Yotam Ottolenghi wants more respect for overboiled vegetables

Suzanne Carbone
Ready to have a dip: chef and author Yotam Ottolenghi.
Ready to have a dip: chef and author Yotam Ottolenghi. 

The heart-throb of the artichoke-heart world, Yotam Ottolenghi, is such a champion of vegetables that the Aussie staple is hereby renamed three veg and meat.

Just as parents can't choose a favourite child, Ottolenghi, 45, doesn't have a favourite vegetable but has a "favourite of the moment" and it's cabbage because it absorbs flavours. "I think it's so underrated," he said.

As with brussels sprouts, don't boil it to death. "Be more aware of what it means to cook a vegetable properly rather than just accept vegetables are fine in any form or shape because they are good for you." 

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Cabbage belongs in solitary confinement for its blandness and a certain odour but is transformed by being cut into wedges, smothering it with a bit of miso paste and vegetable stock, and slow-braising it in the oven on low heat for one to two hours. The result is caramelised cabbage. "It's absolutely delicious – something quite unusual."

The London-based chef, author and TV star who uprooted boring vegetables with a spicy Middle-Eastern belly dance is in Melbourne for The Age Good Food Month and starring at a sold-out talk for the Wheeler Centre on October 31 and a sold-out Mediterranean brunch with chefs Shane Delia and Karen Martini on November 2.

The Israeli-born sage is not a vegetarian and was a good child because he ate all his vegetables – and everything else. Growing up, he was chubby – or well nourished by the sound of it. "I was very greedy. I would eat whatever they gave me."

Ottolenghi has given his blessing for frozen vegetables because they are sometimes better than fresh ones but the only tinned vegetable allowed in his pantry is tomatoes. In the UK, he landed in hot water for criticising the hummus recipe of TV star Mary Berry after she used tinned chickpeas and olive oil. Tins belong in the sin bin and he defended the dip by writing "How to make hummus: Kitchen notes from a chickpea pedant" in his blog.

For those wanting quinoa to go back to where it came from, Ottolenghi says it deserves to stay because it's "wonderful" and needs equal rights with rice. "We are not going to say rice has had its day." His latest cookbook, Plenty More, has a recipe for quinoa porridge with herb oil, feta, and roasted tomato.

Having an Italian father, he appreciates pizza and will shock purists by giving the nod to pineapple pizza – with this disclaimer: "Well, it's not my thing but I can see why people should like it –it's delicious." He has eaten a few from Domino's, declaring: "I'm not snobby about food." 

Cabbage will truly be out of solitary confinement when it's saluted on a pizza. 

The Age Good Food Month starts on November 1. See melbourne.goodfoodmonth.com