“Good food is a little like couture fashion. The simpler it is, the better. When designers start with gorgeous fabric, they don’t have to add all kinds of trimmings and bows to make a beautiful dress. With cooking, when you start with good ingredients, often all you need is a simple preparation to make them taste wonderful.” —Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa, from her new cookbook Cook Like a Pro
I couldn’t agree more with Ina Garten’s quote. Simple is better, and the “how” of it is to work with quality ingredients.
We cannot force something to be delicious simply because we want to cook with tomatoes in the winter, for example. The seasons communicate and reveal what Mother Nature wants us to enjoy, and enjoy without a fuss or extra time and effort. However, because we may feel unfamiliar with new approaches, new recipes and ingredients, it is tempting to always cook with the same food. The good news is, we can cook with the seasons and do so effortlessly.
Precisely this approach is the focus of my new cooking vodcast The Simply Luxurious Kitchen which just wrapped up its first season this past weekend (view the entire line-up of eight episodes here). And consequently, I was even more tickled to see the Barefoot Contessa speak to this truth in her new cookbook Cook Like a Pro: Recipes and Tips for Home Cooks.
After gobbling up the contents of the cookbook last week, I wanted to share a few highlights (two recipes as well!) from the book to perhaps inspire you too to step into your kitchen and cook like a professional with ease and confidence.
1. Bake with Figs!
Barefoot Contessa’s Fresh Fig & Ricotta Cake is a wonderful dessert choice for fall as figs are in season and available. A subtle, yet luscious fruit, I have become more and more a fan of the luxurious figue.
2. Add Avocados
A simple salad pairing avocadoes and cherry or grape tomatoes combines different textures and fresh flavor, and is brightened with fresh lemon juice and a touch of aromatics with red onion. Add some greens, and you have a delicious, and colorful, salad. Check out her recipe here.
3. Prep A Ready-to-Cook Kitchen
One of the details contained in each of Ina Garten’s cookbooks that I appreciate and always look forward to are her tips for successful cooking. In her new cookbook, she shares the keys to cooking with confidence, and one detail that will not only add freshness, but beautiful color to your kitchen, is to have staple ingredients at the ready on the counter such as lemons, limes, and a crock full of sea salt. As I shared in episode #4 of The Simply Luxurious Kitchen, there are six simple ways to add flavor to any meal, and two are citrus and the use of salt and pepper. Since we are tasting as we cook, we can decide whether a dish needs something more, and having those ingredients handy makes it simple to navigate successfully while we cook.
4. Elevate the flavor of Everyday Vegetables
The simplicity of vegetables comes from understanding that they are most delicious when enjoyed in the season they reach their peak naturally, and with a few extra touches, their favor can be amplified for magnificent results. Of course olive oil, salt and pepper are a great start (and that would be enough if you’d prefer), but Garten adds toasted hazelnuts and a pinch of minced dill, for example, to haricots verts to make the flavor you won’t believe dance happily with your tastebuds.
5. Tend to your Knives Well
One of the first words of advice Walter Wells shared with us this summer at his wife Patricia’s cooking school in Provence was clean your knives immediately after using them. And guess what? Ina Garten recommends the same thing. While seemingly simple and obvious, when we leave our knives uncleaned through the meal or through the night, we make it harder to clean, and leave more potential to dull the knife with our scrubbing. And as always, never put your knives in the dishwasher – hand-clean with warm water and soap. Lastly, invest in a knife holder or magnet bar that allows the knives to lay flat.
6. Make Your Own Vanilla Extract
Invest in a handful or more of whole vanilla beans, find a jar and combine the beans with vodka, enough to cover. So simple, initially an investment, but the jar full of extract and beans can be used for years.
Einstein once said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Too often stepping into the kitchen becomes a game of complication and thus trepidation. While we don’t want to go so far in our pursuit of simplicity as to not cook at all, so long as we understand what a strawberry can taste like freshly picked from the garden at the height of summer or a tomato picked from the vine, then we know that waiting for the seasons to offer naturally their abundance is worth learning more about the seasons we are less familiar.
The key is to know what to do to maximize the flavor that is given to us and wants to satiate our appetite and bring a smile to our tummy. Cheesy perhaps, but cooking should and can be fun. Simplify, dance with the seasons and enjoy!
Something before you go! In the most recent episode of Cook Like a Pro on the Food Network, Ina shared this recipe for what she stated emphatically was her favorite cookie (it’s also in her new cookbook) – Salty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies. Enjoy!
~More Ina Garten posts shared on TSLL!
~A Decadent & Simpel Salad (from Cooking for Jeffrey)