Tamar Adler has the answer: Instead of trying to keep everything fresh and raw until the clock is counting down toward mealtime and then fitting it into a predetermined recipe, cook everything as soon as you get home from the market. Not all in a jumble or stew, but separately and in ways that maximize each item’s potential.
And fit the pieces together later. Eat cold braised greens on crusty bread with ricotta, or simmer caramelized onions with little more than wine and stock to make soup. It goes for meat as well: Why cook a boneless, skinless chicken breast when you can roast a whole chicken and eat off it, in various ways, for days — and then have the carcass with which to make stock?
In Adler’s kitchen, there’s little that can’t be drizzled with olive oil, doused with salt, brightened with herbs and perhaps spiked with a pickle, olive or anchovy and turned into something delicious.
The former Chez Panisse cook lays out that philosophy in her lyrical book, “An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace” (Scribner, 2011). She wants home cooks to realize that it needn’t be so difficult or expensive, that you needn’t imitate the high-wire, high-tech act of restaurant chefs in order to feed yourself and your spouse or family, if you have one. But there are aspects of restaurant work that she thinks can inspire better systems at home, such as the practice of thinking about yesterday’s roast vegetables not as leftovers, but as ingredients.
The everlasting meal of the title represents Adler’s insistence that the best way to cook isn’t to read a recipe, run out and get all the stuff and then start cooking. Instead, start wherever you are, use what you have and then use what’s left of that with other things that you have to make the next round, and so on. “For cooking to make sense,” she told me in a phone interview, “you have to have these built-in efficiences and economies of scale.”
“An Everlasting Meal” doesn’t directly address people who live alone — or who cook as though they do. But Adler’s methods seem almost tailor-made for the demographic. And sure enough, she identifies: At 34, she lives with a housemate in Brooklyn, but she’s single, he was until very recently, and they’re often fending for themselves. Although, truth be told, she gives them both a nice head start; long before most people think about cooking a meal — days before, in fact — she has already cooked much of the food.