I’ve never really liked to cook, although I used to pretend when I was younger. I didn’t want to humiliate my children by being the only mother who hadn’t contributed anything to the PTA cookbook. There was also all that social life involving other couples coming over for dinner. Which — it goes without saying — the hostess (i.e., me) had to have made.
Now there are no more PTAs in my life, and we socialize with surviving other couples by going out to restaurants so they don’t have to have us over for dinner in return. But whenever I do find myself in the kitchen, I rely heavily on big pot cooking.
That means everything goes into one big pot, and then comes out of the same pot all ready to be eaten. There are numerous advantages to this simplification of culinary life.
1. If you do have company over, you can be in the living room with the company until it’s time to eat. Supper’s all ready and kept warm in the pot. No more perspiring over a hot stove while politely rejecting insincere offers of assistance; no more hearing tantalizing bits of conversation that drift in from the other room but you can’t quite make them out; no more feeling like the hired help.
2. If the meal is just for you and your beloved, what’s in the pot is definitely going to last until tomorrow and probably the next day, too. Think of it: no cooking for two more days! You might even get a fourth day out of it, but I advise freezing that last bit until you’ve both forgotten about it. Then when you finally discover it, defrost it and heat it up, it will taste just like new. Better than new! (“This is great! Why didn’t we eat it earlier?”)
3. Washing up is a cinch. For the first two or three days, cram the whole pot back in the fridge after supper, so you only have a plate, glass and fork or spoon to deal with. When you finally do have to wash the pot, remember it’s just one pot! Also remember what a mess you used to make when you tried to master the art of French cooking with Julia Child. And be grateful.
4. Unless you’re making pork stewed in the milk of its mother — as the French sometimes do, only they call it something else — what comes out of the big pot is likely to be healthy. Okay, somewhat healthy. At least it won’t be deep fat-fried. (It needn’t violate any rules of kashruth either, if that’s a concern.)
A recipe? What a coincidence you should ask! Here’s what’s bubbling away on my stove at this very moment as I type! I had to make it, so I could photograph it, so you could see it. And want it. And make it for yourself.
(Adapted from Mark Bittman, “How to Cook Everything.” His is good. Mine is better. I’ll put money on it.)
First you will need:
You will also need:
- A chopping block, sharp knife and can opener
- 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large chopped yellow onion
- as much chopped garlic as you like (I like a lot)
- 6 or more cups of your choice of chopped vegetables from the store, plus whatever is in the house. I use some, but not all, of the following: peeled potatoes (not yams!), carrots, zucchini, yellow summer squash, string beans, pea pods, red pepper, sometimes celery, sometimes grape or cherry tomatoes, sometimes cauliflower or broccoli florets, sometimes turnip, sometimes parsnip
- frozen peas, at least a cup
- handful of chopped parsley, kale, baby spinach, swiss chard, or even baby lettuce
- 8 cups of vegetable broth, no-chicken broth, chicken broth — or a combination of any of the above plus enough water to get to the minimum 8 cups. (As you cook, you will probably want to add more fluid, so keep extra broth, tomato juice or vegetable juice on hand.)
- 1 15-ounce can of well rinsed no-salt beans (pinto, white, black, or great Northern), but not garbanzos or kidney beans unless you really love them
- 1 15-ounce can of fire-roasted tomatoes
- handful of brown rice if you have any (it’s optional)
- handful of any kind of pasta, preferably gluten-free (If spaghetti, linguine, or fettucine, break into pieces)
- shaved or grated Parmesan or combination of Italian cheeses
(As you can see, this soup recipe is extremely fluid — no pun intended. In other words, you can put in just about anything but the kitchen sink or the Vitamix.)
The only real work is cutting up the vegetables.
Now we’re all set:
- Heat olive oil in pot till it starts to smoke
- Turn down heat and add chopped onion and garlic
- Saute till onion is soft, then add all the rest of the chopped veggies
- Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring. Add salt and pepper, the rinsed beans, the canned tomatoes and about 6 cups of the broth and/or water
- Throw in rice (if you’re using it), pasta, and the chopped greens.
It should look like this:
Partially cover, let cook on low heat for about two hours, adding more liquid as needed. If you use up all your broth/water, even adding plain water is okay.
Does it now look like this?
- Set the table
- Adjust the seasonings
- Ladle into soup plates
- Dribble olive oil over the surface of each plate
- Add generous helping of shaved cheese
P.S. Vegan if you omit the chicken broth and cheese. I don’t.
P.P.S. Fresh fruit and a square of 70% chocolate for dessert. On a napkin!
Afterwards: One spoon, one plate, one glass in the sink. [Per person. ]
Told you so.