‘Simple’ and ‘Ottolenghi’ aren’t words that I’d instinctively put together. I love Yotam Ottolenghi’s food but it has to be said that his recipes are often complicated and contain many ingredients, even though a lot of them are ½ teaspoon of ‘this spice’ and ¼ teaspoon of another. So I have to confess I was a little suspicious of the title of his latest book (published 2018) called Ottolenghi Simple. However, I started hearing good things about it and therefore took a look. And when I took a look, I immediately saw tempting recipes that, while not ‘simple’ by everyone’s definition, were ‘simple’ by Ottolenghi standards. So the book came home with me.
I bought the book a few weeks’ ago and looked at it and thought about what recipes I’d like to try, but no cooking was done. Then on Friday I met my son at Ottolenghi’s flagship store and restaurant in Islington for a meal before we saw Shakespeare’s RICHARD II at the Almeida Theatre – conveniently situated almost opposite the restaurant. It was Jonathan’s first time eating there, my first since August 2017. It’s good to be reminded quite how special it is. Ottolenghi’s first restaurant/deli opened in Notting Hill in 2002, the Islington branch 2 years later. I remember going there with my friend Annie when it was still quite new and being blown away. ‘Sharing plates’ were a new concept in London then (even if not in Ottolenghi’s native Jerusalem), but while the concept is now a very familiar one, Ottolenghi’s food remains magically ‘extra-ordinary’. When you eat it, you realise that his recipes have be fairly complicated to achieve the levels of flavours and textures that delight the tastebuds.
Of course, back home the book just had to come out again and some Ottolenghi cooking went on in my kitchen yesterday; to be shared with the family. We began with these beef meatballs and there was an Ottolenghi apple cake for dessert (recipe to come later). I made it almost exactly as Ottolenghi suggests with just a couple of minor changes: less garlic than his 3 cloves; and rather than just smoked paprika, I did half that and half sweet paprika, because I’m not fond of very smokey flavours. I also added a little plain flour during the initial frying to thicken the sauce a bit.
Beef Meatballs with Lemon & Celeriac – Serves 4
- 400g beef mince
- 1 medium onion, very finely chopped
- 120g fresh breadcrumbs
- 20g flat-leaf parsley, chopped (plus extra for garnish)
- 1 large egg, beaten
- ¾ teaspoon ground allspice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small (or half large) celeriac (400g), cut into wedges about 1cm thick
- 1-2 garlic cloves
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1½ teaspoons fennel seeds, lightly crushed
- ½ teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1 dessertpoon plain flour
- 500ml chicken stock
- 3½ tablespoons lemon juice
- salt and black pepper
Put the beef, onion, breadcrumbs, parsley, egg, allspice, ½ teaspoon salt and some black pepper into a large bowl. Mix well with your hands then roll into small balls weighing about 40g. I oiled my hands slightly before doing this. I also weighed the meatballs and got 16, though Ottolenghi says the mixture makes about 20.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan with a lid. Fry the meatballs until nicely browned on all sides. Transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon. Add the celeriac (with a little more oil if necessary) to the pan, along with the garlic and remaining spices. Fry for a couple of minutes to release the aromas from the spices. Sprinkle over the flour and mix in well.
Return the meatballs to the pan and add the stock and lemon juice, stirring as you go.
Bring to the boil, then turn down to a gentle simmer and leave to cook for 30 minutes with the lid on. Remove the lid and check the seasoning. Then allow to simmer without the lid for another 10 minutes for the sauce to reduce and thicken a little.
This is an ideal meal to prepare in advance. I made this a few hours before eating and then just warmed it through. I served with rice (but you might like couscous) and a big green salad on the side.
It was a lovely meal and all the flavours worked so well together. These were meatballs with that added extra special something … and enjoyed not just by the grown-ups but by my little grandsons (nearly 4 and 14 months) too. That’s the kind of family meal I like – where everyone is happy!
The recipe was indeed simple, in the sense that there was nothing complicated about it. It wasn’t an ‘instant’ meal though; it took a bit of time to prepare with the rolling of the meatballs and preparing the celeriac. But the little bit of effort was definitely worthwhile and I’m pretty certain the family are going to be asking for these again!