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27. Season Your Dishes
How tiny can a stroke of genius be?
Early in the summer, I was prepping some zucchini for the grill when a light went off in my head. I’ve worked as a creative long enough to know that if you have a good idea, it’s very possible that someone else has already had it. But I have been unable to find anyone else who has written about what the subject of this issue is. That doesn’t mean someone hasn’t, only that I haven’t seen it.
A quick caveat before we get into things: Is this the greatest cooking idea ever? Absolutely not. Will it change the way you cook? Yes, in the tiniest way possible, but for the better.
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When seasoning food like slices of zucchini and eggplant before grilling them, I’ve always found it a (very minor) annoyance that you have to season one side and then flip the slices over so you can season the other side. Even more so when you’re dealing with raw meat and you need to wash your hands twice: once when you move your meat into position and once after the flip.
This is what I realized: before you slice your zucchini or take your steak from its packaging, season the dish you’re about to put it on.
Then place your meat or your vegetable slices on top. Give them a firm press, wash your hand (once!), and then season the top side.
That’s it. As I said, it’s very unrevolutionary, but it also eliminates a very common nuisance. And it works for any spice and even oil,although not as well for rubs, which, of course, require rubbing.
Some will protest and say that it’s wasteful. They’re not wrong—there will be some salt that doesn’t make contact with your food. But it’s going to be a negligible amount. A fraction of a penny. I might hesitate if I were using saffron, but I think I can take the loss for salt and pepper.
If you’ve heard of someone else doing this, let me know. Let me know, too, if you have any self-taught tricks to make cooking the tiniest bit easier.
What I’m Consuming…
Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci. Surprise, surprise! Tucci’s memoir is as charming as pretty much everything else he does.It’s impossible to read it and not hear it in his voice. A Christmas gift from Beth that I regret not reading sooner than this summer.
The Underexplored Roots of Black Cooking in Nova Scotia by Chantal Martineau. A friend recently posted this article, which was published in Saveur four years ago. As Martineau notes, Black people have lived in Nova Scotia since the early 1600s, but Canadians learn very little of their story. This is a great place to start learning more.
What’s on the Menu…
Soup Swap returns! Very early in The Plate Cleaner’s existence, I wrote about Soup Swap, a group I belong to that meets weekly to trade soup so everyone has their lunches for the week taken care of. Last year, things got in the way and the swapping never took place. But now everyone is feeling a little more settled and, with temperatures starting to drop, we’ve decided to get back to it. Our first swap is on Sunday and I’m still not sure what I’m bringing.
Ricotta gnocchi with Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce with butter and onion. I’m struggling to find the superlative to describe this meal. It’s not the simplest; you’re pressing ricotta and making your own pasta with it. It’s not the tidiest because it requires multiple pots and pans. Maybe it’s the tightest—it’s an exceptionally good plate of food in which the making of the two components, the sauce and the gnocchi, nest so neatly within each other. The sauce prep is minimal: open a can of tomatoes,put them in a pot, crush them with your hands, cut an onion in half and put one half in the pot, cut some butter into the pot, heat it, and stir occasionally. While it’s gently bubbling away, you have ample time to make the gnocchi, do a fairly thorough first pass clean-up, and then cook the gnocchi, which only takes about three minutes. When you’re finished you may only have a few bowls, two pots, and a sheet pan to clean up. And, most likely, just enough leftovers for a great lunch the next day.
My art director partner and I once discovered that the concept for an ad we had sold and (I believe) shot had been done a year earlier for an entirely different brand and product in South Africa.
Part of my inspiration, I think, comes from Molly Baz’s Cook This Book. In one recipe, in an effort to minimize oil spattering, she has you brush it onto the meat rather than coat the bottom of the pan with it.
It should come as no surprise that Big Night is a favourite of mine.
It’s very funny to realize Caroline Aaron was exasperating Tony Shalhoub 21 years before Mrs. Maisel.
Just like a fresh tomato, if you just straight-up squeeze a canned tomato, it will squirt everywhere. Use a finger to pierce a little hole in the tomato before squeezing and you’ll be able to crush it without making a mess.
The other thing I love about this meal is there are only two knife cuts required: cutting the butter into the sauce pot and cutting the herbs for the sauce (technically that’s a lot of cuts, but you know what I’m saying). I guess dividing the logs of gnocchi dough into individual pieces are cuts, but since that’s done with a bench scraper instead of a knife, I’m not counting it.