The perfect vinaigrette and other musings

February 7, 2008

images1.jpegI love perfect, simple food: a plain bread pudding, my husband’s grilled salmon (aluminum foil, a little oil and lemon pepper are the key elements), crusty French bread, steamed vegetables, a made-from-scratch salsa. The NYTimes has a great ongoing column/blog, Bitten, by Mark Bittman, a terrific minimalist chef. He shares his perfect vinaigrette:

Vary this however you like: with herbs, with garlic (roasted is very nice), with a tiny bit of soy sauce and sesame oil, with lemon juice in place of the vinegar, with hazelnut oil, with spices . . . you name it, in moderation it will work. You can also just beat the ingredients in a bowl with a fork, or shake them in a jar; it won’t be as creamy, but it will still taste delicious.
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons or more good vinegar — wine, sherry, rice, balsamic, etc.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 large shallot (about 1 ounce), peeled and cut into chunks
1. Combine all ingredients but the shallot in a blender and turn the machine on; a creamy emulsion will form within 30 seconds. Taste and add more vinegar a teaspoon or two at a time, until the balance tastes right.
2. Add the shallot, and turn the machine on and off a few times until the shallot is minced within the dressing. Taste, adjust seasoning and serve. This is best made fresh but will keep a few days refrigerated; bring back to room temperature and whisk briefly before using.

I pretty much agree with this one, although I would probably skip the shallot (too hard to find around here), increase the dijon mustard to about a tablespoon and use only a good red wine vinegar. It makes a pretty indispensable dressing/marinade, and it has a mysterious fresh, alive sense about it that bottled dressings lack. (Is it the preservatives? The shelf life? There’s something that makes Hidden Valley taste, well, dead to me…)

I’m no gourmand. I grew up eating pretty much what was put in front of me, and my mother’s cuisine ran to things that were cheap and overcooked. My friend Liz had a similar experience, and we decided that it was because of our mothers’ era: food just wasn’t as safe then as it is now, and so you cooked the hell out of it. But I do remember the first time Mother steamed the broccoli instead of boiling it until it was limp, olive green and nearly inedible. With its bright green color and firm texture, the steamed broccoli was a revelation.

Another reason why I may not make gourmand status is that I may not have any brain lesions. Really. Research a few years back indicated that people who were seriously fussy about food (not just toddler-fussy) were found to have brain injuries in certain areas. Jeffrey Steingarten, Vogue Magazine’s most excellent food writer who goes to often hilarious lengths to explore and recreate his food passions, actually had his own brain scanned, and, sure enough, he had some brain trauma in the expected zone.

Could it be that all our overwhelming passions and obsessions are somehow locked in our unique brain folds? Not just for food, but for music, color, experience, love, art — and the darker things, too? And are those variations created at birth, by injury — or could they be developed by repeated experience or exposure?

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