Stop cooking, put down your pan and wooden spoon, and think for a moment. Think about the food that’s changed you — the food that you didn’t just eat, but actually noticed. It’s the simplest food, the most wonderful food. It’s food that is merely cooked, and not altered. Think of soft, dripping cuts of meat: braised chops, roasted poultry, pan-seared steaks and anything turned on a spit. Think of vegetables with real flavor: mixed greens, roasted potatoes and squashes and roots, chicories and brassicas and any summertime tomato. These are natural, essential foods, served warm on big plates. They make us feel more than just full, fancy or privileged.
Think of where they come from, too: the countryside, where there are (or were) farms, and more importantly, peasants. It is no wonder that people without money but with a good supply of livestock, fruit, vegetables and grains produced the best cuisines of our day. They did not understand beurre blancs and foam infusions, but they did understand the source and character of their produce.
Let’s follow their lead. Let’s cook food that tastes like its ingredients. No more marinades, gelatins or fancy kitchen handiwork. To cook well, let’s cook simply.
So from now on, let’s only use olive oil and salt. Roast, saute, grill or drizzle if you please, but shun all complex and unnecessary seasonings. In the spring, cook asparagus, peas, onions, fish and poultry, but only use olive oil and salt. In the summer, cook eggplants, tomatoes, corn, peppers and squash, but only use olive oil and salt. In the fall, cook potatoes, greens, beets, turnips and broccoli, but only use olive oil and salt. In the winter, there’s probably nothing to eat but meat, but only use olive oil and salt. We are not brutes, so feel free to add a clove of garlic, a pinch of fresh herbs, maybe a sprinkling of pepper, a dash of lemon — but nothing more. Our food should taste like itself.
We are (or maybe just I am) the olive oil and salt revolution. We have stated our purpose, and we will now return to our kitchens, clear them out and begin cooking again.
Recipe 1: Mixed Greens
Active time: 12 minutes, Actual time: 20 minutes. Serves six.
2 bunches mixed hearty greens
(such as kale, chard, spinach or
4 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped (optional)
salt to taste
1. Remove the stem-ends of the greens (for kale and chard, cut the stems out of the leaves as well). Cut the greens into 1-inch-wide strips and wash well in cold water. Drain lightly, but not obsessively.
2. Heat three tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. If using garlic, add garlic and cook until just barely golden, about 1 minute. Add greens, stir and cover. Every two minutes, stir the greens. When greens are wilted (but not stewed), remove from heat, between 2 and 15 minutes, depending on variety. Add remaining olive oil and salt. Serve immediately.
(Note: Use good greens. Since you’re not using seasoning, it all depends on the quality of the ingredients. Go to the farmers market, or look for organic or locally-grown products.)
Recipe 2: Roasted Potatoes
Active time: 10 minutes, Actual
time: 1 hour. Serves six.
2 lbs thin-skinned potatoes (such
as red, purple, or yukon gold)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Wash potatoes. Chop into uniform 1/2-inch pieces. Scatter evenly in a baking pan and toss with olive oil and salt.
3. Cover pan loosely with tin foil and roast potatoes in oven until soft, about 40 minutes. Stir every 15 minutes, to keep from burning. When soft, turn oven to 500 degrees F and roast uncovered for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and let sit 10 minutes before serving.
(Note: Again, ingredients are important. Use good potatoes.)
Recipe 3: Tomato and Sage Bruschetta
Active time: 10 minutes, Actual time: 10 minutes. Serves six.
1 heirloom tomato, sliced
15-20 fresh sage leaves
6 slices good white bread (such as
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt to taste
1. Toast bread.
2. Heat olive oil in pan over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Fry sage leaves in oil for 30 seconds, until just-barely crisped. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon. Add salt.
3. Layer sage leaves over bread, and place a slice of tomato on each bruschetta. Sprinkle salt over the tomatoes. Serve.
(Note: I think you get it. Tomatoes, bread and sage.)