Still, if there’s something to celebrate (or you’re just feeling flush), core recipes can be dressed up for special occasions. That everyday veggie melt, for example, becomes a Sunday brunch entrée when it’s made with croissants instead of bread. A plain risotto becomes stellar with the addition of saffron or scallops.
Look to “recipe-free” dishes, too, classics like cheese-and-fruit plates and chef salads; they never go out of culinary fashion nor run out of possibility. A creamy egg salad spiked with fresh dill, a platter of artfully arranged cold leftovers, grilled cheese sandwiches made with artisanal cheddar—these are dishes that demand little and give much. I’m with Ina Garten here; the Barefoot Contessa writes, “Instead of looking for new ideas, I’m just looking for old ideas and finding the best ways to make delicious food. That’s what I mean by getting back to basics.”
Simple cooking is satisfying fare, but there’s one more element that makes it sublime: family and friends. Take it from one more famous kitchen guru, Jacques Pepin, “To learn, to give, and to share with friends in the kitchen is indeed gratifying and joyful…Food, for me, is inseparable from sharing. There is no great meal unless it is shared with family or friends.”