There’s a railway arch in north London, built from equal parts brick and tahini, walls coated in olive oil and floors stained with spice: habanero and fenugreek, Aleppo chile and black lime. To the outsider it is identified through stacks of wooden pallets, blue shutters, red brick, and industrial steel, easily missed and effortlessly unglamorous. To the insider, it’s a tiny bit more. This is the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen, the OTK to some, where a stripped-back railway arch makes absolute sense, where a group of individuals meet and eat, cook and write, tear and share, and gather with just one motive: to create good food with good ingredients, and to share it with the world. THE TEAM
Those who know us will tell you that Yotam Ottolenghi and his Test Kitchen colleagues are an eccentric bunch, our various backgrounds and stories leading us to this one shared space. To say that the Test Kitchen can be narrowed down to one voice would be inaccurate, really, when it is in fact a collection of voices and personalities, the comings and goings of chefs and writers, of food stylists and photographers, of sommeliers and every other talent in the trade. It is a decade of collected fingerprints, the kind of space you walk into and know, “This place is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Leading the crew you have Noor Murad, who informally crowns herself the queen of Middle Eastern feasts; Verena Lochmuller, who is basically the Google search engine to all baking questions; Ixta Belfrage, coauthor of Flavor and our inside scoop to the latest foodie trends; Tara Wigley, the in-house word wizard; and, of course, Gitai Fisher, the man who keeps us all in check while making absolutely sure we stay out of trouble. There’s also our trusted colleague Claudine Boulstridge, our secret OTK weapon, who tries and tests all of our recipes from her family kitchen in Wales. The latest addition to our team of misfits is Chaya Pugh, who joined just as the book was coming together, adding heaped spoonfuls of spicy personality to the brew. Ultimately, of course, there is Big Y, as we dub him, who pushes and inspires us, while making sure we have enough wiggle room to sail our own course. Our stories are sprinkled across this book, written and narrated by Noor, whose Middle Eastern influence makes a prominent mark on these pages. THE STORY
The year is 2020. It doesn’t need an introduction, more of an acknowledgment, that this is the year in which the rug was pulled out from under the world’s feet. Suddenly, and blindly, we found ourselves dispersed and separated, across borders and continents alike. Unstable ground had us grabbing for what was true and familiar and, to no surprise, all steps led to our kitchens. We did what we all do best, and began creating recipes based on what we had in our cabinets and fridges, our freezers and pantries. We grabbed and raided and rummaged and emptied. We stripped down our kitchens to build up our tables and soon realized that any recipe—any food, any dish—can be made unequivocally “Ottolenghi” with the right know-how, the right willingness to work with what you have.
So 2020, the most momentous of all years, brought with it the first OTK cookbook, the one in which we teach you a skill or two that we’ve recently learned—how to cleverly utilize your kitchen finds while putting a delicious meal on the table. We see it as the first of many stories the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen has to tell, tales of other timely skills that are yet to reveal themselves, accounts of our food adventures and all the little discoveries that we’re so desperate to share with you. THE BOOK
For the longest time, we called this book “Stripped”; we thought of it as a stripping down of our shelves, pantries, cupboards, fridges, and freezers. It felt like a liberation, getting rid of the old to make way for the new. In turn, we wanted to set the foundations and framework in place for you to flex your own creativity, stripping down your own kitchens, raiding your own shelves and swapping things out with your own pantry ingredients. This decluttering approach was freeing, teaching us how to love our kitchens and our stoves, but most importantly teaching us how to love ourselves at an otherwise very challenging time. And so Shelf Love (thank you, Caz!), was born, a whimsical description, yes, but also a truly accurate one.
To build up this book we have broken down our kitchens: pulling ingredients apart only to put them back together again—cohesive dishes based on kitchen finds. A bag of dried chickpeas, repurposed. A pound of onions, cooked down. Some wonky-looking vegetables, grilled. There is a “this for that” ethos here; the understanding that, in this new world, the need to improvise, to roll with the punches, is more crucial than ever before.
We carry this ethos throughout the book, as we map out our recipes based on kitchen logistics: from fridge to pantry to one-dish bakes and sweet, sweet endings. It’s food that we’d cook at home, for our friends and families, comforting but with a slight edge, a little twist, a “cheffy” addition. They’re recipes with stories and personalities, with swap-outs and suggestions, recipes that say without saying, “I’ll show you the rules, but here’s how to break them.” We want you to take these recipes and make them your own, turning this cookbook into a handbook—one to write and scribble on, to stain with turmeric and fold down pages. We want this book to be that book, the most haggard-looking book on your shelves, indicating that it serves its purpose and then some. We want, more than anything, for you to show this book some love. Shelf Love.
Copyright © 2021 by Noor Murad and Yotam Ottolenghi. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.