In good stories, a character changes. So, for example, if you’re watching a movie about a guy who’s afraid of heights but his girlfriend is being held hostage at the top of Mount Everest, we expect him to get over his fear in order to save her. If he decides to just leave her there and become a knitting teacher, it probably wouldn’t be a very good movie. (Though, on second thought, maybe it would?)
Thinking of me as your main character, then, consider my post last week about cottage cheese. I find the stuff repulsive. 157 of you disagreed with me in the comments. So yesterday I went to Gelson’s and saw Low-Fat Knudsen’s Cottage Cheese, the kind many of you eat, and decided to challenge myself to make dinner with it. If this were a good story, I’d learn to love it at the end.
If you know your pasta, you know that the image and the title here don’t match; that’s because, for some reason, they weren’t selling orecchiette the day I went to Gelson’s. I almost threw in the towel but then I thought, “Why don’t I find another pasta shape that’s kind of like orecchiette?” Which is how I wound up with the shells you see in the above photo. And the shells worked really nicely in this pretty phenomenal, though decidedly unhealthy, pasta dinner from Nancy Silverton’s Mozza Cookbook.
Nowadays, when I make a new recipe, there has to be something about it that really draws my interest. If it’s just a roast chicken with butter rubbed on it and some herbs stuffed under the skin? Eh, been there done that. But if it’s something really novel, but not overly novel, color me intrigued. Which is precisely the reaction I had when I saw Mark Ladner’s recipe for Calamarta Alla Boscaiolo in the new issue of Lucky Peach.
You know that thing where you buy two big bunches of broccoli for dinner one night and then you only end up using one bunch so the other bunch sits in your refrigerator in a plastic bag for a week? And then, one week later, you look at it and kind of feel sorry for it and don’t want to throw it away but at the same time it’s kind of limper than it was one week earlier: less Jessica Rabbit, more Jessica Tandy? Here’s something you can do.
Cooking without a recipe. How do you do it?
You start with ingredients. My favorite way to do that is to open my refrigerator to see what’s there: on Friday night (when Craig was working late and his parents were flying in from Seattle) I saw carrots, I saw celery, I saw onions. I decided to cut them all up into big chunky pieces.
Two of my favorite dinners in the world are roast chicken and pasta. In fact, if I had a death sentence looming over my head, I’d ask to be executed twice so I could have two last meals, one a roast chicken, the other a big plate of pasta. Luckily, that’s no longer an issue because of this recipe which comes to us from Julia Moskin and the cookbook she co-wrote with Kim Severson, CookFight.
The recipe’s ingenious in the way that it utilizes the good stuff left over from roasting chicken pieces (in this case, thighs) to create a luscious sauce that clings to the pasta and stretches that comforting, roast chicken flavor to every strand.
Italians, please look away.
Everyone else, here’s something that I made up last week that was so good, I think you should make it too. I used leftover ingredients from the Haddock chowder I’d made the day before and, in using them, I did what Tom Colicchio’s always talking about on “Top Chef”–I developed lots of flavor through careful cooking. Let me show you what I mean.
After hauling home fresh asparagus and fava beans from the farmer’s market, I stood on a chair and made a loud declaration: “I will not adulterate these beacons of springtime with a convoluted recipe that obfuscates their natural glory!” Getting down from the chair, I thought about my declaration and realized that to live up to my word, I would need to cook the asparagus and fava beans as simply as possible, and serve them up with something special-enough to be memorable but not so special as to shadow the star ingredients: which is how I came up with making fresh pasta.