The Three Secrets to Simple Cooking

Just a few ingredients, of uncompromising quality, are all you need to create exquisite recipes. Simple enough?

1. The Best Ingredients

As my husband so cogently puts it: "I eat very simply. I only want the best." The secret to the success of any dish is the integrity of its ingredients. They must be of the highest quality, because when you cook with just three ingredients, as I do, each one assumes critical importance.

You need to get as close as possible to the source of your food: to the farmer's market where you can sample produce and talk to the growers, to a great fish store that has built up trust and where whole fish and not just pre-cut parts are on display, to specialty shops where cheeses are impeccable and packaged goods are carefully stored. When in doubt, be willing to spend a bit more for the best raw materials available. Good taste is not for sale, but good flavor is!

2. Secret Techniques

• Reduce chicken stock by 75 percent to obtain an essence that binds warm tubetti pasta with finely diced zucchini.

• Blast green beans and asparagus at 500° to quickly evaporate moisture and intensify flavors.

• Reduce white grape juice by two-thirds to make "vino cotto" or "cooked wine," a sweetly-perfumed amber dressing for grapefruit and strawberries.

• Freeze garlic oil. Add to a bit of hot pasta cooking water to add a creamy texture to any pasta sauce.

• Reduce tomato juice to a glaze for a clean, sparkling tomato "paste." Delicious over fish.

• Add sour cream and potato-cooking liquids for velvety mashed potatoes mounted with bits of cold sweet butter.

• Drain blueberry yogurt to make thick, sweet yogurt "cheese," richer than cheesecake.

• Reduce prune juice by more than half for a thick, chocolaty, fat-free syrup to drizzle over coffee ice cream, strewn with toasted almonds.

3. Flavor Boosters

• Citrus peel. Strip off ribbons of grapefruit, orange, lemon and lime rind, using a vegetable peeler. They'll dry in a few days. Snip with a scissors and use to flavor everything! (Soups to desserts.)

• Nutmeg. Freshly grate whole nutmeg and it will enliven spinach, chicken and any cream sauces.

• Chile peppers. Keep an assortment of dried chilies in your pantry. Toast briefly to increase their aroma. Snip into salads, vegetables or over steaks.

• Horseradish. Peel the fresh root, available in your produce section, and grate at the last minute over fish, poultry or vegetables.

• Onion juice. Grate on the coarse side of box grater and squeeze through a paper towel. Use to flavor soups, salads, dressings and fish.

• Vinegar. Try a splash of one of the intriguing vinegars on the market today, including sherry, balsamic, rice wine, Shanxi (dark Chinese), fig, maple, lemon-garlic, peach, champagne and ginger.

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