I’ve been really into tomatoes this summer. Every Sunday I’ve been going to the Atwater Village Farmer’s Market, buying some juicy heirlooms, and using them in sandwiches, salads, tomato baths, you get the idea. You might think that now that August is over, tomato season is on the way out… but you’d be wrong! Most chefs agree that the best tomatoes come in September and October. We’re entering PEAK tomato season.
So why am I sharing a recipe for a soup made with canned tomatoes? Answer: sometimes, even in peak tomato season, you feel a little fresh tomato fatigue. Just the words “farmer’s market” and “heirloom tomato” sound annoying on a Sunday morning when you’re hungover, laying on the couch, and happy to be watching PBS cooking shows while pretending to read The New York Times. When dinner rolls around, you don’t have anything except a few cans of tomatoes, an onion, garlic, and that leftover bread from a few days ago. That’s when PAPPA AL POMODORO comes to the rescue.
Yesterday, buried in my post about Vegas Uncork’d, was a mini tribute to Mary Sue Milliken and a rant about how Food Network, and Food TV in general, no longer features shows with deeply knowledgable, seasoned chefs with a flair for instruction. Then I realized it hardly matters because most of those shows I loved (love) are available online. So what follows are five shows, all watchable right now, that I consider the very best in recorded cooking instruction; shows I go back to again and again because every time I watch them, I learn something new.
When you’re an old fogey food blogger like me, dinner comes in one of two categories: 1. something you’ve already blogged about and 2. something you’ve never blogged about.
The sad truth is that more often than not, lately, I feel like cooking things that I’ve already blogged about because I love making them. It’s harder and harder to come up with something that I really feel like making that’s new enough for the blog. How to overcome that? The best way is to go to the farmer’s market to find a new ingredient or to wander into a great meat and seafood store, like McCall’s in Los Feliz, to get inspired. I did the latter yesterday when I found beautiful looking clams for $8 a pound. One dish popped into my head that I’d never blogged before: Linguine with Clams. I bought a pound of clams, a box of linguine and got ready to rock n’ roll.
Mario Batali’s recipe for Eggplant Parmesan–which I consider, in my humble opinion, to be the Ultimate Eggplant Parmesan–does something most Eggplant Parmesan recipes don’t: it honors the eggplant.
Instead of coating slices of eggplant in egg and breadcrumbs, frying them in a skillet, and piling them up with tomato sauce and cheese until you have a gloppy mess, here you roast the eggplant slices first–concentrating their natural flavor–and you pile those pieces up in a baking dish with tomato sauce and cheese, but because they’re not pan-fried, you don’t get a greasy, muddy cacophony; you get a harmonious whole topped with a gentle layer of breadcrumbs that crisps up in the oven. Again: The Ultimate Eggplant Parmesan.
If you cook the same thing over and over and over again, eventually you get really good at it.
That’s what happened with me and chicken: I’m really good at cooking it. And though there are many who find chicken boring, that’s usually because chicken, when stripped of its skin and bones, is, indeed, very boring. So the first rule is: never cook chicken without the skin or bones. The second rule is: be generous with salt. I’ve quoted this often, because I never forgot it; when Mario Batali had his old Food Network show he showered a raw chicken with salt and said: “No one ever says ‘this chicken’s too salty.'” He’s right–and that salt makes a huge difference.
I’m kind of digging this L.A. winter. I was worried it’d be too hot and that I wouldn’t be able to cook my cold weather comfort food. Instead, it’s just cold enough to make a big pot of soup–like this Italian cabbage soup called Ribollita–and to feel good about it. Served up with lots of Parmesan cheese and toasted bread rubbed with garlic, this makes for a cozy, cheap and relatively healthy weeknight dinner regardless of your coast, east or west.
Growing up, if I visited a friend and that friend’s mother was cooking dinner, one word would make me run away screaming. That word was “lasagna.”
Theories for why this was the case: (1) I grew up in a non-lasagna household; (2) it was a non-lasagna household because (a) my dad hates cheese and (b) he grew up in a semi-kosher home where meat and cheese were never mixed. Therefore, not only was lasagna exotic to me, it was scary. If I did have to stay at a friend’s for dinner and lasagna was served, I’d do my best to peel it apart and to eat some of the noodles, some of the filling, but to mostly mush it around on my plate.
I don’t normally take pictures in restaurant bathrooms. Ok, so maybe I do, but that’s not something I like to talk about on the blog. The point is that the other day, I met my parents for lunch at Lupa (I’m going to blog about their tartufo, the best I’ve ever had, later in the week) and something in the bathroom made such an impression on me that I took a picture of it. You probably can’t make out the words, though, so let me explain.