Spaghetti with Crispy Chickpeas and Preserved Lemon

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Tom Colicchio’s always like “you didn’t develop any flavor” on Top Chef and most people are probably like “what’s he talking about?” My quick answer is: “He’s talking about making things brown.”

Generally speaking, when you’re cooking something, you want it to turn brown (or, to use a prettier word, you want it to “caramelize.”) What that really comes down to is taking things further than you might otherwise feel comfortable. The hard part is if you take them too far, there’s no going back. So you’ve gotta get in there, hover over the pan, but don’t hover too much–if you stare, you’ll be tempted to stir, and that stops the browning. It’s a delicate dance, developing flavor, but if you do it the right way you can create a dish that’s way more dynamic than it has any right to be–like this dish of spaghetti with crispy chickpeas and preserved lemon.

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Psychedelic Purple Risotto

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Cooking is a lot like writing in many ways; the further along I get as both a writer and a cook, the more I notice the similarities. For example, in both writing and cooking, clarity is key. You can fill a sentence with lots of high-falutin words, just like you can fill a dish with lots of high-falutin ingredients, but if the idea doesn’t come across, then you’ve wasted your time. Another similarity? Breaking the rules. It’s fine to break the rules in both writing and cooking–see: Pale Fire, the Cronut–but you’ve got to know the rules before you break the rules. And so it was that on Sunday, I had some purple carrots from my CSA, along with asparagus and red wine, and I decided to go bonkers making something I know how to make very well: risotto.

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Penne with Bacon and Flageolet Beans

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What’s with me and pasta? No, seriously, I’m really asking: how can I eat so much of it and never get tired of it? Sometimes I think it’s my own personal Rosebud, because my earliest food-related memories involve sitting at a little yellow plastic table on a gray carpet in front of the big TV, eating fusilli with Prego on top. Am I trying to recreate the innocence of childhood? Perhaps. Or maybe it’s just that pasta is so versatile and, more importantly, once you know the rules of how to make it–undercooking your pasta in well-salted water, then finishing it in the sauce, taking off the heat when almost all the liquid’s absorbed, and finishing with raw olive oil and grated cheese–it’s just one of the most impressive, delightful things you can make at home.

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Summertime Pasta with Squash and Corn

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Looks can be deceiving. For example, the picture you see above probably looks pretty good, but not the kind of thing you’re going to e-mail to all of your friends with the subject “!!!!” and the message, “OH MY GOD WE HAVE TO MAKE THIS.”

That’s a shame because, the thing is, if you could taste a bite of the picture above, fresh out of the pan, exploding with sweet corn flavor, given depth by nicely browned squash, married all together with a pat of butter, you’d be doing cartwheels down the street, eager to get all of the ingredients to make this yourself. It’s the best bite of summer I’ve had so far, and it’s a surprising way to use ingredients that normally wind up on the grill or in a salad.

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Spaghetti with Purple Cauliflower Sauce

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Unpacking my first CSA box felt a bit like opening presents on Christmas morning. (Note: I’m Jewish but I date a non-Jew, so I know what I’m talking about.) There was the going to bed the night before, knowing the box would arrive the next day; the anticipation, getting out of bed that next morning, going to the front door; and the actual physical pleasure of tearing open the box to finally see what was inside it. You already know the answer from my CSA post, but the most delightful surprise was a head of purple cauliflower. I’d never cooked with purple cauliflower before and I loved the challenge of building a dinner around it.

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Spicy Chicken Meatballs with Fusilli

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My life in New York was all about the newest and latest cookbooks, poring through them at The Strand and carefully calculating which ones were worth the price of purchase. In L.A., though, I’m all about finding old, tattered cookbooks at used book stores, both at Counterpoint Records in Franklin Village and Alias Books East in Atwater Village. At the latter, recently, I came upon The Campanile Cookbook which was written by two of America’s greatest chefs back when they were married: Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton. The recipe that sold me instantly is the one I’m about to share with you now.

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Spaghetti with Sun Gold Tomato Sauce

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Look, I can’t pretend it’s autumn here in L.A. To be blunt: it’s as summery as it was in July, though the mornings and evenings are cooler. The telltale sign is what I’m seeing at the farmer’s market: sure, there’s kabocha squash–and I made a very excellent risotto out of it–but, way more present still are heirloom tomatoes, eggplants, basil and all of those sum sum summertime ingredients. If I were a disingenuous food blogger, I could pretend I was crunching through falling leaves, sipping cider and humming the theme from “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” Instead, I’m going to share this amazing recipe from last week’s trip to the farmer’s market despite its unavoidable summeryness.

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Kabocha Squash Risotto

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Usually I have a gage in my head that lets me know how good the dinner I’m making is going to be. At some point, while prepping this Kabocha Squash Risotto (based on this one in Bon Appetit), I figured it would be pretty good but not great. Several reasons: the squash, which you pan-fry before adding to the risotto, came out a little mealy and dry. And instead of making my own stock, I took the recipe’s advice and used Swanson vegetable broth. I figured on a scale from 1 to 10, this risotto would be a 6. How wrong I was. This risotto was hands down one of the best risottos I’ve ever made–an absolute 11–and everyone I fed it to went nuts for it. What made it so good? Let’s examine.

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