Sometimes I start cooking, with no clear idea what I am going to make for a meal. Last night was a good example. We ended up with a fine supper, and in retrospect, I now see the formula with which I was working at the subconscious level.
- rummage through the refrigerator and pantry for ingredients you want to or need to use (i.e. they will go bad if left there another day); concentrate on vegetables and condimenti.
- identify some grains you will use as a foundation for the dish, and to provide some additional protein
- transform ingredients individually or collectively into components for the dish
- cook the grains, put on plates or bowls, and assemble the final dish
- pick your wine and enjoy the meal
So here is last night’s example.
- boil a small bunch of lacinato kale (cavolo nero), then chop
- boil a small bunch of spinach until tender; puree with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and about 1/2 cup of soft tofu (makes a beautiful bright green sauce)
- dice an onion and one medium zucchini, saute until tender
- trim and quarter 8 baby artichokes, which are sauteed with the zucchini and onion
- mix the cavolo nero with the other vegetables and keep warm in the pan
- cut a long Japanese eggplant in half lengthwise, then crosswise into chunks; saute eggplant in olive oil until nearly tender
- finish the eggplant with chopped garlic and a few tablespoons each of Chinese black vinegar, and Italian balsamic vinegar — these will provide a dominant but subtle sweet/sour theme through the completed dish
- roast a small spaghetti squash in a 375-degree oven until soft; then pull out the strands of the squash
- puree a few canned Italian tomatoes with their juices; simmer in a pan with olive oil, salt and pepper, until thick and smooth
- make the polenta; I use a medium coarse Italian cornmeal, with 1 cup of polenta to 3 cups of boiling water (plus a little salt and olive oil), simmering until thick
- pour the polenta on the plate, top with the vegetables in layers, spoon the spinach and tomato purees across the top like stripes in the Italian flag
- pour a glass of 2011 Dirupi Rosso di Valtellina (Nebbiolo grapes), and enjoy!