A year or two ago, though, I developed a dinner that feels like a pasta dinner that isn’t a pasta dinner, it’s a polenta dinner. I take whole sausages, brown them in olive oil, add onions and garlic to the pan, make a quick tomato sauce, and braise the sausages in there. Meanwhile, I cook a pot of polenta at the same time.
Drinking before you cook has its benefits. For starters, it loosens you up; makes you less anxious about whether the salmon will sear perfectly or the Étouffée will be an Étoufail. On the flip side, drunk cooking might lead to cooking accidents and/or a viral web series.
On weekends, I like to enjoy a good cocktail before heading into the kitchen. My favorite, these days, is a White Negroni: equal parts Gin, Cocchi Americano, and this orange-flavored Amaro we get here in L.A. called Amaro Angeleno. It was after imbibing an especially potent version of this favorite drink that I decided to do something truly wild: I decided to stuff vegetables with random things that I had in my fridge and then to bake them in tomato sauce.
The other day I bought a package of Hickory Smoked Sausage (at Cookbook, I told you I’d be talking about that place a lot) and it came with four sausages that I stretched out over two dinners, both of which — if I do say so myself — were pretty terrific.
The first involved serving the sausage as its own thing, which almost made me do it as a separate post since the corn salad that I served along with it was really the star. Let me tell you how I made it.
As far as arrivals to one of my dinner parties go, last night was maybe the most dramatic of all time. I was making a chicken and sausage dish from Nancy Silverton’s under-appreciated cookbook Mozza at Home (I seriously consider it one of the best cookbooks to come out in recent years) and I’d cranked the oven up to 450, despite the fact that some of the liquid had spilled on to the oven floor. Well! That liquid sent PLUMES of smoke out of the oven, so much so that two things happened: all four smoke alarms in our apartment started going off; and the air became noxious with the scents of vinegar and burning. Which is exactly when our guests arrived.
The last time (and only time) I’ve ever made cassoulet, it was a bit of a Noah’s Ark affair. There was duck, there was sausage, there was bacon. My cup, quite literally, was runneth over with meat and beans. Cassoulet is meant to be a hefty dish and, as a general rule, the bigger your cooking vessel, the better off you’ll be. This time around, I thought I was in good shape making Donald Link’s Pork Belly and Smoked Sausage Cassoulet from his Down South cookbook. There were only two meats to worry about, pork belly and smoked sausage, and only one pound of dried white beans. This time I’d have my cassoulet under control.
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.”
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.
Last week I was going to share with you a great weeknight recipe I came up with involving chicken sausage from Trader Joe’s (the garlic and herb flavor), mirepoix–that’s carrots, onions and celery for you amateurs–and white beans. That was it. Then, a week later, I made it again, only this time I added kale and suddenly a super casual dinner took on some oomph. This was a dinner that people might really want to make on a weeknight, that’s tasty but also healthy and surprisingly flavorful with the addition of a secret ingredient at the end which I won’t tell you about until after the jump. Ok fine, I’ll tell you: it’s lemon juice. And it works wonders.