Memorize this fact about apple pie making, and you’ll be set for life: it’s not about the recipe, it’s about your state of mind.
That nugget comes from Craig’s dad, the master of apple pie (see here), who’s said to me, in the past: “I think you’re overthinking it.” And in the past I had overthought it over and over again. But the truth is once you understand the WHY of everything, the rest takes care of itself. And that’s what helped me produce the best apple pie I’ve ever made, the one you see above.
Talking about the best way to cook farro is a bit like talking about the best place to have a colonoscopy; useful information, perhaps, but not anything to get excited about. Hey, I shared your feelings until I had the privilege of cooking with the great American chef Suzanne Goin at the LA Times Book Festival last April. Right in front of my eyes, she prepared a farro salad with a garlic and parsley dressing that wasn’t punishing in any way; in fact, it was quite the opposite: light and herbal and fluffy and fragrant. The most shocking part? The highlight was the farro itself; each grain stood apart and was both tender and toothsome in a way most farro isn’t. I knew I had to learn the Suzanne Goin method for making it.
If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know I tend to make a huge stink about pie dough. How I can’t roll it out, how I don’t have the magic touch (like Craig’s dad), how even after learning all of the rules–keep things cold, move the dough around as you roll it–it rarely works out for me.
Well, the other day I had a breakthrough. It went something like this: I saw ripe nectarines and plums from my CSA on the counter and realized they were just on the verge of becoming overripe. So I decided to whip up a crostata and I told myself not to think too much about it.
I’m a pie fool which isn’t the same thing as being a fool for pie. Julie Klausner recently pointed out in her podcast that Jews are cake people, Christians are pie people. From my own life experience, I find that to be true: my Jewish parents and grandparents, when at a social gathering, would put out cake. My dad would eat Entenmann’s crumb cake or lemon coconut cake at home for breakfast or dessert. I can’t recall a single time that a pie ever made an appearance at my house in my childhood. Whereas Craig, who grew up in a Christian family in Bellingham, Washington, ate pie. His dad makes a killer apple pie; pie is part of the fabric of their existence. Which is probably why when I make a cake, I could eat the whole thing and Craig will have a little slice; when I make a pie (especially apple), he goes nuts for it.
Last weekend, I decided to make a very ambitious breakfast of poached eggs on roasted potatoes with Hollandaise sauce. It took a whole carton of eggs (three for the Hollandaise, four for poaching and the rest for throwing away after the yolks bled into the whites) but the resulting dish, as you can see, was pretty dazzling. It’s the kind of breakfast that makes you, the chef, feel proud and triumphant, roaring with the might of a culinary lion. “I made that!” you keep saying to yourself, reluctant to disturb the plate with a fork. “I really made that.”
“Yes,” says your companion, digging in.
“I’m a culinary lion!” you continue. “Rawwwwwwwwr!!”
In the comments for the perfect steak video I linked to yesterday (which is already a big hit, thanks for watching it!) someone wrote: “What is w/ the spoon? Where [are] your tongs?” It’s a great question because it IS a little unusual to flip your steak over with a spoon, isn’t it? The answer is that I got the spoon idea directly from the chef, Chris Lim, who uses a spoon in almost all of his kitchen activities. Think about it: with a spoon, you can flip the steak over, you can baste it with the fat, you can taste the accompanying sauce, you can stir in another ingredient, and you can neatly deliver the sauce to the plate. A spoon, used well, is a powerful cooking tool, especially when you’re making steak.
The pasta you see above may call to you and cause you to eat your computer screen, but don’t be fooled. Before I put that pasta through Amateur Gourmet Pasta Rehab, it was a bland, boring mess. Two ingredients came from the farmer’s market: fresh corn and basil. The corn, as I should’ve guessed this time of year, wasn’t very sweet (even though it was advertised as sweet corn). The recipe (which you can read here) came from Michael Chiarello who is that suave-looking guy on the Food Network. I don’t blame him for this pasta being bland, but–strangely enough–I do blame him for the Arab-Israeli conflict. Go figure.
So I’ve had this experience before: the pasta’s in the pot boiling away (in properly salted water) and you’re making the sauce and you taste the sauce and it tastes pretty excellent and then you take the pasta out just before it’s done to finish cooking in the sauce (an essential step, I think, so the pasta and sauce are united as one) and then once you’ve turned the heat up and let the liquid all evaporate (when the pasta and sauce are united as one, you should be able to drag a wooden spoon across the bottom of the saute pan and just see the bottom of the pan) you taste and it’s pretty bland. That’s what happened with this pasta. Some might’ve fallen on their knees and screamed out, “Why!! Why, God, why!?” and then broke out into “Why God Why” from Miss Saigon but not me. Here’s what you do to make bland pasta better:
1. Add salt. Well, duh. But this is a tricky step. At this point, there should already be salt in the pasta (from the cooking water) and in the sauce itself because, before you added the pasta, you properly salted it. So if you add too much salt here, there’s no going back. So a light sprinkling, a stir and taste: better? Don’t overdo it, especially if you’re going to add cheese.
2. Grate lots of Parmesan or Pecorino into a bowl. I say into a bowl because if you do it directly over the pasta, it’ll quickly melt and you’ll forget how much you added. So I grate a big bowl full of cheese and then scatter the cheese over the pasta while it’s still in the pan, stir it through and taste. That’s key for pasta rehab: taste taste taste after each step! How does it taste now with the cheese? Less bland? Need more salt? After steps 1 and 2, salinity should not be an issue. The rest of the steps will just help with bumping up the flavor.
3. Grind some pepper over it.
4. Sprinkle some red pepper flakes over it.
5. Give it a drizzle of olive oil. Yes, that last step may seem strange but it’s a VERY Italian thing to do as I’ve seen Mario do it on TV, I’ve read Marcella Hazan’s instructions to do that and then, of course, Dominic DeMarco does it to the pizza at Di Fara. The cold olive oil provides an uncooked fruity olive oil finish to what should be, by now, a very delicious pasta.
Stir that through and taste again. How did we do? Use any of the ingredients in steps 1 through 5 to fix whatever problems your pasta has. If it still tastes bland, you must’ve done something really wrong. Maybe pasta isn’t your thing. Maybe you should take up knitting?