September 9, 2010
I do not think like a Chef.
Folks who distill complex philosophy, who sew their own clothes, who know exactly what color paint a room needs, whose eyes frame perfect photographs, whose hands build and fix furniture. All of these I know, and in them I recognize the same thing; I can’t do that.
Our brains work the way they work—certainly we can stretch and challenge them, but I know my limits. I shan’t be fixing my own car anytime soon, for example, unless I want to break it. And though I love food and think about it most nearly all the time, I know my brain does not work like a chef’s.
I can tell you when a dish is working, or when it isn’t, but it’s 50-50 whether I’ll be able to diagnose how to repair it, or even what’s in it in the first place. I can follow recipes, tweak them, streamline them, know a good one when I see one and an overly complicated one when I see those, too—but it’s rare that I generate a downright amazing dish on my own.
Which makes it all the more fun to watch and learn from folks who think about food and flavor and technique in ways I can only dream of, hoping that a little bit of that genius will rub off.
GREEN BEAN-LENTIL SALAD
adapted from Alex Seidel of Denver’s Fruition in this year’s “Best New Chefs” edition of Food & Wine
This salad was absolutely delicious—grilled green beans, who knew?—but its leftovers didn’t hold up very well. To that end, I recommend serving this to a crowd (it would make a lovely side dish for a roast chicken, for example) or cutting the recipe in half.
1 cup black beluga or small brown lentils
1 lb. green beans, washed & ends trimmed
8 baby patty pan squash, quartered
2 tomatoes, sliced
4 oz. piece of pancetta, cut into a large dice
2 shallots, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. fresh or ½ tsp. dried oregano
pinch of crushed red pepper
fresh basil, for garnish
Sauté half of the shallot and half the garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add the lentils, bay leaf, oregano & 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Simmer the lentils until cooked through; remove from heat, discarding the bay leaf. Drizzle generous amounts of olive oil & sherry vinegar atop the lentils, dressing them as you would a salad. Stir in the remaining shallot & garlic. Set aside.
Heat a cast-iron grill pan over medium-high heat. Toss the green beans with a little olive oil, then season with salt & pepper before grilling them over high heat, turning when they char.
At the same time, cook the diced pancetta in a large skillet over medium-high heat until lightly browned. Add the squash, crushed red pepper, & a bit of salt and cook until the squash begins to soften. Toss in the tomatoes at the end, if you like.
Arrange the green beans on a large platter, then arrange the squash on top. Pour the lentils atop everything and garnish with a little fresh basil.