This picture, from Yotam Ottelenghi's Plenty, gets me every time. It's a bare bones recipe for marinated mozzarella and tomato, and it calls, quite politely, for the highest quality of ingredients. In fact, Mr. Ottelenghi deems this recipe useless unless you can find "a tomato that has never seen a fridge or a chilled truck, only soil and sun".
I was given a copy of Plenty for Christmas my senior year, and when I got back to campus I had one of my roommates look through it with me and flag anything she really wanted me to make. Sitting with her on our stained, second-hand futon, I thought about avocados, the month I spent living on a farm, the Meyer lemon tree outside of every one of my high school friends' houses. Then I went into the kitchen and ate a teacup full of shredded mexican-blend cheese and Cholula.
When I was in high school I used to regularly eat tomato halves sprinkled with salt, biting into them the way you would an apple. I haven't done that in a while. I have, however, learned to make quiche out of pretty much anything, and how to know what recipes will still work on a pretty tight budget. It's a give and take.
This chickpea salad has been lunch at least twice this week. It came from Orangette, and I made it for the first time two summers ago when we'd just moved into our first college apartment. In terms of effort, it's barely a step above eating the beans straight from the can (a habit I'm not sure that roommate of mine every really gave up) but it tastes like real food. Food for people with their own dining room table.
Like Mr. Ottelenghi, the Lady Orangette points out that with simple recipes, ingredient quality matters. She suggests specific brands of beans, and the kind of olive oil you buy from specialty stores. I'm sure it would be fantastic, but I'm here to tell you that in this case, it doesn't matter. I've run the gambit in terms of ingredient quality with this one; bottled lemon juice, any brand of beans, that pre-grated parmesan they sell at Costco that does disturbingly well in the freezer. In the picture above, the parmesan was Reggiano (!), and I had an actual lemon, but both the beans and the olive oil were Stop and Shop-brand. Seems about right.
Chickpea Salad with Lemon and Parmesan
Stolen from Orangette
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
1 tsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
A dash of salt, if desired
Dump everything into a bowl, then stir. Add salt if necessary. Eat lunch.