Remember the end of The Goonies, when the Goonies reunite with their parents and they’re rattling off all of the things that happened to them on their adventure? And Data says, “The octopus was very scary,” even though there wasn’t an octopus, though technically there was an octopus, it was just cut from the movie?
That’s how it feels to tackle an epic recipe. And when it comes to epic recipes, the reigning queen on my bookshelf is Nancy Silverton. Her Frito Pie — which was a three day process — is still one of my proudest culinary moments. That recipe, like the one I’m about to tell you about, comes from her Mozza at Home, a cookbook that doesn’t get enough praise, possibly because it’s affiliated with a restaurant, even though it’s one of the best cookbooks on my shelf. (Put it on your list.)
On Monday and Tuesday of this week, we had toast for dinner. Now when I say “toast for dinner,” you may be imagining a stale piece of bread, smeared with a little butter and jam. That wouldn’t be a very filling dinner, now, would it?
No, the toasts that I made for dinner were hearty affairs; so filling, in fact, we almost couldn’t finish them. Consider them close cousins of bruschetta; they’re the kinds of toasts that you see sometimes at trendy restaurants, like ABC Kitchen in New York which serves a famous butternut squash toast. The premise is simple: a very thick slice of bread, toasted until very dark around the edges, and then topped with something rich and decadent.
Some of you may know that my husband Craig is a director. Last week he went back to work, directing four episodes of our friend Ryan O’Connell’s Emmy-nominated Netflix show Special. The protocols on set are intense, as they should be during Covid. Craig gets tested almost every morning, he wears an N95 mask all day, and when he gets home after a thirteen hour day he’s super tired because of all the extra rigamarole Covid’s causing.
That’s where I enter the picture. I remember one of the first cookbooks that I ever bought was Nigella Lawson’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess and, even though I have my own work to do during the day (I have a few projects in the works!), at night I’ve blossomed as a true domestic diva. Here are the five dinners that I made last week each night that Craig came home from work. They certainly made our week better, maybe they’ll help with yours.
Okay, we have a week left of summer and I’m milking it for everything it’s worth. Right now I have peaches ripening in my fruit bowl and I’m going to make peach ice cream, probably the last ice cream I’ll make for a while. It’s not that summer truly ends here in L.A. — if anything it keeps going and going and going — but at some point, as a seasonally-focused home cook, you’ve gotta embrace the calendar. So right now it’s tomato salads galore; next week it’ll be pumpkin bread.
And a great transitional dish? Caponata. “What’s caponata?” you ask. Think ratatouille with the dial turned up to eleven. Instead of a bunch of stewed summer vegetables, you have deeply browned eggplant, earthy celery, briny capers, and then red wine vinegar, sugar (yes, there’s sugar), and white wine. It’s sort of like an eggplant pickle but also an eggplant salad and also an eggplant condiment.
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.”
Anyhoo, I realize that many of you may have been intimidated by the idea of stovetop charring. “Put an eggplant on my stovetop?” said an old granny who reads my blog. “Not in my house!” Here, granny, is a smart alternative.
Sometimes you don’t want to cook, you just want to play with fire. I bet many chefs would admit as much (see: guys and grilling, for example). The other day, still on the hunt for our next apartment (a tedious hunt, by the way) I found myself, in a trance, wandering into my kitchen, turning on the gas stove, and holding a skinny Japanese eggplant over the flame with tongs. Was I having a serial killer moment? Maybe. But I’d learned this technique from Chef Anita Lo while writing my cookbook.