This weekend, D and I flew up to Boston to see good friends and their newish babies. We saw Rachel, David, and baby Gabriel; Jess, Eli, and baby Mia. We spent the time gurgling, giggling, tickling, and jowl-pinching. And we ate, of course. Boy did we eat. Rachel made blackberry meatloaf and Jess and Eli made Melissa Clark's wonderful Whole Wheat Cinnamon Snacking Cake (try saying that 5 times fast). But much - maybe most - of what we ate last weekend was from Plenty.
Plenty is open on my workbench at home. It's been that way practically every evening for the past few weeks. I keep telling myself I'll turn elsewhere for the next meal, the next experiment - but then I discover caramelized black-pepper tofu or Mediterranean ribollita, and my commitment to cookbook variety softens as quickly as the onions swimming in olive-oil at the bottom of my soup pot.
Apparently, I'm not alone. Rachel made at least 3 recipes from Plenty over the weekend, and when I was at Jess's for breakfast, I noticed that she, too, had the book propped open. Incidentally, it was open to the ribollita. Back in DC, I dropped my bags, made a beeline for the grocery store, and had that very soup on the table about an hour later.
It's the color that keeps me coming back, I think. The book is drenched in color. Pictures of creamy, blistered eggplant and jewel-like crimson pomegranate seeds beckon me to the kitchen on dark winter nights. And Plenty truly celebrates vegetables from every season. In other treasured books, the full-page pictures are of perfect tomatoes and zucchini, which in winter only make me long for a different time. The most enticing images in Plenty are of winter cabbage slaw, herbed omelets, and warm, creamy hummus. They're as delicious now as ever.
Last week, I found myself with a pile of broccolini and a handful of snow peas. In Plenty, I found a winning treatment for these winter vegetables. Yotam Ottolenghi, the author of Plenty, has you stir up a sweet, tahini-based sauce, drizzle it over just-blanched vegetables, and sprinkle it all with toasted sesame seeds and nigella seeds, also known as black caraway. I first encountered them in Israel (they're called "ketzach" there), and love using them to finish savory dishes. To me, they recall a more floral, nutmeg-y version of caraway. They taste like nothing, but smell like everything.
Ottolenghi suggests either piling all the ingredients in a large bowl and stirring into one big salad, or plating individual salads to order. I chose door number 3: composed salad, but on one big platter; dressed lightly, with extra sauce on the side. A success by all accounts. When sunlight is scarce and colorful vegetables are in short supply, I'll be turning to Plenty for recipe ideas -- and, it's safe to assume, I'll be making this dish again.
Broccolini and Snow Peas with Sesame SauceAdapted from Plenty Serves 4
So: Ottolenghi calls for broccolini, snow peas, and green beans. The beans at my market looked wimpy, so I skipped them. But I see no reason to stop the adapting there: if you can't find broccolini or snow peas, feel free to swap in broccoli, or even cauliflower, cut into florets. You're going for a bit more than 6 cups of vegetables total. Blanching time will vary depending on the size of your florets, but it should hover around 2 minutes, maybe a bit less. When the vegetables are bright green and cooked but still firm, pull the broccoli or cauliflower out of the water and set aside. Proceed as instructed below.
For the sauce: 4 tablespoons tahini 2 1/2 tablespoons water 1 small garlic clove, crushed 1 teaspoon tamari or other soy sauce 1/2 tablespoon honey 1 teaspoon cider vinegar 1 1/2 tablespoons mirin (if you don't have mirin, up the honey to 1 tablespoon and up water to 3 tablespoons) 1/2 tablespoon peanut oil pinch of salt
3/4 lb. (3 1/2 cups) broccolini 3 cups snow peas 2 teaspoons sesame oil 1/3 cup cilantro leaves 3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds 1 teaspoon nigella seeds
First, make the sauce: Whisk together all ingredients in a medium bowl. The sauce should be thick but pourable; if sauce is too thick, add water by the teaspoon to thin it out.
Next, blanch the vegetables: Set a large pot of lightly salted water over high heat and bring to a boil. Trim leaves and ends off broccolini. When water is boiling, add broccolini, cover completely with water, and blanch it until tender but still firm, a scant 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove broccolini into a large, shallow bowl or platter. Next, blanch the snow peas. Mine took just about 1 minutes until they were bright green and still firm, so watch them carefully. Blanch until firm, then transfer to the bowl with the broccolini.
Assemble the dish: Toss broccolini and snow peas together, or scatter onto a serving platter. Drizzle the dressing over the vegetables with a light hand; I find that using a fork or very small spoon gives me the control I want. Next, drizzle the sesame oil over the vegetables. Top with cilantro leaves, sesame seeds, and nigella seeds. Serve at room temperature.