Like life, some of the best food experiences revolve around simple pleasures.
Not so simple
A few months ago I had the good fortune to dine at a Michelin-starred restaurant at a vineyard in one of Bordeaux’s wine regions.
The restaurant shimmered with refined elegance and the tables were set with crockery to die for. It was a warm spring day and the doors opened onto the vineyard, each row sporting a fragrant rosebush in bloom.
I remember the spirited conversation (with two renowned chefs who were leading the tour), the most fragrant lemon verbena hedge and the delightful ambience. But the Michelin anointed meal? It was pleasant, far from simple and if I’d not taken a few photos, barely memorable.
The experience got me thinking about the foods I really appreciate. What it came down to was good quality ingredients, cooked or served simply to appreciate the innate flavour.
“In the search for originality, the most obvious dishes are forgotten”
Elizabeth David, arguably one of the best food writers of the twentieth century, wrote many gems about simple food. She extoled the pleasure of eating hard-boiled eggs with mayonnaise, ripe figs and a simple omelette.
Does life get any better than that?
As a home cook, not a chef, I love the “obvious dishes”. The key is using the best produce such as eggs laid by free ranging ‘happy chooks’, and seasonal vegetables grown organically in fertile soil.
What could be simpler than soup? My spring favourite is what I unimaginatively call “green soup”. If you’re lucky enough to have some nettles sprout in your garden – they’re perfect – but otherwise I use sorrel, broccoli or leafy greens, which are balanced by mushrooms and lemon juice.
Boiled eggs, as David suggests can indeed be a meal on their own with mayonnaise, or the classic soft boiled goog with sourdough soldiers.
In spring, salads start coming into their own again. Either as a venerable side kick or a one- dish meal. Salads are simple to assemble and will always taste great if you follow these three simple rules.
I never tire of piling my favourite salad bowl with homegrown lettuce, steamed potatoes, blanched green beans, tomatoes, olives and topped with the humble boiled egg. If you throw in some tuna and perhaps a little anchovy, you can call it a Nicoise.
I still get a thrill in September when slender spears of asparagus reappear at the market. Simply blanched or roasted, early season asparagus is such a treat and hard to imagine that in another couple of months we will grow a little tired of it.
Avocado, smashed or sliced, has become affordable to grace toast once more. They also transform salad dressing into something creamy and lush, thanks to the green goddess.
The weekly organic market forage welcomes the return of old friends tomatoes and strawberries, sweetened by the sun and my courtyard garden bed offers fragrant dill, coriander and thyme to spike the simplest foods with added flavour.
A piece of fruit is surely the best way to end a simple meal. There’s still some punchy mandarins and oranges from late winter on offer. But even better, I’m now picking mulberries and strawberries from the community garden, and have been gifted a home grown custard apple.
“To eat figs off the tree in the very early morning, when they have been barely touched by the sun, is one of the exquisite pleasures of the Mediterranean.”
In a global marketplace where seasonality is less pronounced, take a moment to enjoy each mouthful of spring flavours. Take a detour from the same meal rota and enjoy the return of spring produce.
Feast your eyes on the abundant blossoms, inhale the herbal scents and rediscover your own simple pleasures.