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.
Necessity is the mother of invention (its Baby Mama, if you will) and so it was that a few weeks ago I had carrots, onions, celery, and some Arborio rice on hand and because I didn’t feel like food shopping that evening, I set out to make a risotto with just water. I’ve told you about this before; it’s something I saw Lidia do on TV, so you know it’s legit. You just bring a big pot of water to a boil, add salt, and then make risotto like you’d normally make risotto, only using the salted water instead of chicken broth. The key is to finish it with some butter and lots of cheese. It’s good stuff.
But I’m not here to tell you about making risotto with water. I’m here to tell you about what you can do with the leftover risotto the next day.
Look, let’s be honest, I make a really good radicchio salad. That may not mean much to most people because radicchio isn’t one of those vegetables that gets anyone excited. It’s bitter. It’s red. It’s red and bitter. What’s the big deal? Well: I like to serve it before a big, heavy dinner to wake up the palate–sort of like a vegetable Negroni. Only my vegetable Negroni has anchovies and garlic in it. So, actually, let’s forget that Negroni bit and focus on how I make it.
When a significant other goes out of town, most people use that opportunity to watch bad movies, to pig out on ice cream, and to spread out gratuitously in bed while sleeping. Me? I make risky foods. No, I don’t mean risky in a danger sense–I’m not eating supermarket ground beef tartar–I mean in a “will this be good?” sense. I take bigger chances when Craig’s not here because if I screw up, no one’s there to scrunch up their nose. So on Saturday morning, when I woke up and wanted breakfast, I opened Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich Book and studied the recipe for a sandwich that she says is Mari Batali’s favorite. It’s basically boiled eggs on arugula doused in Bagna Cauda. I didn’t have any bread and I didn’t have any arugula, but I did have the ingredients to make Bagna Cauda. And eggs. And, also–somewhat weirdly–farmer’s market Brussels Sprouts. An idea was born.
Cooking, sometimes, is like a game. The game changes from dish to dish, but often, for me, the game is: How Can I Make This Better Without Leaving My Apartment?
This is a fun game to play, especially when you’re making something as pedestrian as an egg salad sandwich. You boil the eggs, you peel them, then you put them into a bowl and look at them. That’s when the game starts.
Last night, before I fell asleep, I tried to remember all the phases of my 21 hours of travel from the previous day.
I took a bus from the Bellingham airport to the Seattle airport where I rode a mini-train to my gate, waited three hours (during which I bought a Snickers bar which I saved for the plane) and as I finally boarded, I was told that my overstuffed suitcase was too overstuffed to fit in the overhead. During the flight, I had a middle seat but it was in an exit row, which is kind of a mixed blessing. I read a George Saunders story in last week’s New Yorker, which I highly recommend. When I landed in Washington, D.C. (the only place I could fly to make it home to New York before January 3rd), I rode another mini-train to the baggage claim where I was told that I was at Dulles airport which is 25 miles from D.C. proper.
White food is supposedly unappetizing. Tom Colicchio, on “Top Chef,” will mark down a plate of food if everything on it is white or beige. I see his point: there’s something almost clinical about a plate of white food. That’s why parsley’s such a useful ingredient to have around; it’s an easy color-solution, the flecks of green create a vibrancy and sparkle a plain plate of white food just doesn’t have.
That said, there’s always one plate of white food that makes me smile. It makes me smile because it’s white food with a secret; a plate of white food that explodes with flavor. And that, faithful readers, is my Heaven & Hell Cauliflower Pasta.
Anyone who grew up in the 80s watching “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” will recall a very specific phrase that kicks in whenever the characters decide to order a pizza. I feel like you hear this phrase in “E.T.” when Eliot’s brother has friends over for poker and maybe in an episode of “Facts of Life” where Blaire learns the perils of superficiality. Either way, the phrase is emblematic of its time, not something you often hear today. The phrase is: “Hold the anchovies.”