BA­SIC IN­STINCTS

It’s time to go back to ba­sics. Chefs and dis­cern­ing home cooks are em­brac­ing the trend of us­ing fewer, bet­ter qual­ity in­gre­di­ents and it is sav­ing time, money and the planet, writes LINDY ALEXAN­DER

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Delicious - For recipes us­ing five or fewer in­gre­di­ents, go to de­li­cious.com.au

When the chefs at No.1 Bent Street by Mike and Kitchen by Mike de­sign a new dish, owner Mike Mce­near­ney gives them some Coco Chanel-like ad­vice. “I al­ways tell them to take two or three in­gre­di­ents away,” he says. “You get a much bet­ter dish with fewer in­gre­di­ents.”

Min­i­mal­ism has taken over our wardrobes and our homes, and now it’s mov­ing onto our plates.

Mce­near­ney be­gan his ca­reer at Syd­ney’s Rock­pool in 1990, when Neil Perry was cham­pi­oning sim­ple pro­duce with the then rogue con­cept of serv­ing per­fect steak with a wedge of lemon.

“I’ve been a fan of ‘less is more’ for a long time, but we are cer­tainly see­ing a cur­rent trend fo­cus­ing on qual­ity in­gre­di­ents with­out em­bel­lish­ing them too much,” says Mce­near­ney.

Jamie Oliver is the lat­est chef to em­brace the con­cept, de­scrib­ing his new book 5 In­gre­di­ents – Quick And Easy Food (where the recipes use a max­i­mum of five in­gre­di­ents) as a “mas­ter­class in re­straint”. Choos­ing fewer, but bet­ter, in­gre­di­ents is un­doubt­edly a good thing for our hip pocket, waist­line and watches, but it doesn’t mean lim­it­ing the flavour or va­ri­ety of food we eat.

Mce­near­ney says that key to the lessis-more move­ment is be­com­ing more cre­ative in how we pre­pare sim­ple in­gre­di­ents. “In­stead of dic­ing a pumpkin and toss­ing it into a pan, leave the seeds in and skin on and cut it into wedges,” he says. “Pop it in the oven so the sug­ars come out slowly. Then driz­zle some maple syrup so you have a rich, caramelise­d dish that’s very dif­fer­ent from in­sipid diced pumpkin.”

Chef To­bie Put­tock adopted a less-is­more phi­los­o­phy af­ter his days work­ing with Jamie Oliver at Lon­don’s River Cafe.

“When I started cook­ing in the 1990s, it was about us­ing good qual­ity in­gre­di­ents and not do­ing too much to them,” Put­tock says. “We have seen lots of tricky food where ev­ery in­gre­di­ent has been through a process, but now there is a re­nais­sance of sim­ple food.”

Ac­cord­ing to Put­tock, there is a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that sim­ple food is bor­ing. “You can cook prawns on a grill with olive oil, salt and pep­per, to­gether with half a lemon and gar­lic,” he says. “Then char some broc­coli, mash the gar­lic with an­chovy, and add some of the lemon juice and olive oil, toss it all to­gether and you have de­li­cious, com­plex flavours from sim­ple cook­ing.”

Over­com­pli­cated dishes have never im­pressed Put­tock. “I don’t mean to un­der­mine the chefs cook­ing com­plex food, but it’s not my thing,” he says. “We are sur­rounded by TV shows where the more tech­ni­cal the food, the more im­pres­sive it’s seen to be, but that’s not sus­tain­able to re­pro­duce at home.”

Time can trans­form sim­ple in­gre­di­ents, says Sharon Flynn, who runs The Fer­men­tary in Dayles­ford and was pre­sented with the Out­stand­ing Ar­ti­san award in this year’s de­li­cious. Pro­duce Awards. With a love of things that bub­ble, gur­gle and fizz, Flynn says fer­men­ta­tion fits into the en­vi­ron­men­tal side of a lessis-more phi­los­o­phy. “With­out heat you can pre­serve a fresh har­vest and cre­ate amaz­ing tex­tures and flavours.”

Fer­men­ta­tion is com­monly thought to be an an­ti­dote for food waste, but it does re­quire fresh in­gre­di­ents. “We are do­ing con­trolled rot­ting,” Flynn says. “But if you have fresh left­over veg­eta­bles like beans, car­rots or cau­li­flower, you can put them in brine with mus­tard seeds or co­rian­der seeds to pick­led and pre­serve them too.”

Amer­i­can au­thor Michael Pol­lan may have summed it up best when he said: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Some sta­tis­tics sug­gest that Aus­tralians are slowly choos­ing to eat less red meat and are now willing to pay more for meat that is pro­duced with the earth and the an­i­mal in mind.

“Less-is-more is about rais­ing aware­ness of food, es­pe­cially meat that is raised hu­manely, nat­u­rally and with min­i­mal im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment,” says the leader of Slow Food Bris­bane, Noe­lene Mcbride. “Eat­ing less meat of bet­ter qual­ity sup­ports agri­cul­ture and small farm­ers who pro­duce a qual­ity an­i­mal that has been treated well.”

House­holds in NSW spend an av­er­age of $159 on gro­ceries each week, while Queens­lan­ders spend $154 and Vic­to­ri­ans $149. But nearly one in five full shop­ping bags will be thrown out, mean­ing $3800 worth of gro­ceries per house­hold each year ends up in the bin.

“Every­one can do their bit to fight food waste at home with the ‘buy what you need, eat what you buy’ phi­los­o­phy,” says Ronni Kahn, founder of food res­cue char­ity Ozhar­vest. “Habits like check­ing what food you al­ready have and plan­ning your meals can save money off your weekly shop­ping bill.”

By us­ing fewer in­gre­di­ents, we are start­ing to fo­cus on qual­ity rather than quan­tity, and the en­vi­ron­ment will reap the re­wards, says Mce­near­ney. “It means we are tak­ing less from the earth.”

Mce­near­ney’s top tip for the thrifty cook is to buy in sea­son. “Fruit and veg­eta­bles are full of nu­tri­ents when they are in sea­son and you ap­pre­ci­ate a per­fectly ripe tomato with salt, olive oil and a basil leaf all the more in sum­mer. If we eat like that all the time, we never need to add too much to any­thing.”

SIM­PLY STUN­NING Make this bu­ca­tini all’am­a­tri­ciana with just a few sim­ple in­gre­di­ents. Recipe at de­li­cious.com.au.

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