It's the eve of the publication of the second Ottolenghi cookbook!! Tomorrow I head to Primrose Hill Books where they are saving a copy of "Plenty" for me as the first book, titled simply, "Ottolenghi," flew off the shelves. Until now, these delightful cookbooks haven't been available in the US, but I just checked Amazon and it appears the original book will be for sale in May. You may have to wait a bit longer for the second, but keep your eyes open, they are valuable for anyone with an adventurous palate (or a collector of beautiful cookbooks).

I first came across "Ottolenghi" in a small book shop last year. It was a dreary London winter's day, and I was here without a kitchen of my own and missing puttering around a stove. Among the many cookery books (I love how that's what they call them here), "Ottolenghi" beckoned with it's sumptuous photos and fascinating mix of ingredients. I thumbed through, decided it had to be mine as I hadn't seen anything like it back home, and immediately began to cook - borrowed kitchen be damned! Once again I was inspired: Grilled Aubergine and Lemon Soup, Crispy Pork Belly, Lentils with Dried Cherries, Bacon & Gorgonzola. Each dish was like a little gift to myself.
The authors are from Palestine and Israel, met here in London, and decided to open a small deli-patisserie-takeaway shop in Notting Hill in 2002. Their book is an extension of that hugely successful shop, full of hearty salads, meats prepared simply but with intriguing sauces, and jewel box-like desserts. Some of the food is purely British, but many recipes take common ingredients and pump them up with lively Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors. Fennel and Feta with Pomegranate Seeds and Sumac. Roast Chicken with Saffron, Hazelnuts and Honey. Jerusalem Artichoke and Swiss Chard Tart. Pistachio and Rosewater Meringues.
When I bought the book I wasn't aware that the shops (there is a newer one in Islington) were a station on the foodie cross. I kept blabbing on about my new kitchen experiments and someone finally stopped to tell me that there was in fact a place I could go and witness all this creativity. My first trips were merely to gawk. Through the windows I could see piles of sweets, simple bottles filled with potions, and platters of colorful salads. Finally I went and sat at the small communal table - it seats only 10 - and ate. What I loved was that the food tasted like it did when I made it myself. There was no wizard behind a curtain. Nothing fancy and over-the-top restauranty. It was simple unadulterated food - delicious! You pick whatever combination of salads and mains you'd like to sample and the waitstaff serve you from those platters in the front of the shop. It's truly genius - a personalized mezze platter of interesting, fresh food.
So tomorrow I'm off to pick up my new book. Now that Spring has finally (sort of) sprung, I'm eager for new inspiration as the latest fruit and veg appear at my green grocer. Look for the book - you'll love it.