"The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention." Oscar Wilde
A friend shared this quote with me this week. In the context of it she was talking about food, more specifically the sweetness in the ease of cooking during the summer. I’m not even sure if the word “cooking” is necessary. It is more a matter of assembling when the sun does the hard work of ripening the fruit while it still dangles from the branch. The quote was a reminder that sometimes simplicity is enough. There is no need to overwhelm your dinner guests with a dish that took all day and part of last night to prepare. How about a plate of tomatoes with a little salt and olive oil and more time to spend with them at the table?
Those who know me and are reading this are quite possibly laughing in their kitchens. When I cook for people it can be quite the fanfare. Homemade breads, long-simmered braises, elegant salads with fine shavings of local produce and often there’s a homemade soda to wash it down with. Then there is dessert—always dessert. Part of the pomp and circumstance is because when I experience a good meal I experience love. The sort of love that loves unnecessarily, that goes beyond what it’s called to do. And when I feed others I want those who are nibbling on the bruschetta topped with homemade ricotta and slow-roasted tomatoes to feel inexplicably loved too.
When I eat alone, however, I am perfectly content with the plate of tomatoes and perhaps a few pieces of cavernous bread, toasted lightly in a hot pan with butter. The surface is then rubbed with raw garlic and suddenly my kitchen smells Italian. And yet I feel no less love. Actually, now that I think about it, it is in that simplicity where the love can really permeate, as I don’t get in the way of how the food was created to feed us.
I can’t get away from the fanfare completely. Some occasions, like my birthday perhaps, where I choose to lavish my closest friends with homemade sausages, vegetable terrines, salmon rillettes, homemade crackers and cheeses and an ice cream cake lined with candied cocoa nibs. But there are times when the simplicity of sliced fruit on a plate is “worth more than the grandest intention.” And it is in the summer, where our job as preparers of the food is mostly done for us in the fields, making it the perfect season for simple acts of kindness.
Yesterday’s lunch was a peach so soft the knife nearly crushed the flesh. Juices ran down my arm then back onto the plate as I tried desperately to catch every drop. I then sliced a tomato that felt much heavier than its size led me to believe. Together they wove a pattern on the plate. Then there was burrata—a ball of mozzarella that is folded over some cream in the process of it being made, which creates an incredibly milky center that makes a sort of sauce as it puddles into the tomato and peach juices. There was a touch of olive oil, lemon juice, fresh basil and salt. That meal was mostly consumed with my eyes closed so I could focus on the complex melody that was created with a few simple things.
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Simple Summer Dish Ideas
from Ashley Rodriguez
· Sliced peaches with toasted hazelnuts and crème fraîche or mascarpone.
· Sautéed chile peppers with oil. While hot, sprinkle with salt and a touch of lemon juice. Finish with roughly chopped parsley.
· Apricots with a good amount of sugar or honey, roasted in a hot oven, then spooned over bread. This is my new way of making jam. In the oven, the fruit gets caramelly and more intensely flavored.
· Carrots, peeled thinly then tossed with olive oil, salt, lemon juice and loads of whatever herbs you have on hand. For a creamy salad, throw in a bit of plain yogurt.
· Cucumbers get salted and splashed with vinegar—whichever one you have around, except balsamic. Again, fresh herbs if you have them.
· Broccoli is roasted or steamed, then served with a briny vinaigrette. If you aren’t fearful of anchovies, use those here. Or, mash olives to a paste then mix with olive oil, lemon, and chile flakes until a clumpy, yet pourable mix forms.
Isn’t simplicity delicious?