Poetry Shelf Kitchen review: Ottolenghi FLAVOUR by Yotam Ottolengi and Ixta Belgfrage

Ottolenghi: FLAVOUR by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, with Tara Wigley, photography by Jonathan Lovekin, Ebury Press, 2020

Hasselback Beetroot with Lime Leaf Butter

Take eight medium beetroot and brush off the warm earth.

Hold in your hand and breathe in spring.

The garden is full of summer promise, Jacinda speaks of connections.

Breathe out a long winter of lockdowns and catastrophe.

Absorb the song of the tūī, Reb Fountain’s honeyed singing as you

Peel and slice the beetroot thinly, almost to the base, then salt and roast.

Smell the pungent aroma, the wind coming in from the coast.

Melt butter with fresh ginger, garlic, lime leaves, olive oil, and then infuse.

As you wait for the election results to come in, add lime juice.

You are on hold, nothing can be taken for granted, the votes are being counted.

You dream of fresh water and global kindness, our children fed.

You crush and slice, blitz and chop.

You mix kaffir lime leaves, fresh ginger, garlic, green chilli, coriander.

Season your salsa, then season with love and spring promises.

In a blue Temuka bowl, upon a smear of yoghurt (you’ve omitted the cream),

You place the beetroot glistening red.

You spoon over the melted butter strained of aromatics.

You sprinkle the salsa and a squeeze of lime, your early morning beach walks.

Take a moment and wait for your family to put down brushes and pens.

Make room for comfort, for the things that matter most.

You are back at Whangamata watching the sun come up on Level 1.

You are serving the flavour of a London kitchen in a Waitākere haven.

You are tasting the flavour of bridges, the salty with the sour.

Jacinda and her team are back in power talking of new ways of leading.

The kitchen is aglow with food and hope,

And you feel like a load has lifted and floated into the Tasman Sea.

Tomorrow you will cook spicy berbere ratatouille with coconut salsa.

The next day a butternut, orange and sage galette.

One day you might eat at Ottolenghi’s in London,

With Aotearoa flavours in your pockets, the chatterbox tūī in your ear.

Paula Green Election Day, Te Henga

Hasselback beetroot with lime leaf butter on my Temuka blue bowl (bought on a fabulous 2019 Storylines Tour)

Pretty much most rooms in our home have at least two shelves of cookbooks. Cooking and writing poems have gone hand in hand since my debut poetry collection Cookhouse in 1997. Reading other poetry books has taken my writing and relations with the world in different directions. The same goes for cookbooks – I cook both inside and outside my comfort zone, because my love of cookbooks has expanded what and how I cook. It is so very satisfying.

I have book clusters of national cuisines, methods, ingredients (seafood), eating choices (vegan, vegetarian) and, of course, much-loved writers. Yotam Ottolenghi is one such favourite. So his new book Flavour, written and developed along with Ixta Belfrage, is a cause for celebration. His previous two books, Plenty and Plenty More celebrate vegetables, with the second book exploring the way process can take a vegetable in any number of flavoursome directions. Yotam suggests Flavour is like a Plenty 3 as it celebrates the transformation of vegetables into flavour bombs. The book is divided into three sections: process, pairing and produce.

‘While making a delicious recipe can be simple, great cooking is never the result of one element in isolation – it is the interplay of different types of processes, pairings and produces.Yotam Ottolenghi

Yotam’s cookbooks are an essential part of my kitchen, because his recipes are flavour-rich, the processes are easy, the end results both nutritious and delicious. The same applies to the team effort of Flavour. For me the recipes are to be made and savoured (I tag all the ones I am itching to cook), but also to be used as aides to my own culinary inventions. The 20 essential ingredients listed at the end of the introduction are flavour-bomb conductors. Not your usual crew (say tahini, pomegranate molasses, turmeric, balsamic and cider vinegars, horseradish, harissa, cumin, fresh oregano, lemon and dill etc). Maybe things have a inseasons as I have also been favouring chipotle chillies, miso, ground cardamom and tamarind paste lately (on the list), and I am now dead keen to track down black limes, jarred butter beans (!), hibiscus flowers, red bell pepper flakes, rose harissa for my pantry.

Walking on the beach this morning I was musing on the way food has been so important in Covid. In Aotearoa New Zealand we have been baking sour dough, planting seeds, making sweet treats. I learnt to make kombucha (highly recommended), upped my micro greens, learnt to make yoghurt. Food is a way of nourishing us physically, but also offers the utmost comfort in family settings (and with friends when we can do that). Food connects us to the people who generate crops and products for us, to our forbears who have handed down beloved ways of doing things. Yes, I believe tradition is as important as innovation and vice versa. Along with the pairings, processes and products, Yotam and Ixta’s nurturing food values are the pulsating heart of Flavour. I get goosebumps reading through the pages.

Food was a big part of my doctoral thesis where I explored the ink in the novels of C20 Italian women writers. I wanted to know what drove the writing pen – and food most definitely mattered. I am thinking of Yotam’s pairings and products, and the way each ingredient we pick up to slice or saute or steam, is imbued with our mood, our past experiences, the events of the day, our daydreams. An apple takes me so many places when I cut it into slender batons for a coleslaw. Put this word next to that word and you get sparks and hums; put this ingredient with that ingredient and the same thing happens. Poetry and cooking? A match made in heaven.

Flavour is a sumptuous mouth-watering addition to my cookbook collection – at the moment I am lugging it from kitchen table to the lounge to bedtime reading. I have a long list of things to cook – recipes that will be the starting points to new pairings and products. The book fills me with warmth and connections and hope. Bavissimo Yotam and Ixta. I love this collaboration so much. And I have to say my family and I thought the beetroot dish was sensational (as was the election result!). They said it was like being in a restaurant – and it was all a matter of product, pairings and process. A GLORIOUS recommendation from Poetry Shelf Kitchen.

Yotam Ottolenghi is the restaurateur and chef-patron of the four London-based Ottolenghi delis, as well as the NOPI and ROVI restaurants. He is the author of seven best-selling cookery books. Amongst several prizes, Ottolenghi SIMPLE won the National Book Award and was selected as best book of the year by the New York Times. Yotam has been a weekly columnist for the Saturday Guardian for over thirteen years and is a regular contributor to the New York Times. His commitment to the championing of vegetables, as well as ingredients once seen as ‘exotic’, has led to what some call ‘The Ottolenghi effect’. This is shorthand for the creation of a meal which is full of colour, flavour, bounty and sunshine. Yotam lives in London with his family. Website

Ixta Belfrage spent her youth dipping her fingers into mixing bowls in places as far-flung as Italy, Mexico and Brazil and so became an expert without a title. She began her culinary career proper at Ottolenghi’s NOPI restaurant, before moving to the Test Kitchen, where she has worked for Yotam Ottolenghi for four years, contributing to his columns in The Guardian and The New York Times. She lives in London, where she makes regular guest chef appearances in some of the city’s top restaurants. Flavour is her first book.

Penguin Books page

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