Life can be difficult. It can even be daunting. When you come home from a hard day, the last thing you want to do is put together a meal with 27 different ingredients.
So you reach into the larder (does anyone even have a larder anymore? When’s the last time you saw the word “larder”?) and pull out a handful of ingredients. No more than five. And you make a meal, or at least a dish.
It may not be as complexly flavored as the one with 27 ingredients, but on the other hand, there is less to go wrong, too. It’s clean. Efficient. Simple.
Simplicity is key.
And from such simplicity can come bold flavors. I made a pot roast out of five ingredients, and it is so roundly delectable that I am calling it Five-Ingredient Bourguignon.
That may be stretching the point, but only a little. I began with a hunk of meat (top or bottom round; I used top) and I braised it until tender in red wine with onions and thyme.
The key is to cook the meat at a low simmer for a long time (mine took a little under two hours). This not only makes what is typically a tough piece of meat deliciously tender, but it also gives a chance for the acidity in the wine to mellow out as the alcohol cooks away.
It’s a breeze to make, and the result is a hearty roast, just right for a cold winter’s night.
For a side dish to stand up to the beef — or an excellent vegetarian main course — you might want to consider White Beans With Rosemary and Garlic.
Naturally, this is a dish of white beans that has been flavored with rosemary and garlic, plus olive oil and salt. But the recipe comes from Alice Waters, who revolutionized American cooking with her world-famous restaurant Chez Panisse, so you know it is going to be extra good.
And so it is. Beans, garlic and rosemary combine to bring out an almost unworldly earthiness in each other; it is a truly great grouping of flavors. Waters’ recipe calls for soaking beans overnight and then simmering them for a couple of hours, but I took the easy way out and used beans from a can.
It was superb. I’m sure her way is better, but this was superb.
One of my favorite go-to dinners is sausage, peppers and onions, so I made it, as well. There is just something magical about the way Italian sausage blends with sauteed onion and the natural sweetness of a mild pepper.
When I make it, I usually eat it with no embellishments because it needs none. But it’s even better when it is sandwiched between two pieces of good crusty bread. I put mine in the middle of a baguette, which brought a new level to an already incredible meal.
And all of this could only be topped with dessert. Something simple (simplicity is key). Something elegant. Something blissful.
In fact, something exactly like Vanilla Pots de Creme, which is to say a light vanilla custard. It’s just a gentle combination of milk — you don’t even have to use cream — sugar, egg yolks and vanilla. Cook until it’s thickened, then cook some more in a water bath to regulate the temperature.
It’s so good, so creamy on your tongue, you'll find yourself wondering: How can something this amazing be made from only four ingredients?
2 1/2 pounds beef, chuck roast, top round or bottom round
2 cups red wine
1/2 onion, in lengthwise slices
1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
Generously season beef on all sides with salt. Place meat in Dutch oven or large, heavy-bottomed pot with the wine, onion and thyme.
Bring to a boil, cover, lower temperature and cook at a low simmer, turning occasionally, until meat is cooked through, about 1 3/4 to 2 hours. Yield: 6 servings.
Per serving: 725 calories; 46 g fat; 18 g saturated fat; 189 mg cholesterol; 49 g protein; 5 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; no fiber; 995 mg sodium, 41 mg calcium. Nutrition analysis used beef, chuck roast, with no fat trimmed.
Vanilla pots de creme
2 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons sugar
1 (2-inch) piece vanilla bean
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Separate the eggs. In a medium bowl, whisk the yolks just enough to break them up (reserve the whites for another use). Set a strainer over a different medium heat-proof bowl. Set a kettle of water on the stove to boil.
Pour milk and sugar into a heavy-bottomed pot. Slice the piece of vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the tiny seeds from each side into the milk mixture. Add the pieces of bean to the mixture, and heat the pot on medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. When the milk is hot, whisk a little bit of it at a time into the egg yolks. When you have added 1/4 of the milk to the yolks, pour the mixture back into the hot milk.
Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens just enough to coat the back of a spoon; if you draw your finger across the coating on the spoon you will be able to see the trail it made. Do not let the mixture boil. Remove from the heat and quickly strain into the heatproof bowl.
Pour the custard equally into 4 ramekins and set the ramekins in a large baking pan. Place the pan in the oven and fill the pan with the boiling water at least halfway to the level of the custard, taking care not to spill water into the custards. Cook until the sides are set but the center of the custard is still loose and jiggly, about 30 to 45 minutes. Remove the baked custards from the water to cool, then refrigerate. Yield: 4 servings.
Per serving: 186 calories; 9 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; 198 mg cholesterol; 10 g protein; 16 g carbohydrate; 16 g sugar; no fiber; 124 mg sodium; 166 mg calcium. Nutrition analysis used large eggs.
Adapted from “The Art of Simple Food,” by Alice Waters
1 tablespoon oil
1 bell pepper, any color, cut into strips
1/2 onion, cut into lengthwise strips
4 Italian sausages, pork or turkey
4 hoagie rolls or 1 baguette
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add bell pepper pieces, onion and sausage. Cover and cook, occasionally turning the sausage and stirring the vegetables, until sausage is cooked and vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes (or less, if using precooked sausage). If using pork sausage, drain off excess oil. Serve each sausage in 1 roll or 1 / 4 baguette, smothered in peppers and onions. Yield: 4 servings.
Per sandwich: 544 calories; 26 g fat; 8 g saturated fat; 40 mg cholesterol; 23 g protein; 54 g carbohydrate; 8 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 1317 mg sodium; 183 mg calcium. Nutrition analysis used canola oil.
White beans with rosemary and garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, coarsely chopped
2 cans white beans, rinsed and drained
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan or skillet, heat oil over medium heat and add garlic and rosemary. Cook just until garlic is soft, about 2 minutes. Add the beans, taste for salt and adjust if needed. Let the dish sit for a few minutes before serving to allow the flavors to marry. Yield: 3 servings.
Per serving: 415 calories; 10 g fat; 2 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 22 g protein; 62 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 14 g fiber; 570 mg sodium, 159 mg calcium. Nutrition analysis used 15.5-ounce canned beans.
Adapted from “The Art of Simple Food,” by Alice Waters