by Sybil PrattApril, 2000
Simplicity reigns at the rangeMark Bittman is one of my culinary heroes. His award-winning How to Cook Everything, is one of the most consulted books in my ever-expanding cookbook collection, and I've clipped, cooked from, saved, and savored The Minimalist, his weekly cooking column in The New York Times since it began. Now, he brings us The Minimalist Cooks at Home: Recipes That Give You More Flavor from Fewer Ingredients in Less Time with contents that truly live up to the grand promise of that subtitle.
The approach, says Bittman, is strictly less-is-more. This does not mean bland and boring, nor are there iron-clad rules that must be adhered to. The recipes are sophisticated and savvy, and the rules, if they can be called that, are flexibility, substitution, and improvisation.
To encourage this practical philosophy, Bittman strips recipes to their bare essentials so you see just how interchangeable individual ingredients can be. To that worthy end, the intros (discussions of the dish and techniques used) and afterwords (intriguing lists of substitutions that can transform one dish into another) that precede and follow each recipe are almost always longer than the recipes themselves.
Honey-Orange Roast Chicken, a no-brainer method for achieving a perfectly browned bird, can quickly take on Asian aromas. Linguine with Spinach, a one-pot wonder, can follow suit with a touch of soy sauce, sesame oil, and toasted sesame seeds or go upscale Italiano with olives, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, and minced prosciutto.
And so it goes from salads and soups, through every kind of main course, to vegetables, sauces, and desserts. Bittman's brand of simplicity is not a compromise but a treasure, and this book is a treasure trove for every home cook.
Sybil Pratt is an avid cook.