There are certain words that immediately communicate the desirability of a dish. If you put "salty" or "brown butter" in front of almost anything edible, I'm a convert before even tasting it. But the one word that unfailingly gets my attention the most is . . . sticky. Sticky wings. Sticky rice. Sticky buns. Sticky food is the most delicious food, and sticky burnt food is the most delicious kind of delicious.
So even though chef Eric Ripert's beautiful new book, "Vegetable Simple," is full of inspiring, easy ideas for transforming your broccoli and butternut into showstopping main dishes, what reeled me in was the desserts section. There, Ripert really goes to sticky town with caramelized apples and sticky toffee pudding — and a special dish that takes pineapple to the dark side.
Though American tastes are evolving, we're still an aggressively meat-eating people, for whom vegetables are often regarded as a form of punishment or "plant-forward" virtue performance. Ripert, however, sees their refined, romantic side.
"This book was in me for a long time," he says, "because when I was a kid, we were not eating meat and fish every day. If you were eating meat and fish, it was in very tiny quantities. It was not even significant. The French, when they eat meat for instance, it can be a few slices of dry sausage or something like that, but it's not a meal. We were eating a lot of vegetables, especially when I was eating with my grandmothers and my aunts. Because they were cooking food from their region, and they were very humble people."
From that foundation and a love of food that's meant to be shared, Ripert has created a collection of luxurious gratins, spicy chips and a summery, stress-free "real ratatoullie" — dishes that are low-maintenance and family-friendly. For the James Beard award winner, who says he's spent the past year cooking as "basically the private chef in the family," that's not an abstract concept. On rushed days, he says he might make a simple soup or his spaghetti pomodoro. "It takes, seriously," he says, "five minutes" to do the heavy lifting.
But while Ripert says,"I try to avoid too much sweet," I judge a cookbook by its desserts — and his are all classics. Just because something has the word "vegetable" in the title doesn't mean it shouldn't contain a chocolate mousse recipe — and this one does. But it was those pineapples that called to me the most urgently when I first read the book. Pineapples, with their memory and promise of distant journeys, their immediate connotations of warm nights and laughter with friends. I miss those things. And while I can't yet have those experiences, I can have this absolute killer of a dessert.
To end the evening with a tropical mini-vacation, you can prep the caramel while making the rest of dinner, then stick the dish in the oven while you eat. Caramelizing sugar might seem intimidating at first — there's usually a lot of bubbling and boiling and people telling you to get a candy thermometer. But Ripert's elegant caramelized pineapple is all but effortless. You essentially just heat up some sugar, add a heroic amount of rum and let the whole works bubble up over your fruit in the oven for half an hour.
I use dark rum, because I like dark rum, but use your own favorite type. If you're a nondrinker, you can use pineapple juice, and it'll be just as good. (Trust me, I've made it both ways. I'd wager orange juice or apple cider would work equally well here, too.) And if you're not a pineapple person, Ripert's recipe adapts itself beautifully to whatever you're into.
"You can do it with apples. You can do it with pears. You can do that with mangoes if you are in an area that has tropical fruits," he says. "Mangoes are really delicious when you caramelize them like that. You can do that in the summer. You can even do that with apricots or peaches — and it's really good."
Recipe: Sticky Pineapple Sticks
Inspired by Eric Ripert's "Vegetable Simple"
- 3/4 cup of sugar
- 1 cup of rum (or pineapple juice)
- 1 Tbsp. of vanilla extract
- 1 pineapple, peeled, cored, and quartered (You can do this yourself or buy it precut. You can also use a can of drained sliced or diced pineapple. Just get the kind that comes in juice — not syrup.)
- Generous pinch of flaky salt
- Optional: Splash of balsamic vinegar
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a heavy saucepan, caramelize the sugar over medium heat, stirring regularly. This will take 5 to 10 minutes.
- Remove the caramel from heat, and gently pour in the rum (or juice) and vanilla. Add the vinegar (if using), being careful not to splatter it.
- Return to heat, and bring to a boil until thick and syrupy, about another 5 minutes or so.
- Arrange pineapple slices on your pan, and pour caramel over.
- Bake roughly 30 minutes, checking every 10 minutes to baste the fruit and turn the pan. If it looks or smells like the mixture is burning, remove from the oven sooner.
- Let sit 10 minutes or so to cool, then sprinkle with flaky salt.
- Serve with ice cream or whipped cream. Enjoy!
Chef's Note: If you have any leftovers, dice up your remaining pineapple and refrigerate. I'd eat them cold the next day or blend to make low-fuss pineapple daquiris.
More Quick & Dirty:
- The best Sunday night comfort meal is rotisserie chicken chili, especially with a pinch of cinnamon
- Cacio e pepe pie is an insanely easy pasta dinner to make on nights when you don't feel like cooking
- A chocolate sandwich tastes exactly as comforting as it sounds — and it's sublime
- The viral feta pasta dish everyone's raving about is even better without pasta
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