Last Updated on November 7, 2021
Relaxed, flexible home cooking with Shelf Love by Ottolenghi
Ottolenghi Test Kitchen – Shelf Love (Ebury Press) is making a splash in the world of Ottolenghi devotees who form a global band of merry home cooks. I am a proud member of that gang and happily devour every new book that is published. Shelf Love is not the typical Ottolenghi cookbook – those large, hard-backed volumes, artfully styled with photographs that justify the awful term ‘food porn’. OTK Shelf Love is the first in a new series of four books that will take readers behind the scenes into the Ottolenghi test kitchen. This is the dynamic space, under the arches in North London, where Ottolenghi recipes are created and developed by his talented group of recipe developers. This book is co-edited by Ottolenghi and Noor Murad who heads up the test kitchen and has recipe contributions from a number of the team. The format of the book is notebook-style – there are spaces below each recipe for home cooks to add their own notes or how they have tweaked the dish. The photographs, by Elena Heatherwick, are generally more informal, showing the finished dish as well as the some images of the cooking in progress.
Shelf Love was born out of the pandemic lockdown when we were all stuck at home having to cook a whole lot more than ever. We filled our cupboards with dried goods, tins and jars and our freezers with vegetables. The challenge was to find interesting ways to put the ingredients together to feed ourselves and anyone else at the table. Unlike the Ottolenghi recipes we all love (or perhaps some love to hate) with their long list of sometimes hard to source ingredients, Shelf Love is designed for use with ingredients you might well have in your pantry and fridge. And if you don’t, you can happily substitute. What do you mean you don’t have za’atar and sumac, harissa, tahini and pomegranate molasses on your weekly shopping list? At the front of the book is a handy fold-out containing all the tins jars, grains and pulses, veggies, spices and fresh ingredients needed to make the recipes. Naturally, all the recipes are sprinkled with Ottolenghi magic to raise their game. So, for example, a simple mac and cheese is topped with za’atar pesto and crispy onions – a Middle Eastern take on the family favourite dish which simply elevates it to another level of fabulousness.
While there are an assortment of meat and fish dishes, OTK Shelf Love is bursting with exciting vegetarian recipes – confit tandoori chickpeas, sweet potato shakshuka with sriracha butter and pickled onions or curried cauliflower cheese filo pie are all on my must-try list.
I have been making Ottolenghi’s hummus recipe since Jerusalem was published many years ago. Until then, all attempts at homemade hummus were given the thumbs down by my kids as they preferred the smooth, commercial variety. Ottolenghi’s recipe is so creamy that all resistance crumbled at my table and I now make tubs of it regularly. In OTK Shelf Love there is recipe entitled creamy dreamy hummus which is a perfect description. I must confess that I cheat and use a top-quality jarred chickpea (expensive but worth every penny) but you could follow orders and soak your chickpeas overnight. Either way, you will never want to buy hummus from the supermarket again.
Next I tried za’atar salmon and tahini and since all three of these ingredients make a regular appearance on my weekly menu, I knew it was my sort of dish. The fish was cooked beautifully, perfectly timed, but whether you like the taste of the sauce will depend on your attitude towards tahini. I love it but, much as it pains me to say, I know not everyone does like the slightly bitter taste of this sesame paste. If you do, then give this recipe a try, it is a one-pot dish with spinach – or other greens if you prefer – cooked underneath the fish. I simply served it with a bowl of baby potatoes.
Vegans are well catered for in OTK Shelf Life with a dish such as sweet spiced mushroom and rice pilaf being a stand out success. It does require a number of ingredients – three types of mushrooms and some dried ancho chillies – but nothing out of the ordinary. The cooking experience is one that Ottolenghi lovers will recognize. It takes time, there are several cooking utensils on the go on the hob, you need patience. But all is worth it when the fragrant rice is scooped onto your plate. Each bite of rice is gently spiced with the flavours of star anise, cinnamon and ancho chilli all baked into the grains. One mouthful is tart with dried apricot, the next is meaty and silky with chunks of portabello mushroom. Best of all is the spoonful with one of the ten garlic cloves that has caramelised during cooking into a sweet paste. While this pilaf might not be one of those dishes that could be called good-looking, it makes for seriously interesting eating.
OTK Shelf Love is packed with accessible recipes – some very easy and others more ‘cheffy’. While you may need to buy in a few ingredients, the book encourages readers to reach to the back of the cupboard shelves and the bottom of the freezer drawer to make a delicious meal. A kitchen clear out never tasted this good.
Vegan pilaf with mushrooms, dried apricots and spices
- 1 -2 dried ancho chillies remove stems
- 30 grams dried porcini mushrooms
- 500 ml vegetable stock
- 500 grams oyster mushrooms use whole
- 500 grams large portobello mushrooms remove stems, break each mushroom into 6
- 1 large onion halved and sliced into 1/2 cm thick slices
- 10 garlic cloves peeled
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 4 whole star anise
- 150 grams dried apricots quartered
- 150 ml olive oil
- 350 grams basmati rice washed and rinsed until water runs clear, drain
- 3 spring onions thinly sliced on an angle
- 5 grams parsley leaves picked
- salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 220 C fan
Place the ancho chillies in a bowl and cover with boiling water. leave for 20 minutes to rehydrate. Drain and roughly chop.
Place dried porcini mushrooms, vegetable stock, 350ml water, 1 1/4 teaspoons salt and a generous grinding of black pepper into a saucepan. Bring to a simmer on a medium heat. Set aside.
Place portobello and oyster mushrooms, onion, garlic cloves, chopped chillies, whole spices, apricots, 120ml olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and a good grind of pepper into a roasting tin. Stir everything together and bake for 40 minutes. Stir halfway. The mixture should be well browned by now.
Remove from the oven in order to transfer half the mixture to a bowl. Now stir the drained rice into the roasting tin with the remaining mixture. Set aside.
Bring the porcini mixture back to a simmer and pour it into the roasting tin, over the rice mixture. Do not stir. Cover well with foil and bake for 25 minutes. The rice should now be cooked through. Remove and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Then remove the foil and mix gently.
Add the spring onions and the parsley and two tablespoons of oil to the reserved mushroom mixture. Stir to combine. Spoon it over the rice.
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