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.
My friend Toby spent a summer in Bologna during college and over the past few weeks (months?) he’s been talking to me about going to this new Italian restaurant in downtown L.A. called Rossoblu that cooks food from the region. “Yes, we should totally go!” I said in that tone that suggests that there’s a good chance this will never happen. Mind you, I love Toby and I loved the idea of going to a new Italian restaurant in downtown L.A., but the logistics seemed a little tricky. For starters: driving downtown, that’s not fun. Plus I make a lot of pasta at home, did I really need to pay for it at a restaurant? And reading about it online, it sounded very heavy (fried bread? lots of meats and cheese?). But then it was Toby’s birthday and I said, “We should go to Rossoblu!” in a tone that suggested I really meant it. So last night, we finally went.
Remember that time that I was a full-time food blogger? And I had the nerve to say things like: “You can cook after work! It’s easy.” Well I’d like to take that person, pin him against a wall, and say: “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Because now that I have a full-time job, I come home happily exhausted (I love where I’m working) and the idea of making a big mess in the kitchen at 6:45 PM (when I get home) and then cleaning it up holds very little appeal to me on a weekday night. So the picture you see above is my saving grace: Dune Falafel is on the other side of Atwater Village from me, so my new favorite thing is to come home, give the cat some treats, and to go for a 20 minute walk along GlenFeliz Blvd to procure the hummus plate you see above (it really is the most dazzling hummus plate I’ve ever experienced). And then, every so often, I do manage to make a dinner.