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Messing with simplicity

"The simple approach is the best way to honour your ingredients. It's also the best way to lessen the pressure on yourself and, I think, to knock out the kind of satisfying, flavoursome, nourishing food that so enriches our daily lives. Great food is not rocket science: just take it easy!"

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

As you can see I'm still on the simple and easy mind games. And it is a sort of game. Indeed this post has been a sort of game.

It arises from my daily quandary of what to cook for dinner. The things I take into consideration to come to my final decision are many. So let me tell you those that played a part in today's decision - well to be quite honest the decision has not yet been finally made - mostly because of the 'research' I have been doing for this post.

First thing - it's supposed to be 33 degrees today, although I am wondering at this stage of the day - early afternoon - if they have got that wrong. It's only a fairly mild mid 20s at the moment. (Later - we are now up to 28 so maybe 33 is achievable after all.) Anyway this means no long cooking in the oven heating up the house unnecessarily. I am planning to make spanakopita someday soon but that would mean a hot oven for a while, so not today - maybe tomorrow. I suppose a salad would be ideal, but I'm not a huge fan of salad and we had my favourite - the Chicken Caesar salad - the other day. So weather is always a component in the decision making. And what you have eaten recently.

Then of course it depends on what I have in the fridge. Are there leftovers that need using up? Are there vegetables that will soon be past their best, if not already gone. Do I have a glut of something? Well yes - I have a lot of tomatoes - so there is my first ingredient.

What we have eaten recently is also a factor of course - like the Caesar salad. And finally we have decided on a vague weekly structure of at least two vegetarian meals, one fish, and one legumes - although the legumes could, of course be included in anything else we might eat. This is not a very strict regime. But one more vegetarian meal would be good.

What do I actually fancy eating? Well sometimes I have no idea, but this can be influenced by this blog, by things I have seen in books and magazines, on the TV, or it could just be something that I love that we haven't had for a while. Ever since I saw Guillaume Brahimi make his Croque monsieur during the Tour de France I have been wondering how I could fit that into a meal, and so, since David made some of his beautiful sour dough bread yesterday I thought I would make a tomato and cheese toastie rather than a cheese and ham one. Guillaume Brahimi managed to plate his up to make it look very impressive as an actual meal rather than a snack.

However, he cooked his in the oven. Not on the cooktop. But then I saw him do another version in which he fried them, so the idea is still a good one. A burst of heat from a frying pan is better than the oven. So I started looking for recipes in case there is something else I need to know, whilst also pondering on various additions I might make to this simple dish. Simplicity is beginning to disappear. Well I just can't resist meddling - pesto? I have a little leftover from yesterday's pasta. Anchovies? I have a tin open in the fridge. Maybe that's really what Neil Perry meant when he said that simple was easy to get wrong. You have to focus on keeping simple, which is something I find really hard to do.

Anyway I started looking and, of course found endless variations and lectures about what you can and cannot do. Like you should drain your tomato slices on paper towels before using. That you should use mayonnaise instead of butter to spread on the bread because it won't burn like butter. Or you should spread the mayonnaise inside to soak up the juice from the tomatoes. Lots of arguments about what cheese to use of course and whether to fry, roast or confit your tomatoes first, even purée them and then of course there are sun-dried tomatoes and tomato jame as well. Not to mention the now wide variety of tomatoes available to use. I was slightly reassured to see somebody use pesto though, so I think I shall do that. There was even one that went to the extreme of adding panic breadcrumbs to the outside of the actual bread. Bread on bread. And what kind of bread anyway - well anything from tortillas and pita bread to California sourdough, with everything in between - somebody used garlic bread.

Then of course there is the open sandwich approach of which bruschetta is the prime example I suppose.

And from here it is but a hop, skip and a jump to pizza and tarts. Whole cherry tomatoes, sliced tomatoes, tomato sauce, what kind of tomatoes anyway, what kind of cheese? I suppose you could even use a spicy tomato chutney.

But before we leave the broad tomato and cheese toastie idea I just have to show this somewhat revolting looking concoction - only in America where Cheddar cheese seems to be orange in colour for some reason. Take what she calls a French loaf - really? Slice half of it, but not quite all the way through. Cut out a square well in the other end. Line this with the aforesaid orange Cheddar, put slices of the same between your cut slices, fill the well with home-made tomato soup and bake in the oven until golden and the cheese melts. Tear off the cheesy slices and dip them in the soup. Maybe it tastes good. I suppose it could. To be fair she did make her own soup from fresh tomatoes.

And it doesn't stop there. Which sort of confirms Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's theory that most dishes are constructed around three main ingredients. Yes there are extras:

"They are not only three things on a plate - there are seasonings, perhaps oil or vinegar, some spices, maybe a starchy carbohydrate on the side or an egg to finish things off". High Fearnley-Whittingstall

And yes I did see the occasional egg tucked in a sandwich either whole or scrambled or on top. Not to mention the ubiquitous avocado.

But there were also other kinds of things, without going too far from the initial concept: tomatoes stuffed with cheese, breaded tomato slices sandwiched or scattered with cheese, gratins of tomatoes and cheese, even tomato aranicini - although I guess these do included the extra ingredient of rice:

I guess we are now getting further and further away from the original concept but there is still a way to go: that gorgeous Italian bread and tomato salad - panzanella, which actually doesn't usually include cheese, but could, the equally gorgeous tomato bread and cheese soup pappa al pomodoro, tomato and cheese bread ...

So very many things that you can do with tomatoes, cheese and bread, and so many things you can do to mess it up or enhance the combination, depending on how you look at it and how you do it. Heston Blumenthal, of course can be relied upon to do something extreme: Heston's cheese on toast ice cream which nicely balances High Fearnley-Whittingstall's Tomato, mozzarella, basil which I'm sure you would eat with amazingly wonderful bread. Both sublime but in very different ways - one very complicated and tricky, the other super simple but dependent on high quality ingredients.

Me - I'm going to stick to a pretty simple tomato and cheese toastie - but with pesto and maybe mayonnaise because I bought a bottle the other day for something (I never buy mayonnaise), served with a green salad for the vitamins and green healthy things that aren't in the not that healthy toastie.


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