On Minimalism | The subtle art of spending less time in the kitchen | M. Ariani

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a (single/married) man or woman in a hungry state of mind must be in want of food he or she craves.

You may be thinking about cheeseburgers and fries or that stuffed-crust pizza advert you’ve seen pop up on your Facebook feeds (you still haven’t decided if it read your mind or if it is spying on you—but you swear you were just talking about it with a friend just moments ago) which made you whip out your phone and open that new food delivery app and browse around—surely you’d find something that would whet your appetite and hit that sweet spot in your lizard brain that tells you, as you rub your tummy, sitting on your favorite spot on the sofa and grabbing the remote, “I am quite full now, time for Netflix.”

And why wouldn’t you order something and have it delivered to you by someone who “…will be on his way in 25-35 mins”? After all, you’ve had a long day at work. You may also have a partner and a baby, a toddler, or a teenager (although in the scenario above, we are just focusing on you). Of course, you are fully entitled to order whatever you want when you want it.

And the cycle repeats—every day, every other day, a night out with friends at your favorite restaurant; then it is a Sunday, you’re hungover, and your lizard brain kicks in again.

Feeding yourself something from somewhere is convenient. It is easy, and from time to time we all need a break, but from what? Feeding yourself, made by yourself?

The thought of spending an average of 30-45 minutes in the kitchen, waiting for the meat of the adobo or kare-kare to cook, apart from the daunting task of prepping all the ingredients, and surely something must be eaten together with it (rice, a bit of salad, etc.) can be quite exhausting, albeit very satisfying to consume in less time it took you to prepare the meals.

We can’t all have cooks or a private chef, and by that, I didn’t mean our mothers and aunts, and yes, they are the best chefs in our own personal world—not to mention the amazing dads who are masters of cooking in their own right, of course. But always remember that there is also an untapped chef in you, and no matter how many responsibilities you have during the day (or night), you can whip up an amazing dish for yourself; all you have to do is maximize what you’ve got—in your kitchen and in yourself.

That freezer of yours is not just for storing three tubs of half-eaten Haagen Dazs ice creams, for example, nor only storing fish and meat (that one still needs to thaw before you cook it) getting a bit of space for frozen mixed veggies, therefore having ready ingredients for making some vegetable soup or adding it to your leftover rice for an easy stir-fry (and maybe chop up some leftover proteins as well, make yourself a nice rice bowl meal that is better than the greasy one you pick up from the fast-food).

Cooking anything in bulk, serving what is needed, and storing the rest in portions in the freezer saves you enormous time and energy. You don’t really have to thaw it before heating it up; just add a bit of hot water to a pan, tip in your frozen meal, close it with a lid and cook in low heat.

Learning how to cook certain dishes, Italian cuisine specifically, already gives you an edge in the kitchen. After all, Italians have mastered the art of cooking with few ingredients (as home-grown veggies are seasonal). If you are a fan of pasta, you are already in luck.

Cacio e Pepe is a typical Roman dish made by cooking pasta al dente and mixing in grated pecorino cheese, salt, and freshly-crushed black pepper, adding in a bit of pasta water to completely melt the cheese, transforming an average three-ingredient pasta into heavenly goodness.

And then there’s Orrecchiette di Cime di Rapa, wherein you boil fresh (or dried) orecchiette type of pasta (or you know what? Any pasta would do, even gnocchi—I just hope the Italian cook police would not go after me after saying that) together with broccoli rabe leaves and florets, draining it, and in a different pan, sautéing chopped garlic and fresh red chilies. Serving it by mixing in the pasta/broccoli rabe to the infused oil with the garlic and chili, a sprinkling of salt flakes, and a drizzle of EVOO.

Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino—garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and red chili peppers — sautéed without browning the garlic and mixing in al dente pasta.

That is literally it.

I could go on listening to more pasta dishes that are traditionally Italian, but you get the gist—these types of meals are embedded in their culture and in their cuisine; they are mostly vegan/vegetarian and are absolutely delicious, healthy, and easy to make. Italians are big on simple food; their soup—minestrone (mixed vegetables) is another staple, so does stewing borlotti beans and onions (and a sprig of rosemary) which could be eaten alone as a meal or mixed in with pasta with the usual drizzle of EVOO is as simple as it could get. We are more familiar with their pizza and lasagne, and those too, with practice, are easy to make and feed the whole family.

Heck, you can even just buy ready-made pasta dough, spread in tomato sauce, mozzarella, and top it with your favorites (olives, tuna, other types of cheese, anchovies, grilled veggies—you know what I mean), and you’ve made yourself a pizza.

I have once or three times in my life made ‘pizza’ using a thick cut of ciabatta bread. I was hungry, had most of the ingredients, and couldn’t be bothered to make a dough. I was not committing a sin—I was being creative in dealing with hunger (cue in the lols).

Note: I have not mentioned risotto—though made with just short-grain rice, broth, cheese, and saffron (Risotto all Milanese), it is easy enough to make despite the fact that you may be put off by the recipes you may have read; most of them requires you to keep on stirring the rice as you ladle in the broth—believe it or not, it just takes practice to know how much broth you need to add to soften the rice from the outside while keeping it al dente on the inside—I know for a fact that it doesn’t require as much stirring as most people believe it does—my old neighbor, a nonna (grandmother) certainly have not been spending her time stirring away to oblivion, and I have witnessed her cook different risotti having dined with her on many occasions.

As for canned goods, why not? Take red beans for example. Add it as you boil your rice, a tablespoon or two of tomato concentrate, some vegetable broth and adding a couple of chunks of chicken breast; as it steam away, stir in spices like cumin and paprika; when cooked, you can enjoy a lovely rice bowl with a Mexican twist.

And there you have it, frozen goods, leftovers, canned goods, pasta and rice, you could certainly lessen the stress of preparing something wonderful for yourself while saving time. It isn’t really about time-management, it is about being smart in the kitchen.