Welcome to Health Goth, our column dedicated to cooking vegetables in ways that even our most cheeseburger-loving, juice-bar-loathing readers would approve of. Not everyone realises this, but vegetables actually do taste good. We invite chefs to prove this assertion—and they do, time and time again.
Though he can’t remember the exact year—perhaps it was about a decade ago, he tells me—David Tanis found himself cooking for a group of women in Fredericksburg, Texas. He was on book tour, and that day was supposed to function as a cooking class.
The women didn’t take it too seriously, though. They certainly didn’t have much interest in soaking up his knowledge.
“It was more like a book club for them,” he tells me one morning in October in the MUNCHIES Test Kitchen. “They’d come in and have iced tea. They were chatting while I was teaching.”
Tanis, mind you, is no slouch: He held the post of head chef at Chez Panisse for a quarter century before pivoting to a career in food writing, penning the weekly “City Kitchen” column at the New York Times.
What he’d made for the women was a flank steak tagliata with a salsa verde, a dish he’d been making for years by then; it had become muscle memory by that point. It’s a dish Tanis describes as “unfussy,” and he’s right—it's a pretty humble thing he whips up one morning right before lunch in the MUNCHIES kitchen. He's cribbed it from his David Tanis Market Cooking: Recipes and Revelations, Ingredient by Ingredient, released last month from Artisan.
Market Cooking is Tanis’ fourth cookbook. Its cover is emblazoned with a photograph of a beet that looks as if it's just been plucked from the ground, its surface still etched with dirt. Inside the book, Tanis promises to offer a simple, streamlined approach to cooking the produce you might find at your local farmers market. It's 480 pages long, with with over 200 recipes.
Tagliata, he explains in his book, is the Italian word for “sliced steak,” and it isn’t too different from the kind you’d get at Italian restaurants. But there’s a marked difference between those varieties and what Tanis has made; he’s swapped in a bright, herb-heavy salsa verde for the usual arugula leaves, shaved Parmesan, lemon, and olive oil. His salsa verde is made of parsley, mint, basil, marjoram, rosemary, but this calculus self-adjusts depending on both his mood and whatever he’s found in the market. He explains his philosophy thusly to me: “You see what’s ready and what’s good, you cook it, and you eat it.”
Tanis is a stout man who wears a black t-shirt, baggy blue jeans, and transition lenses. He’s prone to making wry asides as he mills about the kitchen. “It is not vegetarian, but the cow might’ve been vegetarian,” he comments of the tagliata. But he has a calm, assured mien when he’s cooking.
“I’m either under-caffeinated or over-caffeinated, I don’t know,” he says, lining two cuts of beef, one strip, the other flank, atop a baking sheet. Tanis seasons the beef with kosher salt and black peppercorns, which he crushes coarsely with a mortar and pestle. He strips rosemary sprigs of their leaves and roughly slices six cloves of garlic and distributes them evenly on each side of the steaks. He massages olive oil onto both sides of the meat so the pepper, rosemary, and garlic soak into its crevices. He then drops the meat into a cast-iron skillet, cooking it about five minutes on one side, three on the other.
“You’ll see juices race to the top when it's ready,” he tells me, inspecting the meat. “Like any other steak.” He cuts the meat on a diagonal into slices that are a quarter-inch thick and arranges them on a platter; he tops it with a disorderly drizzle of salsa verde.
Cosmetically speaking, it’s, well, pretty close to perfect. He rests it atop a bed of produce he’s found while wandering through the MUNCHIES garden—“the bounty of Brooklyn,” he calls it, and total catnip for Instagrammers. (His publicists oblige, taking out their phones and pointing their cameras to the finished product.) What results is a salsa verde whose flavours don't risk overpowering the meat.
“I’m not sure when the first time I made this is,” he says of the tagliata when prompted to remember, as if it's a matter of no importance. “It’s nothing fancy.”
Whatever you say, Mr. Tanis.