Cooking, Art and Magic: Summer Squash and Corn Pasta

There is a link, methinks, between cooking, art and magic. The best evidence I can give to support this theory is from Act 4.1 of Macbeth. Enter the witches.

First Witch: Round about the cauldron go,

In the poisoned entrails throw

Toad that under cold stone

Days and nights has thirty-one

sweltered venom sleeping got

boil thou first i’th’ charmed pot.

A “charmed pot.” That’s what cooking’s all about, is it not? Transformation. A mish-mosh of random ingredients and bang wham pow something new. Which is what I experienced tonight with Alice Waters. I did her recipe for “Summer Squash and Corn Pasta” from her Vegetables book, which a reader so kindly bought me. You need summer squash and corn, to start:

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You cut the squash into tiny pieces (“small dice,” says Alice) and you saute it in 1.5 Tbs of olive oil until tender and a bit brown.

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Season with salt and pepper. Then you add corn from 3 ears (I halved the recipe, by the way), 2 cloves of garlic cut up and 1/2 a jalapeno cut up too.

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You cook that for a bit. It’s all very casual here in Alice-land.

Then add 2 Tbs of butter, a handful of chopped cilantro and 3 or 4 Tbs of water. That’s it! Your sauce! Taste and season accordingly. (Alice says to add lemon juice if the corn is too sweet. I wonder if lime would be good too?)

In the meantime, you’ve prepared some fettucine. Half a pound. Add to the corn and squash mixture, toss about with tongs, and there’s your dinner: [add more cilantro to garnish]

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Those noodles all get coated with the browned, sweetened squash; the corn adds texture and more sweetness and then there’s the heat of the jalapeno, the old Jewish grandma-ness of the garlic, and the brightness of the cilantro. It’s the sort of thing that you read and say: “Hmm, but I really wonder what that tastes like?”

Exactly! Back to the beginning: cooking, art and magic. The cooking is the manual labor; the art is what gets added (the recipe) and the magic is what it becomes. Transformation: a charmed pot. And I think the child in me who watched witches on TV throw random things into large cauldrons only to have doves or children or Oprah emerge finds himself in love with cooking most when the resulting product is something that could never have existed but for the enchanted spell (ie: the recipe). Try this recipe and experience some late summer magic before it’s too late! Corn and summer squash don’t last forever.

7 comments

  1. You know, having worked at both summer camps and an historical society, I’ve cooked in actual cauldrons over fires. It’s really fun, and I kind of miss being able to do that. There’s something about an electric range that is somewhat lacking in mystique.

    I think it’s the fire.

    Yep, definitely the fire.

    Speaking of cauldrons, that skillet full of corn and other chopped up herbs and veggies looks like another little dish we used to cook up in our cauldrons and/or dutch ovens at camp. I’m sure it has many names, but we called it rumtumditty, and it involved corn, diced onions, bell peppers, and other assorted things… all thrown together in a large pot over the fire, stirred… with some of that gov’ment American Cheese Product tossed in at the end to make it stick together. Disgusting as it sounds, it was really good, and the kids used to fight over the leftovers.

    (On a side note, I also played the First Witch in Macbeth back in college, and I have to say that even tossing random weird things into a cauldron full of dry ice and water wasn’t as fun as tossing things into a stew pot. (; )

  2. Wonderful post in so many ways. Now I know what to do with the corn & squash sitting in my fridge. And I love your analogy of a good recipe as an “enchanted spell.” I never thought of it that way, but that’s perfect! I’ve been enjoying your blog for quite a while now… thanks for the delightful opportunities to glimpse the world (and exclusive restaurants) vicariously (e.g., I so enjoyed my armchair trip to the Eastern Meditteranean).

    P.S. Melissa – I remember that dish from my girl scout days also. We called it “Camper’s Special.” Our version involved browning ground beef with the vegetables, and combining it with separately cooked-up macaroni & cheese (the boxed variety). It was delicious!

  3. Teehee!

    Our meat-ed version was called “Camper Stew”… which made for many, many jokes about just what was actually going into said stew.

    Being the program director, I got “invited” to many, many cookouts, and I remember having to stop a couple of counselors one year from calling it “Soylent Green Stew”… not that I didn’t find it funny, but because I was worried that we’d get phone calls from parents. (;

  4. That was just so wonderful. For those of us who live, breathe, and yes, eat to cook and create that magic, you just nailed it. We are drawn to the art of writing recipes, imagining the magic and sometimes we get to be surprised by what flies out of that cauldron. Thank you for that one, Adam.

  5. Love the Shakespearean homage…and the metaphor. And YES!…the ‘charmed pot’, but sometimes in my kitchen, it’s more like ‘pandemonium in a pot’!

  6. Thanks to this post I made this dish tonight. I get a box of organic veggies each week from Urban Organic and I keep avoiding the squash – just throwing it away when it goes bad because I have never liked squash. Tonight I decided to bite the bullet, make this dish and it was delicious. None of the squishiness that I usually hate about squash. Thank you Adam! you have redeemed a vegetable for me!

  7. Heya — Just to let you know I thought this post was perfect for a round-up of easy veggie-centric suppers over at A Veggie Venture where we cook a vegetable in a new way every day. Thanks for the inspiration! Alanna

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