Lessons from Alice Waters
Spring and summer are the easiest times of year to eat what's in season, don't you think? In fall and especially winter, I find it so difficult to stay inspired and cooking with what's fresh from my local ground, but in the warmer months, new fruits and vegetables spring up practically every minute and it seems like all you have to do is toss a few ingredients together in a bowl and you have a delicious, satisfying meal. It's a great time of year to practice cooking intuitively with the ingredients you have on hand. And there is no one, perhaps, who teaches seasonal eating better than the leader of the farm-to-table movement herself, Alice Waters.
I recently spent a couple of weeks slowly devouring each episode of Alice's series on MasterClass, pausing often to scribble something into my notebook. Alice has such a knack for the simple and lovely and yet often overlooked aspects of cooking. I learned many bits of inspiration while watching and also felt so calmed by learning from her as she cooked from her own kitchen. I took, admittedly, pages of notes because that's the kind of thing that makes me happy. Here are my five favorites:
- An exquisitely simple spring meal:
- homemade aioli with garlic
- roasted chicken breast with thyme and salt
- parboiled fingerling potatoes with olive oil and salt
- the best in-season fruit you can find
- garden salad greens with homemade vinaigrette (see #2)
- finish with a generous sprinkle of chopped parsley over everything
- For a perfect vinaigrette every time, pound a clove of garlic with a pinch of salt until smooth (use a mortar and pestle or a large knife to mince). Transfer garlic puree to a small jar and squeeze in the juice from half a lemon. Taste and add more salt until the acid and salt are balanced. Pour in a stream of olive oil to equal the amount of lemon juice. Screw on the lid and shake vigorously until well combined. Taste again and add more salt, lemon, or oil if needed. Toss with salad greens fresh from your garden or market.
- Have quite a bit of your frequently used herbs growing in your yard or by a sunny window (mine are cilantro, parsley, basil, and green onions--plant more of these next year!)
- For a dinner party that keeps you relaxed and at ease:
- Set the dinner table earlier that afternoon.
- Have a simple appetizer out and ready that can sit at room temp (Alice likes olives and nuts).
- Choose a centerpiece that gives time and place to the day:
- wildflowers in summer
- bowl of perfect apples in fall
- evergreen boughs in winter
- pot of herbs in spring
- Make one course in advance, one course very simple, one course in the oven or a pot. Have only one hot thing to think about.
- And most important, use the absolute best fresh ingredients you can find. Your job as cook will be so much easier because the ingredients themselves already have such incredible flavor. They will shine without needing much help from you.
It's finally that time of year in Kansas when the peaches are juicy and the berries are sweet! These are our very favorite fruits so this week the kids and I drove out to a nearby orchard for some freshly picked berries, a half peck of peaches, and an icy strawberry lemonade for the road. When we got home, Alice came through yet again with my new favorite (gluten free!) pancake recipe that is the perfect base for fresh fruit, a compote, or good old butter and maple syrup. Enjoy!
(from My Pantry by Alice Waters)
1 cup oat flour (1 cup oats ground in blender until fine)
3/4 cup milk
3 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Whisk all ingredients together, then let sit for 10-30 minutes to thicken. Wipe a hot cast-iron skillet with butter and make like pancakes.
Serve with your favorite pancake toppings. We like fresh berries, yogurt, and honey!