Cooking Tips · Techniques

Cook Without a Recipe — Part Three

This is the final in a series on Cooking Without a Recipe. After stocking your pantry, learning about tasting and how to cook grains (Part One) and learning how to cook proteins and make a sauce (Part Two), we now turn to two final subjects – Vinaigrettes and Pizza.

Vinaigrettes are something that are wonderful to make at home and, after learning some basics, you can have fun and never have to look at a recipe. The most basic formula for making a vinaigrette is one part vinegar or other acid to 3-4 parts oil. This is not an absolute rule, though. Adjust it to your tastes. I know I prefer a little less oil. I often do only a 1:1 ratio or, at times, I eliminate the oil entirely.

This is one of those recipes that have very few ingredients. Therefore, you want the best quality ingredients you can get. Here are the basic ingredients that you will need.

Oil – Most commonly, you will use extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). You may use other oils with a flavor you like or even a combination of oils.

Acid – Use whatever you like and matches your salad. It can be any type of vinegar, even flavored vinegars. Other acids are citrus juices as well as fruit purees/nectars. I often like to combine a fruit flavored vinegar with some of the actual fruit. For example, I use a peach vinegar along with pureed peaches.

Seasonings – This might just be salt and pepper but could also be minced garlic, minced shallots, mustard, spices or herbs. You may want to add a touch of sweetness in the form of honey, maple syrup, sugar, agave, etc.

No matter your choice of ingredients, the technique is the same. Start by putting the acid & seasonings in a bowl and mix well. Now, you want to force the oil (if using) to mix with the water-based liquid. This is called emulsifying. You can do this by vigorously whisking, shaking in a jar or even using a blender. One caution is that some experts think that putting EVOO in a blender leads to bitterness. Others disagree. Once it is emulsified, taste and adjust to your preference. You can taste it on its own or you may wish to dip of piece of lettuce into it and taste that way.

A final topic I would like you to consider is Pizza. Pulling together a homemade pizza night is something that is so helpful to have in your arsenal of quick and easy meals.

Although you do need a recipe for the dough (if you want one, let me know), you can have fun after that. I try to make pizza dough, divide it into pizza balls and freeze them. Whenever I want pizza or a quick meal, all I have to do is to remember to take the pizza balls out of the freezer and allow to thaw. I can then make a pizza from whatever I have on hand.

The first thing to think about is that you do not always need a sauce. Just a brush of a good olive oil can take the place of a sauce. If you do want a sauce, you can always grab some store-bought sauce although I hope you wouldn’t do that. Simply grab a jar of roasted red peppers, blitz them in a blender and spread on your pizza crust. You can also simply blend tomatoes (fresh or canned) but you will get better flavor if you marinate those tomatoes with some olive oil, garlic, herbs and seasonings before using them. Or, how about pesto as your sauce? Again, it would be great if you make your own but you can buy it in the store. Generally, the refrigerated version is better than the canned.

On to toppings. A basic recommendation is about 1 cup of topping per pizza. I love caramelized onions on almost any pizza but those do take some time. When you have the time, make and refrigerate them. They really are wonderful on pizza. Other veggies such as bell pepper, red onion, mushrooms and zucchini will also work. Even potatoes (I like to par-boil them first), asparagus, broccoli and squash. You may or may not want to sauté them a bit first. If you want a protein, add whatever you like – cooked chicken, shrimp tossed in olive oil, cooked sausage or other ground meat, cooked bacon or pepperoni. Most people think a pizza is not a pizza without cheese although you can make great pizzas without any cheese. If you want cheese, branch out and try something new. The classic is mozzarella but there is also provolone, fontina, asiago, feta, goat cheese and so forth. Finally, add herbs and spices as you desire. You can use dried herbs and spices or fresh. If using fresh, put them on at the last moment before serving. I think I am hungry for pizza!

I hope this series on Cooking Without A Recipe has been helpful to you and you have learned some new skills and make some great meals. If so, let me know. I would love to hear what you are making!