March 1, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Color cuisine

By |2019-02-13T11:29:16+01:00February 13th, 2019|"Suzanne's Taste"|
White only? Not on your life…

once knew someone whose child would eat only white foods.

Who knows, maybe she outgrew it later, but at the time it fascinated me just thinking how la mamma dealt with it. I thought up all kinds of “white” menus — mashed potatoes (no pepper), rice, white bread (no crusts) and so on. But sticking to white only is a challenging demand. Think about it: most ingredients tend to have at least some color (unless you’re serving poi). I remember once as a child sitting down to dinner and noticing how dull it looked.

So I’ve always been sensitive to the color of food.

It’s an especially strong feeling in February, with Valentine’s Day and its love of all things red.

The month inspires me to cook in as many colors as possible.

Not everyone can handle my enthusiasm, which includes making bright pink soup. But hey, a Valentine’s month menu should get its due.

If you can’t relate to rosy, or don’t go in for Valentine’s Day festivities (which obviously, I do), go for orange. Give carrots — another food some kids tend to push away — their day in the sun.

I’ve always believed bland colors can push your palate away from taking chances. If you eat all green all the time, you see green. It can become the only thing you want.

I have no scientific evidence to prove my point, but I’ve see it happen. And it’s not about healthy eating, or even taste. A dish might be very tasty, but if it’s visually colorless, taste buds rebel. Oatmeal may be your tried and true breakfast of choice, but it’s hardly inspiring every day of the year.

To keep color in my kitchen, I buy beets, sweet red and yellow peppers, and carrots of course. I always have parsley, basil and cilantro on hand to give all things white — vegetables, rice, soups, and fish — a technicolor jolt. My friend’s poor child would have fled.

A colorful trick is making crêpe batter with a little fresh beet juice added in along with the milk, to give the savory pancakes a pale pink tinge.

As for Valentine’s Day, I’m set. My mama passed on a wonderful heart-shaped cake pan. Each year on Feb. 14 I make a golden genoise — sponge cake —with my honey’s name inscribed in fresh raspberry sauce on top (it helps that the day is also our wedding anniversary).

Another colorful trick is making crêpe batter with a little fresh beet juice added in along with the milk to give the savory pancakes a pale pink tinge. Fill these with pink ham and bright orange cheddar and you have a colorful entrée.

Inspired by the French holiday la Chandeleur (on which everyone eats crêpes), my cheese and ham version is hearty enough to serve as a main course, letting you segue into dessert crêpes filled with crushed strawberry coulis. I color their sweetened batter with juice strained from the strawberries or raspberries, which I use as a filling.

Maybe color is why I love bright green guacamole and red, red salsas, and purées of carrots, broad beans, broccoli and beets.

Let yourself loose in a gelato shop. I head for the mango and wild berry flavors. Their brightness is half the allure.

Rainbow foods have their limits, however, so accept my apologies — I won’t be serving blue ice cream.





About the Author:

Suzanne Dunaway, a longtime major magazine writer and artist, is the author and illustrator of "Rome, At Home, The Spirit of La Cucina Romana in Your Own Kitchen" (Broadway Books) and "No Need To Knead, Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes" (Hyperion). She taught cooking for 15 years privately and at cooking schools in Los Angeles, and now maintains a personal website and a blog. She divides her time between southern France and Italy.