Alice Waters and The Art of Simple Food
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Alice Waters and The Art of Simple Food

Whether you know it or not, Alice Waters has likely influenced what you eat and how you eat it. Her formula has always been basic. Combine local and seasonal ingredients to yield deliciously wholesome dishes. No more, no less, and just as it should be. In her latest book, The Art of Simple Food, Waters shares 250 recipes and 19 culinary lessons with all who are eager to go back to unadulterated food. Here are three teaser recipes and a guide to roasting chicken to get you started. -Barbara Huber

Salads Galore

Grapefruit and Avocado Salad

4 Servings

Peel with a sharp knife down to the flesh, removing all the rind and membrane:

2 medium ruby grapefruit

Cut the sections free, slicing carefully along the partitioning membranes. Squeeze the juice from the membranes. Measure 2 tablespoons of the juice into a small bowl. Stir in:

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
Salt
Fresh-ground black pepper

Whisk in:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Taste and adjust the acid and salt.
Cut in half and remove the pit from:

2 medium Hass avocados

Peel the halves and cut into 1/4-inch slices. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Arrange the grapefruit sections and avocado slices alternately on a plate and spoon the vinaigrette over.

Variations

  • Garnish with watercress or chervil.
  • Double the amount of vinaigrette and dress 4 small handfuls of arugula separately with half of the vinaigrette. Arrange the avocado and grapefruit on top, and spoon the remaining vinaigrette over the fruit.
  • For the avocados, substitute 2 large or 4 small artichokes. Trim off all the leaves, remove the chokes, and cook the hearts until tender in salted boiling water. Slice and marinate in a couple spoonfuls of the vinaigrette.
  • Slice thin 1 small sweet spring onion. Marinate in a spoonful of vinaigrette. Scatter over the arranged salad before spooning on the dressing.

Green Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad

4 Servings

Cherry tomatoes and beans come in many sizes and colors. Mix them all together. You can include shell beans, too. The beans can be cooked and cooled in advance.

Snap off the stem ends (and pull off the tails, if dry or tough) of:

1/2 pound green beans (haricots verts, young Blue Lake, Kentucky Wonder, or a similar variety)

Cook until tender in salted boiling water. Drain and immediately spread them out on a sheet pan or plate to cool. Stem and cut in half:

1/2 pound cherry tomatoes

Stir together in a large bowl:

1 small shallot, diced fine
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper

Taste and adjust if necessary. Let sit for 15 minutes or more. Then whisk in:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Adjust the acid and salt as needed. Toss the cherry tomatoes with the vinaigrette. Taste. Add the green beans, and:

6 basil leaves, cut into chiffonade (optional)

Toss gently. Taste for seasoning and add salt and vinegar as needed.

Variations

  • Add chopped black olives to the dressing.
  • The green beans alone make a lovely salad. They are particularly good tossed with the basil and lots of chopped parsley.
  • Roasted red peppers, peeled and sliced, may be substituted for the cherry tomatoes.

Cucumbers with Cream and Mint

4 Servings

There are many varieties of cucumbers, each with its own flavor and texture. I especially like Armenian, Japanese, and lemon cucumbers.

Peel and slice:

2 cucumbers

If the seeds are large and tough, cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon before slicing. Place in a medium-size bowl and sprinkle with:

Salt

In another bowl, combine:

1/4 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Fresh-ground black pepper

Stir well. If water has accumulated with the cucumbers, drain it off. Pour the dressing over the sliced cucumbers and combine. Coarsely chop:

3 mint sprigs, leaves only

Toss with the cucumbers. Taste and adjust the salt as needed. Serve cool.

Variations

  • Add pounded garlic to the dressing.
  • Serve alongside sliced beets dressed with oil and vinegar.
  • Grate or dice the cucumbers and serve as a sauce over baked salmon.
  • Parsley, chervil, basil, or cilantro can be substituted for the mint.
  • Substitute plain yogurt for the cream.
  • Add spices such as cumin, coriander, or mustard seeds to the dressing.

Roasting a Chicken

Roast chicken, plump, golden, and juicy, is perfect for anything from a feast to a weekday family dinner. Happily, it is an easy dish to prepare, especially if you follow these few tips.

First and foremost: find a good chicken, one that has been raised with care. Because chickens are so widely available and inexpensive, we don't often think about where they come from and how they are raised. Unfortunately, these days most chickens are produced under factory conditions, cooped up in tiny overcrowded cages, de-beaked, and fed a diet that is heavily laced with antibiotics and frequently includes animal by-products. These conditions are unhealthy and stressful for the birds (and the workers as well) and produce chickens of compromised integrity and flavor. Organic free-range chickens are raised on organic grain, without antibiotics or hormones, in less confined and more humane conditions, resulting in healthier, tastier birds. Starting with such a bird is what makes a really delicious roast chicken. Organic, free-range chickens can be found at some farmers' markets. These are usually pasture-raised in small flocks and are the tastiest of all. If your butcher or market doesn't carry organic chicken, you can help create demand by asking them to do so.

If possible, season the chicken with salt a day or even two days before you roast it. If you roast it the day you buy it, season it as soon as you bring the bird home. The seasoning will penetrate the bird, making the meat more tender, juicy, and tasty. Make a mixture of about 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and a scant 1/4 teaspoon of fresh-ground black pepper. Unwrap the chicken. If it is wrapped in paper keep it right on the paper. Swivel the wing tips and tuck them underneath the bird; this keeps them from burning while roasting. Sprinkle the salt and pepper all over the bird, inside and out, wrap it right back up, and put it in the refrigerator. If you want to, this is the time to put herbs and garlic under the skin. Gently loosen the skin and slide thick slices of peeled garlic cloves and tender sprigs of fresh herbs underneath, working them under the skin until they are situated over the breasts and thighs.

Take the chicken out of the refrigerator at least an hour before cooking. A cold bird straight from the fridge won't roast evenly; the outside will cook but the interior will be underdone. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roast the chicken in an ovenproof dish or pan that's about the same size as the chicken. If a too-large pan is used, the juices that accumulate while the chicken is roasting will start to burn and smoke. An earthenware dish or small roasting pan will do, and so will an ovenproof skillet or a pie pan. Lightly oil the dish; put the chicken in it, breast side up; and roast for 20 minutes, then turn the chicken breast side down. Turning the chicken helps it cook evenly by circulating the juices and fat throughout the bird and allows the skin to brown and crisp all over. After another 20 minutes turn the chicken breast side up again and roast until done.

A 3-1/2- to 4-pound chicken takes about an hour or so to cook. Start checking after about 50 minutes. The bird is ready when the legs and thighs are no longer pink and the breast is still juicy and tender. With experience you will be able to judge the doneness of a roast bird by sight, but at first you have to do a little investigating. Don't be afraid to cut into it. The thighs are the last parts to finish cooking, so cut into the bird near the joint between the drumstick and the thigh. The meat should be hot and no longer red. After having roasted countless chickens, I rely on visual cues: I know that when the skin has started to separate from the meat on the drumsticks the bird is done. I also give the leg a little wiggle; if it moves freely, without bouncing back, this confirms what the skin has already told me. It's important that the chicken be cooked through -- but it's equally important that it not be overdone. A dried-out, overcooked chicken is a waste.

Let the chicken rest in a warm place for a minimum of 10 to 15 minutes before serving. The juices will settle, the internal temperature will stabilize, and the chicken will be much more succulent than if you carve it immediately. Remove the chicken to a warm platter. Skim the fat from the juices left in the pan and turn them into a sauce or a little gravy or pour into a pitcher to pass at the table.

To cut up the roasted chicken, slice through the skin between the thigh and breast. Put the bird back in the roasting pan to do this because this will release a lot of juices. Tip the bird forward to drain the juices and then remove it from the pan. Bend or pull the leg out from the body and locate the hip joint with your knife, slicing down firmly through the joint to remove the leg. To remove the drumstick, hold the knob of the drumstick and cut through the joint from the inside. To carve the breast, start at the wishbone at the top of the breast. Slide the point of your knife down each side of the breastbone. Then cut down along the wishbone towards the wings. Slide your knife under the meat, lifting it off the rib cage. Last, holding the meat away from the bird cut down through the wing joint, removing the breast and wing in one piece. Either carve the breast into slices or cut it in half diagonally, making the half with the wing attached slightly smaller. Save the carcass; it makes a lovely stock.

Roast Chicken

4 Servings

Remove the giblets from the cavity of:

1 chicken weighing 3 1/2 to 4 pounds

Inside the cavity there are frequently large pads of fat. Pull these out and discard them. Tuck the wing tips up and under to keep them from burning. Season, 1 or 2 days in advance, if possible.

Sprinkle, inside and out, with:

Salt and fresh-ground black pepper

Cover loosely and refrigerate. At least 1 hour before cooking, remove and place in a lightly oiled pan, breast side up. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roast for 20 minutes, turn the bird breast side down, and cook for another 20 minutes. Then turn breast side up again and roast until done, another 10 to 20 minutes. Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving.

Variations

  • Put a few tender sprigs of thyme, savory, or rosemary under the skin of the breast and thighs before roasting.
  • Put a few thick slices of garlic clove under the skin, with or without herbs.
  • Stuff the cavity of the bird with herbs; they will perfume the meat as the chicken roasts. Don't hold back: fill the whole cavity.

Reprinted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters. Copyright (c) 2007. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc.

Originally published on LHJ.com, November 2007.

 
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