A guy I used to play pick-up soccer with used to say all the time: “simple, simple, very good.” Now, this was one of the few things I could understand through his very thick accent (others included “good pass!” and, occasionally “Emily”). Both on the field and in the kitchen, he’s right–sometimes simple is best.
It can be fun to try complicated recipes, mixing together a bunch of different flavors that can all play off of each other. You can get some crazy delicious things that way. But sometimes it is nice to just combine a few quality ingredients and let them shine on their own. Let them “sing” if you will. So here’s my shot at simple, simple, very good food.
Today I present to you two simple, Italian recipes with under 5 ingredients each (not counting salt & pepper, those should never count!). The first is another nod at spring–fava beans tossed with olive oil, lemon zest, and parmesan. The second is just plain classic Italian flavor–Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce with butter and onion.
Fava beans are one of my absolute favorite parts of spring. I love their crispness, I love their green, I love their flavor. This is my favorite way to eat them (although I recently discovered another delicious way that I will have to document and share another time!). Lemon zest brightens up the beans and olive oil and parmesan lend a richness to it as well. This dish is just spring in a bowl for me, and I could eat it all day. They might be a slight pain to get out of their pods and shells, but they are worth it.
Marcella Hazan’s ultra-simple tomato sauce has been covered a million times (just Google it). There’s a good reason for it–not only is it ultra-simple, it is ultra-delicious. It is so tomato-y, lightly sweet, just buttery enough, and with a depth of flavor that amazes me every time I make it (usually once a week now). When I’m putting the leftovers in a jar, I always sneak a few spoonfuls plain. Just make this sauce. I promise you, you won’t regret it.
So let’s get cooking, shall we? (You can wait until you pour yourself a campari and soda, like I did. Who said simple couldn’t apply to a cocktail while you’re cooking?)
Fava Beans with Parmesan, Lemon Zest, and Olive Oil
- 1-2 c fava beans (out of the pod but still in their shell)
- A note on buying favas: look for firm, green pods that don’t feel too squishy. You can feel how broad the beans are through the pod, look for the biggest beans you can find with minimal black spots on the pod itself.
- Extra virgin olive oil (trust me, you want that nutty flavor)
- Parmigiano Reggiano for shaving (or grana padano, that is also amazing with favas)
- Lemon zest
- Salt & pepper
- Cook your fava beans. Juuust kidding, you didn’t think I’d leave anyone who’s a fava-newbie hanging, did you?!!?
- Okay, to cook them (I know I just got done going on about simplicity, but bear with me):
- First you have to get the favas out of the pods. I like to sit and do this in front of the TV on a day where I have time, since this does take a bit of time.
- Prepare a large ice bath on the side so you’re ready to move quickly, since we’re just cooking these favas briefly.
- Bring a pot of salted water to boil and drop your favas in.
- Blanch for roughly 2 minutes. You might see some bursting open like this, that means they’re definitely good to go. If you have small beans, cook them no longer than 2 minutes. If your beans are bigger, you might let them go another 30 seconds or so. Just don’t cook any favas longer than 3 minutes, they’ll lose their crunch (and that’s the best part).
- Gently squeeze the favas out of their shells. For the ones who burst their shells already, this shouldn’t be too hard, but you might have to do a little peeling to make this happen.
- Note: I also like to dry mine a little on some paper towels after peeling, just helps get any of the cooking liquid off of them so they’re ready for the goodies!
- Now to your glorious bowl of favas, drizzle a little bit of olive oil and add some lemon zest and salt and pepper. Stir it up. Taste it. Add more of anything you want. Then when it starts tasting on-point, throw some shavings of parmesan in there. Don’t be shy.
- Enjoy. Seriously. I don’t tend to like to share this. I eat it all myself, on crostini or on my fork.
Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Onion & Butter
What to use:
- 1 28 oz can of whole, peeled tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
- 1 onion (I’ve used white and yellow, equally successfully), outermost layer peeled and cut in half
- 4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
What to do:
- Plop your can of ‘maters into a medium pot or enameled dutch oven and nestle your onion halves in there. Drop in a good pinch of salt (for me it’s ~1 tsp kosher salt) and your butter. Bring to a simmer on medium and then drop the heat to low. Let that simmer for about 45 minutes, occasionally stopping by the stove to crush a few tomatoes up with your spoon.
- Once you’re done, you can discard the onion halves (I usually give them a good squeeze to get out any remaining juice/sauce)
- Eat it. On top of pasta, on top of pizza, on top of bread, on top of polenta….the options are endless. My favorite Monday dinner is this with baked polenta a la Joy the Baker, because both the polenta and the sauce take about the same amount of time to cook and I can plop my behind on the couch and chill for a while as dinner decides when to get ready. I also fry up some garlic chips and maybe an egg or some sauteed greens (or all of the above).
So there you have it, two super simple recipes that don’t need to be gussied up. If you want to gussy them up, be my guest. Just keep in mind: simple, simple….very good.