By Mary Jo McMillin
After years of thumbing through many Ottolenghi cookbooks with their ravishing food photos and tempting recipes, it was a delight to view the notable London chef in the March 17th presentation by the Chicago Humanities Festival. Interviewed by the bright young pastry chef, Claire Saffitz.
Yotam Ottolenghi charmed with his easy manner as he worked through a vegetarian recipe for Pasta Puttanesca. He removed the traditional anchovies and added chickpeas plus an array of warm spices along with the tomatoes. Cooking the entire dish in one pot and simmering the dry pasta in the well-seasoned juices made for a simpler method. The result came together as a stew-like bean and pasta bowl with interesting texture and color plus a zingy parsley, caper and olive gremolata added at the end. We all wished for a spoonful. . .
As the cooking progressed and the pot simmered, Saffritz interspersed questions about the Ottolenghi signature’, food choices, ingredients and changes taking place in the food world. The chef spoke of initially implementing traditions from his native Israel, across the Levant and North Africa using herbs and spices of those regions to enhance common vegetables, fruits, meats and fish. He now works toward dishes that are more vegetable centric and keeps meat/ dairy products for garnish, though he lavishly lifts flavor with lots of olive oil and yogurt.
After years of developing the Ottolenghi style in numerous London restaurants, some casual with deli options, some upscale, the chef is still busy innovating. At this point he is pleased to welcome collaboration and his most recent book, Flavor, is co written with Ixta Belfrange who has vast experience with Mexican and Brazilian food bringing assorted chilies along with Mezzo and South American cuisines.
The exchange with Saffritz and Ottlenghi was warm and open, both chefs eager to invite home cooks to be mindful of sustainable and regenerative farming and healthy food practices as we make our way into a new era—a time when we pay closer attention to the earth around us.
At the end of the session, I, for one, was eager to get out that deep sauté pan, the olive oil, some chickpeas, tomatoes and pasta for a savory supper.
5 tablespoons olive oil
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained well and patted dry
2 teaspoons hot smoked paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 cups parsley, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons lemon zest
3 tablespoons baby capers
¾ cup Nocellara olives (or other green olive), pitted and roughly chopped in half
9 ounces small, sweet cherry tomatoes
2 teaspoons superfine sugar
1½ teaspoons caraway seeds, lightly toasted and crushed
9 ounces dried orecchiette pasta
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons water
Salt and black pepper
In a large sauté pan, for which you have a lid, combine 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, the garlic, chickpeas, paprika, cumin, tomato paste, and a half teaspoon salt and place on medium-high heat. Fry for 12 minutes, uncovered, stirring every now and then, until the chickpeas are slightly crisp; you may need to decrease the heat if they start to color too much. Remove one-third of the chickpeas and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the parsley, lemon zest, capers and olives. Add two-thirds of the parsley mixture to the sauté pan, along with the cherry tomatoes, sugar and caraway seeds, and cook for 2 minutes on medium-high heat, stirring often.
Add the pasta, stock, water and three-quarter teaspoon salt and bring to a simmer. Decrease the heat to medium, cover and cook for 12 to 14 minutes or until the pasta is al dente.
Stir the remaining parsley mixture into the pan, drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and garnish with the reserved fried chickpeas and a good grind of pepper. Serve at once.
NOTE: This program is presented in partnership with The Crown Family Center for Jewish and Israel Studies at Northwestern University. This program is generously underwritten by Paula R. Kahn.
The Chicago Humanities Festival is also pleased to partner with the Seminary Co-op Bookstores, a not-for-profit bookstore whose mission is bookselling. When you purchase your copy of Ottolenghi Flavor from Seminary Co-op you are directly supporting independent bookselling in Chicago and a vital space for book browsing, discovery, and community.
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