpleasant paste.” “Yummy! Loved the quinoa, made it more filling (and the beans) – made a dip seem like a meal.”

Pasta, Polenta, and Couscous

Lemon and Goat Cheese Ravioli
Leanne’s Lemon and Goat Cheese Ravioli
Score: 3.0

I was really excited to make this dish--it sounded amazing. This recipe actually involved making your own pasta dough, and it was about as labor-intensive as you would expect, especially since I don't own a pasta machine. Rolling out the dough by hand was time consuming, and I also don't think I rolled it thin enough which make the ravioli too chewy. Anyway, I was not impressed with the end result: the ravioli wasn't bad, but it also wasn't great either. Just kind of average, and for the amount of time it took, not worth it. I wouldn't make this again.

sweetcornpolenta
Elaine’s Sweet Corn Polenta
Score: 4.0
On the whole this was a nice dish and not too difficult to make, great use of fresh sweet corn and as the recipe said not too heavy. However I'm not convinced that the eggplant/tomato part is good enough on its own. Perhaps I should have used sweeter tomatoes but it certainly lacked something... the feta was a nice inclusion and added great smooth texture. I had this as a standalone meal so added some peppery rocket to compliment which was a perfect addition. A great meal to have on a cold night.

Polenta with Mushrooms
Jackie’s Mushroom and Herb Polenta
Score: 5.0

I had heard rave reviews about this dish from Elaine and Julie, so in the last week of this round of cook club, I decided to make this on a whim for J and me for a weeknight dinner. And I am definitely happy I did! It was fairly simple and straightforward. The recipe consisted primarily of chopping some herbs, cooking up the polenta, mixing in deliciously rich cheese and butter, cooking up mushrooms, and then popping it in the oven under the broiler. This is an incredibly rich dish, with loads of unami flavors (I was also very excited to use the truffle oil Anjali recently gifted me). My favorite part was the polenta itself – I tasted it prior to piling the mushrooms on top and the flavors were right on point. The recipe also included slicing taleggio cheese to insert between the polenta and mushrooms before going under the broiler – I didn’t think this was necessary because the dish had sufficient cheesy-goodness, so would probably omit that next time around.

Fruit with Cheese
anjali's salad
Anjali’s Figs with Basil, Goat Cheese, and Pomegranate Vinaigrette
Score: 5.0

I love all of the above ingredients, so this was an obvious choice for me. It was simple and straightforward, and I finally got to use pomegranate molasses! Everyone enjoyed the salad. I must admit, I added some fig balsamic vinegar (a recent purchase from Chelsea Market!) to the salad dressing.


And, lastly, Sonia and I made two bonus dishes for the DC Cook Club party.  I baked up an adaptation of Giada's sweet corn and mascarpone lasagna (check it out here!), which was a pretty amazing mixture of sweet, indulgent, and lemony.  ... And we are always spoiled by Sonia's dessert treats that she brings to our parties.  She baked for us a RED WINE CHOCOLATE CAKE (from Smitten Kitchen) and served it with homemade cardamom ice cream. Yum.  Doesn't it look delish?
IMG_1281

Sweet Corn and Mascarpone Lasagna

While I had a month off between switching jobs, I watched a lot of TV. Particularly, cooking shows and one of my faves is the lovely Giada DeLaurentiis. Not only do I find her recipes are often successful and delicious, but I just enjoy her show. It feels like I’m in the kitchen with her when she’s cooking and I also love the episodes where she is cooking for a party she is throwing with her friends or an outing with Jade. So, for this past round of cook club (check out everything that was made out of Plenty by Ottolenghi here!), I snuck in one of Giada’s dishes for our DC cook club party – her SWEET CORN LASAGNA that she made with her Aunt Raffy. It was the perfect dish to add in because all the other dishes were vegetarian.

The dish was a huge hit! As my friend Rachel said, it is the perfect dish to convince non-vegetarians that vegetarian food can be delicious and filling. It is a bit sweeter than your typical lasagna with the base of the dish consisting of sweet corn and mascarpone. I didn’t mind that at all. In fact, I taste-tested the corn mixture a few times to make sure it had enough seasoning and by the end, I could have just eaten the corn mixture by itself.

On another note, I had been concerned that it would be overly citrusy / lemony based on the reviews listed under the recipe, so I ended up zesting just half the lemon. The lemon notes definitely shine in this dish, but I thought it was a nice complement to the richness of the cheeses. I also forgot to completely thaw the corn before throwing it in the food processor, which turned out ok, just took a bit longer to whizz around.

Lastly, Giada made these lasagnas as “mini-lasagnas” in small ramekins – so, single serving lasagnas. Because I was making this for a crowd, I cooked this up in the traditional lasagna way in a lasagna pan. I used three layers of noodles (so four layers of sauce) and cooked initially for about 40 minutes, checked it, and cooked for probably another 10 minutes. I will definitely be making this again!

Sweet Corn and Mascarpone Lasagna (courtesy of Giada DeLaurentiis with slight adaptations)

Ingredients
Butter, for ramekins
12 lasagna sheets
3 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed
1/2 cup whipping cream, at room temperature
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup (8 ounces) mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
1 cup (4 ounces) finely grated Pecorino Romano, plus 1/2 cup (2 ounces)
1/2 large lemon, zested
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup packed chopped fresh basil leaves
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded sharp Provolone
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Directions
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter lasagna pan. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Drain.

In a food processor, blend the corn, cream and garlic until chunky. Add the mascarpone, 1 cup of the Pecorino Romano cheese, the lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth. Add the basil and pulse until just combined.

Spoon some of the filling into the lasagna pan and spread enough to cover. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the provolone. Layer four lasagna noodles on top of the sauce and provolone.

Put another layer of filing on top of lasagna, making sure to cover all the noodles so they don’t get too dry in cooking. Add more provolone on top. Layer with four more lasagna noodles. Repeat once more.

On the top layer, spoon any remaining filling on top of the pasta. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for approximately 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Continue baking longer if necessary. Cool for 10 minutes.

Enjoy!