What does it take to get people home cooking again? Well, if we look at 2020, it was the situation that brought people back into their kitchens to bake and make, fostering their starters along the way. For some of us home cooking is something we’d always done but for some of us, home cooking was an entirely new endeavor. And, for some recipe developers, the pandemic shifted what audiences were expecting from cookbooks and recipes. Ottolenghi and his team of recipe developers have taken this challenge on in their latest book, Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love.
The team of recipe developers in the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen (OTK) offer the things that Yotam Ottolenghi mentions at the beginning of Shelf Love: skills and solutions with recipes that are flexible and useful. With the different strengths of each developer in the test kitchen comes recipes and ingredients that give the home cook the opportunity to build techniques and add to their recipe repertoire. The recipes are organized into 6 chapters: 1) That one shelf in the back of your pantry, 2) Your veg box, 3) Who does the dishes, 4) Fridge raid, 5) The freezer is your friend, and 6) At the very end. Shelf Love is mindful of how home cooks might use and will use the recipes, looking to inspire and encourage us to see our kitchens and pantries in a whole new way. I found that it’s not about the ingredients that I’m missing or don’t have but it’s about what I do have to cook with.
While Shelf Love was born from all the experiences of those developers working in the test kitchen, it is Noor Murad who wrote the book and, as said in the introduction, “whose Middle Eastern influence makes a prominent mark on these pages.”(6) I adore Noor’s approach to home cooking and, it was when she shared the recipe for Smooshed Carrots w/ Cilantro-Pistachio Pesto and Pickled Onions on her Instagram feed in the spring of 2020 that had me impatiently waiting for the next Ottolenghi cookbook (which turned out to be OTK: Shelf Love). Thankfully this recipe is included in Shelf Love because it’s one of my family’s favourites. Roasted carrots are a supper staple here, and I appreciate how this recipe takes them further by adding extra flavour through the pesto and pickled onions. In the recipe notes I was smiling for the way the dish is described: as “…a good way to dress up the humble carrot in its most fantastic party attire.”(68)
I’ve found myself reaching for Shelf Love when I’m out of ideas or when I have no desire to cook. While I love cooking for my family, sometimes I feel like I need a recipe that works on autopilot. The recipe for me is the Confit Tandoori Chickpeas. All of the ingredients get put into an oven-safe pan or pot and then they cook and mingle (lid on) for the next 75 minutes. I’ve served this with rice or naan (sometimes both) and, I always appreciate the fact there is so little to clean up afterwards AND it gives me 75 minutes to do something else. Not only does this recipe take care of itself but it tastes so bloody delicious! The chickpeas become so soft, and the spices flavour the oil so beautifully. This is one of the best recipes in the whole book.
No one — except for myself — seems to like Brussels sprouts in my house but when I serve the Brussels Sprout and Parmesan Salad w/ Lemon Dressing no one complains! This recipe has the home cook prepare the Brussels sprouts in two ways: raw and roasted. The raw sprouts get thinly shaved, while the others are roasted whole until well-browned. Then the Brussels sprouts are mixed with thinly sliced kale leaves, sliced red onion, basil leaves, and toasted hazelnuts. It’s the dressing, made from lemon juice, garlic, mustard, and Parmesan cheese that really makes the salad (my mouth waters at the thought of it!).
And it was that one jar of lupini beans languishing at the back of my pantry that got star billing at supper time when I used them in the recipe for (One Jar of) Butter Beans w/ Preserved Lemon, Chile, and Herb Oil. I didn’t have any jarred butter beans, but I did have that jar of lupini beans, so I decided to give the recipe a try. Crunchier in texture than butter beans, the jarred lupini beans tasted lovely after being left to marinate in the oil and, instead of using regular preserved lemons, I ended up using NY Shuk’s Preserved Lemon Paste. Once the beans had finished marinating, I served them alongside sliced crusty sourdough and cheese. I appreciate how this recipe inspired me to reach for something in my pantry that may have otherwise been forgotten.
Dessert for breakfast is a wonderful thing and when I made the recipe for Sticky Miso Bananas w/ Lime and Toasted Rice, I actually used them as a topping for my morning oatmeal! I normally make my oatmeal using a bit of milk and a pinch of salt so these roasted bananas with their sweet/tangy/salty/umami-rich flavour totally added to the oatmeal. And the sticky and creamy texture of the bananas and oatmeal are so perfect for these cool late-autumn mornings. The whole breakfast felt comforting and had a nice stick-to-your-ribs quality.
Unlike other cookbooks, OTK: Shelf Love has some at-a-glance foldout guides. At the front of the book home cooks are given a foldout at-a-glance guide for ingredients — Cans & Jars, Spices, Legumes & Grains, Baking, Veg Box, Meat, Seafood & Dairy, and Nuts & Seeds — where ingredients are listed under these headings along with a corresponding page number(s) where to find recipes using these ingredients. Then, at the back of the book the headings — Meal Suggestions, Vegan/Easily Veganised, Veggie Mains, Non-Veg Mains, Kid-Friendly, One Pot/Pan/Tray, Under an Hour, and General Notes — are given so that home cooks can quickly see recipes. Blank, lined pages are also given so that the home cooks can make notes and, it is in this way that I think the authors are encouraging us to truly make this cookbook our own.
Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love is not only a cookbook born from the kitchen experiences brought on by the pandemic but it’s part of a new type of cookbook that is redefining what home cooking can mean in these post-lockdown times. This cookbook also ushers in a new era of Ottolenghi cookbook that is focusing on how the many voices and experiences of the test kitchen team are influencing recipe development in the Ottolenghi oeuvre.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Appetite by Random House for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. Also, many thanks to New York Shuk for generously gifting me their Preserved Lemon Paste.