In my opinion most all his recipes suffer the fate of nearly all "quick cooking" approaches - yes they are better than most people's scratch cooking. Sure they are fast to prepare. In Mark's case, they usually are takes on classic recipes. They're certainly far better than nearly all prepared foods. But they suffer in complexity and depth.
What on earth does that mean?
Great cooking is very often the results of two, three or four flavors or flavor transformations. This requires either multiple techniques or multiple ingredients, each of which contribute to the finished result - which - to use the age old phrase - results in a final dish that is greater than the sum of it's parts.
From the mid-1970's to the mid/late 1990's, Pierre Franey published a weekly column, also in the New York Times. It too addressed the needs of the busy weeknight cook. His creations shared in the The 60-Minute Gourmet met and exceeded all the criteria described above. Since all his dishes were essentially founded in classic French technique, he did no lose the multi-layer flavors, despite simplifiying most techniques.
Further, in his 60 minutes, he provided a two or three course menu, not simply one dish.
The biggest knock on his column/recipes is that one needed to be a fairly proficient cook to really be able to make them in an hour. But - like Rachel Ray (same criticism on 30 Minute Meals - you really need to know what you're doing to meet that time limit) - if you are competent, organized (full mise en place) and undistracted (are there three kids running underfoot?) - if all of these requirements are met - you can make a fabulous meal in right about that one hour window.
I think his book Cuisine Rapide is the best representation of his style. As compared to the original two volumes of collected recipes, these recipes are slightly more up to date. They still include a bit too much cream and butter for our current palate, but those quantities can be easily cut back and the recipes still work. I highly recommend grabbing a copy. Though out of print, it's easily obtained online, even new.
This week, Mark offered Proscuitto wrapped Halibut with Pesto. OK, not a bad dish for a quick effort on a Wednesday night. All I needed to do was to replenish my pine nut supply and find some fish. There were no high quality white fish available (Sea Bass, Halibut, etc) so I settled for cod. It would be a little tougher, but as long as cod is not overcooked it too can be almost buttery (and sublime).
But when I got home, quite late, I didn't really feel like going out in the dark to cut basil from the herb garden, and I knew that a simplistic pesto would just be, well, OK. I happened to scan my fridge and saw a jar of marinated eggplant, flavored with mint and capers, leftover from the last weekend's dinner. I knew I had my improved dish.
- Prosciutto and Eggplant Wrapped Cod
- Chorizo and Mushroom Rice
For the fish: Heat oven to 450. On top of the marcal paper used by the deli to separate the proscuitto slices (or waxed paper or saran wrap), lay down three proscuitto slices, overlapping them slightly. Place 3-5 eggplant slices in a line down the the center. Grate a good quality parmesan over the eggplant then center a fish filet across this base. Add a little salt and pepper, then wrap the proscuitto slices around the fish, using the paper to compress the bundle. Melt butter in a small skillet over moderately high heat. Saute for 1 minute, turn fish and turn off heat, while fish packets get 1 more minute in skillet. Place skilled in oven for 4-5 minutes, until fish is cooked through depending on thickness of fish.
For the rice: Saute about 3/4 pound of chorizo in a heavy pot. Remove chorizo and leave 1-2 T of drippings in pot. Saute onion and crimini mushrooms in the chorizo "oil". Add 2-3 T fresh oregano or 1T dry. Add S&P, rice (arborio or short grain is best) and chicken stock. Cover and cook for 17 minutes on lowest heat. Add cooking time if not all liquid has been adsorbed, but don't allow it to get dry. Add reserved chorizo.
Oh - the fish was pretty darn good - worth making again. And re-using that delicious eggplant was an approach worth repeating. The rice? It gets an official AWESOME rating.