Small Kitchen Cooking: Sometimes, Simpler is Better

It’s easy, when you discover that not only do you know how to cook but that you love cooking, to get caught up in the pretty food magazines and recipes you find on Pinterest. When I first started out with exploring the kitchen and finally cooking, I would have stacks of complicated or extensive recipes that would leave me standing in the kitchen when I finally got home from the grocery store wandering why in the world I had just bought a bunch of stuff for a one-off recipe.

Over the past four years that I’ve been cooking, I’ve learned something: sometimes, simpler is better. Instead of roasting my potatoes in a bunch of different spices, I’ve discovered tossing them in olive oil, salt, and pepper does the trick. Sure, I still love to make complicated, fun, and new recipes, but I’ve really enjoyed learning that I don’t need all the fancy things to make a really good meal.

Joey Lawrence’s character on Melissa and Joey summed it up recently in an episode I was watching, where he’s teaching the teenage boy, Ryder, how to cook:

“If the world had only olive oil, garlic, and onions, they would be able to rebuild in about a month.”

Sometimes, making a gourmet-tasting meal comes from few ingredients. It’s also fun to make something new and complicated.

Just don’t become overwhelmed. Know that when you’re discovering your kitchen and stretching out your cooking legs, go for the simple things. See how those turn out. See how they taste. Build upon them if you want. And don’t be afraid to try the complicated from time to time.

Happy cooking!

Monday Night Pasta Sauce

Last week I wanted a bright and very tomato-y pasta sauce. Mark Bittman, in his cookbook “How to Cook Everything,” has several variations on tomato pasta sauce. I combined the spiced, garlicky, and spicy versions together to make this very simple and delicious pasta sauce. It doesn’t take very long to prep or cook, making it a great and quick weeknight meal. Try it and let me know how you like it!

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes (or diced), in their liquid
1 small can of tomato sauce
8 leaves fresh basil, minced
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt, pepper, oregano, to taste
2 servings spaghetti noodles, cooked according to package instruction
shredded Parmesan or pecorino Romano, for garnish

1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large saucepan.
2. Add the garlic to the pan and saute for 2 minutes, or until the garlic starts to brown slightly. (I’ve learned that if you can smell the garlic, it’s ready.)
3. If you’re using whole tomatoes, chop them first before adding them. Add the tomatoes and tomato sauce, and season with the oregano, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Add about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the minced basil.
4. Let everything simmer over medium heat for 10-20 minutes.
5. While the sauce is simmering, boil water and cook pasta according to package directions.
6. Strain the pasta and add into the sauce. Turn off the heat to the pasta sauce. Top each individual serving with the rest of the fresh basil and cheese.
7. Enjoy!