What’s with me and pasta? No, seriously, I’m really asking: how can I eat so much of it and never get tired of it? Sometimes I think it’s my own personal Rosebud, because my earliest food-related memories involve sitting at a little yellow plastic table on a gray carpet in front of the big TV, eating fusilli with Prego on top. Am I trying to recreate the innocence of childhood? Perhaps. Or maybe it’s just that pasta is so versatile and, more importantly, once you know the rules of how to make it–undercooking your pasta in well-salted water, then finishing it in the sauce, taking off the heat when almost all the liquid’s absorbed, and finishing with raw olive oil and grated cheese–it’s just one of the most impressive, delightful things you can make at home.
Here’s a cooking tip: if you have something in your pantry that requires a long soak (dried beans, for example, or dried chickpeas), rip open the bag in the morning, pour them into a bowl and fill it up with water even if you have no idea what you’re going to do with them later in the day. What’s great about this approach is that it narrows the field for you after 5 o’clock; instead of choosing from endless recipes, you know you need to find one that features soaked-beans or chickpeas. It’s a win-win because you have a component that’s normally a pain in the butt and some direction for your dinner.
The New York Times recently published an article with a powerful first sentence: “About 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables, and even drink wine with meals, a large and rigorous new study has found.”
I like this news because it’s not like it’s saying “all delicious things are bad for you!” It’s saying: “Hey, you can eat really delicious things, just not In-N-Out burgers and milkshakes, ok?” And though I don’t imagine I’ll be giving those up any time soon, it’s good to know that I can maintain a mostly Mediterranean diet by doing the following: pouring a bag of dried beans into a bowl of cold water before starting my day.
If I’m lucky enough to write another cookbook, I’d like to write one about using pantry staples. That’s how you separate a cook from a recipe follower: the recipe follower makes a list, buys what they need for that recipe, cooks it and repeats that process again the next day. A cook opens the refrigerator, opens the pantry, and makes dinner with what they find. That’s what I love to do most and what I’d like to teach other people to do.
Start, for example, with a bag of dried beans. You know I’m really into the Rancho Gordo brand, but you can use any dried beans. These ones were Pinquitos, but use any small brown beans for this formula.
It’s funny how, when a partner goes away on a trip, you start to cook things that you wouldn’t cook if they were there. For many people, that might be something really decadent (rib-eye for one, for example) but for me, lately, I move in the other direction: I go healthy.
Which is not to say that I don’t cook healthy when Craig is here (see: Craig’s Quinoa Conversion) but that it usually takes some convincing. So now that he’s in Seattle for the week, I decided to make a healthy dinner too healthy-sounding for him to accept. Turns out it’s one of my favorite things I’ve made in a long time.
Let’s start with the toast: instead of a jam-topped breakfast concoction, this toast moves in a more savory direction. I toasted it just like normal (I couldn’t cut a thick slice because Craig bought pre-sliced sourdough bread; I forgive him) and then–here’s where we go savory–rubbed it with a garlic clove and then drizzled it with good olive oil (Katz’s, if you wanna know the details).
What you see above is one of my favorite meals I’ve ever made at home. It came about rather organically: after raving about Rancho Gordo beans in this post from last week, I went back to Cookbook (the store where I bought that first bag) and stocked up on more.
The best dinners are the ones that have a story. This is one such dinner.
It started on a typical day: I was driving to Silverlake to eat lunch at Forage (one of my favorite places to grab a bite here in L.A.) and to have coffee and do work at Intelligentsia. Only, it was street cleaning day which means half of the normally available spots were no longer available. I circled and circled and started to go a little crazy. Trying to find a parking spot isn’t something I had to do in New York; here, it can be a totally maddening experience, especially as you pass the same landmarks again and again, not one car budged, not one person dangling their keys.