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Thinking Like a Chef

My wife and I subscribe to Horse and Buggy Produce , a local CSA.  We get the benefit of farm-fresh local produce without the hassle.  While most of the produce is familiar, some is not or it can arrive in greater quantity than we are prepared for.  It occurred to me that this was more a test of my cooking philosophy than it was a way to churn through new recipes. 

One of the dishes I’ve taken to making is a summer vegetable “ragu” – a sautéed mix of diced zucchini and squash.  If we have tomatoes, they get chopped and tossed in.  Corn?  Definitely.  Peas?  Sure.  A little white wine works if you have it.  It can work with a variety of fresh herbs, but I especially like basil and thyme right now.  I finish it with some good olive oil at the end and fresh a few grinds of black pepper.  The ragu itself is just a framework, though, a way to take summer’s bounty in front of you and cook it respectfully. 

The ragu works as a sauce for pasta – last summer, I tossed it with penne, a little balsamic, and topped the plate with shaved parmesan.  This week, it’s been used as a base for some grilled salmon.  The next night, we mixed the leftover ragu with cous cous to make a salad to serve with grilled shrimp.  It would be equally great stirred into or set on top of a risotto.  With different herbs and spices, it can move from a dish with more Mediterranean sensibilities to something a little bit more Indian.  So many different forks in the culinary road, all based on this simple sauté.   

Tom Colicchio’s book Think Like A Chef  puts this way of thinking into better-edited words.  His book is a study of the thought process behind building a dish, starting from a single basic element, and then putting that element into different dishes in different ways.  It’s a beautiful way of thinking about food, one that moves away from recipes and towards an evolutionary perspective on how a dish can work.  I’d highly recommend it, especially if what I’ve said resonates with you.

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