Techniques to Learn
I have just done it! I ordered Alice Water’s new cook book, “In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn By Heart.” Some people may wonder why, after 25+ years cooking and catering that I would want a simple cookbook, with easy recipes and techniques that I probably already know how to do? Well, because as a cook, I never want to stop learning (I will never stop eating) plus I love the simplicity factor. Alice is right, once you know how to boil, steam, sauté, broil, or bake, recipes become interchangeable. When you are comfortable cooking you can substitute and create seasonal dishes with confidence. Cooking isn’t difficult, it’s not even that time consuming, but it does takes a little organization and creative know-how to cook with the seasonality factor.
When fruits and vegetables are at their peak, they need little else to compliment their flavor. They are the center of the dish, the other ingredients should enhance and highlight, not take away. Take asparagus, for example, in season right now, all it needs is a little olive oil, salt and pepper and it is ready to be thrown on a grill. Or steam for a few minutes and then drizzle olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper adding a few slivers of lemon zest for garnish. A poached egg could top it for a really exquisite breakfast with a side of crusty whole grain toast. Voila! It’s fresh and delicious and healthy.
Simplicity is what I live for. There is nothing more satisfying than eating something scrumptious you have made, with just a little effort and time. Alice has asked several chefs, like Thomas Keller, Traci Des Jardin, Charlie Trotter, Lidia Bastianich and others to create simple dishes that they make for themselves at home. You don’t think they cook miniature, precious French style food with foams for their everyday meals? So what do they cook? For Lidia it is Spaghettini with Garlic, Parsley and Olive oil (recipe below). Ingredients do matter. Buy the best ingredients that you can afford and you can’t go wrong. Look for pasta made with Semolina flour. Semolina is made from Durum wheat, yellow in color and the basis for couscous and bulgar.
Here in Sonoma, some ingredients are harder to find than others. For example, one day I was searching out freshly made sue gow wrappers for some dumplings I wanted to make. The Asian store in Santa Rosa had closed their doors for good. I’m still looking for fresh round wrappers made daily and locally. If you know where, please let me know.
I will travel a little to find the freshest ingredients because I know that my meal will taste that much better. I can’t wait for the book to arrive for new inspiration, but for now, I need to go make a list for dinner with my first stop at Oak Hill Farm to see what is in season. Happy cooking!
Spaghettini with Garlic, Parsley & Olive Oil
I used fresh Tagliarini, which is long and perfect for slurping. Add chili flakes or rapini for a more multi-dimensional dish.
Salt to taste
1/3 pound spaghettini or tagliarini
2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
8 to 10 sprigs Italian parsley, stems removed, leaves chopped
Bring a generous pot of water to boil and stir in the spaghettini. Stir frequently until tender, but firm, 5 to 6 minutes. Meanwhile, put the olive oil and garlic in a saucepan and heat gently until the garlic begins to sizzle and release its fragrance; take care not to burn. Add the parsley to the pan along with 1/2 cup of the pasta water.
When the pasta is cooked, use a skimmer to lift it out of the water and directly into the pan or drain it, reserving some of the water. Toss the pasta and let it simmer briefly in the sauce to finish cooking and absorb the flavors, add more pasta water if needed to keep the pasta loose and saucy. Taste the pasta for salt and add more if needed. Serve immediately into warm bowls. Pair with a delicious crisp white wine, like a Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier or dry Reisling from Sonoma Valley.
Makes enough for 2 for dinner with a salad.Recipe adapted from Lidia Bastianich from the SF Chronicle May 9th, 2010.