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Easy Does It: A Return to Simple Cooking

And today, well, it's a whole new decade.  As the times have gone from excess to economic downturn, it’s good to know that there’s another benefit of eating simply: its affordability. Indeed, if ever there was a time to get back to basics in the kitchen, that time is now.

Where to begin? With ingredients, of course.  Think “sustainable”--local, seasonal and organic--and you will already be halfway there. There are many sources for fresh, unadulterated crops and products these days: farmers’ markets, community supported subscription farms, roadside stands, food buying cooperatives, natural foods stores. Even conventional grocery stores are getting into the act. The idea is to do more of your shopping where sustainably raised, whole foods dominate, where you can meet or partner with growers, see, smell and taste the wares, and feel the tug of their satisfactions.

If you’re a gardener, you already know the deep enjoyment of growing your own fruits and vegetables. The options range from backyard plots and community gardens to window boxes filled with fresh herbs (something almost everyone can grow). Or maybe you’re a wild foods gatherer, or a devotee of pick-your-own operations. In all these cases, it’s the connection to nature that feeds the senses and inspires your menus.

Plush, peak-of the-season produce is the starting point for minimalist cooking because, as the incomparable Alice Waters has written, “When you have the best and tastiest ingredients, you can cook very simply and the food will be extraordinary.” You won’t need convoluted recipes or finicky cooking techniques for your meals to shine.

Instead, look to undemanding “core” recipes that lend themselves to seasonal variation and can be easily accented with nutrient-rich organic cheese, eggs or meat. Open-face vegetable sandwich melts, main-course salads, risotto and simple pasta sauces—these are what I think of as repertoire dishes, the kind that, once you've learned their easy technique, can be altered with whatever is on hand or in season. They're leisurely and nourishing, to make and to eat. They feature top-quality organic ingredients—and they won’t break the bank.

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