Growing up in Jerusalem, chef Yotam Ottolenghi never thought much of the December holidays. In his Jewish faith, family gathered annually for Passover, celebrated in the spring. But since moving to London, Ottolenghi has fully embraced the spirit of the winter holidays, and especially the season's edible merrymakings.
"I was a pretty late comer to the traditions of Christmas. It’s only in very recent years that we have a Christmas tree and stockings at home in London," the father of two young sons explains. "But it’s so nice to do these things with little people in tow. The holiday season seems to go on for over a week at ours—endless meals and feasts and people and chats—I love it!"
While he's embraced the traditions of his adopted hometown, the chef also infuses the holidays with international flavor and flair, a now prominent trademark of the Ottolenghi style of cooking. The former journalist and academic began his culinary career as a pastry chef, but found success with a line of namesake delis that introduced Londoners to a taste of his native Israel. Ottolenghi also popularized the spices and flavors of the Middle East, teaching English home cooks to use za'atar, dried Iranian limes and tamarind through his successful and accessible cookbooks and newspaper recipe columns.
From his newest cookbook, Nopi, which is coauthored by chef Ramael Scully and features dishes inspired by their fine-dining restaurant of the same name, Ottolenghi shares recipes for the centerpiece of any Christmas or Hanukkah feast: pepper-crusted beef tenderloin and fennel salad with pecorino and truffle, served with roasted carrots with coriander seeds and garlic. Both dishes are built on a foundation of recognizable and comforting base ingredients, but seasoned with a tinge of global panache.
Ottolenghi's coriander-spiced root vegetables infuse a jolt of color to any holiday table. "Get as many different colors as you can," Ottolenghi advises. "A mix of orange, yellow and purple look just fantastic." He also encourages the substitution or addition of parsnips or sweet potatoes which, cooked in the same manner, will beget equally delicious results.
When preparing the carrots, he advises cutting them lengthways, "so that they retain and resemble their true shape, rather than chopping them widthwise as people often do." This will render them more elegant and suitable for a meal of celebration. He also warns against overcrowding the baking tray, which will hamper the carrots' crisping potential. "Spread them out on two trays, if you need to," he instructs. "Make sure the oven is nice and hot when they go in."
The simple preparation of the beef benefits from two key considerations. Choose a high-quality, thick cut of tenderloin, Ottolenghi advises. An evenly shaped piece will cook most uniformly. Secondly, don't skimp on marinating time. "It’s really four hours minimum here, for all the herbs and spices to infuse into the meat. But, ideally, overnight is best."
Ottolenghi also enjoys the wine-related reveling that happens around the holidays, taking "any excuse for a glass of something in the run-up to Christmas," he quips. For pairing with food, he looks for wines that are versatile with a wide range of dishes, and regularly takes leads from his company wine buyer, Heidi Knudsen. "She’s passionate about really interesting and often biodynamic wines to which I’m a complete convert," he says.
With this meal, he suggests a Pineau d'Aunis—an ancient and largely unheralded Loire Valley grape—made by La Grapperie winery. The wine has "amazing notes of white pepper," a characteristic flavor of the pale yet lively red variety, to complement the peppercorn-marinated beef. As an alternative, try a similarly crisp, medium-bodied Loire Valley red, Cabernet Franc. The refreshingly aromatic wines can also show peppery notes and would provide a fine accompaniment to the herb- and spice-inflected flavors of this holiday menu. Below, get Wine Spectator reviews for 15 recently rated Cabernet Franc bottlings.
Winter Holiday Menu
Excerpted from NOPI: The Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully (Ten Speed Press, 2015)
Pepper-Crusted Beef Tenderloin and Fennel Salad With Pecorino and Truffle
- 1/2 ounce thyme sprigs, finely chopped
- 1/3 ounce rosemary sprigs, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 tablespoons black peppercorns, finely crushed with a mortar and pestle
- 1 1/2 tablespoons pink peppercorns, finely crushed with a mortar and pestle
- 2 1/4 pounds tenderloin beef, fat removed, cut into 2 3-inch by 4-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- Coarse sea salt
For the truffle dressing:
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons truffle oil (optional)
For the salad:
- 2 large celery stalks, thinly sliced widthwise into 1/8-inch pieces
- 6 baby fennel bulbs (or 1 regular), tops and tails trimmed, thinly sliced lengthwise into 1/8-inch strips
- 1 ounce parsley leaves
- 3 1/2 ounces pecorino, thinly shaved
1. Place the thyme, rosemary and black and pink peppercorns in a small bowl with 2 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Place a sheet of plastic wrap underneath each piece of beef—large enough to wrap it up—then brush the mustard all over the meat. Scatter the herb and salt mixture evenly over both sides of the meat, making sure they are well-coated. Draw up the plastic wrap to wrap each piece tightly, twisting the ends to make it very secure, and place in the fridge for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
2. To make the dressing, place the mustard and lemon juice in a small bowl. Slowly pour in both oils while whisking continuously until well-combined. Whisk in 1 tablespoon of water, along with 1/3 teaspoon of salt, and set aside.
3. Preheat the oven to 500° F or the highest setting.
4. Place a large baking pan in the oven to heat up well. Remove and discard the plastic wrap from the meat and place both pieces of meat on the hot pan. Roast for 8 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 425° F and continue to cook for another 12 or 14 minutes for medium, more if you want it well done. Remove from the oven, cover the tray with foil and leave to rest for 5 minutes.
5. Place all the salad ingredients in a bowl and pour over the dressing just before serving. Mix gently and divide among 4 plates. Slice the beef against the grain into 1/5-inch-thick slices. Arrange these alongside the salad and serve.
Roasted Carrots With Coriander Seeds and Garlic
Choose multicolored carrots for an eye-popping, festive presentation.
- 2 1/4 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch by 3-inch batons
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds, gently crushed
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 5 thyme sprigs
- Coarse sea salt and black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 425° F.
2. Place the carrots in a large bowl with the honey, oil, coriander seeds, garlic, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and plenty of pepper. Mix well, then transfer to 2 large parchment-lined baking sheets. You don’t want the carrots to be overcrowded. Roast for 30 minutes, mixing in the thyme just 3 minutes before the end of cooking, until the carrots are cooked through and caramelized but still retain their bright color.
Recommended Loire Valley Cabernet Francs
Note: The following lists are selections of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More wines can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.
PHILIPPE ALLIET Chinon 2014
Black cherry and violet notes course along, flecked with olive and white pepper hints that drive through the pure finish. Shows ample minerality, but the fruit takes center stage. Drink now through 2017. 2,300 cases made.
DOMAINE LA BONNELIÈRE Saumur-Champigny Symphonie 2014
Racy and pure, with a violet edge that lends good contrast to the core of bitter plum and red currant fruit. Light savory, tobacco and chalk hints add nuance on the finish. Nicely done. Drink now. 100 cases imported.
CATHERINE & PIERRE BRETON Bourgueil Trinch! 2014
Lovely olive, bay and pepper notes stream forth, all well-embedded in a core of crushed plum and blackberry fruit. The bay detail lingers through the finish, showing a leathery echo in the background. Drink now through 2020. 495 cases imported.
DOMAINE GOURON Chinon 2014
Fresh, ripe and focused, with lovely purity to the core of cassis and plum fruit, showing light sanguine and iron hints. Features a savory- and bay leaf-edged finish. Drink now through 2019. 2,350 cases made.
BERNARD BAUDRY Chinon 2012
This has a pleasantly dark edge, with tapenade and tobacco notes woven into the core of steeped plum and blackberry fruit. A singed savory accents holds the fleshy finish. Drink now through 2017. 110 cases imported.
DOMAINE LA BONNELIÈRE Saumur-Champigny Tradition 2014
Plum skin and red currant fruit is laced with singed bay and dark olive hints, with light singed cedar and black tea notes underscoring the finish. Drink now. 160 cases imported.
JEAN-MAURICE RAFFAULT Chinon Les Galuches 2014
Bright cherry and red currant fruit is liberally laced with tobacco and shiso leaf notes, giving this an almost snappy edge. A taut chalky spine runs through the finish. Should settle in with modest cellaring. Drink now through 2017. 240 cases imported.
BERNARD BAUDRY Chinon Les Granges 2013
Lively, with nice rusticity and lots of pepper, olive and bay notes weaving around the core of red and black cherry fruit while a peppery edge holds the finish. Let this settle in and serve in the fall with cassoulet. Drink now through 2016. 100 cases imported.
HENRI BOURGEOIS Cabernet Franc Vin de Pays du Val de Loire Petit Bourgeois 2013
Very pure and bright, with delightful cherry and violet notes and a flash of chalk for spine. Nicely done for this difficult vintage. Drink now. 2,000 cases made.
DOMAINE GROSBOIS Chinon La Cuisine de Ma Mère 2014
Bitter cherry and tobacco notes are laced with racy savory accents. The finish is flecked with white pepper details. Drink now through 2016. 514 cases imported.
DOMAINE DE LA PERRUCHE Saumur-Champigny 2014
Lively, with pepper, tobacco and tapenade notes spurring the core of black cherry and plum fruit. The pure, crisp finish lets the fruit and herb accents mingle. Drink now through 2016. 3,000 cases made.
SAGET LA PERRIÈRE Chinon Marie de Beauregard 2014
Alluring, with singed rosemary, green olive and white pepper notes adding cut and energy to the core of pomegranate and bitter cherry fruit. This has a nice zip through the finish and should flesh out a touch more with brief cellaring. Drink now through 2016. 1,000 cases imported.
DOMAINE DES BAUMARD Anjou Le Logis 2011
Elegant, with light savory and tomato leaf notes lacing the core of gentle pomegranate and damson plum fruit. Exhibits a light white pepper dusting on the finish. A pretty wine, but for lovers of Loire reds only. Cabernet Franc. Drink now. 100 cases imported.
DOMAINE DE LA GUILLOTERIE Saumur-Champigny Tradition 2014
Fresh cherry and damson plum fruit is laced with a violet note. Offers a breezy, white pepper–tinted finish. Drink now. 4,100 cases made.
B. DE TIGNY Saumur-Champigny Château de Chaintres Les Sables 2013
Good, brisk pomegranate and bitter cherry notes are lined with a hint of white pepper. Savory finish. Drink now. 250 cases imported.