Sep 12 2013

Flavors Without Page Numbers

This summer, I’ve noticed a distinct – and seemingly permanent – change in how I approach cooking. Before, I’d seek out the exact quantity of ingredients for a dish, buying only what I needed and allocating the conceptualization of a meal to a cookbook author. But urged on by Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal, I’ve begun to cautiously loosen my rigid grip on recipe and menu planning. Over the winter, I roasted pounds upon pounds of vegetables and then figured out what to do with them. I felt myself transform into someone who makes a salad dressing on a whim, instead of frantically consulting the internet.

I’ve carried this newfound freedom into the kitchen with me this summer. In previous summers, my rigid approach to recipes and cooking didn’t stem from a lack of inspiration, but rather from trying to mentally organize competing and compelling recipes. I have cookbooks that literally sit unopened for seven months out of the year, as I wait for tomatoes, corn, legumes, and eggplant to come into season. Several years ago, in an effort to capture as many summer recipes as possible, I created a document of summer ingredients with recipes under each: the zucchini recipes alone numbered in the hundreds. My frantic desire to enjoy summer’s flavors translated into hectic and often stressful recipe planning and execution.

Thankfully, a winter and spring full of liberating kitchen improvisation has resulted in a much more enjoyable summer of cooking. I’m no longer panicky about making every possible summer-appropriate dish from my favorite cookbooks; this season, I’ve relied on intuition and my knowledge of flavor combinations.

Take this summer salad, for example. I had an abundance of potatoes in the pantry and a pound of my favorite summer legume, borlotti beans, in the refrigerator. I wanted to turn them into a lunch salad, and as I prepped the beans and potatoes, I flipped through a few cookbooks, ultimately landing on Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's recipe for green beans, new potatoes, and olives. Even though I had neither new potatoes nor green beans, I recognized that my tubers and legumes would work in a similarly harmonious way, and used the recipe as flavor inspiration, liberally applying both the brininess from the olives and the lemon juice’s acidity to my own salad. Whereas last summer I would have desperately tried to remember the existence of this recipe as I browsed the farmers’ market, this summer I used the recipe as a starting point for ingredients already on hand. And on my next market trip, I’ll remember the memorable flavor combination, instead of a page number.

Potatoes, Shelling Beans, and Olives

Recipe Inspiration: River Cottage Veg Everyday

Serves 2 (or 3, if you’re not very hungry!)


  • 500 grams potatoes
  • 200 grams beans (pole or shelling)
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 2 slivered garlic cloves
  • 50 grams chopped olives
  • a handful of torn basil
  • lemon juice, to taste
  • salt & pepper


  1. Cut the potatoes into bite sized pieces. Place them in an appropriately sized pan, cover with water, add a touch of salt, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 8-15 minutes, depending on the potatoes you’re using and the strength of your burner.
  2. If you’re cooking with pole beans, add them to the potato pot in the last 2 to 3 minutes of cooking. Drain and return to the pot. If you’re cooking with shelling beans, like borlotti, bring a separate pot of water to boil and add the beans. Keep an eye on them while they’re simmering. Depending on their age, beans can take between 25 to 45 minutes to become tender. Drain these and add the beans to the pot with the potatoes.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over low heat. Add the slivered garlic and gently cook with several minutes. Add the chopped olives and cook for another minute. Remove from the heat.
  4. Tip the pan with the oil, garlic, and olives into the pot with the potatoes and beans. Mix together and then add the basil, lemon juice to taste, and salt and pepper. Enjoy!