Fat’s the way to do it: Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes in praise of rich food, from a fennel tarte tatin to spicy pommes dauphine (2024)

I’ve always gone a very long way to avoid conflict, but I’ve recently watched as battle lines have been drawn, and arguments turned so combative, that even I have no choice other than to step into the ring and take a position. I’m talking about the fatwa on fat.

Anyone interested in the relationship between the good fat we like to eat (in butter, eggs, nuts, oily fish, unprocessed red meat, olive oil and so forth) and the fat we don’t like to store (on our tummies, hips, love handles and so forth) should look up Bryan Walsh’s End The War On Fat in the June 2014 issue of Time magazine – the cover declares confidently: “Scientists labelled fat the enemy. Why they were wrong.”

Walsh’s article finally exonerates those who over the years have held fast to a very simple belief: that a diverse diet made up of ingredients whose name you can pronounce is always going to be better for you than a diet made up of food that celebrates itself as being “free of” something or other.

If something is taken out of a food product, the calories have to be replaced with something else. In the case of “fat-free” products, that’s often lots of sugar and other carbs, which are undeniably the cause of some major health-related problems. It has been, Walsh writes, “a vast nutritional experiment… nearly four decades later, the results are in: the experiment was a failure.”

My intuition has always propelled me towards foods I find delicious, rather than those labelled by others (often with questionable agendas) as “healthy” or “good-for-you” or “super-foods”. So, instead of eliminating fat from my diet, I revel in it daily, in what I judge a healthy balance alongside all sorts of wonderful produce: lots of green veg and roots; animal protein as well as protein from lentils, nuts and dairy products, fruit, grains, seeds, spices and different beans; and sugar, too, sometimes unrefined, in dark chocolate or lightly whipped cream.

This commonsense, balanced approach had stood me in good stead when navigating the sea of conflicting “expert” advice. This week’s fat-rich recipes are here to celebrate this attitude. Serve with a green salad.

Fennel tatin

This makes enough for four to six.

4 medium fennel bulbs, outer leaf removed, base and stalks trimmed
200g hard rindless goat’s cheese, broken into 2cm chunks
2 tsp olive oil
10g fresh oregano leaves
1 tsp fennel seeds
60g pitted dry, black, wrinkly olives
65g caster sugar
300g all-butter puff pastry

Preheat the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6. Bring a large pan of water to a boil and lower in the fennel bulbs. Bring back to a boil, cook for three minutes, then drain, refresh under cold water and pat dry. Cut each bulb in half lengthways, and then cut each half into long, 3cm-wide wedges. Sprinkle over a quarter-teaspoon of salt and set aside.

Put the goat’s cheese in a bowl with the oil, oregano, fennel seeds, olives and a little salt (the olives and cheese are already salty, so go easy), and mix gently with your hands.

Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the base of a 25cm cast-iron skillet pan and place on a high heat. Leave for two or three minutes, until the sugar dissolves and turns to a brown caramel – keep an eagle eye on it, otherwise it might burn. Remove from the heat and immediately lay the fennel wedges on top, fanning them around the base of the pan and slightly overlapping the wedges as you move around the circle. Sprinkle over the cheese mix, pressing some of the olives and cheese between the fennel pieces.

Roll out the pastry to 4mm thick, then cut out a 28cm circle. Lay this over the fennel, tucking it in neatly around the sides. Pierce the pastry a few times with a small knife, bake for 20 minutes, then lower the temperature to 180C/350F/gas mark 4 and bake for 30 minutes more, until the pastry is crisp and golden-brown. Remove from the oven, and carefully invert the tart on to a clean plate, so the pastry’s on the bottom. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Harissa pommes Dauphine

You can make this without a food mixer, but you’ll need to be up for a lot of stirring to make the mixture as silky smooth as it needs to be. Serves four to six, as a tapas or side.

2 medium floury potatoes
40g unsalted butter
80g plain flour
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp cumin seeds, lightly toasted
1 tbsp rose harissa
90g soft rindless goat’s cheese, broken into 2cm pieces
2 tsp finely chopped preserved lemon skin
5g tarragon, roughly chopped
About 400ml vegetable oil
1 lemon, cut into wedges, to serve

Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6. Prick the potatoes with a fork and bake for an hour, until cooked through. Remove and, once cool enough to handle, peel off the skins and pass the flesh through a fine sieve or potato masher, so you have a smooth, dry mash. Set aside to cool.

Put a small saucepan on a medium-high heat with the butter, 120ml of water and three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt. Once the butter has melted and the water reaches a boil, add the flour and cook for three minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture is very thick and coming away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a mixer with a paddle attachment, and start mixing on a high speed. With the motor running, add the eggs one by one, then carry on mixing until smooth and silky but thick. Add this to the mash with the cumin, harissa, cheese, preserved lemon and tarragon, and stir through.

Put a small saucepan on medium heat with enough oil to come 3cm up the sides. Once hot, use two teaspoons to form small 3cm-wide balls out of the potato mix (dip the spoons in cold water first, so the mix won’t stick too much).

Drop five or six balls at a time into the hot oil, and fry gently for five to six minutes, until golden-brown and cooked through. With a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate lined with kitchen towel and keep warm. Repeat with the remaining balls and serve at once with a lemon wedge.

Cavolo nero croque

Fat’s the way to do it: Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes in praise of rich food, from a fennel tarte tatin to spicy pommes dauphine (1)

Some sandwiches do more than fill a gap when you are in rush and the fridge is empty: this one is a meal in itself. Serves six.

50g finely grated mature cheddar
75g soured cream
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tbsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp English mustard powder
⅛ tsp ground nutmeg
Salt and white pepper
200g cavolo nero leaves, tough stalk removed
50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
12 slices sourdough bread, 12cm x 8cm and 1.5cm thick
100g gruyère, thinly sliced
6 fried eggs, to serve

For the béchamel sauce
30g unsalted butter
25g plain flour
300ml whole milk
75g finely grated mature cheddar

First make the béchamel. Put the butter in a medium saucepan on a low heat. As soon as it melts, add the flour and cook for two minutes, whisking vigorously, until the flour is incorporated. Keep whisking as you pour in the milk bit by bit, thoroughly incorporating each addition before adding more. Raise the heat to high, bring to a boil and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the sauce begins to thicken. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese, and a quarter-teaspoon each of salt and white pepper. Once the cheese has melted, set aside to cool and thicken.

Turn on the grill to medium. Mix the first six ingredients in a small bowl with half a teaspoon of white pepper. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil, add the cavolo nero. blanch for three minutes, drain and refresh. Drain again and set aside until completely dry (you can speed up the process by spreading it out on a clean tea towel).

Spread the butter over the bread and grill for three minutes, until crisp and golden. Remove from the grill and set the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. Turn the bread over and spread the unbuttered sides with a thin layer of the soured cream mix. Lay the gruyère on top of six of the slices, followed by the cavolo nero. Cover with the other six slices of toast, cream mix facing down. Press together, then put on a baking tray. Spoon over the béchamel, and bake at the top of the oven for 10-15 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and flecked with golden-brown. Serve at once with a fried egg on top.

Yotam Ottolenghi is chef/patron of Ottolenghi and Nopi in London.

Follow Yotam on Twitter.

Fat’s the way to do it: Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes in praise of rich food, from a fennel tarte tatin to spicy pommes dauphine (2024)
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