Saturday, October 10, 2009

Three meals

A commenter asked about our normal meal time frame: How long do we cook? How long do we eat? Are we always carefully "slow"?

To the last question, yes: we make almost everything from scratch, using fresh local ingredients as much as possible. (Some exceptions: when there are not tomatoes, we eat canned tomatoes, but we can those ourselves. "Asian" ingredients, like soy sauce and coconut milk, we do not try to source locally. Milk is local, but most of our cheese is imported. And so on.) To the second question, our meals are just about exactly an hour of eating. In particular, we usually put on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me to listen to while we eat, and we finish the salad (we always end with a salad) just as they're finishing the show.

But as to how long cooking takes? Here are three recent case studies.

Thursday's dinner was very fast to cook — start-to-finish twenty minutes. Fill a large pot half-way with water, bring to a boil, and add some salt. Meanwhile, scrub two pounds of mussels and set aside. Wash and chop a medium head of of broccoli, and begin steaming in a colander set in the top of the pot. In a large fry pan, melt butter and olive oil and sauté a few cloves of garlic, chopped. When the broccoli has turned bright green, transfer it to the sauté pan, pour a pound of dried rigatoni into the boiling water, and set the timer to ten minutes. Begin sautéing the broccoli, adding salt and more oils as needed. After three minutes, move the cleaned mussels to the colander and steam six minutes. When the timer has one minute left, transfer the mussels to a bowl, and set on the table — also finish setting the table and open a bottle of wine. Rinse the colander, drain the pasta when the timer goes off, and mix with the broccoli in a large serving bowl. Serve with a brick of pecorino romano and a peeler for shaving over the pasta.

For comparison, consider Wednesday's dinner of ratatouille and carrot cake. B made the carrot cake in the afternoon; the ratatouille is from Chez Panisse Vegetables, and is described as "serves 8" (the two of us ate half of that recipe as an entre, and had the other half cold for lunch the next day). Mise en place is essential for a long meal like this. The ratatouille is easy, but it's a lot of chopping: make into half-inch cubes equal amounts of eggplant (one larger), onion, tomato, peppers, and summer squash; begin with the eggplant and salt it liberally, so that it can drain in the colander while you prepare the other veggies. Also mince ten cloves garlic and prepare a bouquet garni (the recipe said just basil; we used a mix of garden herbs). Then dry the eggplant, and sauté until golden in the bottom of a large pot, remove and set aside. Sauté the onions until transclucent, add the garlic and peppers, a few minutes later the squash and bouquet garni, and a few minutes later the tomatoes. Bring to a boil, cook ten minutes, add the eggplant, cook another twenty, let cool a little, and serve. Plan about an hour if you're doing all the chopping yourself, and more time to make the dessert, etc. (Ratatouille is delicious, but not entirely satisfying as the only course.)

The final meal this week was about forty minutes of cook time. With a peeler, make very thin slices of potato (two medium taters is probably enough), and lay out overlapping on a piece of wax paper. Salt and rub with a little oil, then place on the potatoes a large fillet of rock fish. Liberally add salt, pepper, and herbs (we used thyme, fennel tops, and rosemary), and then wrap the fish in the potato skin, using the wax paper to help roll the fish. Wrap in parchment (or wax paper, but it doesn't work as well), and bake in a preheated oven 20 minutes. Meanwhile, slice thin two small yellow onions, sauté with salt and olive oil until translucent, add a few cloves minced garlic, and then the stems and then the greens of a bunch of silver chard.

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