Buying What Looks Best
I love to cook from a recipe. I love to see what brilliant culinary minds put together, challenging me to change up my routine and use techniques or combinations I wouldn't think of. Cookbooks made up 95% of our home library, and at night I climb in bed with a big stack.
But, recipes can get you stuck in a different way too. Being married to recipes means walking into markets with a hard and fast list that doesn't take into account other, vital factors. The best cooks will tell you, your food is only as good as your ingredients. Farmers and gardeners are the beginning and most important part of the cooking narrative. Any backyard gardener can tell you, your radishes can go from perfectly piquant, to bitterly spicy quickly! And this can completely change the taste of whatever you are cooking.
A great cook needs flexibility, and this is why menus at farm-to-table restaurants change so quickly. Cooks adapt their dishes based on what beautiful things they see at the market. By rigidly sticking to a recipe, you often overlook the sensory and intuitive aspects of cooking that make it more than just a simple combination of ingredients.
Earlier this week, I headed to my beloved local market to pick up ingredients for dinner. As I walked through the aisles, my original plans for spice rubbed and roasted cauliflower were derailed when I spotted these tiny and tender turnips. The greens were perfect, and since they were small I knew they would not be woody or too spicy. I sliced them in half, keeping the greens in tact, and roasted these beautiful little guys with some salt and pepper before tossing them in a salad of the best greens I could find (in this case radicchio and little gems).
It was a small and gentle reminder to myself to remain flexible, and treat my trips to the market as the true inspiration for my cooking. That recipes are great and wonderful, but that the quality of my ingredients is the real brilliance in the kitchen.