There is a recurring myth that “cooking is equivalent to slaving away on the stove for hours on end, for very little output compared to the effort expended”, and I’m sick of it.
People have been conditioned to think for some reason — whether it’s due to shows like reality shows like Top Chef or Chopped, or by comparing their own daily meals to restaurant meals — that ‘cooking’ is something best left to professionals, that even their best efforts won’t compare. That’s a little depressing, isn’t it?
Things weren’t always this way. People of a certain age may remember that quality cooking shows such as The French Chef and Yan Can Cook have always been a staple of PBS and also on Food Network, or at least during FN’s early years. The difference between the television shows of yesteryear and today’s crop of cooking programs lies in the amount of education relative to entertainment.
I recall a conversation with a Food Network executive back in the early 2000s. The channel was gravitating from shows hosted by luminaries such as Jacques Pépin to more lifestyle-oriented pieces (albeit with a food focus). Audiences wanted to be entertained, rather than having to sit through 30 minutes to an hour of seeing content they couldn’t relate to. The rationale was that ‘cooking for an hour’ was 59 minutes too long when all you needed to do is pop something in a microwave for 1 minute and call it a day.
I’m reminded of a comment that appeared on this blog from a few years ago. I mentioned that I had some homemade chicken stock in a post on risotto; someone exclaimed with incredulity, How do you find the time?. How indeed. Stock-making is the easiest thing in the world. For about 30 minutes worth of prep time, the pot does all the work (assuming you let it cook on low heat, partly covered), and the aroma that exudes as the stock cooks is itself worth the price of admission. If someone could bottle that wonderful smell, he or she would be the next millionaire. Just thinking about it makes me hungry. Sure, it takes about six hours to make, but it’s not something that you need to watch over constantly. You can even make stock in a crock-pot, and it will be even easier. It’ll just take longer. The benefits are many: the pride of having cooked something from scratch, the taste of a labor of love, and the self-confidence you achieve from something made by your own two hands. To my mind, these outweigh the advantages offered by convenience products alone.
When you make cooking part of your daily routine, it becomes second nature. That myth that I spoke about earlier? That’s ancient history.
Italian Sausage with Green Grapes
Adapted from Lidia’s Italy.
The proportions in the recipe below have been scaled down to serve one person. The original recipe on Lidia’s website makes about six servings.
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
1/2 pound sweet Italian sausages, preferably without fennel seeds
a large pinch of peperoncino flakes, or to taste
1/2 cup seedless green grapes, picked from the stem and washed
Pour the olive oil into a large skillet, toss in the garlic cloves, and set it over low heat. When the garlic is sizzling, add the sausages and cover the pan. Cook the sausages slowly, turning and moving them around the skillet occasionally; after 10 minutes or so, sprinkle the peperoncino in between the sausages. Continue low and slow cooking for 25 to 30 minutes in all, until the sausages are cooked through and nicely browned all over. Remove the pan from the burner, tilt it, and carefully spoon out any excess fat.
Set the skillet back over low heat, and scatter in the grapes. Stir and tumble them in the pan bottom, moistening them with meat juices. Cover, and cook for 10 minutes or so, until the grapes begin to soften, wrinkle, and release their own juices. Remove the cover, turn the heat to high, and boil the pan juices to concentrate them to a syrupy consistency, stirring and turning the sausages and grapes frequently to glaze them. Serve immediately.
Time: About 50 minutes, including prep.