At his seafood restaurant Le Bernardin, chef Eric Ripert is renowned for treating the highest-quality fish simply but beautifully.

When it comes to the food he eats most frequently when he’s not at the restaurant — vegetables — he takes the same approach. “The idea is to elevate the qualities of every ingredient, to enhance them, to make them the best I can,” he said in a phone interview.

His newest book, “Vegetable Simple,” is a gorgeous ode to the philosophy. With stunning photographs by Nigel Parry, the book presents the possibly radical idea that with the same attention to detail that many cooks lavish on animal products, you can create vegetable dishes that sing, without using a lot of ingredients or necessarily even taking a lot of time.

The book also connects to Ripert’s Buddhism. When I interviewed him, I asked about his quote on the back cover, which ends with the idea that cooking delicious vegetables “is for the well-being of all.” He pointed me to the last line in his acknowledgments, in which he thanks Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard and his book “A Plea for the Animals” for planting the seed that led him to write “Vegetable Simple.”

Ripert said he was trying to pack a lot into a short phrase — the well-being of animals that suffer on factory farms, the well-being of humans eating healthy food and the well-being of the planet. “That last one ultimately has an impact on the human population,” he told me. “So, therefore, this is the secret motivation of this book. I didn’t want to make it a religious book or a political statement — I wanted to inspire people to cook. But since you discovered the hidden message, you have the answer.”

Back to the vegetables. A prime example of Ripert’s approach is the Caesar-salad gratin. You make a simple dressing, grate a lot — I mean a lot — of Parmesan cheese, then brush the dressing on the cut side of halved romaine hearts, sprinkle with the cheese and slip them under the broiler for a few minutes. The result is something that straddles the line between raw and cooked, hot and cold, and I found it nothing short of astonishing, in a why-didn’t-I-think-of-that kind of way but also in a when-am-I-making-this-again kind of way. Ripert said he came up with it with friend and fellow chef Laurent Manrique one day when they craved Caesar salad but wanted something more.

“I think we were drinking a lot of wine,” he said.

I found only one thing to quibble with in Ripert’s recipe, and that was his assertion that the dish must be eaten as soon as possible after it comes out from under the broiler. Sure, it was stellar that way, but I had several halves leftover, and for a couple of days I chopped it up and used it as the base of another salad, cold and with the cheese congealed. It wasn’t the same, but it was great, simply great.

Storage: The gratin can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. The dressing can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

To make this vegan: Replace the eggs and olive oil with 3/4 cup vegan mayo, whisking in the mustard, lemon juice and garlic, and use a vegan Parmesan such as Violife brand.


Ingredients

  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 4 jumbo romaine lettuce hearts
  • 8 ounces (3 cups packed) finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Step 1

In a blender or mini food processor, combine the egg yolks, garlic, mustard and lemon juice and puree at medium speed while slowly drizzling in the olive oil, until it is fully incorporated and the dressing resembles a pourable mayonnaise. Stir in the salt. Taste, and season with more salt, if needed.


Step 2

Position a rack in the highest position in the oven and turn on the broiler.


Step 3

Trim off the barest slice of the browned end of each romaine heart, making sure to keep the core intact. Halve each romaine heart lengthwise.


Step 4

Lay out the romaine halves, cut side up, on a rimmed baking sheet large enough to hold them in a single layer. Brush each half with the dressing, making sure that it gets between the leaves. Sprinkle with the Parmesan. (It may seem like way too much cheese, especially if you grated the cheese with a Microplane so it’s incredibly fluffy, but it works.) Broil until the cheese is bubbling and golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Grind black pepper over the top and serve hot.


Nutrition Information

Calories: 279; Total Fat: 24 g; Saturated Fat: 7 g; Cholesterol: 71 mg; Sodium: 628 mg; Carbohydrates: 6 g; Dietary Fiber: 2 g; Sugar: 2 g; Protein: 13 g.


Adapted from “Vegetable Simple” by Eric Ripert (Random House, 2021).

Tested by Joe Yonan; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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