Good Food Blog
It takes twoPosted at 4:17PM, 11 February 2009 by Adrian Bridgwater - Journalist
Our beloved celebrity chefs are just oh so fond of telling us that with good quality produce, you really don't need to do much to create great food that tastes outstanding aren't they? I remember attending a weekend at Rick Steins' seafood school a couple of years back and coming away with the words, "Let the ingredients speak for themselves," ringing in my ears for days afterwards.
Why is it then that we love to abandon simplicity and overcomplicate so much of our cooking? Curry recipes demand 16 dried herbs and spices, while four-stage risottos beg that we don't forget to pre-soak the dried porcini mushrooms before we move on to prepare the Moroccan pastillas with slowly stewed saffron-infused chicken layered with scrambled eggs and almonds in filo pastry.
By way of a contrast, I like to recall when I was lucky enough to live in Rome about a decade or so ago and once sat next to an old couple in a back street trattoria to have dinner. While his wife ordered something relatively simple for her 'prima' appetiser dish; the wise old Roman of the pair ordered a beef tomato and a salt shaker. I sat and watched somewhat furtively as he dived into his food with nothing more than a pinch of seasoning. OK, maybe he had a drizzle of olive oil too, but that was it!
Then, last week my wife served up a dish of only two ingredients that was just so simply wholesome that it couldn't fail to be appealing. I thought the cartoon cat Sylvester used to scream, "Suffrin' Succotash!" for alliterative comedy value only, but it turns out that succotash is a homely dish of corn and beans that became popular during the Great Depression, but has endured by virtue of its common sense value and good flavour.
I carried out a quick poll of web friends and family and asked them what they would suggest if I asked them to prepare a dish featuring just two ingredients. Predictably I got answers like beans on toast, fish and chips and a cheese omelette. But there have to be more two-ingredient dishes worth shouting about that those British staples surely?
Mexicans and Cubans regularly eat black beans and rice and laud it as a national dish with some pride. My favourite Floyd shows are when (Sir) Keith is extolling the manifold pleasures of a simple grilled mackerel sandwich in the back streets of Istanbul. That was fish and bread if you didn't catch the ingredients for that concoction.
I've eaten in the market stalls of the Djemma el Fna in Marrakech and a plate of meat brochettes and pickles (washed down with awful but somehow appropriate lukewarm orange Fanta) really sums up North African on a plate. Chickpeas in chicken stock with crushed cumin seeds sounds so basic, but it is so moreish - and so Moorish too for that matter.
So could you create something appealing if you were asked to rustle up a dish using only two ingredients? Salt and pepper for seasoning is a given I suppose, as is a little oil or butter to cook with if needed. Or is this too much to ask now that we have all got so used to 'over-engineering' our food today?