I have noticed quite a few cookbooks out lately on American food. There was a time when popular new books were mostly French, Italian, Mexican, Asian or Middle Eastern. Is there an American cuisine, anyway?
That is the question food writers have always asked. Well, there are a few – Cajun-Creole, Southwest and, maybe, Floribbean. Otherwise, we’re a meat-and-potato, dessert-loving nation with little imagination in our cooking.
I like to think that, just like the people who make up our great nation, our cooking is a true melting pot. We love it all, and if we don’t cook it ourselves, we certainly enjoy diversity in our restaurants.
There are two times a year that the simplicity of plain ol’ American cooking stands out. That is at holiday time, with our turkeys, hams, potatoes and desserts; and springtime, when the new growth of fresh fruit and vegetables comes to life. Talk to any American and you’ll probably find that some of his favorite culinary experiences are the fresh scent of strawberries, the crunch of early corn and the creaminess of new potatoes.
My favorites this time of year are crispy asparagus, fresh green beans and thick Creole tomatoes. You can put these things on the table, and who cares whether there’s meat or not? Add some stuffed farm eggs, fresh purple onions and baby lettuces, and our American table is hard to beat.
The reward of the riches of springtime is that simple cooking is all that’s needed. Nothing fancy or time-consuming required. You can add a loaf of bread or some meat from the grill, but the star of the show is produce.
Fresh asparagus, as much as you desire
Extra-virgin olive oil, high quality
Vinegar, balsamic or red or white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Rinse asparagus and snap off tough ends. Place on a microwave plate and microwave for 1 minute. Check with a fork and microwave 1 minute at a time until asparagus is cooked but still bright green and crispy. Do not overcook.
Sprinkle lightly with oil and vinegar, using twice the amount of olive oil as vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss lightly.
Optional add-ons: hollandaise or homemade mayo instead of oil and vinegar. Or serve as lunch with boiled or deviled eggs.
2 pounds new potatoes (small red ones)
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Rinse potatoes, place in a saucepan and cover with water. Sprinkle with salt, about 1/2-teaspoon. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are fork-tender. Drain.
Place potatoes in a serving bowl, preferably one that will keep them hot, such as an oven-proof dish with a top. Add butter and parsley and stir well. If potatoes cool, heat briefly in oven.
Serves 4 to 6.
Optional add-on: Cream sauce made by stirring together equal parts of melted butter and flour (about 2 Tablespoons each) and adding about 2 cups milk gradually, stirring constantly over medium heat until mixture thickens or bubbles form around the edges. Add salt and pepper to taste and pour over potatoes.
6 ears fresh corn
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil or butter
Salt and pepper
Clean corn and, using a sharp knife, slice kernels off cobs into a large bowl. Do not cut to the cob, but leave part of the kernels intact. After removing outer part of kernels, use a regular stainless steel table knife to scrape remaining part of kernels and juices from the cobs.
Heat vegetable oil or butter in a large skillet that has a cover. Add corn, water to cover corn and salt and pepper. Cover and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust consistency with more water if necessary. Finished corn should be juicy but not too liquid.
Optional add-on: Turn this into corn maque choux by sautéing onion, garlic and bell pepper after adding vegetable oil or butter to the skillet. Then add corn. Some like chopped tomatoes added as well. Also add 1 teaspoon of Creole seasoning and cook as directed above.
CRUNCHY GREEN BEANS
2 pounds fresh green beans
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon or 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
Trim ends off beans and rinse. Place in a medium pot and cover with water, about 1/2-teaspoon salt and cook until crisp-tender. Depending on the size of beans, this should take about 20 minutes. Do not overcook. Beans should still be bright green.
Drain beans in colander. In same pot, melt butter. (If using dried tarragon, add it now and sauté for a minute.) Return beans to pot and stir in fresh herbs. Taste and adjust salt and herbs.
Serves 4 to 6.
Optional add-on: sliced almonds roasted in your 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes.
Top it off
For a gourmet touch to your springtime vegetables, try this quick and easy hollandaise sauce. It goes great on asparagus, green beans and spinach.
3 egg yolks
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 sticks butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Place egg yolks, lemon juice and mustard in a blender.
Heat butter in a small saucepan until bubbling. Do not brown.
With blender running, pour butter slowly through the top opening of the blender, and blend until sauce is emulsified. Stir in salt and pepper.
Makes 1 1/2 cups.