I've just finished reading a New York Times Magazine article on the top chefs in Spain, noted for the daring creativity that once belonged to French chefs. Interesting, but it was wearying just to read what hoops they jump through to come up with new ideas.
Like this one from Ferran Adria, the most well-known of the new breed: First, according to the article, his assistant spoons pea puree into a plastic tray filled with clear liquid, and watches it solidify before scooping it out and rinsing it. The liquid turns out to be calcium chloride, which reacts with alginate, a kelp extract, in the puree. When you cut into this pea "ravioli," it dissolves into soup. Adria demonstrated the same idea for the reporter with squid ink, to create "squid eggs," and with another liquid for "liquid caviar."
"It is not," Adria asserted. "Creativity--blah, blah, blah. It is a lot of work."
Indeed. And much though I'd like to taste it, just for the sake of saying I did (unlikely, given that more than 300,000 people tried to snag one of his 8,000 available reservations last year), by the end of the article I longed for a simple, un-retouched meal.
Enter my favorite food, just right for that desire. Were I to be stuck on the proverbial desert island with just one thing to eat, it'd be an avocado. Scooped from shell to mouth, an avocado can bring me pure (and healthful) bliss.
I know this is weird. Other people dream of chocolate, or caviar (real, not liquid), or their mom's fried chicken. But all I want is that '70s green, mouth-filling richness.
And I wouldn't be surprised if at least one of my kids someday says the same thing. Avocados were one of their earliest baby foods, an ideal one for busy moms. Both kids could slurp down astonishing amounts of the green mush, and today, my 4-year-old has overcome a long bout with picky eating to discover the joys of guacamole.
Straight from my own childhood, my perfect summer meal highlights the joys of avocados. Shuck a heap of sweet corn from the state farmers' market, and boil it (no new-wave grilling for this meal) just long enough to heat the ears through. Thickly slice some baseball-size tomatoes, tickle them with just a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and top with a dollop of mayo that, no matter how hard you try, will stay as a dollop and not spread evenly over the juicy tomato. (Or sprinkle the tomatoes with a little sugar, as my husband does, which I think is as insulting a thing to do to a sweet, local tomato as he thinks mayo is.) Finally, mash up some avocados and fold in some chopped tomato, lemon juice, scallions, Texas Pete, and a little more mayo, and surround with tortilla chips.
Don't forget the butter for the corn, and dig in.
Sure, you could gussy up this meal, or add burgers or other meat, and relegate all this to side dishes. But that seems superfluous against such pure, straightforward flavors.
The one thing you won't want to do unless forced is used a thin-skinned, smooth green avocado. Those watery fruits (yes, avocado is not a vegetable) just don't offer the unctuousness I crave; if I can't find a bumpy, black-skinned Hass, I just don't bother. (Hass avocados make up the bulk of the crop in California, where other varieties are grown, but not marketed nationwide.) Avocados don't ripen on the tree, so it's OK, even preferable, to buy rock-hard ones and let them ripen at home. If I've planned ahead, I prefer that, so I can trust that my avocados' softness comes from being ripe, not bruised.
I recently read about a farm in California that, for $30, will ship 12 pounds of avocados (in varieties other than Hass, which I'd love to try). By my calculations, that's about 24 avocados. Sounds like a grand deal to me, but my sister could barely contain her amazement when I mentioned it. "What on earth would you do with 12 pounds of avocados?" she demanded.
Well, that's where the kids come in handy, so I can have my avocados and save face, too. Scout's honor, I only set up the tent and play "stranded on a desert island" to keep them happy.
Cook's notes: This is my sister's recipe for guacamole, and it's by far my favorite. You might want to measure things the first time or two, but it's more a matter of tasting as you go, to keep the ingredients in balance. You shouldn't feel bound by these measurements. To get to the inside of an avocado, run a chef's knife from the top to the bottom and back up the other side, cutting through to the pit. Twist the halves to open the avocado. Carefully whack the knife into the pit, turn the knife to loosen the pit, and lift it out. Knock the pit off the knife with a spoon or the back of another knife. Scoop out the flesh with a spoon (if you want chunks of avocado for a salad, cut it while still in the peel, cutting through to the peel, and scoop out with a spoon). Avocado turns brown soon after being exposed to air. Some cooks swear that keeping the pit in with the guacamole will keep it from turning; this is nonsense (except for the part of the guac that touches the pit, which of course isn't exposed to air). Spreading mayonnaise over the top, as the recipe suggests, will keep it from turning; if you have leftovers, just press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the guacamole. It will keep in the fridge for a day; after that, it will still taste good for another day or two but will get watery on top and slowly turn brown.
3 to 4 servings
2 ripe avocados
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt, or 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 scallions, thinly sliced (or up to 5 if the scallions are quite thin)
2 to 3 shots of Texas Pete
1 ripe tomato, seeded and chopped
Peel and mash the avocados (with a pastry blender, potato masher, fork, or hand mixer on low speed). With mixer or by hand, blend in lemon juice, salt, pepper, scallions, and Texas Pete. Don't mix too much; a little chunkiness is good. Gently fold in tomato. Transfer to a serving dish and spread with a thin layer of mayonnaise. Chill a few hours until ready to serve, or serve immediately, folding in mayonnaise just before serving.