"You had to wait for the widow to tuck down her head and grumble a little over the victuals, though there warn't really anything the matter with them. That is, nothing only everything was cooked by itself. In a barrel of odds and ends it is different; things get mixed up, and the juice kind of swaps around, and the things go better." -- "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"
Huck Finn, culinary scholar, was right: Things go better when flavors can swap around.
The magic of pot roast, chili, mole and so many other dishes is that a bunch of different ingredients come together to form a harmonious whole. You end up with something entirely different, and much better, than could have been achieved by cooking all the same ingredients separately.
Stock, made daily in pretty much every great restaurant in the world, is just a barrel of odds and ends -- bones and vegetables -- slowly simmered together so the juice kind of swaps around.
The produce is so good this time of year you can use Huck Finn's swapping flavors theory without even having to cook anything.
Just take the ripest, best looking vegetables at the market, cut them up, mix them together, season them and then give the juices a little time to swap around.
Make gazpacho -- chilled soup of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and herbs. It's easy (just cut everything up and put it in a bowl), cheap (none of the main ingredients cost more than $1.99 per pound at Capitol Market), and is both filling and refreshing.
There aren't many better summer meals than a big bowl of gazpacho, bracingly cold from the refrigerator, when temperatures hit the 90s with unrelenting humidity.
Contrary to most of the recipes you'll find, you don't need, or even want, a food processor or a blender to make gazpacho. It might save you a few minutes, but you'll end up with a coarse, uniform puree rather than a chunky mélange.
On the spectrum of viscosity running from salad to soup, gazpacho wants to be somewhere in the middle. You definitely need a spoon to eat it, but you're going to have some trouble if you try to pick the bowl up and drink it.
So just chop everything roughly by hand and then let salt, time and aggressive stirring soup everything up.
With your ingredients, the softer and mellower they are, the larger you can chop them. So tomatoes can be chopped into large dice, but hot peppers and onions should be finely chopped, with cucumbers and sweet peppers somewhere in the middle.
Then just season everything with salt, pepper, oil and vinegar, and put it in the fridge until it's nice and cold and the juices have had some time to swap.
Just because you're looking to Huck Finn as your culinary guru doesn't mean you can't inject a little a little elegance and sophistication into your food.
In a barrel of odds and ends, not only do the juices swap, but the whole thing gets a little saucy, so it can double as both a sauce and a side dish.
So take tomatoes, corn and peppers -- three vegetables that really should only be eaten in summer -- mix them together and use them as a bed for a simply seared piece of fish. Heirlooms are nice, but certainly not requisite. Mortgage Lifters and Cherokee purples are both at Capitol Market right now.
You'll have to do a little cooking, but not much, and the magic still comes from that confluence of swapping juices.
Makes 2 quarts, enough for 4 healthy portions or 6-8 appetizer size portions.
5 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 small cucumbers, chopped
2 sweet peppers, chopped
1 hot pepper, finely chopped
1/2 sweet onion or one small bunch green onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 handful herbs (basil, parsley, cilantro, tarragon; pick one or two), chopped
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup olive oil
2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
5 ice cubes
Croutons (optional garnish)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
3 slices stale bread
CUT up all your vegetables (don't lose any tomato juices or seeds while you're cutting) and put them in a bowl with the bread crumbs.