Monday, July 28, 2008

the minimalist theory tested - J

Those of us (of you) who have been following Mark Bittman's tenure at the NYT since whenever it started (I have cut outs of his recipes that are yellowed and brittle, that tells you something) are, I suspect not just following his recipes. We are following his tenets. The Minimalist, as his column is called, is about paring down complicated recipes to an essential truth, a basic ingredient, or technique which renders the dish miraculously approachable to even the novice cook.

The amazing thing about the minimalist approach is that even as you delevop skills, initiative and preferences in your cooking, you are doing it the minimalist way. At least I do. As much as I love to cook, I like to keep it simple. Presentation matters, but not as much as flavor. Organization matters, but it is more important to have fun in the kitchen than to keep it clean. And recipes are important, but ingredients set the tone. The same way that an historian lets the evidence write the story (only bad historians look for the evidence to prove their story), in minimalist cooking, one ingredient, if it is all you have, may suffice.

Last night was one of those nights.

In the fridge: one small cabbage, one old apple, a 2 lb hunk of parmesan.
In the house: one very tired vegetarian boyfriend, who had been up for the last 72 hours with barely 8 hours of sleep in between dinners, wine tastings, lunches, brunches, seminars, discussions and much shmoozing.

I have been making a lot of slaws with the cabbage I get from my CSA (using Mark's suggestion to salt the cabbage for two hours and then rinsing - it cures the cabbage in the most wonderful and edible way without needing to blanch it), but this was not a cole-slaw night.

I dug in my minimalist repertoire, and I wish I had a picture of the summer cabbage soup over parmesan polenta I made. I shredded the cabbage with a onion I had lying about and sautéed them in heated olive oil in the cute yellow Belgian cast-iron pot I found at Goodwill (score!). The cabbage and onion became translucent and I braised it all with a drop more of olive oil and some sea salt. When the mixture started to brown, I poured three cups of water over it (no broth in the house), and added a bit of cayenne, but just a smidge, grated the apple into it and let it simmer.

In the meantime, a cup of polenta (a well stocked pantry saves the day), 3 cups of water and in the micro-wave it went. 15 minutes later, more olive oil and a heap of grated parmesan folded in and we had our comfort food. The polenta was a fragrant and mushy, the thick cabbage soup was lightened by a vaguely ciderey broth.

It was the best dinner we had all week-end.

ps: i feel perhaps unjustifiably vindicated by S' review of the no-bake cheese cake. while my review was merely an opinion masquerading as analysis, the indomitable S actually tested it, and confirmed that sometimes less is just less.

No comments: