Top positive review
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St Otto of Lenghi , we love you.
on 5 May 2008
Moro, Jamie, Diana (Henry) ... I've bought all those books this year, excitedly scanning through them and bookmarking the pages of lots of yummy looking recipes to try. But how many have I actually got round to trying? Probably one or two recipes per book. They inspire, excite and suggest other ideas, but as for slavishly following the recipe, nah - you can kind of work it out for yourself.
But St Otto is different - every meal we've eaten this week has been a revealing and faithful recreation of his great works on the streets of London. Admittedly I was already a convert. Ever since his huge, puffy piles of meringues beckoned me into the tiny Notting Hill shop about 4 years ago, I have been hooked. St Otto takes simple, everyday ingredients you use all the time at home - broccoli, chilli, garlic and olive oil, for example - and somehow transforms them into something magical that tastes so much more than everyday. You come out of their shops thinking 'How did they do that? How did they make that aubergine taste so smoky? Why don't my mushrooms taste like that when I fry them in olive oil? Why is their lemon and pistachio cake so squidgy?
Well, the cookbook generously reveals all. Garlic and lemon are likely to be involved (they start by saying that if you don't like lemon or garlic, you should skip to the end) - but there are no weird secrets underpinning the Ottolenghi magic. No intricate labours of love. This is easy to prepare food that is perfect for relaxed meals with big groups of friends.
They just have an extraordinary understanding of which flavours and ingredients work well together and how to combine them in just the right amounts (usually more generous than you are used to) to create something that piques your interest as well as your tastebuds. You can spot that they lived an interesting life as journalists and philosophers before following their love of food, as the book is a joy to read, with a style that is as warm and relaxed as the food itself. These are people you want to come and sit down at the table and share the food with you.
If you like modern, light and singingly fresh food that draws on the best of the Middle Eastern side of the Mediterranean, this is the book for you. If you think you already know how to knock up easy meals like roast turkey breast, couscous salad and french beans with hazelnuts without needing to invest in a cookery book, thank you very much, then it's even more imperative that you buy this book as it will lift both your everyday meals or cooking for friends to new heights. As for me, I'm off to check the price of Kenwood Chefs so I can recreate the joy of their meringues or brioche in my own home too. Praise be!