If Fergus Henderson of St. John is one of the most important figures in contemporary British cuisine, Yotam Ottolenghi is another. Their food does not have much in common—where Henderson is famous for cooking in a re-articulated English vernacular, Ottolenghi’s food slants more Mediterranean. But in other ways their philosophies seem similar: both do a lot with vegetables; both eschew the trappings of high-powered fine dining for more casual service—Ottolenghi is most known for his delis which offer mostly take-out service, and even at the locations with formal seating the menus are not heavy on cooked to order items; both also embrace a non-fussy approach to cooking and plating—at neither St. John nor at Ottolenghi are you going to find multiple elements and techniques on a plate and nor is prettification a goal in the presentation. Both seek, you might say, to elevate the humble; both also embrace communal dining as an aesthetic/experience: at St. John you are at separate tables but feel like you are in a mess hall; at Ottolenghi long communal dining tables are the norm.
We go in with friends on half a cow/steer each year but this year we doubled our take. Rather than all of us take 1/8 each as we usually do, our household took a quarter and the others took 1/12th each. I’m sorry for beginning this post about food with advanced mathematics. The point is we have rather a lot more beef in our freezer than we usually do. It’s good beef, so having a lot of it is not a problem in and of itself. The cattle are raised locally, without any hormones or antibiotics, they roam freely but are not entirely grass-fed. When it comes time for slaughter they are taken to a local meat-processing facility/butcher’s and we place our cut order. This is not a fancy artisanal butcher and most of the cuts available are standard-issue: we get flank and skirt, for instance, but not flat iron or hanger. This is not a problem either. The problem is that when you have a quarter of a large cow or steer in your freezer you need to come up with many ways of cooking it for, no matter how delicious they are, if only a few recipes comprise your repertoire, monotony must follow, as the night the day or as hateful inanity follows the opening of Donald Trump’s mouth. Continue reading
I’ve posted a number of recipes that use my friend Steve Sando’s Rancho Gordo beans. I think his beans are great and I haven’t had better. But I’ve secretly always thought that the best thing he carries might actually be a vinegar. Specifically, banana vinegar. It’s made from fermented bananas on a plantation in Mexico, and costs a lot, but it smells like heaven and tastes pretty good too. I can’t bring myself to cook with it; I can’t even bring myself to make a vinaigrette with it: instead, I just pour glugs of it over things so I can get that aroma. This summer I’ve been making a number of warm salads that use it to impart a tang with just the right amount of fruity sweetness. Here is a recent version that came out quite well. It features “baby” octopus along with another great Rancho Gordo product, their incredibly fresh garbanzo beans. If you don’t have octopus at hand or it’s not to your taste, you can just as easily substitute shrimp; you could even make it vegetarian and go with potatoes instead. Continue reading