Every now and then I get the question “who is your favorite chef?” As of today, I would have to say one of my favorites is Yotam Ottolenghi. His insatiable curiosity for reinventing the traditional brings new vibrancy to seemingly banal ingredients. So while the internet has attenuated the need for physical cookbooks, three of the handful I own physical copies for are his. His recipes are also elaborate, and thus relegated to “special occasion” projects. The result is almost always the same: colorful, packed with flavor and a truly unique experience. The two recipes in this post – Pistachio and Pine Nut-Crusted Sea Bass with Wild Arugula and Parsley Vichyssoise and Caramelized Fennel Bulbs With Goat Cheese – are from the cookbooks Nopi and Plenty, respectively.
Some fun fennel facts (say that 5 times fast): fennel is a part of the carrot family, can grow up to 8-feet tall (2.5-meters) and has the same flavor compound as licorice – though the two are unrelated. This affinity means it’s a bit of an acquired taste, but this recipe may sway even the staunchest of naysayers. I’d been eager to try another dish from Ottolenghi’s Plenty, and came across this one. The goat cheese, caramelization and fresh dill bring a wholly new character to the vegetable; and make for a delectable side to any meal. Click HERE to see the recipe for this flavorful dish.
The origins of vichyssoise are unknown, though the French claim seems to have more weight than the American one (albeit perpetuated by another culinary icon of mine, Julia Child). Regardless, the recipe is a summer icon: as it’s traditionally served cold. This particular vichyssoise was a nice upgrade – where traditional vichyssoise is a creamy ivory that is served cold, this was a vibrant emerald and served warm. The medley of greens also lent a nutritional punch to the dish. The trick to getting this recipe right is to buy really fresh greens, and to cook them just long enough so they retain their color.
The nut crust is the “crown jewel” of the dish – and fairly easy to make. You can use almost any medley of nuts, but the pine nut / pistachio combination is quite delicious. What’s even better is you can make the nut crust the day before (in fact, you can prepare this whole recipe in advance, with the exception of the fish). The original recipe calls for halibut, but our local market had a good sale for Chilean sea bass. In case neither is available, any flaky white fish will do the trick. You can bake or broil the fish, whichever works best based on your oven. Click HERE to see the recipe for this beautiful main course.
As I mentioned at the start of this post, Ottolenghi is a chef who brings new life to traditional foods. So for the musical pairing, I wanted to find a composer who followed a similar style. In the art world, one movement that captures this is Neoclassicism: effectively a wave of works that drew inspiration from the arts of classical antiquity. In classical music, there are a slew of composers who fall within this category. One of my favorites is Paul Hindemith. Born at the turn of the 20th century, Hindemith viewed his writing as “utility music” (or Gebrauchsmusik). This style was considered to be a reaction against the complexity and difficulty of 19th- to 20th-century music, and Hindemith took pride in composing works for the “everyday” amateur. Perhaps his most famous composition is Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, which premiered in 1944. Seven years prior, Hindemith and his wife had fled Berlin with the rise of the Third Reich, first taking refuge in Switzerland and then moving to the United States. It was here that he was approached by the choreographer Leonid Massine. Massine wanted to collaborate with Hindemith on a ballet that leveraged themes by Weber. The partnership ultimately fell through, but the music endured and was premiered on its own as Metamorphosis. The below recording (Movt I – Allegro) features the New York Philharmonic with Alan Gilbert. Enjoy!
- “Fennel,” Wikipedia.com
- “Vichyssoise,” Wikipedia.com
- “Neoclassicism,” Wikipedia.com
- “Paul Hindemith,” Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
- “Gebrauchsmusik,” Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
- Keller, James M. “Notes on the Program: Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes of Carl Maria von Weber, Paul Hindemith” New York Philharmonic. Sept 2010.