As you probably know, by now, I’m a pasta-loving fool. My blog has 78 recipes for pasta and risotto in its archives, so you know I take my pasta-eating seriously.
Sadly, my pasta love is now at odds with my spring-time desire to get in shape. I’ve been sticking to my gym routine for two months now, and though I still eat pasta and pastries and all the other naughty P foods on weekends, I’m trying to focus on a healthier P-word during the week: protein. The challenge I made for myself was this: transform the kind of sauce you’d love to eat over pasta on a typical weeknight into a protein-rich dinner that’s every bit as satisfying but way better for your beach bod. The secret? Instead of pasta, use eggs.
While Craig was gone these past nine days, I found myself watching a lot of True Blood on HBO Go. I’m still finishing up Season One, so no spoilers please, but I found myself quite choked up at a moment that was a subtle one, as far as the series goes. Sookie, the protagonist, is mourning the loss of a relative (see, I’m not spoiling it either) who–before dying–made a pecan pie, half of which remains in the refrigerator. At the wake, Sookie freaks out when someone tries to remove it; at the end of the episode, she eats the pecan pie and cries. What got me was this notion that through our food we live on even after our death. The ingredients that we use are merely objects, but how we combine those objects–with our touch, our sense of taste–is a manifestation of our spirit. It’s also true of the recipes we leave behind. And so, in the real world, we mourned the loss of Italian cooking legend Marcella Hazan this weekend and last night I could think of no greater tribute than to make her celebrated tomato sauce with butter–a sauce that every home cook should know.
For those of you who aspire to make pasta at home but don’t have the time or the will or the resources (like, a pasta machine), here’s a recipe for you. It’s called Pici and it’s one of the more satisfying things I’ve made for dinner in recent memory. You may be thinking: “Adam, didn’t you just post a pasta recipe two days ago?” It’s true; and on this particular week when I made the pici, I’d only had that other pasta dinner three days earlier. But watching David Chang’s Mind Of A Chef on PBS (a pretty excellent show), I started to get a hankering for noodles. In Japan, people eat noodles all the time; why couldn’t I have noodles for dinner a second time in one week? Damn it, I deserve it! Only these noodles–ah, pasta (Michael White yelled at me for calling pasta “noodles” once)–would be handmade and would only take me 15 minutes. Don’t believe me?
We all need a good baked ziti recipe, don’t we? Well here it is. I was looking for something like this to serve up for Episode #3 of The Clean Plate Club. Pasta being my favorite food, I wanted to serve pasta without having to be in the kitchen the whole time, boiling, straining, stirring, etc. Baked ziti is the perfect solution. You make your pasta earlier in the day, cook it al dente, toss it with a flavorful sauce (more on that in a sec) then layer it in a baking dish with lots and lots of cheese. Boom: you’re done. All you have to do is pop it in the oven.
Growing up, when mom and dad would get dressed up on a Friday night, they’d leave us behind with a babysitter, a box of fusilli and a jar of Prego. I couldn’t have been happier because, as most of you know by now, pasta is my favorite food (next to dessert). Chicken or the egg-wise, it is possible that it is my favorite food because I grew up eating it; if mom had left us behind with a can of Spam and a pair of pliers, maybe I’d be gorging on canned meat to pep myself up. As it stands, though, when I’m down in the dumps, nothing puts a smile on my face like a big bowl of fusilli with a meaty tomato sauce. Here’s one I whipped up this weekend using some smoky bacon I had leftover.
The thing about Thanksgiving is that people have expectations. They expect some kind of squash soup, they expect turkey, of course, and stuffing and taters (mashed and sweet) and all kinds of pies for dessert. Maybe that’s why I don’t like cooking it: the element of surprise is fairly limited (“Oooh look, he put cranberries in the stuffing!”) and even if you half-ass it, people will still enjoy themselves as long as there’s plenty of wine. Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the challenge? It’s not just the tryptophan that makes Thanksgiving dinner a sleepy affair.
Lounging around on a hot Saturday afternoon, you don’t want to think too hard about dinner. You read your book, you cheat and start the Sunday crossword puzzle a day early, you watch old episodes of “Lydia’s Italy” on Tivo. Perhaps it’s that last fact, though, that propels you–hours later–off the couch, into your kitchen, scratching your head. It’s 7 PM and what are you going to make? You see a bag of flour. You see eggs in your refrigerator. You spy a can of tomatoes on the shelf. “Might I?” you ask yourself. “Noooo.” But then you consider again and you settle on it: you are going to make fresh pasta–yes, pasta from scratch–and serve it with spicy tomato sauce.
There a came a moment on Saturday at The Baltimore Book Festival where I looked out at the crowd and down at the food in front of me and realized: “Holy (expletive): I have to cook something for all these people!”
It wasn’t supposed to be that way. When I was first invited to The Baltimore Book Festival, I was under the impression that all they wanted me to do was read from my book (which, incidentally, comes out in paperback tomorrow!) I’ve read from my book several times, to various crowds, and the lessons I learned from those various experiences–read slower than you think necessary, lift your head now and again–had little application when I learned that in addition to reading from my book, the Baltimore people also wanted me to cook.