A Rose by Any Other Name . . .
Yes, it's true. A rose by any other name is still a rose. And that philosophy is just as true in the kitchen as it is in the florist's shop.
Do you ever find yourself becoming intimidated or getting confused over the fancy words used to describe some of your favorite dishes, prepared by your favorite chefs, and sometimes served in your favorite restaurants? I know I am – or at least, I used to be.
I have to admit that when I first started cooking, fancy words like “Bourguignon,” “Bouillabaisse,” and “Bolognese,” used to scare me. Of course, those words all originated in languages other than my own. So when I started cooking, I assumed that whatever they meant was as much beyond me, culinarily speaking, as were the languages themselves. I mean, they were all pretty much “Greek to me!”
But I refused to let that stop me. I was bound and determined to make the names roll off my tongue, and to make the dishes that bore their names part of my culinary repertoire. Once I made that decision, what I learned was pretty astounding. That is, in reality, none of those dishes is all that intimidating. I’m telling you the truth! In fact, some of them started off as fairly ordinary family fare. Come to think of it, they still are!
For example, Beef Bourguignon, is really just beef stew. What distinguishes it from other stews is that the sauce contains burgundy wine. Or how about Bouillabaisse? Quite simply, that’s a fish soup. It can be dressed up with lobster, or dressed down with simpler (i.e. less expensive) types of fish.
Then there’s Bolognese, which over the years has become my favorite tomato sauce. In fact, I dedicated a year of my life to perfecting my recipe. Generally, Bolognese contains more vegetables than a classic marinara (I add sautéed carrots, celery, mushrooms, and zucchini to mine). The additional vegetables tend to give the sauce more body, along with a bit richer flavor. But in the end – when it’s ladled over pasta – it’s still a tomato sauce.
How about another of my favorites: Tapenade? Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it. And maybe even slightly exotic. But simply put, Tapenade is a simple spread made of chopped olives, capers, and olive oil. Now you just can’t get much simpler than that! Over the years, Tapenade has become a staple around my kitchen. I’ve tweaked it a little here and there by sometimes adding a little lemon juice or a few red pepper flakes. Other times I might dress it up by adding chopped artichokes to the mix. It all depends on how I’m feeling on the day I’m making it, and what I have on hand in my pantry. Otherwise, my Tapenade is just a simple olive spread used to slather on crackers, crostini, or bruschetta (two more intriguing sounding items, right?). I even add it to aioli sometimes. Aioli. There’s another one for you (it’s a simple mayonnaise sauce!) But don't stop there! While traditional Tapenades are made with olives, I sometimes make them with mushrooms or sun-dried tomatoes. The formula is the same: chopped, blended with olive oil, and slathered on bread.
Let me end by adding one last example: Mornay Sauce. Now, let me make it simple for you. Mornay is nothing more than cheese sauce. Yes, sometimes it’s made with Gruyere cheese (a little fancier French version of Swiss); and sometimes it’s made with cheddar. Do you know what you have if you make the cheddar version, pour it over pasta, and bake it for a little while? That’s right! You’ve got Macaroni and Cheese! It just doesn’t get much more basic than that.
So what’s my point in all of this? It’s that I don’t want you to be intimidated. I don’t want you to be afraid to try new things – even exotic sounding things – in your own kitchen. You don’t need to wait until you’re in a fancy restaurant somewhere to try Scallops Mornay, or Tapenade Bruschetta. Or Beef Bourguignon! No, you can feel perfectly comfortable making those dishes on your own. When you do, why not enjoy serving them to your friends. They don’t need to know they’re really eating beef stew, or chopped olives, or cheese sauce. Let them think you’re a genius! And enjoy yourself while you’re at it!
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