If I look back on the food I used to make when I started cooking, it was all quite complicated. I think I had this idea that piling up flavours and globetrotting my guests' palates all around the world in a single meal made me look clever and sophisticated as a cook. This often happens when you're learning a new skill — the notion that more is more, and that you need to keep adding to make things better.
In the words of Leonardo da Vinci, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." His premise applies to so many things, not the least of which is cooking.
These days, when I'm putting a new dish together, I know that less is usually more. Choosing the freshest, best-quality ingredients is key for a start. Stick to one flavour family, and don't move your meal or your dish all over the different flavour profiles of the world. You only have to look to the kitchens of Italy and Greece to discover the most amazing dishes flavoured with nothing more than good olive oil, salt, pepper and a flick of acid such as lemon juice or vinegar. Basta! It's simple and so perfect.
When it comes to simple cooking methods, roasting ranks as my number one. Season whatever cut you have chosen, add a little oil, a crust or stuffing, then throw it into a hot oven to do its thing. You can literally walk away. Exposed to the dry heat of a hot oven, the skin crisps, the flavours caramelise and mouth-watering smells are set loose. For very little effort you can create a delicious meal with a real sense of celebration.
Resting large cuts of meat before you carve them is super-important. I generally cover my cooked roast loosely with a piece of tinfoil, then lay a clean tea towel on top and leave it for 10-15 minutes. While it rests, gravy or sauces can be made and green vegetables cooked. The difference in texture, evenness and moisture after resting is like chalk and cheese, as the fibres relax and the meat juices disperse evenly so the meat retains its moisture when it is sliced.
There's something baronial about bringing a big joint of golden-crusted meat or a whole roasted bird to the table. It calls us to gather, share and enjoy. With the shortest day of the year approaching, here's my suggestion for a midwinter roast menu.
Standing rib roast
The combination of Dijon and balsamic delivers depth to the flavour of the beef and helps form the crust. A chemical reaction known as the Maillard reaction is what gives all browned foods from toast to roasts their distinctive and appealing flavour.
The trick to making Yorkshire pudding is to get the oil super-hot in the cooking dish first, so the batter starts to puff as soon as it goes in. If you prefer, you can cook this mixture whole in a preheated shallow roasting dish, rather than as individuals.
Roasted baby carrots
Roast these carrots in the oven with the beef until tender (30-40 minutes), then remove from the oven and set aside while you cook the mini yorkies (the carrots can be served at room temperature).