Cutting Board Cuisine

This time of year, a strange little ritual takes place in my kitchen almost every evening. It goes something like this: I haul everything from my most recent greenmarket visit out of the fridge and dump it onto the counter. Then I stand there, contemplating the miscellany and considering what’s most likely to wilt in the next day or so. I cram the rest of my stash back into the fridge and then I stand there a little longer, hesitating, mulling over what exactly to fashion from the ingredients. Then I inevitably revert to my standard summer supper, which means rinsing the items, tossing them on the cutting board, giving them a rough chop, and, more nights than not, dousing them with an immodest glug of glistening olive oil and a smattering of coarse sea salt. No cookbook. No recipe. No stovetop. Nothing else save for a fork or, on exceptionally indelicate evenings, fingertips wiped on a flour sack towel.

It’s not exactly novel, this concept of cutting board cuisine, especially come summer and un-air-conditioned apartments. Humans have been eating raw vegetables in all manner of guises for quite some time. I know I’d been doing it long before I had this name for it, which I borrowed several years ago from a colleague. We’d brainstormed a glossy magazine feature dedicated to dinners that come together entirely on the cutting board, and our perception of this translated beautifully to the page as well as to the table, with lovely interludes comprising everyday ingredients.

But I think I tend to take the notion somewhat more literally than many home cooks. I worship at the altar of the Union Square greenmarket. I’m flat out mesmerized by the crinkly, paper-thin rainbow Swiss chard leaves and their skinny stems as pliable and psychedelic as those bendy colored plastic drinking straws from my younger years. I’m smitten with chioggia beets, their tie-dyed halos, and their taste that’s far less earthy than you’d expect. And so on and so forth. The corn on the cob that almost approximates the sweet corn of my Iowa childhood. The tart Carolina cherry tomatoes in pale yellow. The luscious Sun Golds from the hippy biodynamic farm stand. The mache and baby tat soi and mizuna and other little leafy green things I can’t always identify from Windfall Farms. The nutty minutina and the delicate, vibrant, sweetly spicy nasturtiums from Two Guys from Woodbridge.

There’s no real agenda driving my supper strategy. I’m not a vegetarian. Or a vegan. Or a raw foodista. I just happen to like simple things done well. And it doesn’t get much simpler than the innate goodness of these ingredients. I initially intended this nonchalant approach to dinner as an occasional indulgence, reserved for weeknights after a market run when everything is go-weak-in-the-knees fresh and my schedule is go-weary-in-the-head crazy. Although somehow it’s become an almost nightly observance. I just lose myself in the colors and textures on the cutting board. Chioggias and chard. Microgreens and cilantro. Corn off the cob and cherry tomatoes with Thai basil and mint.

While I’d like to say this habit is my dirty little secret, it’s not. My husband, E, knows my tendency all too well. And it drives him to distraction. We tend to fend for ourselves for supper on weeknights, although he does so in a far less chaotic fashion than I. But before he can do so, he needs a little space. Almost every night he’ll walk into the kitchen, hungry and tired, glance at what was moments before an empty counter but is now my canvas, and resignedly mutter, “Just holler when you’re done.”

Some may construe this way of assembling supper as underwhelming, unsophisticated, even an act of quiet and misguided defiance against a culture that demands a dozen or more flavors of Doritos. I’m okay with that. To me, it’s a means of reveling in summer’s extravagance. It’s sort of how I consider makeup during warm weather. Why bother with anything beyond a little mascara and a smudge of lip stain over a tan? There’s a frank earthiness about both. A willing embrace of what is. So call me a simpleton.

It’s not for long, this simple summer supper. Still, E won’t get his countertop back anytime soon. Come late season, as I mourn the loss of these ingredients, the pile-it-on-the-cutting-board approach will be replaced by its not too distant kin, the cook-it-all-in-one-skillet technique, dubbed greenmarket hash by one of my girlfriends. A recipe for another day, perhaps.



  1. I’m the winter scribe for this Cutting Board Cuisine! Though there is less, much less, to be had at the winter farmers markets, I’m about to lay out the gleanings of two weekends worth of markets—-watermelon radishes, shallots, tatsoi, microgreens, Honeycrisp apples, and a sweet potato. I’m reveling in this mini-extravagance of winter produce and feeling grateful for all of it.

  2. Renee, I’m glad you’ve touched some hearts and minds with this piece. I admire it, too. So unlike my own premeditated style—one that, despite my best-laid plans, still too often goes awry, resulting in the veggies “sneaking off to slimy oblivion” as Carol says. Even one wasted summer squash is one too many. Maybe you’re going to convert a lot of us to Cutting Board Cuisine.

    1. Thank you, Allison. So many options. Premeditated isn’t at all a bad thing, and certainly gives one something to anticipate! Although in my experience, it just sort of happens depending on what’s there and my mood. Summer squash, of course, is lovely melted into buttery oblivion in a skillet, but also not bad when thinly shaved or julienned with a scattering of fresh herbs or a jumble of corn off the cob or I’m certain you have countless ideas percolating…

  3. I wish my kitchen was colder, so when I come back from my CSA ( I could just leave it all spread out to feed the soul with its seasonal beauty. Once resigned to the fridge, even the fancy french doors, clear drawers, and slide out racks can’t save the organic goodies from relative abandon. I believe I’ll start using your method, Renee. Haul it all out every day, and besides my being more inclined to cook something up, less veggies will sneak off to slimy oblivion.

    1. Very well put, Carol. I couldn’t agree more, with all that you say—except maybe the part about “cook something up…” But then, it has been a cooler August than usual. I’ve been prone to sauteing and even roasting my radishes this summer, just a touch, to take the edge off their rawness…

  4. Renee! Your writing makes my heart soar. Cutting board cuisine. Sheer culinary genius. But, sorry, you’ve got to come back for a visit to Iowa before you’re able to replicate that corn on the cob from your wonder years. I’ll have the butter and salt ready…and perhaps a smidge of cotija cheese.

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