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He is ‘The Minimalist’, both for The New York Times since 1990 and in his approach to cooking food. Eat Less of certain foods, specifically animal produce, refined carbs and junk food and of course more of plants as much as in their natural state, hitting directly at today’s manifesto of weight loss, environmentalism and doing all this without pinching pennies. A food journalist and a culinary adventurer responsible for introducing cooking without its essential froufrou in today’s scenario when to cook is either limited to as an esoteric hobby for the elite or necessity elsewhere. A practical home cook is what he is, has had no formal training or has ever worked in a restaurant.
His latest book Food Matter: A Guide to Conscious Eating is a pragmatic guide to the typical American style of calorie dense eating, heavy, laden with meat, animal products and processed foods. The first section of the book deals with the reason we need to replace meat and processed foods.
Bittman talks about how Americans are fascinated by meat, animal food and marketing schemes that package food to look more nutritious than it actually is. He finds it harmful to atmosphere, heavy on global resources and rather unhealthy. He shares an autobiographical example where he had to control weight for high cholesterol and sleep apnea and how by replacing legumes, beans, vegetables with meats and processed foods, he reached his weight without any rigid dieting and calorie counting. Americans he says do not want another new diet but his latest weight loss funda is to be nearly vegan until dinnertime and then let the senses devour the pleasure at night for a significant weight loss. He has in fact incorporated a few meat dishes in recipe section of his book.
The second section of Bittman's book, the recipe section, is excellent, not just for the 75 recipes and suggested menus, but for the basic foods he says you should always keep stocked in your kitchen and the secrets for adding bold flavors to your meals. He takes it as a moral imperative on himself, to eat responsibly, beyond just health and taste but with realization that this planet has diminishing resources and a growing population. Leave it to Bittman for he has done the planning and thinking for you. Just read the book, cook his recipes, eat and enjoy!
Here is a European Cassoulet, one of the very few meat recipes in his books.
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound Italian sausages, bone-in pork chops, confit duck legs, or duck breasts, or a combination
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 leeks or onions, trimmed, washed, and sliced
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch lengths
3 celery stalks, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 medium zucchinis or 1 small head green cabbage, cut into
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups chopped tomatoes, with their juice (canned are fine)
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley leaves
1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
4 cups cooked white beans (canned are OK), drained and liquid reserved in any case
2 cups stock, dry red wine, bean cooking liquid, or water, plus more as needed
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add the meat, and cook, turning as needed, until the meat is deeply browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat.
Turn the heat to medium and add the garlic, leeks or onions, carrots, celery, and zucchini or cabbage; and sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, their liquid, the reserved meat, and the herbs and bring to a boil. Add the beans; bring to a boil again, stirring occasionally, then reduce the heat so the mixture bubbles gently but continuously. Cook for about 20 minutes, adding the liquid when the mixture gets thick and the vegetables are melting away.
Fish out the meat and remove the bones and skin as needed. Chop into chunks and return to the pot along with the cayenne. Cook another minute or two to warm through, then taste and adjust seasoning if necessary and serve.
Slow-Cooked Cassoulet. Start with dried beans. After browning the meat in Step 1, leave it in the pan and add 1/2 pound dry white beans (they’ll cook faster if you soak them first) and enough water or stock to just cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for about an hour. Meanwhile, in a separate pan with another 2 tablespoons of olive oil, cook the vegetables as directed in Step 2. Add them to the pot of beans along with the tomatoes and herbs. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle bubble and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender, adding more liquid as necessary to keep them moist. This will take anywhere from another 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the age of your dried beans.
Zucca’s Orange And Olive Salad
1 cup good black olives, preferably oil cured, pitted
About 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for dressing
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (optional)
4 naval oranges, peeled, seeded, and sliced into rounds
Combine the olives in a food processor, along with a bit of the olive oil. Pulse the machine once or twice, then turn it on and add the remaining olive oil rather quickly; you don't want this purée too uniform but rather rough.
Stir in the thyme if you're using it, thin with more olive oil if necessary, and set aside (NOTE: You can refrigerate the tapenade for up to a month).
Layer 3 or 4 slices of orange on each plate, drizzle with olive oil, top with a good tablespoon of the tapenade, and sprinkle with fennel seeds.