Last night my wife had an early dog-training class, so I threw together a quick early dinner for us. I poached a chicken breast, cooked some pasta, and made a sauce of caramelized onions, mushrooms, chicken breast, olive oil, garlic, a splash of sherry, a little parsley, freshly-ground black pepper, and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. From turning on the burner to serving the dinner took just under a half hour. I opened no cans, took no prepared food out of boxes to put them into the microwave, and had complete control over the fat, sodium, nutritional content, and flavor of what we ate.
As I put the pot of water on to boil for my pasta, I thought “I’m sure it will come in handy for something.” That’s a reference to one of my favorite little cookbooks, Edouard de Pomiane’s French Cooking in Ten Minutes. It’s one of the handful of cookbooks (along with The Joy of Cooking and Mastering the Art of French Cooking) that I think every serious cook should have.
It’s a charming little book. Here are the first few paragraphs:
First of all, let me tell you that this is a beautiful book. I can say that because this is its first page. I just sat down to write it, and I feel happy, the way I feel whenever I start a new project.
My pen is full of ink, and there’s a stack of paper in front of me. I love this book because I’m writing it for you. It’s nice to imagine that I’ll be able to let my pen go and you’ll understand everything it writes down. My ideas run on faster and faster—I’ll be able to say everything in less than ten minutes.
My book won’t even be ten pages long…It’s going to be ridiculous…Worse than that, it will be incomprehensible.
A more scientific approach will make things clearer, so I’ll start by telling you everything you should know before you start ten-minute cooking, even if all you’re going to do is boil an egg.
The first thing you must do when you get home, before you take off your coat, is go to the kitchen and light the stove. It will have to be a gas stove, because otherwise you’ll never be able to cook in ten minutes.
Next, fill a pot large enough to hold a quart of water. Put it on the fire, cover it, and bring it to a boil. What’s the water for? I don’t know, but it’s bound to be good for something, whether in preparing your meal or just making coffee…
Pomiane is dated now. Today’s electric stoves are much better than they were in France in 1930 when the book was written. And today there are an enormous variety of frozen vegetables and any number of other time-saving gadgets.
I still find Pomiane inspirational. It’s full of ideas and for harried working people ideas for tasty, nutritious things to eat that can be prepared in ten minutes are always handy.