You’ve probably heard of the Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi, who’s been dazzling British foodies with his original blend of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes ever since he moved to London in the early aughts. Perhaps you’ve salivated over the recipes in Plenty or Jerusalem, the cookbooks he’s written with Sami Tamimi. The American edition of Ottolenghi: The Cookbook (no need for clever titles once your name is synonymous with deliciousness) was an exciting release complete with our quaint old-style measurements. Vegetables play a large role in all three, so it’s the kind of food just about everyone can enjoy.
My friend Jeannette Gorin is a caterer and a private cook (as in, for a prearranged fee she’ll come to your house and make dinner for you and your friends), and she specializes in a similar mix of regional Mediterranean food. Her take on one of Ottolenghi’s most popular dishes, roasted sweet potatoes and figs, is as simple as can be and makes a wonderful side dish with grilled meats in summer or roasted turkey in the fall and winter. “But whether you’re making something exotic or simple, it seems to blend in,” Gorin says. “The flavors seem unique yet so familiar, and it’s just yummy.”
Ottolenghi uses fresh figs, but Gorin prefers dried Turkish ones that she rehydrates in water. “I like the texture; they don’t get mushy,” she says. “The beauty of this dish is the rustic look, so you don’t have to get too fussy with knife skills,” she adds. “It doesn’t have to look perfect. But the colors are lovely, with the red of the figs, and the green onions.”
4 sweet potatoes, scrubbed
12 whole scallions, washed, roots removed
6 figs, quartered (more if you love figs)
4 Tbs balsamic vinegar
1½ tsp sugar
Heat the oven to 475°F and bake the sweet potatoes in their skins until fork tender; about 30 minutes. Cool and cut in half lengthwise, and then cut each half into three or four wedges. Arrange the potatoes on a platter and dot with the quartered figs.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over moderate heat and sauté the scallions until they take on a brownish, appetizing color. Scatter them over the potatoes and figs.
Combine the sugar and balsamic vinegar in a small pan, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for two or three minutes until the mix starts to become syrupy.
Drizzle over the potatoes and figs. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Serves 6. (“It’s a side dish, not meant to be gorged on — although that’s optional too, if you like it,” says Gorlin. In which case, it serves 4.)