It seems intuitive, but many home cooks fail to abide by one simple rule: a quality meal begins with quality ingredients. The secret to good food is good food. And the secret to entertaining with good food is simplicity.
In our restaurants, the chefs make food that Chef Schwartz (and the rest of us) likes to eat. You can find dishes on the menu that you would be just as likely to find in his kitchen at home, often presented family-style and other times a little elevated, but never being fussy. Having quality, versatile ingredients on hand make both everyday cooking and entertaining easy and fun. Let what’s available locally from small farmers drive the menu, because proximity equals freshness.
To translate this to your home kitchen, there are a few ground rules, namely certain basics should always be in your pantry —building blocks to readily pull together a snack or a complete meal at a moment’s notice. Olives, olive oil, citrus and artisan cheeses make cooking delicious meals simple, combining in various ways to make flavor-packed dishes.
Olives and cheese can be served alone for a quick, simple appetizer, or added to proteins to heighten flavor, saltiness or texture, such as sustainably fished seafood or heritage poultry breeds like Poulet Rouge chicken. Olive oil is lovely as a dip for freshly baked bread, a base for homemade salad dressings, or as a cooking agent for everything from sautéing to baking. Citrus brings out the flavors of other foods and adds that often-needed acidity to a dish that makes it pop.
Michael, with the help of beverage director Ryan Goodspeed on drinks and Hedy Goldsmith in the sweets, created three recipes for the International Olive Council’s Add Some Life campaign that each exemplify this philosophy by showcasing the versatility and simple elegance of staple ingredients. Try them out for your next weeknight meal or weekend dinner party.
Greeting guests with a twist on classic like Black Olive Cola for a salty and sweet homemade soda is a great start that can be made ahead of time, so you’re free to welcome your guests to your home without being stuck in the kitchen. One of our favorite variations on skirt steak, a cut typically favored for fajitas and churrasco, is always a winner: Grilled Skirt Steak with Shaved Fennel, Orange and Green Olive Tapenade, a salad that is bright, fresh and well-rounded. The olive tapenade is great served on its own and changing up the protein to chicken or even whatever fish or seafood is local and fresh from your fishmonger would be a great variation on this set-up. Finally, end on a sweet note with Olive Oil Cake with Tangerine, Rosemary and Pine Nuts. The olive oil and citrus create a moist and aromatic cake while the rosemary and pine nuts give it a slightly earthy taste. A perfect savory-sweet conclusion to the meal.
In whichever recipe you use, remember, quality and simplicity are king.