Recipes 1-2-3: Fabulous Food Using Only Three Ingredients

by Rozanne Gold

Viking Press, 1996. 306 pages, 250 + recipes

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"Development of a recipe (re Carrot -Ginger Velvet): Sounded delicious in my head, could almost taste it on my palate, could see its brilliant color and feel its creamy texture - like velvet on my tongue. But it took many tries to get it right."

Weiswurst and Asparagus

Aspargus with Fried Capers

Gingered Rice

Salmon Wrapped in Grape Leaves

Carrot-Ginger Velvet Broccoli with Oyster Sauce and Pecans

Lemon Buttermilk Ice Cream

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Look of the Book

Like a great little black dress, Recipes 1-2-3's layout is elegant, understated, and easy on the eye. Gold accompanies most recipes with "add-ons" (ideas for food pairing or finishing touches) and wine suggestions. A few other features: a six-page Calendar of Menus to spark the imagination, a section that lists the non-fat and low-fat recipes, and two sections of color photos.

Slightly Off The Subject

Just as Rozanne Gold has a gift for combining a minimum of ingredients to create maximal effect, novelist Susan Minot has a way of conveying small moments, snippets of conversations, character descriptions that are powerful and memorable in their brevity. Like Gold, Minot cuts away the extraneous to obtain the essence. Minot's novel Monkeys charts the disintegration of a family (it sounds like a cliche but isn't one the way Minot tells the story). Folly follows the privileged life of a woman in early 20th century Boston, from her hopeful youth to her quietly despairing middle age. Folly is reminescent of Henry James and Edith Wharton novels in which the entire course of heroine's life is set by the match she makes in marriage.

I've seen three-ingredients-per-recipe cookbooks before. They're gimmicky and gastronomically unenlightened and kind of fascinating. Their recipes feature weird threesomes like Hamburger Helper, peanut butter and canned pineapple.  

Recipes 1-2-3 is about as far from that kind of three-ingredient cookbook as the Dalai Lama is from Dolly Parton. First of all, the author Rozanne Gold, a professional chef, didn't write this to be just another "quick 'n' easy" cookbook. Her mission was to "create delicious food" using only a few "simple foods with complex flavors" (a mission which sounds easier than it is). Second, she insists on using only junk-free, good-quality, real-food ingredients.

When I first thumbed through the book, each page bearing a brave, lonely trio of ingredients, I couldn't help thinking that Gold would have made life a lot easier for herself if she had inched the ingredient count up to four per recipe....but I guess that would be like suggesting that Houdini could have gotten out of that locked trunk a lot more easily if he hadn't insisted on being handcuffed. Like Houdini, Gold likes a good challenge. ;

Like Houdini, Gold pulls off some amazing feats. For example, she makes broccoli, pecans and oyster sauce come together quickly into a totally wonderful deeply flavored dish. The secret is in the technique: toasting the nuts in a skillet and steaming the broccoli until its almost soft (difficult for us who consider it blasphemous to cook vegetables beyond the al dente point). And there's real magic in Gold's incredibly tender, incredibly easy Salmon Baked in Grape Leaves. This dish has sealed my reputation as a "great cook" with several dinner guests who really are great cooks.

A few things I tried were flops. Fried Lemon and Zucchini Salad was an oil-logged mess. (Still, I like the fried lemon idea and will try it elsewhere.) The Squash and Beet Borscht was a dark, broody thing best left to commited beet lovers. The Avocado Veloute was so bitter it was inedible, but I'll take the blame on this one. I think the problem was a bum avocado (proving Gold's point about the importance of using the best ingredients especially when so much is riding on each one).

Many of the dishes are good special-occasion numbers. Better still, they are so quick to prepare that it's no big, nerve-frazzling deal to make an impressive multi-dish meal. My nerves remained intact and my spirit sanguine the night I served this four-dish meal from Gold's book: Seared Sea Scallops on Sweet Pea Puree (delicious but not quite in the same magical realm as the salmon recipe) served on a delicately flavored Gingered Rice with the above-mentioned broccoli dish and an incredibly refreshing Lemon Buttermilk Ice Cream.

I consider it a big bonus if a cookbook as pleasurable to read as it is to cook with. For me, reading the three-ingredient list in each of Gold's recipe is like reading culinary haiku (give or take a couple of syllables): Lamb shanks/Yellow onions/Alsatian riesling..... Grapefruits/Sugar/Campari....... Pears/Brie/Chicken Broth. These little word clusters spark new and tantalizing images in my mind, just like good poetry does.