People often tell me they simply can’t cook without a recipe. But often you don’t really need one: You need a technique, a method.
Though quantities are given, the three dishes in this menu don’t require strict adherence to a recipe. All that is needed is confidence and a sense of direction. Then you can adapt and substitute, depending on personal taste and what you have on hand.
Take this citrus salad first course, which spotlights the sweet navel oranges, Cara Cara oranges, ruby red grapefruit and mandarins arriving at the market right now. The concept is utterly simple: Arrange this in-season fruit on a plate, with a pinch of salt and pepper. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. Voilà.
Customize the salad to suit you. Make it with only sliced oranges, or use a mixture of citrus. I chose daikon radish slices to add crunch, but you may choose a different radish, or skip it. I found gorgeous spicy watercress to add to my salad. You might choose radicchio instead, or forgo greens altogether and garnish the salad with fresh mint leaves. Whichever variation you come up with, you’ll have a bright, beautiful, refreshing salad.
For the main course, cauliflower cheese, a British comfort-food classic, you really don’t need a recipe. Again, it’s the technique you need, specifically making a white sauce (béchamel). Cook together equal parts butter and flour, then whisk in a couple of cups of milk.
Blanch whole heads of cauliflower or use large florets. Coat the cauliflower in sauce, shower with whatever kind of cheese you like and bake until golden and bubbling. Cheddar is traditional, but I also used provolone, Asiago and feta for added sharpness. The “recipe” is quite forgiving, and because cauliflower cheese can often be a bit bland, I added a sprinkling of cumin seeds and a touch of ground cayenne. Baked cauliflower for dinner on its own is lovely, but it can also be a vegetable accompaniment, say, for roast chicken (which, dare I say, you could even make without a recipe).
You also won’t need an exact recipe to make chocolate bark, not a dessert per se, but a little something sweet to nibble after a meal or with coffee. As for the details, dark chocolate is my preference. Use pistachio, almonds or hazelnuts. A little sea salt is nice, or you can use roasted salted nuts. The bark looks so elegant, friends will think you have pastry training.
With these and many other dishes, a little kitchen knowledge goes a long way. When asked for the recipe, simply say it’s more about intuition than instruction.