This will shock none of you, especially if you know me in real life, but I’m something of a wimp.
Roller coasters? Terrifying. Horror movies? As if. (Though I do love Rosemary’s Baby, but mostly for Ruth Gordon). And, in the culinary department, I’ve been avoiding chiles for most of my adult life. Sure, I can handle a few pickled jalapeños in my nachos–and, as everyone knows, they’re a key ingredient in Eggs Adam Roberts–but the idea of cooking with raw, un-pickled, fiery chiles has never appealed to me. Until recently…
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.
This is Molly. She works at The Cheese Store of Silverlake, one of my favorite places to shop before a dinner party, and recently I decided to go in without an agenda. “Look Molly,” I said, “usually I come in here with a recipe and then just get the stuff I need, but this time I’m putting my fate in your hands!” She gave me a weird look. “What’s the best thing I could possibly make for dinner using the cheeses from your shop?” She thought for a moment and then said: “Ummm…what about spaghetti in a spicy tomato sauce with white anchovies and a raw pecorino?” Umm…what about YES!??!
Resourcefulness is a quality that emerges gradually as you get more comfortable in the kitchen. At first, you might make a panzanella salad–with big chunks of toasted bread, heirloom tomatoes, garlic, a little anchovy, some basil, olive oil, and red wine vinegar–eat most of it and then throw the rest away because panzanella doesn’t really keep. That’s level one of being a cook. But to graduate to the next level, you should put the leftover panzanella in the fridge and figure out something to do with it the next day. Option 1? Blend it into a soup (why not? It has all the makings of a gazpacho and a tomato bread soup combined). I went for Option 2: frying it into a cake.
My grandfather, who celebrated his birthday this week (Happy Birthday, Grandpa!), reads my blog on his Kindle only he can’t see anything past the jump. (We’ve tried to fix it; can’t figure it out.) So as a birthday treat for him, here’s a whole post in one paragraph. It’s a recipe I came up with last weekend because I had pork/fennel/garlic sausage in my fridge and I wanted to make tomato sauce with it and use that sauce to make something with eggs. I could’ve cracked eggs on top and baked it in the oven like this, but that sounded boring. So here’s what I did: I cut two sausages out of their skin, added them to a non-stick skillet with olive oil, and broke them up over medium heat until the pieces were brown all over. Then I added some chopped onion and a pinch of salt, allowed that to soften, then added 3 cloves of chopped garlic. Once that was fragrant, I added all the tomatoes out of a can of San Marzano tomatoes with a minimal amount of the liquid, plus some more salt. Then I cooked that down for a while, allowing the tomatoes to break down and the liquid to reduce, until there wasn’t any liquid at all in the pan. At that point, I added six eggs which I’d whisked together with more salt, turned the heat to high, and allowed the eggs to set, sprinkling in some grated Pecorino cheese. Gradually, I stirred the eggs around a bit and when they were just firm, I scooped everything on to a plate and served with thickly sliced bread which I’d broiled on both sides, rubbed with garlic, and drizzled with olive oil, sprinkling Pecorino on everything at the end. Voila. If you make this over the weekend, send some to my grandpa.
Sometimes you make dinner, and everyone nods in approval, eating pleasantly and saying, “This is very good. Nice job.” That’s most of the time. Then, every so often, you make a dinner that has people piping up a bit more enthusiastically. “Ooooh this is delicious,” they say. “Where did you get the recipe?” But only once in a blue moon you make a dinner that has people eating in stunned silence, taking their time to process the glory that is happening in their mouths, only to mutter–after a several minutes have gone by–“This is incredible.”
Ladies and gentlemen, this is that dinner.
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.
What you are looking at, in the above picture, is the best thing I can imagine eating right now. Mario Batali once said on one of his shows that the best time to eat corn and tomatoes isn’t August, it’s September. My trips, recently, to the farmer’s market confirm this: the tomatoes couldn’t look plumper or more colorful. And so it was, last week, that I bought a few red ones, a few yellow heirlooms, some zucchini and a bunch of herbs–basil and dill–and came home to make a pasta dinner that had my eyes rolling back in my head, it was so terrific: an edible “last hurrah” for summer.