Cooking my way through cookbooks: part 2

In my opinion, there are two kinds of cookbooks: there are the straightforward, no-nonsense ones, the ones that might not always have accompanying photos of the food but do always contain matter-of-fact recipe instructions. These ones rely on staple ingredients and are written with the assumption that the at-home chef need not be bothered by editorializing, and is on the hunt for the most expeditious, delicious route to have dinner on the table.

Then, there are the ones that I would put in the “coffee table style” category, the ones that have become so immensely popular, thanks in part to the Instagram foodie influencer craze, the popularity of Bon Appetit and New York Times Cooking (among other cooking moguls), and cooking specials such as Samin Nosrat’s Netflix special Salt Fat Acid Heat. Samin’s infectious laugh and passion for understanding and appreciating food took the culinary world by storm.

I see these books as editorial, artful masterpieces that tell a story about the food, the chef, and the ingredients, all the while showcasing the most exquisite plates of food you’ve ever seen: salads and bowls of soup, sandwiches and roasted vegetable platters, all presented under professional lighting, an expensive camera shuttering away, while an entire “crew” stands by to make sure no crumbs are astray, no smears of food left to distract from the perfectly white perimeter of a plate (at least this is what I imagine the process to be like).

This is, of course, not to say that the former cookbooks don’t also tell a story — it’s just a different format, and I can appreciate those cookbooks for their versatility (more on this in part 3).

My cookbook collection features an assortment of cookbooks from both “categories” and for part 2 of my journey through cookbooks, I decided to go with the gorgeous Ottolenghi Flavor: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi. I only became familiar with Yotam Ottolenghi because of my NY Times Cooking app — which I will probably reference repeatedly because I’m obsessed with it and visit it at least twice a day —but the book itself was a gift from my brother for Christmas (a very thoughtful one, as he knows my love for NYT).

To begin, let’s just examine the cover itself, this stunning work of art that is oozing with flavor:

The picture of the cover does NOT do it justice because it is also slightly raised and has a beautiful texture to it, slight bumps over the word Flavor and Ottolenghi beneath a mound of juicy garlic and onions.

As I was flipping through the pages trying to settle on a recipe, I was intimidated by the level of elegance of many of these recipes. For example, there are recipes with names like “Melon and Buffalo Mozzarella Salad with Kasha and Curry Leaves” or “Sweet Potato in Tomato, Lime, and Cardamom Sauce.”

It’s not to say that the recipes are complicated or even the ingredients (there are a few things I would need to read up on though before going to the grocery store). It’s more that these are such beautiful pairings of flavors and as a home chef who only dreams of coming up with these concoctions myself, and watches others do so on cooking shows, it feels slightly intimidating.

Perhaps this is why I went with the recipe that seemed the most aligned with what I would normally make at home: “One-Pan Orecchiette Puttanesca”. I, of course, cannot wait to try the other recipes but this felt the most approachable.

Things I didn’t account for/didn’t turn out the way I imagined them to:

  • The number of pasta oz. called for (9 oz.) versus the box I actually picked up and had already mixed in with everything before realizing it (16 oz.). This is a regular misstep for me and I usually try and do “kitchen math” on the fly — sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. This only reinforces the importance of preparing ahead of time.
  • I couldn’t find orecchiette so I went with rigatoni instead.
  • Crisping up chickpeas is surprisingly harder than I thought. I ended up blackening the bottom of my dutch oven and adding more olive oil to salvage it but the chickpeas just never crisped up. How does one get crispy chickpeas?! Yotam, I would really like to know!
  • Because of the pasta oz. miscalculation, my one-pot pasta turned out more soupy than pasta-y. But, as often also happens with my cooking, it was a pleasantly delicious mistake! And, I have no qualms with pasta + soup (two of my favorite things).

For once, I actually followed the recipe EXACTLY as written — I didn’t substitute, add more of anything, or diverge from the recipe list (aside from adding more liquid to try and compensate for the oz. situation, and using rigatoni).

And, I am happy to report that even in spite of the soup-y-ness, this was a fantastic one-pot recipe that I would most definitely prepare again.

Here is the final product — I clearly need to work on my lighting!:

If you like what you see above and you’re a fan of interesting recipes, unique flavors, and beautiful books, go check this one out. If nothing else, it will make for a great coffee-table accessory :).

10/10

I’m 29 years old and here is what I know about myself: word enthusiast, dog lover, new-found cat lover, over-committer, and oftentimes, loyal to a fault.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store