I had been reading and hearing about Plenty everywhere (first from my friend Molly - thanks, Molly!). And the more I read and heard, the more I wanted the cookbook, which is chock-full of interesting and innovative vegetarian recipes. During the week after Christmas, I headed to Barnes & Noble on a mission to get the book. I searched the whole cookbook section, and finally the realization set in that the one empty spot on the shelf among the featured cookbooks was the home of the book I was after. Just to make sure, I checked with a sales associate, and it was confirmed. And I learned that unless I had reserved a copy, I was not getting my hands on Plenty.
Bummed, I left. I contemplated ordering the book on Amazon, but for some reason I didn't. Maybe because there's something about wandering into a store and paging through a book before buying it.
About a week later, I was waiting to meet up with a friend in Harvard Square, so I wandered into Anthropologie to kill time. I'm probably one of the only people who was disappointed when Anthropologie moved in. I would much rather have Crate & Barrel back, but when I discovered that Anthropologie carries cookbooks and dishes, I became a little less disappointed. I headed right up to the third floor and flipped through copies of various baking books that were on display. Then I rounded the corner and my eyes landed on three copies of Plenty sitting right there on the shelf in front of me. I grabbed a copy, gawked at the beautiful cover, scanned the glossy pages, and marched straight down to the register.
When I got home that night, I paged through the entire cookbook, trying, with a lot of difficulty, to narrow down the recipes to what I should cook first. Eventually, I settled on the broiled vegetable soup, leaving things like Puy lentil galettes and crusted pumpkin wedges with sour cream for future cooking projects.
The broiled vegetable soup is basically made with eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, onions, and herbs. The eggplants and peppers are roasted and charred under the broiler, and the tomatoes are gently warmed in the oven underneath them while the onions slowly cook on the stovetop. Everything is simmered in vegetable stock and pureed until smooth. The original recipe calls for stirring in some lima beans at the end, but I'm not likely to go near lima beans with a 10-foot pole, so I stirred in some cannellini beans instead. While they make the soup more filling, the soup is so thick and substantial that you could leave them out completely if you wanted.
I found that the tomatoes didn't really have enough time in the oven (a mere 15 minutes) to do much, so next time I would put them in earlier. This time, I simply quartered them when I removed them from the oven, allowing them to cook through while simmering in the soup. I also decided that since the eggplants and peppers were peeled, there was no reason to have tomato skins in the soup, so I fished those out with tongs while the soup simmered as well. None of this is part of the original recipe, so feel free to leave the tomato skins in and add the tomatoes to the soup whole if you like. The recipe below reflects the method and timing I used.
I also think I would roast the garlic next time I make this. There are 10 cloves of garlic in the soup, but they're simply simmered with everything else. I think roasting or even just sautéing the cloves with the onions would impart better flavor.
As a final touch, I decided to serve the soup in bread bowls, which I made from scratch. If you're cutting carbs or don't want the extra work (the soup is already fairly time-consuming), the soup is delightful on its own. As suggested in the recipe, I served this with a dollop of Greek yogurt on top, and I urge you not to leave this component out as the tangy yogurt provides a welcome contrast to the mildly sweet soup.
Broiled Vegetable Soup (adapted from Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London's Ottolenghi)
3 medium eggplants
1 red bell pepper, stem removed with seeds
1 orange bell pepper, stem removed with seeds
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 red onions, finely chopped
4 small to medium vine-ripened tomatoes, cores scooped out
1/2 cup basil leaves, most torn, some reserved for garnish
4 oregano sprigs, leaves picked
10 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
4 cups vegetable stock
Kosher salt and pepper
1 (19-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Bread bowls, for serving (optional)
Greek yogurt, for serving
Preheat broiler to high. Line a sheet pan with foil. Prick the eggplants in a few places with a small knife and place on one side of pan. Broil for 30 minutes.
Turn eggplants with tongs, and place peppers on opposite side of pan.
Broil vegetables for 15 minutes, turning peppers after 7 or 8 minutes.
Once peppers go in the oven, heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onions, and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, for 20 to 30 minutes, or until onions become soft and sort of golden.
Once peppers have broiled for the 15 minutes above, arrange the tomatoes on another foil-lined pan, and place the pan on the rack below the other vegetables.
Continue broiling all vegetables for another 15 minutes, again turning peppers after 7 or 8 minutes.
Transfer pans to cooling racks.
Using tongs, place eggplants on cutting board. Fold foil where eggplants were over the peppers and leave them to cool.
Cut a long slit in each eggplant, and scoop out the flesh into a small bowl. Discard skin.
Transfer tomatoes to cutting board, and cut in quarters.
Pull skins off peppers and roughly chop the flesh.
Add eggplant flesh, peppers, tomatoes, torn basil, oregano leaves, garlic, stock, and some salt and pepper to pot with onions.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Use tongs to pull off and discard tomato skins while soup simmers, if desired.
Process soup in batches in food processor until smooth.
Return soup to pot, stir in beans, and reheat soup. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Ladle soup into bread bowls, if using, or soup bowls, top with a dollop of greek yogurt, garnish with basil, and serve.
One last note: The book says this serves 4. I'm going to say it serves 8 to 10, even as a full meal, even without a bread bowl. It makes a lot of soup. I ended up freezing some.
What cookbooks are you loving lately?