Saturday, February 19, 2011

'Tis a gift to be simple

Often, simplicity is best. Sometimes it's easier to enjoy food when you savor the food itself, pure flavors, unadorned. Think of the sweet corn of summer, simply boiled on is cob, buttered and salted. Or a sharp farmhouse cheddar, cutting off buttery shards with a knife. These are foods that want nothing more. They have no need of preparation. These are the foods that remind us why we love food. The best food can be delicious without the best chef.

Simple foods are a different kind of comfort food. They do not fall into the category of beef braised for hours in a stew or rich, gooey macaroni and cheese. They comfort--not because they are hearty, but because they are real. They need little, if any, preparation--the original fast food. We are comforted because we can eat well the moment we are hungry, without agonizing over recipes.

I ate this way last night. I recently acquired a beautiful bottle of Greek olive oil, pressed exclusively from kalamata olives. It is a bright, vibrant green, the exact green you would hope for to celebrate spring and new life. It is silky. And grassy. Perhaps you have read about olive oils before, and there are these strange descriptors, the way wine is spicy or jammy. Olive oil is nuanced in a similar way, and people say it is fruity or herbal. Or grassy. The second I opened the bottle and tasted my oil, I knew. I knew I was tasting a grassy one. It was fresh and alive. And I wanted to eat that pure flavor, un-muddied and true. So I made a vinaigrette. I smashed a garlic clove in my mortar with a little sea salt, making a satiny paste. Poured in my olive oil. Whisked in a little cider vinegar. Chopped up some romaine. Dressed the lettuce. Accompanied by a beautiful chunk of pecorino, a simple food in its own right.

And another thing about simple food--it loves to be presented simply too. And that somehow makes it all the more beautiful.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


It is so satisfying to eat food that comes straight from my own hands, to be completely connected to what I'm consuming. Because so often, we don't know. Today's sandwich came pretty darn close, save the basil leaves scattered on top, which I really have no business eating in the winter, anyway. But sometimes we make little exceptions. But the rest? Pure goodness.
The base is Irish soda bread that I baked last night. I've started baking bread regularly, and I have a basic rustic loaf that I bake a couple times a week. When you can't find the time to let your dough rise, however, Irish soda bread is a good go-to-loaf. I like mine with currants and caraway seeds.
Next, I slathered on some good, homemade ricotta cheese. I discovered around Christmas time that it is so easy to make your own ricotta, and have been making it ever since. The texture is divine, and the taste is clean. It tastes exactly like what it's made of--milk. I have used my ricotta to make ravioli, a dessert across between a cheesecake and souffle, and ricotta fritters--little balls of fried, crisp, gooey goodness. And ricotta is great on sandwiches, especially as a foil to stronger flavors, as in today's interpretation...
Chili pepper chutney. At the end of the summer, I bought up a bunch of chilies and cooked them into a spicy-sweet mass with onions, balsamic vinegar, and brown sugar. The chutney is very spicy, so it's a perfect match for ricotta, which helps tame the heat and bring out the flavor.
It's a lunch to feel good about.