This is my deal with cookbooks. I have lots of them – over 60 – but I hate buying them. Probably because I figure I own enough already. (Sidebar: If you too own a gazillion cookbooks, I highly recommend subscribing to Eat Your Books. It indexes your cookbooks so you can search through them online for a particular recipe, by ingredient, etc. Brilliant! No more thumbing through 60-odd cookbooks looking for that Chicken Marsala recipe.)
As I was saying, I typically don’t buy cookbooks during the year, so they end up at the top of my wish list for birthday and holiday gifts. And this year my wishes were answered (thank you David, Ken & Lyn). I received Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi, as well as it’s recently published follow-up Plenty More, On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee and A Year in my Kitchen by Skye Gyngell. So which cookbook to start with??
My first victim is Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More, which has been on pretty much every top cookbook list for 2014. He is a London-based chef from Israel who now owns several delis and a restaurant (all in London). His style is best described as “veg-centric”. He isn’t strictly vegetarian, but vegetables – with lots of bold flavors (think lemon juice, tahini, harissa, coriander seeds, etc.) – are the primary focus. His delis are not your typical assortment of cold cuts and cheeses, pastrami and rye sandwiches, and some afterthought side salads. Ottolenghi’s delis proudly display at least a dozen or so gorgeous salads; the few meat dishes are relegated to the background. If I could eat his food everyday, I could definitely go vegetarian.
After perusing (drooling) over Plenty More I decided to make his Cauliflower Cake (the Honey-Roasted Carrots with Tahini Yogurt is next on my list). The vegetable cake concept is new to me but it seems like it could become a good “master” recipe, easily adapted for other vegetables and herb combos (I’m envisioning broccoli, sharp cheddar and some cayenne pepper). Now let’s bake…..
Start by simmering the cauliflower in water until soft. Meanwhile saute onions and rosemary in olive oil until soft – see before and after below:
Mix those with a “cake” batter of eggs, flour, and baking powder; add a few more spices. Pour into a prepared springform pan (like the kind you use for cheesecake) that is coated with sesame seeds for an added crunch and pretty appearance (though you could easily leave those out), and top with onion rounds – which look super cool – and bake.
The beautiful golden color contrasted with the deep purple onion rings make for a beautiful presentation. If you are entertaining, display it on a cake stand (it is a cake, after all). Slice it into small wedges for a first course or larger slices, accompanied by a green salad, for a main meal. Now what new recipe to attempt next?? If any of you have tried any of the recipes from Plenty More, would love to hear what you made.
Cauliflower Cake (serves 4-6)
Note: Put a few dabs of butter on the springform pan prior to lining it with the baking parchment. Parchment will stay in place and not flop around.
1 small cauliflower, outer leaves removed, chopped into 1″(3 cm) florets (450 grams)
1 teaspoon salt
1 medium red onion
5 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
Small bunch of basil, chopped (15 grams)
1 cup (120 grams) plain, all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 teaspoon ground turmeric (or a rounded 1/4 teaspoon)
5 ounces (150 grams) coarsely grated Parmesan (I used the medium side of a box grater)
Melted butter, to line the tin
1 tablespoon sesame seeds or a mixture of sesame and nigella seeds (if you happen to have nigella seeds)
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 400º F (200º C). Place cauliflower florets and 1 teaspoon salt in a saucepan. Cover with water and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the florets are quite soft: they should easily break when pressed with the back of a spoon. Strain and set aside in a colander to dry.
Peel the onion and cut 4 round slices, each 1/4″ (0.5 cm) thick, off one end. Coarsely chop the rest of the onion and place chopped onion in a small pan with the oil and rosemary. Cook for 10 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until soft. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. While cooling, whisk the eggs and basil together in a large bowl. Whisk in the cooled onion mixture followed by the flour, baking powder, turmeric, Parmesan, 1 teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper. Whisk until smooth before adding the cauliflower and stir gently, trying not to break up all the florets. At this point the mixture will look like cauliflower in typical neon orange cheese sauce because of the turmeric.
Line the base and sides of a 9 1/2″ (24 cm) springform cake pan with baking parchment. Brush the sides with melted butter. Tilting the pan, lightly scatter the seeds over the melted butter so they stick to the sides. Spoon the cauliflower mixture into the pan and arrange the reserved onion rings on top. Place in the center of the oven and bake for 45 minutes, until golden-brown and set: a knife inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean. Remove from the oven and leave for at least 20 minutes before serving. Serve just warm, rather than hot or at room temperature.
Adapted from Plenty More, by Yotam Ottolenghi