Cooking

A Return to Simple Food

We cook through Chris Fischer's "The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook"
Beetlebung Farm Cookbook
Photos: Courtesy of Little, Brown and Company

In the wake of the hybrid food craze—we're looking at you, Ramen Burger—there's something undeniably appealing about less complicated cooking.

Chris Fischer's The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook, a journal of meals cooked on Martha's Vineyard over the course of a year, tells the story of how this chef and farmer turns his seasonal bounty into gorgeous, locally inspired dishes. But it's also very much about taking a simpler approach to food. Fischer's experience—in the kitchens of Babbo, The River Café, St. John Bread & Wine and on his family's five-acre farm—has taught him that with beautiful ingredients, less really is more.

This doesn't mean you'll be bored. It's easy to look at recipes like Grilled Lobster and Peach Tart and think, been there, done that, but Fischer has a knack for using ingredients to their best advantage, as well as for making small, subtle tweaks that transform ordinary dishes. And in keeping with the book's theme, his style often comes down to being a bit hands-off. Rather than cooking the scallions in his White Bean Salad, Fischer "tames their sharpness" with a brief soak in vinegar. For roast chicken, he rubs salt and pepper under the skin and lets the seasoning work its magic overnight.

Simple also doesn't necessarily mean straightforward. Alongside the recipes, Fischer shares stories about his family and Martha's Vineyard with a natural and easy voice that brings the island to life. This narrative approach sneaks into the recipes, which often require a close reading.

Fischer aims to inspire more than instruct, and you're unlikely to run into any real problems, but reading the recipes all the way through—something you should be doing anyway—is particularly helpful here.

Roast chicken is the essence of simple cooking, but Fischer's version has several clever twists. In addition to rubbing salt and pepper under the skin, he suggests sliding a few sliced shiitake mushrooms under there, too. This is basically a modified version of dry brining. It takes minimal effort, but significantly improves the taste and texture of the bird, and helps create super-crispy skin. The chicken turns out flavor-packed and perfectly cooked, but the extra ƒmushrooms thrown in at the end steal the show. Roasted in the seasoned chicken juices, they come out soft, tender and almost meaty. Do yourself a favor and use more shiitakes than called for in the recipe.

Spaghetti with Crab and Zucchini is exactly what you crave on a steamy summer evening. Yes, it's pasta, but the dish doesn't feel heavy, thanks to an assertive combination of jalapeño, lemon, mint and basil that brightens and balances the dish. Get all your ingredients chopped, grated or otherwise ready to go, and it will take minutes to throw this meal together. If you have a crab-loving crowd, use a bit more than the half pound called for, and limit the time it spends over the heat—you want the crab to taste as fresh as possible.

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Fischer's Summer Pudding is assembled like bread pudding, but rather than being baked, it's weighed down and chilled overnight. Raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries are softened and sweetened in a pan with a little sugar and lemon juice, then layered into a casserole dish with toasted bread. That's it—there are no more ingredients and nothing more to do. The next day, the strikingly vivid pudding is unmolded, sliced and served. Depending on your berries, the pudding can be almost aggressively tart, but that's easily mellowed by vanilla ice cream, which this dessert practically begs for. Leftovers keep for several days and, with a dollop of Greek yogurt, make for an excellent breakfast.

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