I’m all about the base. Maybe not exactly in the manner my fellow Nauset High School aluma Meghan Trainor sang about in her 2014 hit “All about that bass,” however, I, too, am all about the base. In order for us to grow, and in many cases find success in life, we must have a solid foundation. This holds true in many facets of the world: think the Great Pyramids. Just as the Egyptians engineered the foundation for one of the worlds great wonders, we all have to start some where. All about the base.
Let’s bring this idea to the kitchen, shall we? I have spent hours drooling over cook books and recipes. I have taken many a cooking class and studied under incredible chefs. Fundamentally, time and patience are crucial elements for cooking. These traits can be learned, albeit harder to harness than if inherent in one’s DNA. I have made many a dish without utilizing time or patience. Not good. At all. Beyond our own powers, allowing our ingredients to work together and enjoy their own powers is cooking at its core. Again, we have to start somewhere. All about the base.
Where do we start?
Soups, stews, ragus, and sauces are strong examples of utilizing the power of the base to unleash flavor that only time and patience can provide. Take for example Ribollita, the hearty Tuscan stew that begins with its base of soffritto, and then slowly adds kale, tomatoes, beans, and finally, day old Tuscan bread. It is then allowed to sit overnight where the bread and soup find unity. If you have never tried this rustic delight, I urge you to sign up for our class next Monday. Especially as the weather begins to turn, this soup that is truly all about the base, will be your comfort through the cold days ahead. You can sign up to join the class here.
The French, are all about the base in their cooking. Onions, carrots, and celery are quintessential to French cooking. With a ratio of 2:1:1 respectively, this base, or mirepoix, is a powerful example of taking this simple trifecta and slowly cooking it to allow for the sweetness of the vegetables to combine and act as a template for creating masterpieces. Mais qui, all about the base.
Many bases, one purpose
While at Rome Sustainable Food Project, I was introduced to the Italian version of mirepoix known as soffritto. The difference between the French mirepoix and Italian soffritto perfectly illustrates my love of Italian cooking. While the French are precise in their ingredients and amount, I quickly came to realize that soffritto did not refer to a specific combination, nor quantity of ingredients. Instead, we would start soups and sauces with a variety of ingredients maybe utilizing leeks instead of celery, or cauliflower instead of carrots.
I must admit, this was a very freeing moment in my culinary progression. The focus was not totally on the what, but on the how. The same cooking process was utilized letting the base ingredients cook down together to produce depth in flavor, just the same as the French. However it is freeing to know that you can get creative, especially when you run out of carrots!
It was during this time in Rome that my friend Alex, aka Ms. Chop and Whisk, introduced me to her culinary background which included the tastes that she grew up on. Move over mirepoix, mover over soffritto. Hailing from Louisiana, where there is a strong Creole and Cajun influence in their cuisine, Alex took me to church and preached the power of the Holy Trinity; onions, bell pepper, and celery. I love the respect with which she spoke of this Holy Trinity. It is something that is ingrained in her blood, her love of cooking, and her love of her home.
Now Italian soffritto is not to be confused with sofrito. Take away an F and a T and you have the building blocks of many Latin and Hispanic dishes. Not unlike its Italian cousin, there does not appear to be any strict rules that make up this aromatic concentration of flavors. Typically it involves peppers, cilantro, onions, garlic and depending upon the country, tomatoes. However what does truly separate this version is that it is typically made by itself and added to another dish. A unique twist on the base, but a base nonetheless.
Culture and cuisine
What a cool anthropological study this would be. Cultures and their base for cooking. Hmm… I may have to look into this, as there are subcultures, and sub sub cultures. It could be a life work. A delicious one at that. However in the meantime, here are a few more generic examples. Asian cooking: green onion, ginger, garlic German cooking: leeks, carrots, celery root Polish cooking: leeks, carrots, celery root and parsley root
The culture of cuisine obviously spans the globe. Taking a step back and looking at cuisines through this perspective, the base, is unique and expressive to areas of the world both in terms of heritage and geography; tradition and local ingredients. But it does seem as though one unifying measure is that we are ALL about the base. Food is love. Live it. Love it.
And eat it up.