From Scratch?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My good friend Christa recently posed an interesting question: "What qualifies as 'from scratch'?" Does using store-bought pizza dough but grilling all the rest of your vegetables and making your own marinara sauce count as "from scratch?" Does store-bought BBQ sauce versus making your own prevent your dish from taking the title From Scratch? Does it even matter at the end of the day?

A famous or shall I say infamous From Scratcher is non other than the cooking demi-god, Martha Stewart. She's built a name for herself from making even the most preposterous things from scratch. And don't get me started on the kumquats! For a pasta dish, she'd typically make her own pasta dough, roll it out and cut it, make her own sauce from the vegetables and herbs in her garden, bolster it with a stock she made last week, and then top it off with some fresh mozzarella she made Tuesday for shits and giggles.

That's great and all, but realistically we all don't have the time, money, and resources to do all of that from scratch. Am I a worse cook because I don't make my own pasta every time? Or I rely on the Great Mario Batali's bottle marinara for my pasta dishes? And fuck anyone who says my dish isn't "from scratch" because I'm using imported Parmesan. Newsflash dickheads: imported Parm is what's making it authentic! And so are the canned San Marzanos I'm using too.

On the other end of the spectrum living in the Land of No Return, we have the great Antichrist of Cooking -- Sandra Lee. In fact, she built a whole brand off of not making anything from scratch, but rather just throwing stuff other people made already together in a cauldron of horrors. This stupid bitch can't even chop an onion, let alone make a roux or bbq sauce from scratch. And we're supposed to pay her for her "tips" in her bibles of destruction and watch her shows like brainwashed sheep?


No, I think realistic "home-made, from scratch" cooking lies somewhere in the middle. On a continuum. A scale, measuring degrees of cooking techniques and from scratchiness, whereby Martha is a 10 and Sandra is a -2.

But does "from scratch" even matter? It seems to on competitive cooking shows like Top Chef. I distinctly remember a contestant getting reamed for using frozen puff pastry. Seriously Tom? You're gonna sweat him for puff pastry? When was the last time you made your own puff pastry? Oh that's right, you don't. And you rest on the laurels of your "Italianness" and instead make fresh food with an Italian flare, avoiding such poppycock as buttered thin sheets of goodness. Save that sort of nonsense for the silly French!

Ok, so puff pastry or phyllo dough are the exception. What about pastry dough? Simple to make: cold butter, flour, salt and ice water in a food processor comes together into a ball in literally 8 seconds. Cover and chill and voila! you have pastry dough for savory and sweet alike. But we buy Pillsbury's pastry dough at the market for $4. Is one better than the other? They probably taste the same (I don't know; I always make my own dough because I'm important). If I add herbs and seasonings to my dough, then it's different. Arguably better? Maybe not, but I'm getting brownie points for at least having something different.

Maybe that's what it is. "From scratch" is not indicative of tasting better, but rather showcasing the cook's abilities. Often you'll find "from scratch" tastes better though because the cook is taking the time to taste and adjust seasonings, as they are afforded the opportunity to manipulate the dish from the beginning. On the flip, some cooks just can't make stuff as good as stuff already out there. I suck at making pizza dough. So I shall buy it. And my pizzas rock because I manipulate the combinations, flavors, and textures on top. I make my own pesto, make my own and use bottled sauce, and definitely use bought cheese. And my pizzas are well known and adored. So are my pasta dishes, and I think I've made fresh pasta maybe once in my life? And it's usually lasagna, low-maintenance, "from scratch" and awesome at Christmas.

So what's considered "from scratch?" I don't know, but I'm more concerned with what tastes good. If you made your own puff pastry for that pot pie and it tasted like shit, I'm going for the other dude's topped with Pepperidge Farm. But if you've got a marinara brewing back there with tomatoes and basil from your garden, chances are I'm coming to dinner over at your house. I'll bring the wine. And the parmesan cheese from Italy.

Where do y'all stand on From Scratch? Sound off below...

1 comment:

Amanda Ebner said...

This is an interesting one for me. One could argue that I take shortcuts here and there - for example, I use pre-cut organic broccoli florets so I can dump them in the steamer quickly after work, but sh*t - they're still BROCCOLI, and not the frozen cheese-covered kind, you know?

I think that if you are cooking a meal and the only packaging you throw away is from natural foods (like your Batali sauce, for example), you can consider it 'from scratch.'