I'd like to start by dedicating this post to the memory of the finger pad on my left pointer finger. Pointer was a brave digit who we sadly lost to fatal burns during the making of this post. But she died doing what she loved best, lathered in caramel. She will, I imagine, post-humously audition for the role of The English Patient in the finger puppet adaptation of Michael Ondaatji's classic tale of ill-fated desire, espionage and self discovery in wartime Saharan Africa. I will remember her fondly.
So as you can see, at this point it is: Plenty (the recent vegetarian cookbook released by London chef and restauranteur Yotam Ottolenghi) (1), Miss Devour (0). If you count the fact I even bought a vegetarian cookbook an achievement in itself, it’s probably more like 2:1 down.
I justified the uncharacteristic purchase of a vegetarian cookbook firstly, because Ottolenghi is not himself a vegetarian (I enjoy the irony of the publication) and secondly, with a desire for something new after flicking, cooking, eating and being inspired by his first cookbook, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, about one hundred and seventeen times over.
Plenty is very much the ‘to be continued’ episode of Ottelenghi's first book. Fresh flavours, bold combinations and excitingly for me, ingredients and ideas I just don’t see often in the restaurants of Paris. I adore French food, obviously, but regularly crave the diversity of tastes and cuisine fusions I enjoyed in London and Australia. I also yearn for a cooked vegetable which you could not use the words limp, drowned or flaccid to describe. Unsavoury dining descriptions really, but regularly how I sadly experience vegetables cooked in classic French bistros.
Plenty is divided into chapters focussing on essential elements or ingredients: The Mighty Aubergine, Green Things, Funny Onions. Recipes are generally not complex and happily the ingredients lists are short enough to pick up at the market and carry home (a real consideration on a velib). There is a mix of snacks and starters (marinated mushrooms with walnut and tahini yoghurt), sides (caramelised fennel with goat’s curd) and mains (the ultimate winter cous cous) and where a dish would work well with a meat, Ottelenghi lets us know.
I took to the kitchen with his recipe for Surprise Tatin. A savory take on a French classic. I have a low to medium-grade obsession with each ingredient so it seemed a perfect starting point to my inevitable relationship with this book.
Surprise Tatin adapted from Plenty, Yotam Ottolenghi, 2010.
200g cherry tomatoes (I slowly oven dried them at 130 C with salt, pepper, garlic, olive oil and thyme, segmented ripe tomatoes will work equally as well)
500g baby potatoes (the smaller the better, boiled in salted water until just cooked)
1 large onion (I used two, caramelised with butter and water until honey coloured)
Oregano (or I used thyme simply because I had plenty in the cupboard)
150g of hard goats cheese
1 puff pastry sheet
10g butter (I didn’t use this and made my caramel with water and sugar only)
After lining a round cake tin with paper, you make a medium dark caramel with the water and sugar and pour this directly into the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle the caramel with your herb(s) and flaked sea salt depending on your taste.
Next trim the tops and tails off the mini potatoes so they are all roughly 2 cms high and set them on top of the caramel cut side down. Keep thinking upside down. It’s perhaps an obvious statement, but keep in mind what the tart will look like when you turn it out.
Push the 'confit' tomatoes and caramelised onions into the holes around the potatoes and spread the sliced goats cheese evenly across the mosaic of deliciousness. You can season at any point and may even like to use some fine slices of garlic in there too. Finally lay a round of pastry on top, being careful to tuck the edges of the pastry around the pan and hug all the potatoes.
Start the tart off in a 200 C oven for 25 minutes then turn the oven down to about 180 C for a further 15 minutes. This should ensure the pastry is cooked through and you won’t end up with a soggy base. Don’t leave the tart in the tin for more than a couple of minutes after baking (the caramel will set and you’ll never get it out) and turn the tart out while holding your breath and hoping you don’t loose half of it in The Flip. Tah Dah!
A few tips: Molten caramel burns. Molten caramel may require the purchase of oven cleaner. Molten caramel is truly delicious in this dish with some flakey sea salt sprinkled just before layering the potato rounds.
Me, I'll will probably take a hiatus from molten caramel at least in the short term. That said, I'll be making this dish again and next time want to experiment with pumpkin, chevre and basil/pesto or maybe caramelised onions, gorgonzola and sage with some toasted walnuts for garnish. In the mean time Pointer and I wish you and your fingers luck and fun with this one.