101 ten-minute summer meals

Mark Bittman at the New York Times has published the perfect summer companion: his list of 101 fast and easy (“under ten minutes”) summer meals.

I love this list for the obvious “who wants to cook in summer?” reasons but also because I love simple, easy food. We often get caught up in the trappings of elaborate meal preparation in which it takes half a day of kitchen slavery in order to produce dinner, but the best food is often composed of the simplest things; it’s just a matter of having good quality stuff in your pantry and knowning when and how to go “Zen” with it.

2. Toss a cup of chopped mixed herbs with a few tablespoons of olive oil in a hot pan. Serve over angel-hair pasta, diluting the sauce if necessary with pasta cooking water.

This is nothing new to me; years ago I picked up Nigel Slater’s book Real Fast Food and it was a revelation. He describes the beauty and simplicity of things like canned sardines and fresh bread. I learned that emphasizing quality and deliciousness is more about what you leave out that what you put in.

One of the biggest mistakes I used to make when cooking was always putting everything in every dish. I’d essentially tip the whole pantry into the pot, so all of my soups were the same (except one week it was beef and the next it was chicken, but the vegetables and seasonings were the same) and my pasta sauces were undistinguished concoctions of everything I had in the kitchen.

12. Boil a lobster. Serve with lemon or melted butter.

Over time, I’ve learned to do it the classic Italian way of using fewer, but better, ingredients, and of going light with the heat. So sometimes my pasta is all about mushrooms, in which case I don’t use tomatoes (they overwhelm the mushrooms). Or maybe it’s a pasta that’s all about tomatoes, in which case all I add are tomatoes and a bit of basil and some salt. Maybe a bit of garlic. Always olive oil. Or maybe it’s about seafood, so I leave out the tomatoes and the mushrooms and just use lemons and a bit of garlic and shallots.

I learned that every time you add something, it takes away from what’s already in there. So add judiciously; or don’t add at all!

40. Put a large can of chickpeas and their liquid in a medium saucepan. Add some sherry, along with olive oil, plenty of minced garlic, smoked pimentón and chopped Spanish chorizo. Heat through.

You get the picture. Bittman’s 101 recipes are in this vein; take a few good things, put them together, and never let your dinner forget that it’s all about the shrimp, or the beans, or whatever other few things you put in there. If you ask me, that kind of simplicity is what loving food is really all about; it’s all about the simple ingredients, not so much about the hours and hours of cooking and processing.

56. Make a fast tomato sauce of olive oil, chopped tomatoes and garlic. Poach eggs in the sauce, then top with Parmesan.

But that’s not to say I don’t enjoy the results of very involved cooking. Pas du tout! But it’s good to step away from the ol’ hob now and then and take a breather. Eating good quality simple food is like taking a refresher course in what food is all about.

45. Sauté shredded zucchini in olive oil, adding garlic and chopped herbs. Serve over pasta.

Summer is the perfect time for this kind of meal because the days are hot, the body is lazy, and the markets are abundant. Who needs to spend half the day fussing over boiling pots? Some of Bittman’s recipes are so simple you’ll be tempted to say “Duh! I don’t need Mark Bittman to tell me how to make that!” But perhaps you need Mark Bittman’s reminder of how little is necessary to make a wonderfully simple and delicous meal on a warm summer’s eve. I’m glad I got the reminder.

68. Brush portobello caps with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper and broil until tender. Briefly sweat chopped onions, then scramble eggs with them. Put eggs in mushrooms.

10 thoughts on “101 ten-minute summer meals

  1. You made me so hungry… 12 minutes till lunchtime…

    I have to further examine this book, when I am not so hungry.

    /have been doing the shredded zucchini thingie for a long time.

  2. I did the zucchini thing last night, although I sliced it instead of shredding it.

    It’s not a book — it’s an article in the New York Times (I link to it above).

  3. dude, i would love your opinion on this project i’m working on, StartCooking.com — shoot me an email, i wanna know what you think of the site.

  4. I passed your Blog post on to a few single and couple types. Figured I’d “advertise” you as well as the article. One fellow was a bit put out by the “mere” suggestion, 12. Boil a lobster. Serve with lemon or melted butter. I guess it’s not really prepping a meal in the eyes of a Downeaster, but… I tried to put myself in the position of a harried D’town New Yorker commuting home on 90 deg F. day… I think that I could possibly be inspired by the idea of dropping by the local fishmonger and picking up just a lobster or two, breaking into a loaf of crusty bread, all enhanced with a nice white wine and making a meal of that. We’re more accustomed with a big ol’ Lobster Dinner with all the trimmings in a church basement back home on the Island…

  5. I read these receipices when they were first saw them (at Lifehacker I believe) a couple of weeks ago.
    I saved the list and edited the ones out that have meat in them, since we don’t eat meat in my household. It’s funny that none of the recipes you quote above have meat in them, and only the lobster one has seafood.
    For a meat eater you’re not half bad :-)

  6. Harry, I think that’s the whole point of this approach; the sheer simplicity versus the big production. I mean really; boiling a lobster? How hard is that? The hard part is realizing that, like you say, you can just do it straight and simple without worrying that it’s too basic or not elaborate enough.

    Mare, I didn’t even realize that I was choosing meatless stuff. I just went with ones that looked quick and easy and made with stuff that I pretty much have on hand at any given time. (Uh… lobster excluded.)

  7. Mmmmm. Number 56 sounds good. And I don’t even like poached eggs that much.

    Couldn’t agree more on simplicity for summer (housewarming parties excluded ;) ). Had a great dinner tonight of freshly made gazpacho (whiz a bunch of veggies in the blender, add tomato juice, oil, balsamic & thyme) with a grilled cheese (fresh country bread & aged cheddar). Simple but absolutely delicious.

    Meatless stuff is particularly appetizing for summer – not as heavy as most meat dishes.

  8. Interestingly, I’m dining solo tonight, so I will probably tap into this list for inspiration. (I like it when my posts converge.)

    Yes, Suzanne, entertaining events are notwithstanding in this case. I certainly appreciated the effort that went into the food at that housewarming party. Yummy!

  9. i don’t know if Bittman mentions this, but a good homemade vinaigrette will get you almost anywhere: on grilled eggplant, peaches, tomatoes, on salads, on chops, on mushrooms, on fresh baguette… enjoy dinner tonight!!!

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