Mirepoix -- From the French, a mix of aromatics that provide the savory foundation of a recipe. From The City Cook, a periodic report on things that have been collecting on my desk.
I've been noticing an uptick in references to foods or recipes made with only 5 ingredients. The most recent are new ice creams by Haagen-Dazs that declare only five ingredients, although the ginger flavor gives this broad interpretation by counting ginger juice, ginger puree and ginger as only one ingredient. And Food TV has a new program called 5 Ingredient Fix.
For years Gourmet did a regular feature called "Five Ingredients" which was gave a framework to easy every day cooking. Then there are all the cookbooks filled with five-ingredient recipes. Some that have been around for a while will count a can of Campbell Soup as one of the five ingredients. But new "five" cookbooks continue to come, including one this fall from PBS's Ciao Italia's Mary Ann Esposito whose palate, warmth, and cookbooks I love (and I'm confident she won't count a single processed food towards her five).
Seeing the new Haagen-Dazs made me wonder if there's something special about five ingredients so I looked back at some of the meals I've made in the last week or so and started counting:
- Broiled flank steak and salad. This meal's marinade and chopped salad challenged the metrics, especially since the salad was one of those clean-out-the-refrigerator dishes. But if I cheat and separate the steak from the marinade (wine, olive oil, soy sauce, garlic, rosemary -- I left out the mustard), the dressing (olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard) separate from the salad (chickpeas, radicchio, mushrooms and blanched-until-tender green beans), and ignore the salt and pepper, I'm just under the wire. Total ingredients for the whole meal: 12.
- Another night was hake baked with a tomato sauce (canned tomatoes, garlic, parsley, olive oil) and an escarole salad dressed with anchovy vinaigrette and finished with a dusting of Parmesan (olive oil, red wine vinegar, canned anchovies, grated Parmesan). By the way, if you've never cooked hake, it is a white, saltwater fish, very similar to cod but not as over-fished and thus more sustainable. It's usually caught wild and it's reasonably priced (usually under $10/pound).
- And tonight I am baking gorgeous pieces of chicken I bought from Quattro's; with such good poultry all you need is salt, pepper and a 350° F oven. With this I'll serve a quinoa pilaf with pieces of carrot and chunks of roasted tomatoes (6 ingredients: quinoa, olive oil, diced yellow onion, carrots, plum tomatoes, chicken stock; I omitted the butter).
My point is this: I've just described three big flavored and easy to make weekday meals that could not have been better by adding more ingredients. In fact, five seems to be a common number of ingredients coming together to create taste and complexity. This also supports one of my biggest complaints about some recent cookbooks: recipes that have ingredients that add only effort, cost and calories. So maybe all these "take five" chefs, authors and ice cream makers are onto something. Next time you're planning a meal, take a look at how many ingredients and ask yourself if everything you're reaching for will add flavor, improve the texture, or enrich the nutrition. And next time you make a recipe, try deleting and adding. Before you know it you may be at five ingredients and a perfect meal.
Return to the Greenmarkets
With Passover and Easter behind us we have a clear view of spring and summer cooking ahead. If you're tired of romaine lettuce and slow cooked meats, relief is on the way. The first things to come to market should be ramps, berries, lettuces and asparagus. If you've been away from your Greenmarket or farmer's market, it's time to start heading back. For those in New York, we have a wonderful resource for what's in season with a modest but acutely helpful guide called "Lucy's Greenmarket Report." See the link below.
Lucy lives near Union Square and makes regular, early morning visits to the market and tells us what she's found. Even if you don't shop at Union Square, keep in mind that many of the farmers that sell there also sell at the other 50+ markets around the city so if it's being sold at Union Square it's probably also available at your neighborhood market. I keep Lucy in my favorite bookmarked sites.
Au Revoir, Roquefort?
One of the Bush administration's last gestures before leaving Washington was to impose an import duty on what are called "luxury foods," thus doubling or tripling the cost of a long list of foods made by European producers but imported here. And why did they do this? It was in retaliation to the European Union that declined to import our growth hormone-rich U.S. beef. So take that, Ireland and your steel cut oatmeal, and French Roquefort, and Italy's San Pelligrino sparkling water. Who needs lingonberry jam or European chocolates….
Of course we can find excellent domestic blue cheese and New York seltzer and great American chocolates. That's not the point. Instead of trying to improve the quality of our beef not just for European consumers but those of us who live here, we instead responded as a bully. Not surprising, of course. President Obama's U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk has put the brakes on this new import duty (it was set to start today), giving us some hope for a reprieve. And maybe as we work to restore our global reputation we may also find some intelligent responses for consumers -- on both side of the Atlantic -- who all strive for better quality in our food.
Closings and Openings
The name Balducci has a long history in the New York City grocery world. For many years Balducci's on Sixth Avenue at 9th Street (the location is now a Citarella's) was the food store that set the standard for artisanal, imported and acutely fresh foods. But a family conflict fractured the business, the Sixth Avenue store was closed, and the venerable name was sold to a company in Maryland that built a small East Coast chain of grocers on the Balducci legacy. That seems to have not worked out so well as the two Balducci stores in New York, at 8th Avenue and 14th Street and West 66th Street, close next week. To the original market where I first encountered olives sold out of a barrel and not a can, bought my first soppresatta, and tasted my first "patés de fruit" -- I will always be grateful.
But this city is always undergoing change and as a market run by an out-of-town company closes, elsewhere a passionate local merchant gives us something new. The Big Cheese is a splendid new cheese store on the Upper East Side that is the vision of cheese monger Carrie Nishikawa. Located at 1566 First Avenue at East 82nd Street, the shop is open Tuesday through Sunday. If you live in the neighborhood and you're a cheese lover, please try to give her your support.
Elsewhere On The Web
- I'm a big fan of both author and chef Michael Ruhlman (his newest book is Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind The Craft of Everyday Cooking) and Elise Bauer who writes Simply Recipes.com. Related to his new book, Elise has published a piece by Michael called "The Vinaigrette Ratio." If you are a salad lover and haven't mastered your own favorite dressing, this piece may change that. Go to SimplyRecipes.com and search for "vinaigrette ratio."
- Cathy Erway writes Not Eating Out In New York.com, a blog that shares my belief that if you want to eat well, eat at home. Cathy and I met while doing The Brian Lehrer Show's recent series on bringing your lunch to work and she is a kindred spirit with a warm and distinctive voice. Visit her blog and look for her recent piece called "this is why you're not fat" that was her rebuttal to the shock-effect site "this is why you're fat."
- We've added a new favorite website to our Kitchen Sink listings: "Not For Tourists". With the tag line of "For you, not them," these folks have extremely useful databases and articles for and about cities across the country (plus London and Paris). Their message is that "people need to use the cities they live in." If you're looking for a neighborhood 24-hour drug store, yoga class, post office, pool hall or any other of life's essentials, this is a good place to start.
Hope you found all this miscellany useful.