Aimee Mann is one of my favorite musicians of all time. On the way to her Christmas concert at the Wiltern, Craig asked me why I liked her so much. “Because she’s unsentimental yet emotional, cold but vulnerable at the same time; plus, she’s funny.” She writes lyrics like, “And I’m the only one who knows / that Disneyland’s about to close.” And: “Finals blew I barely knew my graduation speech / with college out of reach / if I don’t find a job it’s down to dad and Myrtle Beach.” With little time to spare before the concert, I decided to whip up a pasta dish without a recipe. And it turns out that this pasta–which I’m calling Mann Ziti in Aimee Mann’s honor–has a lot in common with the music: it lives on the edge of darkness.
When I say that it lives on the edge of darkness, I mean that I took the elements of the sauce (the onions, the garlic, and the tomato paste) right to the edge, right to the moment before they would be burnt. See, these are the onions in the pan:
I just sliced up what I had–two half yellow onions and one half red onion–and threw them into a pan with a good glug of olive oil. Up the heat went, with a sprinkling of salt, and those onions were a’sizzling.
When they got good and dark brown, I added 3 cloves of sliced garlic and three anchovies. I also added a big squeeze of tomato paste from a tube and a good sprinkling of red pepper flakes. When those all started to darken (and watch the garlic there, you don’t want that to burn; but you also want the tomato paste to toast) and everything was this deep, bronze color, I added my ziti to a big pot of salted water and added a ladleful of that water to the pan to make a sauce:
I mean look at that: it’s like staring into an abyss of darkness and beauty. I’m very proud of that.
Here’s the other thing I did to ratchet up this dinner: I toasted breadcrumbs. In a small pan, I added another big glug of olive oil, a few slices of garlic and turned up the heat. When the garlic was turning brown I added a big pour of bread crumbs (fresh ones would be best, but I used the plain store-bought stuff) and tossed them all around with a big pinch of salt, still on the heat, until the bread crumbs were toasty and tasty.
To bring it all together, when the ziti was just al dente I lifted it (with a spider) into the pan with the sauce, turned up the heat and tossed it all around for a good 30 seconds, letting the sauce soak in. Then, off the heat, I added a big sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, chopped up parsley, and a big handful of those bread crumbs:
Those bread crumbs were a total game changer: they thickened up the sauce and gave everything an extra salty, garlicky charge. Once in the bowl, I sprinkled with more cheese and more bread crumbs. I mean: how could you not want to eat this?
As for the concert, it was a really fun evening (despite the cellphone wielding, non-stop chatting ladies sitting next to me); the highlight of which was Aimee’s cover (along with Paul F. Tompkins) of “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch.” Consider this pasta, then, your three decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce.