Wandering the “stalls” of EATALY in New York City is like shopping in a sprawling, outdoor food market in Italy – only it’s inside, and only no one speaks Italian. But besides that it’s just like an Italian market. What makes it so enticing, is that everything (but luckily not everyone) is naked.
The food exposes itself, flaunting its superior qualities without distraction from other foods. In the cheese section, a man cloaked in a white jacket, the kind butchers wear, was skewering pieces of sheep’s milk cheese with a toothpick and handing them out – no crackers or bread, just the sweet, deeply flavored cheese.
And it’s not just individual foods that stands alone, food groups are segregated. If you want to sit for waiter service, you have to choose before you sit, what part of the food pyramid you’d like to eat from – fish, pasta/pizza, vegetables. Each category is in a different part of the market, meaning if you change your mind once you choose your seat, you have to change your seat. When you’re in Fish you’re really in fish – no vegetables for a hundred yards.
We sat in Vegetables and had a roasted fennel dish–fennel, tomatoes, onions and olives. Very simple. No ingredient clutter. The kalamata olives were rich and fragrant and clinging to their pits. The joy of chewing the flesh off a perfect olive is one of life’s great pleasures. I took some liberties in re-creating it at home (the final result pictured above), but it truly is outstanding. See recipe here. On a taste/ease matrix, this dish is wedged way into the upper right corner.
What this segregation does, is force you to focus on the singular qualities of that food. There’s a line from the movie “Little Miss Sunshine”, where Toni Collette’s character says,”We have to let Olive be Olive.” (Olive is her quirky daughter.) We also have to let olives be olives and fennel be fennel, and focus on what makes them unique.
But in America we’re all about inclusion – of religions, lifestyles .. but we have extended this attitude way too far into food. Everything’s welcome on the pizza! The more the merrier! Domino’s offers a choice of fifty four, (fifty four!) toppings of the lowest quality ingredients you can find. We want four different cheeses layered into our heap of nachos, and eight different toppings for our burger!
We should not be a melting pot! And toss every mediocre ingredient into the pot. We should expect our food to stand on its own! To do this though requires the food to be unprocessed and as fresh as possible – the kind that actually tastes good naked. There is a reason why that floppy orange square that must first be stripped of its plastic skin, is labeled “cheese product” and not cheese*. And a reason why it’s never invited to the cheese platter.
Here’s what I’ve been segregating and celebrating lately …
Yogurt: I make my own from farmers market whole milk. (I’ve recently started using raw milk, which brings it to an entirely new plane! But that’s not necessary.) I let it culture for 24 hours (most commercial yogurts are cultured for an hour or two at too high temps which kills the bacteria). Homemade yogurt is more pungent, more deliciously sour. I usually add a light sprinkle of nuts or seeds or some diced apples but lately, never honey or sugar. I now taste the yogurt and experience the contrast between the sour and the slight sweet of the fruit.
Eggs: Buy orange-yolked ones, pasture raised from the farmers market, and you will never go back to the pale-faced variety. And when you eat them, do not under any circumstances toss the yolks! The yolk contains all the fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K), as well as protein and good fat. The hen has provided you with the yolk for a reason. I add the whisked eggs to a cast iron pan of sizzling butter with some sauteed onions and that’s it. I never used to eat eggs this way – eggs were a way to “get protein” but sometimes I just let eggs be eggs.
Kale: It’s not in season now (at least not in the North East) but it’s in season at my Whole Foods and the lacinato kale has been exceptionally good. It’s deep green and when you heat it, it turns sweet. I saute it with nothing more than a touch of pure virgin coconut oil and a pinch of salt. I can’t recommend the coconut oil and kale combo enough. Try it and you’ll see.
Cheese: Latest favorite snack – a little piece of Parmesan touched with a hint of honey. I recommend eating it standing up over the kitchen counter.
Try this – choose one food this week and buy the very best version of that food you can find. Eat it with one or two accent flavors, but focus on “it”. Let its “it-ness” be what you taste. (One good place to start, fennel and olives.)
Your views? Do we know what “real” food tastes like anymore? How to we get people to want to eat simple, unprocessed foods when we’ve been so conditioned to eat “melting pot” food? Your favorite foods to eat “naked”?
How To Make Your Own Yogurt
Ask Not What You Can Do For Your Kale
The Last Time You Had This Nutrient Was In Breast Milk (The benefits of coconuts and coconut oil)
* There are fifteen ingredients in Kraft Singles. The very LAST ingredient is “cheese cultures”.
Get Posts By Email