Sunday, October 24, 2010

Keeping it simple

Have you ever looked at a 5-year-old beauty pageant contestant, seen their abundance of sparkles, curls, and a thick layer of makeup, and thought, "She looks like she's trying to be something she's not - it's too much!" Underneath the sequin dress and mess of hair sprayed locks is a little girl whose cheeks turn bright red when she runs outside in the cold and would rather jump in mud puddles than burst onto the fashion scene. Her natural beauty as a 5-year-old far outshines the excessive glamour of the pageant queen she's portraying.

Just like these young, over-glamorized toddlers, certain "gourmet" dishes exude a sense of elite sophistication as they display an arrangement of wild ingredients surrounded by a host of edible decorations. Hiding somewhere beneath the gastronomic creation is a simple, elementary food, which maintains a distinct beauty in its own right. So why, I ask, must we seek to complicate our meals with superfluous additions instead of highlighting the true flavor of a single or few ingredients?

On Thursday, I made a dish that contained five ingredients. I made a Margherita pizza - pillows of mozzarella cheese, slices of crimson Roma tomatoes and fresh basil leaves atop a homemade pizza crust drizzled with olive oil. There was nothing complicated to this dish - no need to crowd the dough with other vegetables, cheeses or meats, no need to sprinkle on an array of spices. As we sank our teeth into our first slice, the tomato and mozzarella gushed inside our mouths as we closed our eyes and imagined we were dining in Napoli. This simple dish took little time to prepare and was not intimidating in the slightest. We didn't need the royal cavalcade of the Italian Cioppino to excite our stomachs; between five fresh ingredients, we could think of nothing more satisfying.

Too often we come across a recipe that sends shivers down our spine - tipped off by the two hour preparation time, the endless list of rare and unusual ingredients, accompanied by six paragraphs of instructions, is enough to send one into a culinary heart attack. Instead of trying to create a flashy meal, why not emphasize the true, brilliant taste of a few simple ingredients? Ready for another challenge? Why not try turning less into more... now that's a real art.

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