September 10, 2011

The Fab Four: Olive Oil, Lemon Juice, Salt and Pepper

What if I told you that just a few simple ingredients - olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper (let's call them the fab four) - could make you a dramatically better cook? Well, they can. And chances are, you probably already have those ingredients lying around.

When I'm having someone over for dinner, I like to serve a side of sauteed vegetables or a simple salad. Consistently, I'm asked what made the vegetables or salad so good.

"What recipe did you use for these?" they'll ask.

The truth is, I don't use a recipe when cooking vegetables. I just add in the fab four and like magic, plain old broccoli or green beans or cauliflower take on a whole new life.  Salad greens become addictive. Arugula and the fab four are a match made in heaven. I'm telling you, this is a miracle worker for vegetables.

What makes the combination of these four fabulous ingredients so tasty? Well, the olive oil adds something that most vegetables are without: fat. Fat, by the way, tastes real good. And olive oil is a perfect fat to pair with virtually any vegetable - just ask an Italian. I think olive oil means holy water in Italian (or something like that). Lemon adds a bright acidity which takes your vegetables out of the dark and, like a religious conversion, let's them see the light. Salt enhances the natural flavor of the vegetables - so adding salt to cauliflower, for example, makes it taste even more like cauliflower. As a personal note, add lots of salt. While you're doctor may not be pleased, you will be. And finally, pepper adds a hint of spice and a little more complexity to the flavor of the dish.

Sure, you can go beyond the fab four by adding a lot more. While olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper is my go to salad dressing, there are many wonderful salad dressings with a much longer list of ingredients that are equally as delicious. But most of the time, the fab four do the trick, and that's all I need.

Sauteed Broccoli with Olive Oil, Lemon, Salt and Pepper
Serves 2-4 as a side dish

The broccoli in this recipe can be replaced with virtually any vegetable. Think kale, green beans, wax beans, eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, broccoli rabe, cauliflower - you get the idea.

-1 large head broccoli, with stalk
-3 tablespoons olive oil
-half a lemon
-salt and pepper

1. Cut the broccoli head into medium or small florets. Take the stalk and using a vegetable peeler peel off the outer layer, which is too tough to eat. Cut the rest of the stalk into bite sized pieces.

2. Heat a large saute pan on medium-low heat. Add the olive oil and when warm, add the broccoli florets and pieces of the stalk. Using a spoon or tongs, toss the broccoli in the olive oil.

3. Tossing frequently so the broccoli does not burn, allow to cook for approximately 15-20 minutes until the broccoli is cooked through. If it feels that it is drying out or burning, you can add a few drops of water during cooking.

4. Squeeze the lemon over the broccoli and season generously with salt and pepper. Serve at once.