An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace

Those are the fundamentals: cook your meat until it’s done, not a minute longer. If your broth tastes too thin, let it go on cooking; if it’s too salty, water it down.

If you have store-bought mayonnaise, spruce it up with chopped herbs, an extra drizzle of olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon, and serve it with good eggs.

believe what I serve must look beautiful, but only according to my tastes and priorities.

Almost all tail ends meet up neatly with the emblematic beginning: the egg.

Minestrone is the perfect food. I advise eating it for as many meals as you can bear or that number plus one.

Once parsley, or its fellow soft herbs—basil, chives, tarragon, dill, and cilantro—have been quickly chopped, throw a generous handful directly over your rice or potatoes or pasta, and watch the meal begin to prickle with feeling.

cooking a mixture of finely chopped onion, carrot, and celery, called mirepoix, in olive oil, browning a small, garlicky fresh sausage per person, spooning beans and mirepoix into a baking dish big enough to fit them happily, and nestling the sausages among the beans. Add bean broth to come up just halfway and put it in a 300-degree oven.

an egg is not an egg is not an egg.

the only way to make anything you’re cooking taste good, whether it’s water or something more substantial, is to make sure all its parts taste good along the way.

Meals’ ingredients must be allowed to topple into one another like dominos.

I make risotto by chopping half an onion medium fine and cooking it in butter. I add a cup of rice, stir it a few times, add a quarter cup of white wine, let the alcohol burn off for a minute, then add hot chicken, beef, or fish stock by the ladleful, keeping the rice at a low bubble the whole time. If a dry spot in the risotto pan doesn’t get immediately refilled with starchy liquid when I push the rice away, I add more stock. I keep it going for about twenty-five minutes, then turn it off, add a big squeeze of lemon, a lot of grated Parmesan, and freshly cracked black pepper. You can certainly use more specific recipes, but none should be much more complicated than that.

But an egg can turn anything into a meal and is never so pleased as when it is allowed to.

Once greens are cooked as they should be, though: hot and lustily, with garlic, in a good amount of olive oil, they lose their moral urgency and become one of the most likable ingredients in your kitchen.

Even if the wizardry of flour and water frightens you, as it does me, it is undeniable that once you have a crust, any filling becomes a meal.

we don’t need to be professionals to cook well, any more than we need to be doctors to treat bruises and scrapes: we don’t need to shop like chefs or cook like chefs; we need to shop and cook like people learning to cook, like what we are—people who are hungry.

Hot vegetables is a doctrine every bit as encumbering to good vegetable eating as pressure to leave them raw until right before dinner. Room temperature is thetemperature at which most vegetables taste best. When we eat antipasti at Italian restaurants, they are gloriously oiled and vinegared and perfectly tepid. So, often, are Spanish tapas.

cooking can be advantageous, something that helps eating well make sense.

If cheese is milk’s leap toward immortality, aioli is garlic and egg’s collective shot at the firmament.

Herb butters stay good in the refrigerator for a month, or in the freezer for four.

Cool and store your beans in their broth. The exchange of goodness between bean and broth will continue as long as the two are left together, and the broth helps the beans stay tender through chilling, freezing, and warming up again.

A good egg, cooked deliberately, gives us a glimpse of the greater forces at play.

Beets love to be roasted, are better cold than hot, and wait, without losing their pluck, to be turned into different dishes all week long.

But cooking is best approached from wherever you find yourself when you are hungry, and should extend long past the end of the page.

Only remember what is plainly and always true: the act of serving fulfills itself. It doesn’t matter what you serve.

The amount of food you have left from a meal is always the perfect amount for something.

Only by tasting can you learn to connect the decisions you make with their outcomes.

The way to keep bean soaking from getting in the way of your cooking beans is to detach the process from today’s hunger and expectations and pour dried beans into a pot and cover them with cold water whenever you think of it. Their needing to stay where they are until being cooked tomorrow won’t be a problem, and you’ll have soaked your beans.

You’re more likely to look seriously, and eagerly, at a small amount of something that’s well fit into its container than something deserted in the last, sad corner of a big bowl out of which everything else has been scraped.

Good meat only seems so expensive because we eat meat like children taking bites out of the middles of sandwiches and throwing the rest away.

It would be better, he said, if we left lunch with the tastes of the next meal already in our mouths.

Each week I buy whole bunches of the leafiest, stemmiest vegetables I can find. Then I scrub off their dirt, trim off their leaves, cut off their stems, peel what needs peeling, and cook them all at once.

When we leave our tails trailing behind us we lose what is left of the thought we put into eating well today. Then we slither along, straight, linear things that we can be, wondering what we will make for dinner tomorrow. So we must spot our tails when we can, and gather them up, so that when we get hungry next, and our minds turn to the question of what to eat, the answer will be there waiting.

Mediterranean food especially likes basil and mint. South American and Asian food like both of those plus cilantro. Gallic food loves licoricey tarragon and sweet chives. Everything likes parsley as much as everything needs it, which is the reason it is the herb I keep most regularly on hand.

If you are to start down this path, you must feel charged with using your senses, imagining them as hands that nudge you forward and hold you up when you get unsteady, and even when you fall.

I usually save eggs for when I’m awake enough to put thought into them, but if you like yours with your coffee, boil or poach, or gently fry or nudge and save omelets for later in the day.

Whether things were ever simpler than they are now, or better if they were, we can’t know. We do know that people have always found ways to eat and live well, whether on boiling water or bread or beans, and that some of our best eating hasn’t been our most foreign or expensive or elaborate, but quite plain and quite familiar. And knowing that is probably the best way to cook, and certainly the best way to live.

This is not a cookbook or a memoir or a story about one person or one thing. It is a book about eating affordably, responsibly, and well, and because doing so relies on cooking, it is mostly about that.

As long as you taste curiously, and watch and feel and listen, and prick your way toward food you like, you will find that you become someone about whom people will say that cooking seems to come naturally, like walking. They will say it and it will be true.

To make the most of your work, consider, at least once, dipping your toes into the pleasures of room-temperature food.

As a rule, I try not to shock anything. I also don’t think keeping a vegetable from looking cooked when it is cooked is worth the fuss.

No matter how well a cookbook is written, the cooking times it gives will be wrong. Ingredients don’t take three or five or ten minutes to be done; it depends on the day and the stove. So you must simply pay attention, trust yourself, and decide.

a cooked bean is so tender that the mere flutter of your breath should disturb its skin right off.

Fry eggs for pasta as I learned to in Spain. Cook them slowly in a half inch of just warm olive oil, constantly spooning the oil over the top of the eggs, to lightly poach each part of them in oil.

Though it’s easy to forget, leaves and stalks are parts of a vegetable, not obstacles to it. The same is true for the fat and bones of animals, but I’m happy to leave that for now. You can cook them all.

If you want to have your poached egg on toast, and at a meal other than breakfast, cut your bread especially thick, toast it, rub it with raw garlic, then top it with an egg, salt it, drizzle it with oil, and grate it with cheese and freshly cracked black pepper.

Boiling has a bad name and steaming a good one, but I categorically prefer boiling.

They are not all universally loved, but few powerful things are. The key to making them as useful as they can be is knowing how to exercise their power well.

An omelet is an egg’s comeuppance. There shouldn’t be anything plain or predictable about omelet fillings. The person who understands this best is a beautiful bulldog named Gabrielle Hamilton, chef of the restaurant Prune, in New York City’s East Village, who cooks omelets like she’s there on the eggs’ behalf, to make sure their comeuppance is paid on time and in full.

If you can’t get to it immediately, though, put everything but the greens in a big bowl on your kitchen table instead of refrigerating it. In plain sight, your vegetables will chide you to cook them, and it feels pleasantly frivolous to spend a few moments fussing cauliflower, beets, and squash into a tableau.

A good tartar sauce should be piquant and powerful. It is much better made at home—where you can guarantee its potency—than purchased.

Tuscans believe that frugality is next to godliness and give the humblest ingredients their finest treatment. Tuscan cooks are extravagant with good olive oil, pressed from dark trees, and with vegetable scraps and Parmesan rinds, which, along with salt and more of that fine oil, make transcendent pots of beans.

A deeply comforting supper for one or two is beans and egg. Warm cooked beans in a little pan. Add sautéed kale, or roasted squash, or a little bit of roasted tomato, or add nothing at all. Crack an egg or two onto the beans, cover the pan, and cook. If you have stale bread, put a toasted piece, rubbed with garlic, in each bowl. Spoon the beans and egg over the toast, salt each egg, grind it with fresh black pepper, drizzle the beans and egg copiously with olive oil, grate them thickly with Parmesan, and dine like a Roman plebeian, or a Tuscan pauper, prince, or pope.

Mayonnaise is a food best made at home and almost never made at home. This has robbed us of something that is both healthy and an absolute joy to eat with gusto.

This salad is a good defense to pitch against the armies of salad stores that surround workplaces like attacking ants, all effective at supplying office workers with bad, expensive salads.

If our meal will be ongoing, then our only task is to begin.

Avoid olives that come already seasoned with herbs and garlic. The olives may be good, but the herbs or garlic may not, and they will ruin things.

Heat is a vital broker between separate things: warm ingredients added to warm ingredients are already in a process of transforming.

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler