Archives for category: pasta

My mom bought two copies of the New York Times Cookbook a few years ago, one for me and one for her. I’ve probably only made two recipes from it since then, but I lugged it to bed for months to read the headnotes, which are universally fascinating.

there's a couch in the kitchen
cats steam and speed
tofu browning

Where would I be without takeout-style sesame noodles? The last time we made it was at the West Point Inn, and we carried the pre-made sauce in an empty jar of B-12 vitamins up Mt. Tam, in one of our backpacks. I had splurged on a packet of Hodo Soy seasoned baked tofu, which slices into these perfectly dense and creamy ribbons.

jut mt tam

Tonight we ate it with a pickled cucumber salad and braised tofu. I find myself saying what my dad always did when I was a kid: “There isn’t anyone in [Hartford] eating this well tonight.” You’re supposed to toss the cucumbers with the pasta and sesame sauce, but it’s easier just to eat them on the side. I’m not that good with my tongs. I forgot the chopped peanuts for the top of the noodles. Don’t forget the peanuts.

welcome to hartford

Takeout-style Sesame Noodles
this is the recipe

It’s so good that I double the sauce and use 16 oz. dried pasta instead of the 16 oz. fresh. (They recommend that you chop the garlic and ginger by hand, presumably because you live in nyc and have no counter space for a Cuisinart, but just throw everything in the hopper and be done with it.) I like the dish best with the “optional” sichuan peppercorns.

Pickled Cucumber Salad
This was just cukes, sweet onion rings, and a dressing of one part sugar, two parts rice vinegar, and some salt and pepper.

Braised Tofu
I fried 1 cm slices of tofu on each side, then added braising liquid (1/4 C broth, 1/4 C Annie’s Shiitake Dressing, plus some soy sauce). It’s not the perfect braising liquid–a little underseasoned and oily–but I’m currently on a vegan semi-homemade mission, so I’ll keep tinkering with the idea.


peas in a bowl

I’ve always loved peapods, this recipe works fine with the flat kind, but is even crunchier with snap peas. The season is short, on the east coast they disappear after a couple of months, after that, I buy the regular peapods. My daughter loved this dish and asked for it frequently, now she could try it with Asian tofu or some fried tempeh!

peas in a panpeas on a plate

Shrimp and Snap Pea Pasta
serves 2

1/2 lb. cooked medium shrimp
1/2 lb. snap peas
5-10 cloves garlic
1/2 lb. linguine or spaghetti
1/4 C olive oil
salt & pepper
parmesan cheese, optional

Trim snap peas, removing any tough strings, and cut in half on the diagonal.

Rinse shrimp, dry on paper towels.

Chop garlic, 5 cloves will produce a lightly flavored pasta, add more if you like!

lots of garlicdon't push on the pasta

Measure out the olive oil.

Boil sufficient water for the pasta, adding a teaspoon of salt. Add the 1/2 lb pasta, time according to package directions. When there’s 5 minutes of cooking time left, heat a large saute pan. Add the oil, then the garlic, saute a minute or less, add pea pods and shrimp. Saute a minute, turn off the heat – you just want to heat the shrimp and peas, not cook them. Drain pasta and add to the saute pan, sprinkle on salt and pepper, stir around a bit, and serve.

I like some parmesan grated over the top.

Have you had cashew cream? It’s a vegan delight. Vegans like it. Omnivores like it. My cat likes it. (She’s an aspiring vegan–she dragged my chickpea cutlet sandwich to the floor the other day.)

The basis for this dish comes from the Stanford Inn by the Sea, a lodge in Mendocino that I can’t possibly afford. It looks really nice. (Pets are welcome! Though they seem to prefer pot-bellied pigs to cats!) Anyways. Instead of going, Justin and I made their pasta.

Then I made it again for Justine and Travis.

Why yes, that IS a set of russian doll measuring cups!

There are two ways you can go with this recipe. You can be all homestyle, and mix the veggies into the pasta and slop it on a plate (this is what I do). Or you can be fancy, mix the pasta with the sauce, plate it, and then gently arrange the veggies on top (I don’t do this). I will say, however, that the deliciousness of the sauce has a lot to do with the wine you buy. There’s a full cup in this recipe, and you boil it down to boot, so the quality actually matters (I hate to say). I had good results when I used an $8 bottle of sauvignon blanc. I’d say don’t go under $5-6.

I’d also say you should try this especially if you haven’t made a cashew cream before. I don’t really love cashews–but they make a really shocking cream when you blitz them with water. Try it–you may find you don’t need to long after alfredos anymore. I upped the vegetables and added mushrooms for a little heft, but the sauce alone is brilliant–creamy, very savory, almost unctuous.

Fettuccini with Black Pepper Sauce, Asparagus, and Oyster Mushrooms
adapted from Ravens Restaurant (recipe in Vegetarian Times)
serves 4

1 C raw cashews
1 C water
1 C decent white wine
1 T nutritional yeast
1 T lemon juice
1 garlic clove
1 1/2 t freshly ground black pepper

1 lb. fettuccini
1 bunch spinach, washed and stems removed
1 bunch asparagus, woody ends removed and sliced into 1.5″ pieces
1/3 lb oyster mushrooms, pulled into bite-sized pieces
1 t olive oil

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a handful of salt.

Blend the cashews, water, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, and garlic in a blender or food processor until smooth. Strain out any solids using a fine mesh strainer (if you have one of those conical ones they use on Top Chef, use that). Discard the solids and whisk in the pepper. Taste for salt–it needs quite a bit. Start with 1/2 t kosher salt and add from there.

In a small saucepan over medium high heat, simmer the wine 7-10 mins until reduced to about 1/3 C. Stir in the cashew sauce and set aside.

Time to start cooking the pasta.

Now, in a big skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the spinach and cook until wilted. Stir the spinach into the sauce–this prevents clumps of spinach in the final product. In the same saucepan over medium high heat, saute the mushrooms with a big pinch of salt until soft, about 5 mins. Set them aside. In the same saucepan, crank the heat to high and saute the asparagus for a few minutes, until it’s a little tender and blistered. Set aside.

Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 C of its cooking water. Put the pasta back in the big pot with the asparagus and mushrooms and stir in the cashew sauce. Thin with a little pasta water if needed. Serve immediately.

I saw the recipe for this somewhere, can’t find the original source, made it last weekend and again this weekend, and if I don’t enter it I’ll never be able to recall what’s in it by next summer! It smells like pesto, but has the salty bite of kalamata olives and the sweetness of tomatoes off the vine, and mozzarella for a little low-fat protein. Chicken or shrimp would be good too!

Summer Orzo with Tomatoes, Olives, and Mozzarella
serves 4

1 C orzo pasta (this one from Amber Waves is flat and ovoid, rather than full and pointy)
1/2 pint grape tomatoes
12-15 pitted kalamata olives
small bunch basil, 3 nice tops if you have a plant
1/4 lb. mozzarella, cut in small cubes

2 T olive oil
1 t balsamic vinegar
2 t red wine vinegar
1/2 t salt

Quarter the tomatoes and olives, dice the mozzarella, and chop the basil. Put them all into a large bowl, add the dressing ingredients. Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain and run cold water into the colander to cool the orzo. When it’s thoroughly cooled and drained, add it to the veggies and toss. Garnish with a few small basil leaves. If you use chicken you may need to add more dressing as it will absorb a bit more.

No recipes in two weeks! I have an excuse. Kid went to Washington. One dear friend lives in our nation’s capital, so another dear friend and I journeyed there for a mini college reunion. We ate cupcakes:

And saw columns topped with ears of new world corn:

Back in LA, I am faced with a newly temperate spring–the heat broke while I was away and I feel that turning on the stove is once again a plausible thing to do. I’ve been wanting to share this recipe since we started the blog, but it seemed a little mean to type up a recipe featuring tomatoes and summer squash in the winter, even though I was making this well into December (we loves socal).

The spaetzle I use is made of spelt, and I suspect it is not widely available unless you live in Falmouth and can make a trip to Amber Waves. This is what it looks like:

I recommend seeking it out. It’s totally delicious. But you can also make your own spaetzle! I’ve never done this but you can!

When you use enough butter and olive oil, the fresh tomatoes and squash melt into a pretty luscious sauce, one that you’d be happy to eat on whatever pasta remainders are lurking in the back of your cabinet. But I think it’s most special on spaetzle.

Spaetzle and Patty Pans with Fresh Tomato Sauce
inspired by things i ate that i love
serves 4

I had no patty pans this time, so I used regular yellow squash. Obviously you can use zucchini if you like; I prefer the red/yellow color combo to red/green but use what you have. You want roughly the same amount of tomatoes and squash.

2 T butter
2 T olive oil, divided
one small onion, chopped
4-5 yellow patty pans (or 2-3 yellow squash)
4-5 tomatoes
1/2 lb. egg spaetzle
1/2 C grated parmesan or pecorino, plus more for serving
kosher salt and fresh pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter and 1 T olive oil. Add the onions and a big pinch of kosher salt and saute until translucent. While the onions cook, slice up your squash. If you’re using regular yellow squash, half them the long way and then slice them into half coins that are about a quarter inch thick. If you’re using patty pans, just slice them into whatever size you like–they don’t slice up as uniformly but they’re cute so I forgive them.

When the onions are soft, add the squash and another big pinch of kosher salt. Grind some pepper over the onions and squash and saute for few minutes. Meanwhile, dice up the tomatoes into rough one-inch cubes. Add them, skins and seeds and all, to the skillet and stir to combine. (If your farmers’ market sells ugly dented tomatoes, buy them! This is what they’re for.) Salt and pepper the sauce one more time and and turn the heat to high. As the tomatoes cook they’ll release some water, at which point you can turn the heat to medium, let the sauce simmer, and pay attention to the spaetzle.

Dump the spaetzle into the salted boiling water and cook according to the package directions. Drain, and add to the sauce when most of the tomato water has boiled off and the tomatoes have started to disintegrate. Toss together with the remaining 1 T of olive oil and grated cheese. Stir and serve immediately with more cheese and maybe a little fresh basil sprinkled on top.

Also called maccheroni with zucchini. Or, as it was dubbed last night, zucchini carbonara.

This recipe is from my hero, Lidia, whose suggestions I almost always take. But when she says “Get yourself a chitarra!,” I balk. Apparently you can’t make maccheroni without a chitarra (which sounds like a riddle rather than a serious edict). A chitarra is, as it sounds, a guitar-like thingy that makes pasta strands. You even have to tune it to make sure the strings are taut. Because I’ve never had real maccheroni I don’t know what I’m missing, so I was perfectly happy to use the spaghetti attachment on my Kitchenaid. This is the first in a series of executive decisions that I am sure would get me kicked out of Italy.

The next was my decision to mess with spaghetti carbonara by introducing it to this humble, vegetarian, zucchini-based pasta dish. As far as I can tell this is a grave mistake, and to make it worse I used pre-cubed pancetta–that’s right, pancetta!–from Trader Joe’s. I have learned in recent months that the meat of choice is guanciale but I live in a major city and have never seen it at a store. And I go to a lot of food stores. So there’s that mistake.

I saw an episode of No Reservations where Anthony Bourdain was in Rome, eating spaghetti carbonara, and some hot shot prep cook at the restaurant wanted to make a version of the dish with a couple zucchini flowers in it. Let’s remember for a moment that zucchini flowers have next to no flavor, and are quite pretty. The owner freaked. I don’t really know what the guy said–his angry eyes were too scary for me to focus on the subtitles–but the jist seemed to be that, ok, fine, you can do that, but if you do I will passive-aggressively stare at you the whole time, silently judging your lax disrespect for the institution of my restaurant, and then if you dare to call it anything that sounds like “carbonara” I will immediately correct your massive mistake.

So I’m sure that what we ate for dinner last night would offend Lidia, that guy, and probably most of Italy. But it was really, really tasty.

You clearly do not have to make your own pasta. (If you do, here’s the ratio: 2 C, or 10 oz., flour, 4 eggs, 1/3 t kosher salt.) You also don’t have to bastardize this dish with the addition of pancetta, though if you are a meat-eater it’s a nice addition.

Otherwise, my edits were minor. I used whole eggs instead of egg yolks for the sauce enrichment, because I don’t like egg whites hanging out the fridge. They’re a bad influence. I dialed back the oniony ingredients a bit–there’s saffron in the recipe and I wanted to keep the flavor competition to a minimum–and I added a little more parsley.

(I know, the pasta is on the bed. We don’t eat on the bed. There is no light in our house. I need to start making dinner at 1PM or something.)

Maccheroni all’Aquilana
serves 4 as a main dish

1/4 t saffron threads
4-5 small zucchini (about 1.5 lbs.), or 1 lb. zucchini and 24 zucchini flowers
2 T olive oil
1 large or 2 small shallots, chopped finely
4 oz. pancetta, diced into small cubes (optional)
3 scallions, sliced thinly
2 t kosher salt
1/4 C chopped parsley
1 lb pasta, or one batch maccheroni
1 C grated pecorino, plus extra for serving

Put the saffron in a spoon and hold it over a low flame. Moving the spoon around, toast the threads until you can smell the saffron. Put it in a small dish with 2 T hot water and let steep.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add a handful of kosher salt along the way.

In a big skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and pancetta and a pinch of salt. Cook for a few minutes until the shallots start to get soft and the pancetta renders some of its fat and starts to brown. Add about 1/2 C of hot water from the pasta pot, and let the shallot keep cooking in the simmering liquid.

Turn the zucchinis into matchsticks. To do this, I sliced them on the biggest setting of my mandolin, and then cut the slices into matchsticks. If you don’t have a mandolin, slice the zucchinis lengthwise into thin strips, the cut the strips into thin matchsticks that are about 2 inches long, says Lidia.

Add the zucchini matchsticks (and the sliced zucchini flowers, if you’re using them) to the skillet, along with the 2 t kosher salt. Stir it all together, and then add the scallions and parsley. Increase the heat to high. The zucchini will start to release water, which will boil off. As this happens, add more water from the pasta pot–up to 2 C Lidia says. I added 1 C at the beginning and it was plenty. Add the saffron water at this point too.

Start cooking your pasta now. If it’s fresh, just do 3 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, whisk the two eggs with the 1 cup of pecorino and a few grinds of fresh pepper. If there’s still liquid in your zucchini pan at this point, ladle it into the eggs to temper them and whisk vigorously. If the zucchini pan is dry now, take 1/2 C from the pasta water and whisk it into the eggs.

When the pasta is done, lift it out of the pot with tongs and add to the zucchini. Toss together. Once the zucchini is distributed among the pasta, take it off the heat, add the eggs in a thin stream, and continue tossing continuously. The residual heat will cook the eggs and turn them into a glossy sauce. If this doesn’t happen, turn the heat on low and keep tossing. Take it off the heat as soon as the eggs start to coalesce into a sauce.

Serve immediately with extra cheese.

This elaborate stack of crepes, greens, bechamel, and cheese is the first thing I ever cooked with Glenn. So it seems appropriate that, a number of years later, I’m making it for his birthday (hi, happy birthday!). What is not appropriate is that because this is a pretty involved recipe I don’t make it very often. When we made it years ago I miscalculated how long it would take. I was imagining 30 or so genial minutes of ambling in the kitchen; what we got was more like 1.5 hours of silent labor. Not a bad thing, but, you know, a little awkward. So be warned: this dish is almost too impressive–not to mention too involved–to make with someone you don’t know very well.

After we made it once and loved it, I decided to add it to my recipe book–just a notebook where I copy out simple recipes or tape in more complicated ones I’ve printed out. But in order to make this one fit in the book I had to use every formatting trick at my disposal. I pasted the recipe into Word, decreased the margins to almost nothing, took out every unnecessary carriage return, reduced the font to 10.5…basically the opposite of what you do when your term paper is too short. (On this note, one of my friends used to add words to the final sentence of each paragraph until it went onto the next line, in order to increase the length of the essay by a half page or so–this is definitely the most ingenious method I know of.) I managed to fit it into the book this way, but reading it is like trying to decipher bad 19th-century cursive.

What makes this dish special–and different from a standard lasagna–is that you make the pasta yourself, in the form of eggy crepes. What also makes it special is that the recipe is practically prefect as-is. When I made it on Friday I fiddled with it, test-kitchen style, assuming that I of course knew how to make it better. I added a shallot to the greens, along with some wine–what lasagna doesn’t need more liquid, delicious liquid?–and thinned the bechamel until it was the texture of alfredo sauce. These would have been good edits if the torta were not so delicately structured. Adding more moisture is pretty much the worst idea ever, as my photos detail. I cropped off the giant landslides of cheese and sauce that slithered down the side when I unmolded the thing, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there. Where a regular lasagna stays in its pan, this torta stands on its own, and too much liquid makes the layers unsound. It ended up being a tasty but rather ugly lesson in the effects of my kitchen hubris.


So the only edit I’m suggesting is a little extra milk in the sauce, and your choice of winter greens. If you use broccoli rabe like the recipe says, then I would take their advice and do that extra annoying step of boiling water, par cooking the greens, flashing them in ice water, and squeezing them dry. A big drag. If you use slightly more tender greens, like kale, chard, or mustard greens, then I advise adding them to the sausage right after you clean them, and letting that extra water steam them. And then, of course, cook the mixture until it’s totally dry. Do it. And if you want a nice looking picture, go to epicurious. Ain’t none of that here.

Also–simply leave out the meat to make this vegetarian. It is still completely worth the effort. On that note–you could just use this flavor profile in a regular lasagna. Get those flat Barilla lasagna noodles, make the sausage and greens filling, and the bechamel, and layer it all together.

Sausage and Broccoli Rabe Torta; or, more humbly, Winter Greens Torta
adapted from Gourmet
serves 5-6 as a main dish


2 large eggs
2/3 C milk
1/2 C flour
1/4 t salt
2 T unsalted butter, melted, for the skillet


3/4 lb. broccoli rabe, or two bunches of assorted greens (I’d advise against red chard because it stains the torta)
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 t red pepper flakes
3 T olive oil
3/4 lb. sweet Italian sausage, casings removed–that’s around 3 sausages


1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/4 C flour
2 C milk
1/4 t salt
1/4 t pepper
1/2 C finely grated parmesan

Putting it together:

1/4 lb. Fontina cheese, coarsely grated (1 C)
1/2 C finely grated parmesan

** you’ll also need an 8-inch round springform pan **


Using an immersion blender, regular old blender, or very hearty whisk, mix together eggs, milk, flour, and salt until smooth. Brush a 10-inch nonstick skillet with melted butter pretty lightly–you need less than you think. I’m not sure if a 10-inch nonstick skillet is standard kitchen fare, but mine is 8, which means that my crepes come out a little small for the 8-inch springform pan. If this is the case for you too, tilt the skillet so that the crepe batter runs up the side–this will increase the circumference a bit (though you’re definitely better off just doing what they say, considering the dubious integrity of the torta). After you’ve made one crepe, hold it up to the springform pan bottom. This will give you a sense of how big you need to make the rest of the crepes.

Heat the skilled over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Ladle about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of batter into skillet, tilting and rotating skillet to coat the bottom (and sides, if you’re taking that route). If the batter sets before the skillet is coated, your pan is too hot! Cook until just set and underside is lightly browned, about 30 seconds, then dump the crepe onto a kitchen towel or sheet pan to cool. (It will be cooked on one side only.) Make 5 more crepes with remaining batter, brushing skillet with melted butter as needed–again, this will be less than you think. You can make several before needing to re-butter.

Crepes can be made ahead, wrapped up in plastic wrap and stored in the fridge.


If you’re using broccoli rabe, cut off and discard 1 inch from stem ends, then coarsely chop remainder. Bring a big pot of water to a boil, add a handful of salt and then the broccoli rabe. Cook uncovered until just tender, about 5 minutes. With a big spider spoon, transfer to a large bowl of ice and cold water to stop the cooking. Drain well in a colander and squeeze dry.

Heat a big skillet over medium heat and cook garlic with red pepper flakes in oil, stirring occasionally, until golden–this only takes a minute. Add the sausage (without their casings) and cook until there’s no pink left, about 5 minutes, breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon. Stir in broccoli rabe and toss to coat with sausage until the mix is relatively uniform. Remove from heat.

If you’re using other winter greens instead of broccoli rabe, slice them into 1-inch strips and wash in a big bowl of water. Pick up handfuls of the wet greens and add them to the garlic, red pepper flakes, and cooked sausage. Cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes until the greens are tender and their residual water is evaporated, stirring every few minutes. You want this mixture to be quite dry–if it’s not, crank up the heat.

Filling can be made ahead.


Melt the butter in a 1- to 3-quart heavy saucepan over medium low heat, then add flour and whisk, cooking about 3 minutes. Add milk slowly, whisking all the time, and bring to a boil, still whisking on occasion. Reduce heat and simmer until the sauce gets really thick–and guess what, still whisking on occasion! Stir in salt, pepper, and cheese, then remove from heat. The sauce will be pretty stiff, and this is ok–it acts as tasty glue for the torta.


Preheat oven to 425. Invert bottom of springform pan (the torta will be easier to cut without that ridge in your way), then lock. Wrap outside of entire bottom of springform pan with a double layer of foil. Spray the inside with Pam–or if you’re old school, brush with some of that melted butter from the crepes. Gourmet wants you to sprinkle the bottom with breadcrumbs at this point so that you can slide the torta off the pan when it’s cooked. This seems incredibly unlikely to me, and it serves just fine on the pan. Follow your heart.

Put 1 crepe in the bottom of the springform pan, then sprinkle with one sixth of filling and drizzle with 1/3 cup sauce. Make 5 more layers each of crepe, filling, and sauce (end with a layer of sauce). Don’t worry if you’re unable to spread the sauce evenly over each layer. Dollops will work out in the long run as the torta bakes and the sauce spreads. Mix together the remaining parm and fontina, then sprinkle cheese mixture evenly over top.

Bake, uncovered, until top is bubbling and golden, about 25 minutes (30 minutes if you’re assembling this from cold components that you made ahead). Cool in pan on a rack 15 minutes. Remove side of pan and cut torta into wedges.

This recipe came from Giada De Laurentiis, but I’ve changed it to suit my own tastes. It was just a bit too simple, needed some veggies to give it more texture. There’s enough carbs here so you can cook some chicken or fish, add the salad, and you’ve got dinner.

Israeli Cous Cous Salad
serves 4-6 as a side dish

3 T olive oil plus 1/4 C
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 lemons, juiced, with one zested
12 oz. Israeli cous cous (the big cous cous)
2 1/2 C vegetable broth (or chicken)
1/2 C mint leaves, finely chopped
1/2 cucumber, diced
1/2 red pepper, diced
3 scallions, sliced
1/2 t agave nectar, to taste
salt and pepper to taste

In a saucepan, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic. After 30 seconds or so, add the cous cous and cook for 5 mins, stirring often, until light brown.

Add the stock, carefully, as it will splatter a bit, and the juice of 1 lemon. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 8 mins, stirring from time to time. The stuff will look like glue at this point, I nearly threw it out. Don’t! The recipe said drain the cous cous, drain what I don’t know, so I dutifully put it in a colander but nothing came out. Put the cous cous in a large bowl, add 1/2 the remaining lemon juice and the zest and 1/4 C. olive oil. Let cool, but come by in ten minutes or so and stir it up, as it likes to return to its gluey state. Repeat once more, and let come to room temperature.

Chop up the cucumber, pepper, scallions and mint, and add them to the bowl. Taste for seasoning: salt and pepper, a little more lemon juice, or more likely, some agave nectar or honey. I thought this recipe was a little too acidic, don’t know whether it was the lemons or just the amount of juice, but it needed a little sweetness to counteract the tart.

The original recipe used slivered almonds, mint, basil and dried cranberries for the additions. One or two of these would be a nice addition – you decide. I like lots of veggies, but some nuts would be good too. Pine nuts, pecans.

We haven’t felt much like cooking recently. Actually, my mom may have felt like cooking. She’s been busy. I haven’t been busy, but I also haven’t been cooking a lot. There were some failures–cookies that made me rage, kedgeree that wasn’t totally satisfying, a soup that was a little too heavy. But mostly there were a number of lazy, satisfying meals out. So we haven’t had much to share with you.

Prepare for a flurry of activity. Kid and Nancy are reunited under one roof for the next week, despite apocalyptic weather conditions in my areas of departure and arrival, and Nancy has ordered both a goose and a mail-order ham from northern Wisconsin. Tonight, I re-did a pasta I tried last week–the one recipe I’ve made in the last three weeks that didn’t disappoint me. It’s from Gourmet, oh lost source, from a volume that includes one of our favorite fancy dishes (pretty perfect as is, just thin the sauce a little with extra milk so it’s pourable). I hauled down a few copies last week when I was in the doldrums, in hopes of getting inspired by something. I didn’t really get inspired, but I was intrigued enough to throw this together one night when I was bored and hungry, and that was good enough.

[yes, that’s a refrigerated truck in the background.]

As my dad and I drove in the snow to buy a tree this evening, I remembered that we didn’t have any parsley at home, which, in a recipe this simple, is a bit of a bummer. When I got home and told my mom, she said there was some in the garden. At this moment there are at least six inches of snow hiding the garden (and it’s still snowing) but she gamely trudged out and returned with a fistful of parsley, root attached, miraculously protected from freezing by the snow. A quick wash and we have parsley for the week. Remind me to grow stuff better in the future.

The recipe is dead simple and very tangy–lots of brine and spice. Like a puttanesca, but without the hassle of cooking a sauce. Add a salad, or a sauteed veggie, and you’re ready. Or just carb it out.

Pasta Pseudo Puttanesca
adapted from Gourmet
serves 5-6 as main dish (unless you are really really hungry)

The original recipe calls for about twice the olive oil you need to coat the pasta. If you want the extra, you can drizzle some on top when you serve. Any sort of long pasta works–I tried bucatini the first time and thought it was perfect–chewy and substantial. This time we had what looked like a narrow lasagna noodle–maybe half a centimeter wide with a ruffle all the way down the side. Also pretty great, because that ruffle adds surface area for catching bits of salty stuff.

The red chile flakes make this dish relatively spicy. If you like a milder pasta, use 1/2 t instead of 1 t.

3/4 C olives (3 oz.), pitted (I just get a mix rather than worrying about any particular variety)
1/4 C capers
1/4 C parsley, loosely packed
1/4 C pine nuts, toasted at 350 for 4-5 minutes
1 t red chile flakes
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. dried pasta of some long variety
parmesan for serving

Bring a big pot of water to a boil. Pulse the first three ingredients in a food processor until they’re finely chopped (some chunks are fine, but you want the mix to be pretty fine otherwise). Add the pine nuts and pulse three or four more times, until the pine nuts are coarsely chopped.

Obviously you can do all this by hand, but if you have a food processor this becomes the easiest thing you’ve made all week.

Dump the mix into a really big bowl and add the olive oil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, reserve a cup of the pasta water, and drain. Add the pasta to the big bowl along with some of the pasta water–in the end I needed about 1/3 cup. Toss the sauce with the pasta until coated (I like tongs for this task), adding more pasta water if necessary. Serve immediately with parmesan (until this point the whole thing was vegan and it still could be!).

Although a giant Thanksgiving lunch destroyed any need to taste sage in the coming months, it apparently did not kill my taste for big heavy meals. Because the next day I decided to make spaghetti and meatballs.

I used to be devoted to this recipe, which appealed to me because it was turkey based. In my head, turkey implied health–and that meant these were everyday meatballs. I could eat them every day! And they had enough flavor to make up for the fact that the turkey I used–whatever almost-fat-free variety I could find–basically sucked. I cook meat less often now, so when I do I want it to be a treat. And, as it turns out, rather plain–plain enough that I can actually taste the meat I’ve purchased.

So byebyes to Martha. I enjoyed her recipe, but I’ve moved on. The formula below is monk-like in its seasonings–salt, pepper, cheese. A handful of parsley if you have it, but I didn’t (and didn’t regret it either). A dash of cinnamon–weird, I know. I stole the idea from a Marcella Hazan recipe. My father I’m sure is looking for a chapter in Leviticus that says, Please don’t put sweet spices in my meat. But it doesn’t make the meatballs taste like cinnamon. As Julia Child says about the nutmeg in your bechamel, or whatever, you shouldn’t taste it and think, Mmmm, nutmeg. The cinnamon adds a warm depth that you can’t identify as cinnamon. It just tastes round.

[please note, this is the last picture you’ll see of our stove; it will never be this clean again.]

The thing that distinguishes this meatball recipe from all others is the ratio of meat to bread and liquid. Because you use a lot more liquid than most recipes call for, this meat mash is very loose, bordering on annoying. Add the liquid gradually–you can’t take it out. The mixture should be very moist but able to hold its shape a little. Your meatballs will fall a few degrees short of being cylindrical, but it’s a small price to pay for the tenderest meatballs you’ve ever eaten. So don’t lose hope (or if you’re inclined to lose hope, add less liquid). Because of their constitution these meatballs, like most, have a tendency to stick to the pan a little. Don’t lose hope on that front either–just be wise with your choice of implements (I found a big tablespoon worked well for turning them) and have a sharp spatula on hard for particularly recalcitrant meats.

In keeping with my plain-is-better motto, the sauce is super basic. But it benefits from gently oil-poached garlic cloves (which I buzzed in with my immersion blender) and from the bits of meatball that have stuck to the pan. I asked Glenn to buy vaguely expensive spaghetti on his Whole Foods run, and he obliged–I recommend this. Back in my Martha turkey days, I just used Barilla Plus, my go-to pasta. But if you’re going to the trouble of mixing meats, fretting over their moisture content, and gently flipping them with the kindest of spoons, I think you want some nice all-white flour pasta. This is not the time to up your protein and fiber intake for the day. The spaghetti Glenn found was particularly smooth and toothsome, and I was very glad he bought it.

Spaghetti and Meatballs
adapted from Rao’s Cookbook
serves 6 (makes 18 medium-sized meatballs)

1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork
1 C fresh coarse breadcrumbs
1/2 C water
1/2 C milk
1/2 C fresh parmesan (plus extra for serving)
1 egg
1/2 clove garlic, grated or finely chopped
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1/8 t cinnamon
1/4 C olive oil

2 28 oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes (San Marzano, preferably)
3 whole cloves garlic
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper

1 lb. spaghetti

In a toaster oven (or the big one) at 250, dry out the breadcrumbs on a sheet pan for 10 minutes, or until they’re toasty. With a big serving fork, break up and gently mix the ground meats in a big bowl. While you’re making the meatballs, heat up the olive oil in a big dutch oven over medium heat and toss in the whole garlic cloves. Turn them over from time to time–you’re just trying to infuse the oil with a little flavor and poach the cloves.

In a smaller bowl, warm the water and milk in the microwave. Add the breadcrumbs and let the mixture sit for 10 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, garlic, cheese, salt and pepper, and cinnamon. Pour this mixture into the meat bowl, followed by the soaked bread, which you dig out of its mire with a spoon, reserving the soaking liquid for later. Mix the meatballs with your hands very gently. Don’t worry about making the mixture homogeneous–since you’ve already mixed the seasonings into the egg mixture, they will disperse evenly and you can afford to be less zealous at this stage. The meat should be almost too loose to make a meatball. If it’s not, use some of your reserved liquid. When I made the recipe, I used all the liquid and it worked out perfectly.

Fish the garlic cloves out of the oil (I also add the half clove left over from the meatballs, as soon as I’m done with it). They should be browned but not burnt. Save them for later. Start making meatballs and placing them into the oil–I like medium sized ones, about 2 inches in diameter. After five minutes or so, see if you can pry one off the pan for flipping. If not, give them a few more minutes. Flip them all and brown five minutes on the other size. (A big tablespoon works well for flipping in cramped quarters.) Remove the meatballs and let them rest on a plate.

Scrape up whatever brown bits have stuck to the bottom of the pan, and add the tomatoes, reserved garlic cloves, salt and pepper. Raise the heat to high and let the sauce come to a boil, then puree it with an immersion blender (if you don’t have one, puree the tomatoes in a blender before you add them to the pan, or just break them up with your hands if you like a more textured sauce). Add the meatballs back into the sauce and reduce the heat to medium. Simmer the sauce for at least 20 minutes, then check for seasoning.

Meanwhile, boil up a lot of water for the pasta and add a handful of salt. Cook the spaghetti according to the package, then drain it and add it back to the pan. Add two cups of the tomato sauce to the spaghetti and toss. Serve it up, adding more sauce and a few meatballs to each serving. Sprinkle with more parmesan.