There’s a certain type of cooking that I excel at and it’s called “I just got back from a trip and what do I have in my fridge?” cooking. Usually, when I get back from somewhere, I’m too fatootsed to go food shopping, so I either (a) give in and order take-out from Pine and Crane, our favorite take-out spot; or (b) take a culinary swing with what whatever I have around. Last night after getting back from Santa Barbara, I went for option B.
One of the cruelest things food writers have asked innocent home cooks to do is to make pesto in a mortar and pestle. Yes, I know, Italian grandmothers do this instead of pilates; yes, I know, it yields a texture that’s so silky you want to rub it all over your body and wear it as a dress. I get that. But for most people, the idea of making pesto in a mortar and pestle just makes them not want to make pesto. And that’s a shame! Because pesto is one of the most terrific things you can make at home, especially if you make in the summer.
Following a recipe can sometimes feel like you’re on a mad voyage with a crazed captain determined to set your kitchen ablaze in a quest to capture that ephemeral, culinary white whale.
“Are you out of your mind?” I wanted to yell at Melissa Clark, whose Pasta with Caramelized Peppers and Anchovies inspired this particular dinner. “Put the anchovies in the hot oil first? Before the peppers?! And use a whole jar?” The spatter coated not just the whole pan, but the tea kettle next to it and my entire stove top. I was ready to jump overboard. But the resulting dinner had Craig aflutter, moaning “Oh my God” upon taking the first bite. As a person who makes pasta on a biweekly basis (in the two-times-a-week sense), this may be the most potently flavorful pasta I’ve ever drummed up in my kitchen.
Pour one out, if you will, for the imported Italian bowl that you see above: I bought it on eBay a few years ago, it was my pride and joy, and yesterday — after doing the dishes — I was putting ramekins away high up in a cabinet and one of them fell and broke my most treasured kitchen possession. There are now two broken off pieces and my friend Rebecca gave me a Kintsugi kit, but it’ll never be the same.
Thankfully, its last night on this earth was a happy one (and, for the record, it has a twin in case you see the bowl again!). Happy because of this pasta which I made using frozen peas, a little butter, scallions, and lots of Parmesan. These are all things you should have in your fridge and freezer anyway: frozen peas (they’re better than fresh peas!), Parmesan cheese (guilty secret: I buy the good stuff, but already grated… don’t @ me), butter (I’m going through a Kerrygold phase), and scallions, which are excellent on eggs, in salads, and, as you’re about to see, pasta.
I’m not the world’s biggest zucchini fan. It’s fine: I like it in bread, I guess I like it in a salad. Maybe on a pizza?
But there’s one recipe from my archives that really made zucchini come alive for me. That’s this side dish of Zucchini with Almonds from The Red Cat in New York. Here’s what you do: you sauté slivered almonds in olive oil and just as they start to get toasty you add a bunch of sliced zucchini. Add a big pinch of salt, toss all around, and serve right away with a squeeze of lemon.
As much as I like cooking for other people, I REALLY like cooking for myself. It’s a chance to really tap into how I’m feeling in a particular moment, what I’m craving, and then to give myself exactly that.
There’s an actual an art to knowing what you want (believe me, I talk about it a lot in therapy). And one thing that I almost always want is pasta. If you’ve been following me for any period of time, you’ve probably noticed that I make a lot of it. Why pasta? Why is that my thing? I think it’s a blank canvas deal: you can dress pasta up any way that you want. Craving meat? Make a meaty pasta. Craving cheese? Make a cheesy pasta. And on Saturday night I was craving vegetables, so I decided to make a veggie-heavy pasta.
People who meet me are often surprised when I describe myself as an introvert. On the surface, I come across as outgoing, exuberant even, but secretly I find human interaction to be very exhausting. Craig, on the other hand, finds human interaction to be incredibly stimulating. Not a surprise, then, that he describes himself as an extrovert. (We once read an article that said that introverts lose energy when they’re around people and that extroverts gain energy when they’re around people, and that made total sense to us.)
And yet, nothing is ever so completely black and white. Despite being mostly introverted, I still enjoy going out (especially to restaurants, surprise surprise) and despite being mostly extroverted, Craig can really enjoy a night in. Which is why, last Saturday when he flew back from New York, we had to have a discussion about our evening. A group of friends were going out and we were invited. I bought ingredients to make a delicious dinner. Craig’s ideal evening was for me to make the dinner and then for us to go out with these friends. My ideal evening was to make the dinner and to lay on the couch watching Project Runway. Ultimately, I gave Craig a choice: (1) we could go out and meet these friends, but if we did that, I’d want to go out to dinner first so I wouldn’t be smelly and also so I’d be motivated to go out; or (2) I could make this delicious dinner, but then we’d have to stay in. Craig puzzled it over for a second and then chose the only acceptable option considering that I’d gone shopping and that I’m his husband and really he’d been away for a week so of course he’d want to stay in, Option 2.
You’re going to start calling me a broken record on here. In fact, me saying that “I’m a broken record on here” feels like something I’ve said before.
Essentially, I’m going to hit a few of the same themes in this post I’ve been hitting lately: (1) watching cooking shows on PBS; (2) going to McCall’s Meat and Fish. Let’s start with PBS. I watch all of the cooking shows on PBS to get ideas and recently I was watching one I’ve never watched before, Nick Stellino’s show. He’s a jovial Italian man who speaks with a thick Italian accent and with lots of enthusiasm for the food he makes. Recently, he was extolling the virtues of his wife’s pasta. Her trick? She stirs ricotta in at the end. I made a mental note to try that someday. That someday happened on Tuesday night.