Yotam Ottolenghi's latest cookbook is all about making special food simple10/11/2022
We met on Grindr,’ teases Yotam Ottolenghi when I ask how he met Noor Murad, co-author of his latest book, Extra Good Things.
The delightful synergy between the two is evident as we talk about the book, which is all about adding magic and sparkle, some ‘extra good things’ to dishes at home.
Yotam has long been associated with complex and unique, though always exciting food, but his more recent books have featured slightly less daunting recipes – with the home cook firmly in mind.
His latest release is a follow-up from the hugely successful Shelf Love, also co-authored with Noor. That was about creative use of store cupboard leftovers, while their new title is a handbook for those wanting to add something a little extra to their home cooking.
‘I feel like these books are siblings,’ says Noor. ‘Shelf Love is the older, slightly more practical, sensible sibling and Extra Good Things is the naughty one who is a bit louder and not afraid to push the bar.
Yotam explains: ‘There are things to learn in the first book that you can use in the second. Noor was the centre of the books in a way. I have a history of writing books but Noor didn’t have that background and you can see her wisdom and confidence really coming through in this second book.’
Noor is young and very gentle in her demeanour but a powerhouse when it comes to the kitchen. The Bahrain-born chef wrote to Yotam in 2016 asking for a job, after a spell working in New York. She says. ‘I started in the Ottolenghi in Spitalfields where I stayed for two years and then I moved to the Test Kitchen.’
And the Test Kitchen, where both their books have been tried, tested, written and photographed, is where we meet. It covers an entire floor above a supermarket in Holloway Road, north London.
Turkish delis, betting shops and shisha bars abound around a tiny doorway that leads into Yotam’s world, where there are daily, democratic discussions on ingredient combinations and dishes. This is where all the magic happens before dishes appear on Ottolenghi shelves, restaurant tables and in the pages of the books.
‘The Test Kitchen began in Camden and it was just me and one other recipe tester,’ says Yotam. ‘Then it grew, the concept of it as a place where we share everything evolved and we had more people working with us, so we needed more space. We really put it to the forefront of what we do – because we are a collaborative creation of many people, it isn’t just me.’
He is absolutely clear that this latest book is, like most of his works, a collaboration and not his alone. He is also very proud of Noor and keen to constantly reiterate her valid and absolutely essential role in writing this book and its predecessor.
She captures the idea that Ottolenghi has become a synonym for exciting, abundant, sometimes eclectic food, and that a dish can now be ‘Ottolenghified’ with a tweak or an ingredient.
‘Noor was the one who captured the notion that, to have an Ottolenghi recipe is not just a set of procedures or flavour combinations – it’s a whole state of mind, says Yotam.
‘A baked potato, for example, is not very Ottolenghi in itself, but Noor made me see that actually you can take something and “Ottolenghify” it with a little extra something, such as marinated feta, za’atar tomatoes or smoky chipotle oil and you instantly give it the Ottolenghi feel.’
Yotam is associated with juxtaposing sweet and sour flavours, Middle Eastern spices and adding a wow factor to food. Extra Good Things shows you how to do all this at home. The baked potato he mentions is just one example of the ways in which you can jazz up any number of seemingly ordinary ingredients. The book is approachable, simple to use and full of wonderful menu lists, cheat sheets and tips on those extra ingredients.
While Shelf Love gave us ideas for tins of cannelloni beans, chickpeas and lentils, Extra Good Things takes things a step further, with ideas on what to do with everything from eggs to rice, roast chicken to butter beans. There’s even a kid-friendly section.
Noor recognises that social media has started to shape their work at the Test Kitchen, where a lot of attention is paid to what followers ask for, but Yotam also notes the influence of lockdown in how he thinks about food. ‘People used to criticise me for having a thousand ingredients in my recipes,’ he laughs. ‘I was quite proud of the fact that I was doing food I felt was special. I felt if you wanted unique food I could help you and there is always going to be a place for that.
‘But with Simple [his best-selling 2018 publication], I started seeing things more from the perspective of cooks at home and then, of course, lockdown really brought that home. I also liked the challenge of creating special flavours for people at home.’
Noor says: ‘I often take the recipes and mix and match and substitute things, which is how I want people to use these books’. Yotam likes baked rice ‘so there is always a baked rice recipe in my books. We create recipes from our homes and our childhoods, and that translates into our own kitchens at home and then our books’.
Extra Good Things is loaded with delectable, delicious recipes even the least confident of us can do at home.
‘These are Test Kitchen stories,’ says Noor. ‘But they are also the story of the past few years when we all spent so much time at home cooking, when we needed short cuts and inspiration. People are happy to follow recipes but why not add in something extra? Some magic and sparkle?’ Something very ‘Ottolenghi’, as they say.
Inspired to get cooking? Here are two special recipes to start with:
- Blackened chicken with caramel and clementine dressing
- Turmeric fried eggs with tamarind dressing
Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Extra Good Things, by Noor Murad and Yotam Ottolenghi (Ebury Press, £25).
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