They say you’ve gotta know the rules before you break the rules and I think that’s true of cooking as much as it’s true of art or writing or any other discipline. Before you make deconstructed spaghetti and meatballs with foam and fruit leather and dehydrated beef essence, you should probably learn how to make the straightforward version. (Plus: the straightforward version is usually better.) Let’s say you’re hankering to be creative, though, and you want to flex your artistic cooking muscles. Then my advice is to master the art of blank canvas foods; the kinds of foods you can dress up however you want once you get the basic idea down. For me, that blank canvas food used to be pasta; but lately, on a California summer-is-coming health kick, I’ve been toying around with farro.
After hauling home fresh asparagus and fava beans from the farmer’s market, I stood on a chair and made a loud declaration: “I will not adulterate these beacons of springtime with a convoluted recipe that obfuscates their natural glory!” Getting down from the chair, I thought about my declaration and realized that to live up to my word, I would need to cook the asparagus and fava beans as simply as possible, and serve them up with something special-enough to be memorable but not so special as to shadow the star ingredients: which is how I came up with making fresh pasta.
Spring is here at last and that means you’ll find two things at the farmer’s market that you won’t find there any other time of the year: ramps and asparagus.
Sure, you can find asparagus at the grocery store in January, but that asparagus is as far a cry from farmer’s market asparagus as a Monet is to a paint-by-number flower. And ramps, love them or hate them, are here for just a fleeting moment.
I’ll admit, I get lazy when it comes to eating seasonally. It’s easier to pop into the grocery store across the street, where lemons, onions and garlic look the same the whole year round, than it is to march all the way up to the Union Square Greenmarket on a windy or rainy spring day. On a Saturday, however, the rules change: I forcibly remove myself from the world wide web and make a point, especially in spring, summer and fall, to go pay a visit to the Union Square farmers. Sometimes I come home with just honey or maple syrup; other times I buy flowers (the lilacs I bought a few weeks ago made it into my newsletter.) This past Saturday I came home with ramps (despite my ramp-ambivalence) and asparagus and a few hours later I whipped up a dinner (the one you see above) that I declared to be one of the best meals I’ve ever made. And I give 100% of the credit to what I found at the farmer’s market.
There are two dishes referenced in Kim Severson’s “Spoon Fed” that don’t have corresponding recipes: the first is a chicken stuffed with Meyer lemons, the other is something called a “Jewish muffin.” I haven’t had any luck parsing the mysteries of the Jewish muffin, but after an exchange on Twitter I was able to extract from Kim a Tweetcipe for the chicken: “Meyer lemons, cut in half, shoved inside a well-seasoned chicken along with some fresh parsley and maybe thyme.”
Dip into the archives of my blog, go way back, and you’ll see that at the very beginning one of my very first gastronomical spirit guides was Amanda Hesser. I read her book, “Cooking For Mr. Latte,” while studying for the bar exam (here’s my 2004 post about it) and then proceeded to cook my way through the book. I’ve made her vanilla bean loaves, carrot fennel soup, chicken roasted with sour cream and mango chutney, salt and pepper shrimp, and, of course, the almond cake that is my go-to dessert when I’m entertaining distinguished guests.
Here’s our latest video from Food2, featuring beloved Italian chef Cesare Casella (of Salumeria Rosi). Chef Casella (who’s also the dean of Italian studies at the French Culinary Institute) teaches us a technique so effective, I’ll never make risotto any other way again:
For those of you who can’t watch the video, here’s the recipe (after the jump)…
I used to be very confused about seasonal food. I understood the basic idea–that you should buy food when it’s in season, at its peak–but what I didn’t understand is that because most supermarkets in America stock these “seasonal” foods all-year round (tomatoes and watermelon in winter), the only real way to experience seasonal food is by going to farmer’s markets.