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Archive for February, 2011

The food: vegetable dishes inspired by Yottam Ottolenghi’s cookbook Plenty

The story:

I’ve been a fan of Yottam Ottolenghi’s cooking since sampling his cuisine at one of his eponymous shops in London and trying some of the recipes he has published online via The Guardian and Telegraph newspaper websites.

So I’ll be buying the North American version of his cookbook Plenty, when it is published this March, with a cover featuring eggplant (or aubergine, as they like to call it in England) with pomegranate seeds and a buttermilk yogurt sauce.

I know the book is a good one because I recently skimmed the British version, borrowed from the library,

and found it to be full of delicious-sounding and looking recipes for vegetables prepared in what I’ve come to recognize as the Ottolenghi style: one that combines Middle Eastern ingredients, flavours and cooking methods with those of other cuisines – such as Japanese, French, or Hawaiian, for example; employs fresh herbs, and often pairs vegetables with fruits and/or nuts.

Take the three dishes from Plenty that I – clearly craving something sweet – freely adapted and made this past week: broccolini and sweet sesame salad, sweet winter slaw, and roasted butternut squash with sweet spices, lime and green chili.

The key to the broccolini salad recipe was the sesame seed garnish, and the dressing, made with tahini, water, tamari, honey, cider vinegar and mirin.

The recipe for the roasted squash with sweet spices, lime and chili, can be found here. Its delectability comes from the textural and taste contrast between the roasted squash pieces and the cool tahini-yogurt-lime juice sauce.

And my rendition of Ottolenghi’s sweet winter slaw (recipe here) came out as a sunny combination of mango, red cabbage, mint and toasted macadamia nuts tossed in a dressing made fragrant with more lime juice, maple syrup, soy sauce and sesame oil.

I ate these dishes and imagined a not-too-distant future in which my dinner plate was often filled with colourful, healthy and delicious vegetables prepared in the Ottolenghi style. A future I hope to realize when I buy the book.

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The food: the best pizza I’ve ever eaten

The story:

While in Los Angeles recently, I made a pilgrimage to Pizzeria Mozza, the casual pizza restaurant that adjoins the more formal Osteria Mozza in West Hollywood, both spots owned by famed chefs and restauranteurs Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, and Nancy Silverton.

I’d wanted to try Pizzeria Mozza after hearing great things about it from a variety of sources, including the venerable pizza blog Slice . Plus I’ve been working on a story set in L.A. and wanted to include a scene that took place at Pizzeria Mozza, so I needed to do some in-person research (so much more effective than looking up an address on Google Street View) on the location. Yeah, I did.

The online reservation system for Pizzeria Mozza would not let me reserve a table for two any later than 5 pm on a Thursday night, which I thought meant the place would be packed by 6, but may have meant they don’t take reservations during certain hours, because the attractive room was not full the whole time we were there.

We started with an antipasto of fried squash blossoms with ricotta, a menu item that called my name so loud resistance was futile.

Though the $12 order was small (it contained 5 stuffed blossoms), each bite of fried blossom was wonderful – hot, crunchy, creamy, scented with zucchini-ness, flavoured with olive oil and salt.

I prefer pizza meatless, so after I confessed my cheese ignorance and asked our easygoing and friendly – in a relaxed, not overly perky way – waiter what stracchino was (a creamy cow’s milk cheese, he said) I opted for the stracchino with artichokes, lemon and olives pizza ($16). I was happy when it came with baby arugula scattered over, and happier still when, after admiring its puffy cornicione, I bit into the crust, and found it to be bready yet airy, tasting of toasted wheat, and when combined with the toppings, mind-blowingly delicious.

At the waiter’s suggestion, E had ordered the pizza with speck, bufala mozzarella, olive tapenade & oregano ($16). Because the crust for that particular pizza is baked without the toppings (they are served at room temperature over the hot crust), the kitchen’s first try at baking it failed, and to tide E over while he waited for the second attempt, the waiter brought us a complimentary antipasto of caponata.

We appreciated this gracious gesture, but I found the caponata too garlicky, and wished we had been offered arancine alla bolognese instead, though if I wanted to try them, I should have ordered them. NEXT TIME.

E’s pizza, when it came out soon after, was also delicious and beautiful:

though I don’t think E found his to be quite as splendid as I did mine. I don’t think he’s salivating and dreaming about his pizza right now, for instance, and wondering how soon we can go back to L.A. to eat it again. But I am.

Pizzeria Mozza on Urbanspoon

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The food: roti cuisine

The story:

I checked out Roti Cuisine of India, a humble roti shop at Dupont and Spadina in Toronto, after a literary agent and facebook friend of my actual acquaintance – Sam Hiyate – praised the joint in a status update.

The décor is extremely simple – the décor brings to mind a 1980’s no-name donut shop, squeezed into a long narrow space illuminated by only one window – but Roti Cuisine is clean, there’s courteous table service, the prices are more than reasonable, and the food of a higher quality that you’d expect when $6.99 gets you a huge roti, cooked to order, that could feed two.

I tried the aloo papri chat, a cool (temperature), tasty and light salad of crispy (rice?) wafers, chickpeas, and potato dressed in a mint, tamarind yogurt sauce. Someone else ordered pakoras, which seemed a cut above, and less greasy, than pakoras I’ve had elsewhere.

For a main, I ordered the aloo gobi roti (medium, which the waiter told us was mild). It was freshly made and flavourful, though I liked it more when I reheated half of it at home for dinner and ate it with chutney.

Next time, I’d order the chaat and pakoras again and split one roti between two people. And there will be a next time.

Roti Cuisine of India on Urbanspoon

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