Posts in Meals
keeping to eat
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Summer is, for me, defined by a conflict of heat: the first, unrelenting outside, and then the other, absent in my own cooking. Though I may curse the heat in August, I long for it again in September, when I'm reminded of how much time vegetables take to roast and how itchy sweaters can feel against the slow fade of our summer skin.

It is in summertime then when I learn most about vegetables. It's the season that encourages us to enjoy foods in their raw, vulnerable states. My palate becomes more acute; I pay attention to the subtleties between chocolate mint and peppermint. Tatsoi tastes of horseradish, and mustard greens, more pungent than ever, stand proud against other lettuces. I'm learning the intricacies of their behaviors, too: how tender, green things sleep best at night (loosely-packed and tucked away with something moist overtop, or better still, in their pots); how the mild, watery flesh of cucumber and zucchini – the plant kingdom's most savory fruits –respond better to marination than dressing. And how, like pasta, the shape you decide to transform fresh produce into can dictate the dish entirely. By the time winter comes around, I've imprinted their best selves in my memory long enough to sustain me until Spring.

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Like lettuce, herbs, and tomatoes, summer squash deserves a bit of recognition in the buff. Not because they are particularly flavorful, in fact. Almost the opposite. Because they are so mild can we call their other attributes virtuous: silky flesh shaves neatly into ribbons, and a firm, resolute texture absorbs vinaigrettes without wilting. Below is a play on carpaccio, a dish traditionally reserved for meat and so simple it requires great ingredients to shine, like mindfully toasted hazelnuts, your favorite vinegar, and the best squash while Summer can offer it.

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You could say I've become intimately familiar with raw fruits and vegetables at work; we've even become blood brothers (a dull mandolin will do that). I'm responsible for a station the restaurant industry refers to as garde manger, French for "keep to eat," but more universally understood as "the cold side." Out of this station comes the majority of our chilled starters and salads, plus plated desserts and shucked oysters. It is at once simple and complex; the absence of heat means ingredients are not transforming when your attention becomes divided, but the sheer number we're responsible for can feel overwhelming.

Historically, garde manger identified the storage area that housed foods preserved from that season's harvest. In the 12th century, nearly 90% of the world's population were rural peasants; serfs who worked the land for nobility by raising crops and animals. The end of the growing season was a crucial time of year: plants had to be harvested and animals had to be butchered; and all had to be processed in such a way as to preserve their integrity throughout the cold season. Meat was likely dried, smoked, or cured; and vegetables were preserved in acid, sugar, or oil, or cold-stored whole in root cellars.

To collect and keep, as well as tax and trade these foods, was a privilege and symbol of power granted only to nobility and the covenants of the Catholic church. Household employees known as officiers de la bouche ("officers of the mouth") would manage these storerooms. However, during the French Revolution in the late 1700's, noblemen fled persecution, leaving their staff behind. These officiers de la bouche found their way into restaurants across Europe, becoming "pantry chefs" instead. Garde manger was then incorporated into the brigade system of hierarchy still used today to organize the chaos of the professional kitchen.

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Somewhere down the line (quite literally), the historical power and status associated with garde manger was lost. Partially to blame is the obsolescence of rigorous food preservation in post-industrial foodservice. Garde manger is now known as the entry-level salad station. These pantry chefs live on, but with a slightly different skill set: once bestowed with the responsibility of archiving the seasons, they have, in our culture of abundance, become defined by the near-competitive ability to slice tomatoes, pick herbs gently, and dress salads with a tender touch. If we keep to eat only in times of scarcity, how does this bear relevance in times of abundance?

I believe that a crucial part of keeping to eat is learning to savor: to recognize foods at their peak and to appreciate them unadulterated. It is only then that we can grant ourselves the authority to become their keepers, responsible not just for preserving them now, but, perhaps, ensuring they'll thrive, both raw and cooked, in the future.

Carpaccio of Summer Squash with Ricotta Salata, Hazelnut, and Mint    This is less of a meal and more of a provocation. The expectation of summer squash is a bland thing in need of a sauté pan is flipped on its head when shaved thinly using a mandolin and tossed and topped with vinaigrette. Summer squash are best enjoyed young, when their flesh is firm, sweet, and slightly nutty.     Summer squash, in a mix of colors and sizes (striped Italian heirloom "costata", yellow, or zucchini)   Ricotta Salata, a  hard salted version of the fresh variety traditionally made from sheep's milk (ricotta pecorino salata)  Hazelnuts, toasted at 300F for 8-9 minutes    Red wine vinegar (something high-quality, like Katz)  Fruity olive oil  A garlic cloved, minced with salt into a paste  A teaspoon of mustard    In a small jar, make the vinaigrette. Fill it with a half-inch worth of vinegar. Add double the amount of olive oil, a pinch of salt, a few crack of black pepper, and the garlic paste. Shake vigorously and taste for seasoning. If it's too tart, mellow the flavor with more olive oil. If it tastes flabby, add more vinegar.  For the carpaccio, using a mandolin thinly slice summer squash lengthwise into long ribbons. Mind your fingers! They should be thin enough to fall into ribbons onto the cutting board, but not quite transparent. Add to a large bowl and lightly salt. Set aside.  Pick mint off the stem and tear and larger leaves with your hands. Peppermint is nice in this dish, but I'd imagine any variety (except furry apple mint) would work well. Crush hazelnuts using a mortar and pestle, or chop roughly. Shave  ricotta salata  with a peeler or your mandoline.  Drain liquid from squash. Toss with vinaigrette and allow to marinade for a few minutes while you wash your greens, if using, clean up your kitchen, or pour yourself something to drink. When you can't wait any longer, begin to layer squash in a bowl or on a plate with shaved cheese, crushed nuts, and mint.

Carpaccio of Summer Squash with Ricotta Salata, Hazelnut, and Mint

This is less of a meal and more of a provocation. The expectation of summer squash is a bland thing in need of a sauté pan is flipped on its head when shaved thinly using a mandolin and tossed and topped with vinaigrette. Summer squash are best enjoyed young, when their flesh is firm, sweet, and slightly nutty.

Summer squash, in a mix of colors and sizes (striped Italian heirloom "costata", yellow, or zucchini)

Ricotta Salata, a hard salted version of the fresh variety traditionally made from sheep's milk (ricotta pecorino salata)

Hazelnuts, toasted at 300F for 8-9 minutes

Red wine vinegar (something high-quality, like Katz)

Fruity olive oil

A garlic cloved, minced with salt into a paste

A teaspoon of mustard

In a small jar, make the vinaigrette. Fill it with a half-inch worth of vinegar. Add double the amount of olive oil, a pinch of salt, a few crack of black pepper, and the garlic paste. Shake vigorously and taste for seasoning. If it's too tart, mellow the flavor with more olive oil. If it tastes flabby, add more vinegar.

For the carpaccio, using a mandolin thinly slice summer squash lengthwise into long ribbons. Mind your fingers! They should be thin enough to fall into ribbons onto the cutting board, but not quite transparent. Add to a large bowl and lightly salt. Set aside.

Pick mint off the stem and tear and larger leaves with your hands. Peppermint is nice in this dish, but I'd imagine any variety (except furry apple mint) would work well. Crush hazelnuts using a mortar and pestle, or chop roughly. Shave ricotta salata with a peeler or your mandoline.

Drain liquid from squash. Toss with vinaigrette and allow to marinade for a few minutes while you wash your greens, if using, clean up your kitchen, or pour yourself something to drink. When you can't wait any longer, begin to layer squash in a bowl or on a plate with shaved cheese, crushed nuts, and mint.

the lesson of the beet
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"The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious."

A friend of mine once lent me a copy of Tom Robbins' Jitterbug Perfume. I only made it through the first fifty pages. I wasn’t a fan of Robbins’ portrayal of the female, but was very much a fan of his portrayal of the beet: a bulb I find as curious as I do humble. It was on loan following a larger conversation around scent, memory, and our spirit vegetables. Mine would have been the leek: a stubborn root for sure; chameleonic like all alliums, but (slightly) more sophisticated than an onion. Nowadays I’d be apt to say fennel (though I don’t think I’m fit to wear a crown), but his was the beet.

Beets ask a lot of you during a season that’s too hot for more than stovetop cooking. Hard and unyielding raw, they are usually better off roasted. Their leaves however, are billowy and tender, turning the water they're blanched in a pleasing shade of magenta. Once their texture has been addressed, it’s their skin that asks you to respond: sometimes thick and stubborn, too tough to be palatable, but other times thin and undetectable, barely worth removing without losing flesh. Then there is the juice to test your patience: an ink really, vermilion in color, impishly staining hands, dish rags, and countertops. Beets do not give in easily, but instead fight before their death, bleeding purple and proud, forcing you to choose which cutting board you’ll sacrifice in their offering. Two bunches sat steadfast in my fridge, enduring a full three weeks of neglect before they would reward me with perplexing, earthy sweetness I’ve once heard described as “dirt candy.” 

Like all vegetables, they’re not singular in indentity. There is bulls blood, the deep, dark purple flesh I'm thinking of above. Early wonder are purple and striated, while golden beets deviate completely in color, but not flavor. There is even something called the Mammoth Red Mangel, which can grow up to 40 lbs. Not your typical garden variety. And then there is the Italian heirloom Chioggia or “Bassano” beet, my favorite, with alternating concentric circles of red and white that make me wonder if these mark its age like they do a tree's trunk.

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Perhaps the most perplexing of all, historically, is the sugar beet. I first encountered the knotty, bulbous roots when I was at a cookery school in Ireland. I’d notice them littering the sides of the road during my nightly hikes; a backdrop of hilly road and endless pasture that begged to be walked. I would make it a goal not to rely on a map, just a few street signs written in Gaelic and these sugar beets as my trail markers. This was wildly ineffective, and I would end up lost most of the time. But those Irish grazing cows must have demanded dinner of this particular variety, known as the fodder crop beet. They are the ogres of their cultivar. Kept in the ground a bit too long, they hardly resembled a beet at all: just a harried, brown tuber bashed and bruised from rolling off the sides of a tractor.  

The sugar beet is the sweet king of the root vegetables – roughly 6% sugar by weight in older varieties and up to 20% in modern cultivars – but it’s history is a bitter one, characterized by tension between itself and sugarcane to control the market for sweetness. In the mid nineteenth century, “The Beet Sugar Society,” a group of American abolitionists, promoted making beet sugar at home “as easily as bread, pies, or cakes, can be made and baked” as an alternative to slave-produced cane sugar from the West Indies, and the “free sugar” produced without slavery, but still exported, from Asia. True of capitalism, it wasn’t until an economic, not just a moral, argument was made for beet sugar that it gained momentum in the United States beyond a cottage industry decades later.*  

Young summer beets are a less storied variety, comparatively. They are sweet enough, smaller than golf balls, tender and easy to work with, and grown locally on my side of the world.  They can be tasty when eaten raw, if shaved thinly and tempered with acid and salt (and a bit of sugar) for a pickle that buys you time to think about how’ll you’ll use them next: a punchy pop of tartness on a simple green salad, a bit of additional tang in a bowl of yogurt, or, below, as bruschetta: earthy slices of sweetness on thick pieces of garlic-rubbed grilled bread ("fettunta" as Italians call it).

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I have chef friends now with whom to share in this lore. This is a real boon, even if you pretend to be one yourself. Chef friends are like normal friends, but with a more sophisticated understanding of the rhythms of a small gathering. If they are hosting, there is always something to nibble on before the meal, something inconsequential, but still calculated enough not to spoil your appetite or their efforts. Chef friends usually prep in advance, but reserve one task for each guest to feel involved. If they are guests themselves, they know both the extent to and the limits of which they can contribute without becoming overbearing. Surprisingly, they don’t ask what you’re making: they are not self-conscious about clashing dishes, but are instead confident that the outcome will be delicious.

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My chef friends would be less-inclined to answer to this title. They are an unusual breed of food dilettantes who understand that a meal is more than the sum of its ingredients. This, among other reasons, is why I love them. Their journeys cooking professionally have been long and winding, some jogging as far as across the Atlantic and beyond the abysmal sea of the industry. These women are proof that a place exists for food professionals beyond the restaurant kitchen.

We are working towards planning a dinner series together (“series” sounds ambitiously recurrent, but our hope is just that). This, along with writing blogs, building homesteads, and organizing our pantries are clichéd aspirations we’ve tried to avoid, but have instead settled into comfortably. We gathered at my place to hash-out logistics.

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Maddie, a former baker, brought a summer fruit galette for dessert that has become her signature. I believe “I love what you do with rhubarb” was uttered by me either between or amongst mouthfuls of pie, the last few bites of crust so good, they were torn off and dunked in crème fraîche by hand instead of enjoyed in a more civilized fashion. 

There were vegetables too, of course; lots of them: raw young summer zucchini and radish for dunking in swiss chard hummus, velvety and swooped with a spoon so that sesame oil could pool in its wake. Sweet pea gazpacho, which was the answer to the question of what to do with the leftover pea pods (blend them to extract their juice?) and an herby green dressing so good I wanted to drink it. Thank you, Brianna, for not needing my invitation to forgo your spoon and sip it like a shooter. She brought wine and her CSA box, which led to a collective effort of fava bean shucking on my countertop. And then there were the beets I had pickled earlier, sitting inertly on top of a garlicky smear of feta and grilled sourdough, bejeweled with mint and black currants, to awaken the senses. 

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Themes and menus were eventually discussed, albeit briefly, while digressing into conversation about retaining integrity of our food when cooking for those who demand the opposite. Also, the gig economy, our nomadic tendencies, and the hurdles of our gender in this industry. After dinner that evening, I took moment between bites to reflect on how perfectly in alignment I felt to be with these women, and I remembered Robbins' beet.

"At birth we are red-faced, round, intense, pure. The crimson fire of universal consciousness burns in us. Gradually, however, we are devoured by parents, gulped by schools, chewed up by peers, swallowed by social institutions, wolfed by bad habits, and DNA…wed by age; and by the time we have been digested, cow style, in those six stomachs, we emerge a single disgusting shade of brown.
The lesson of the beet, then, is this: Hold on to your divine blush, your innate rosy magic, or end up brown."

It was just dinner, but the crimson fire of our little collective was starting to flicker. We were three summer beets, red-faced from too much wine, round with pie, and intense in our desire to cook beyond the confines of those six stomachs – and the three of our own.

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Bruschetta with Pickled Beets & Their Greens       for the bruschetta:   1-2 bunches of small beets with greens in tact, any color  handful of black currants or berries (optional)  your favorite light vinegar (nothing expensive - I used apple cider)  salt, and sugar or honey      for the fettunta:   sourdough bread and olive oil, for toasting  ricotta, mascarpone, or another spreadable cheese (feta thinned with a bit of milk or cream is a nice, salty foil)  mint, or another favorite herb for garnish  salt & pepper     In a sauce pan, heat 1/2 cup vinegar with 1.5C water, 1-3T sugar, and 1T salt until salt and sugar dissolve. Set aside to cool.  Remove the greens from the beets. Set aside. Scrub beets clean and shave with a mandoline or thinly slice. For texture, keep some paper thin and some thick (the thicker ones will eventually be cooked) – I like to sort by shade and pickle the lighter ones separately to retain their color.  Place the thinner beets in a small jar (pack them tightly) and pour cooled brine over until it reaches the top. At this point, you can add in garlic, chili, peppercorn or herbs to flavor. Refrigerate. For the thicker beets, place in the sauce pan and simmer, covered, until tender. Add in the berries and cook until they burst. When cool enough to handle, pour into a separate jar and flavor as desired.  For the greens, blanch in salty water until bright green (30-60 seconds). Rinse under cool water. Drain. Roughly chop and toss with a splash of vinegar and salt until they taste like a dressed salad. Add in a drizzle of olive oil to meld the flavors. Set aside.  For the toasts, heat a skillet (cast-iron works well) with a drizzle of olive oil. Place toast in skillet. Cover with foil and weight down with another heavy pan or kettle. Once golden, drizzle the pan with more oil and flip the toast to finish cooking.  To assemble, spread the toast with cheese. Top with greens, crunchy and soft beets, black currants, torn mint, and flaky salt      *Source: “Salvation in Sweetness? Sugar Beets in Antebellum America” Cathy K. Kaufman 2008 From Vegetables: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2008

Bruschetta with Pickled Beets & Their Greens

 

for the bruschetta:

1-2 bunches of small beets with greens in tact, any color

handful of black currants or berries (optional)

your favorite light vinegar (nothing expensive - I used apple cider)

salt, and sugar or honey

 

for the fettunta:

sourdough bread and olive oil, for toasting

ricotta, mascarpone, or another spreadable cheese (feta thinned with a bit of milk or cream is a nice, salty foil)

mint, or another favorite herb for garnish

salt & pepper

 

In a sauce pan, heat 1/2 cup vinegar with 1.5C water, 1-3T sugar, and 1T salt until salt and sugar dissolve. Set aside to cool.

Remove the greens from the beets. Set aside. Scrub beets clean and shave with a mandoline or thinly slice. For texture, keep some paper thin and some thick (the thicker ones will eventually be cooked) – I like to sort by shade and pickle the lighter ones separately to retain their color.

Place the thinner beets in a small jar (pack them tightly) and pour cooled brine over until it reaches the top. At this point, you can add in garlic, chili, peppercorn or herbs to flavor. Refrigerate. For the thicker beets, place in the sauce pan and simmer, covered, until tender. Add in the berries and cook until they burst. When cool enough to handle, pour into a separate jar and flavor as desired.

For the greens, blanch in salty water until bright green (30-60 seconds). Rinse under cool water. Drain. Roughly chop and toss with a splash of vinegar and salt until they taste like a dressed salad. Add in a drizzle of olive oil to meld the flavors. Set aside.

For the toasts, heat a skillet (cast-iron works well) with a drizzle of olive oil. Place toast in skillet. Cover with foil and weight down with another heavy pan or kettle. Once golden, drizzle the pan with more oil and flip the toast to finish cooking.

To assemble, spread the toast with cheese. Top with greens, crunchy and soft beets, black currants, torn mint, and flaky salt

 

*Source: “Salvation in Sweetness? Sugar Beets in Antebellum America” Cathy K. Kaufman 2008 From Vegetables: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2008

the soul of pasta
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When I cooked in London not too long ago, my good friend and host had a particularly charming Italian roommate. He was Sicilian, with the olive complexion and hairiness of my Southern Italian family to prove it. I asked him one evening where his favorite place to eat pasta was, near desperate for a pasta moment.

To clarify, a pasta moment is me, or you, or us, perched above our reasonably portioned bowls, each so perfectly contained that little more than a glass of wine is needed alongside: perhaps something funky and natural, with surprisingly enjoyable notes of turpentine. Both make us wonder how a single ingredient like flour or grapes are capable of such feats in flavor and economy, but alas the natural world is full of wonder. The pasta, homemade, of course, is entwined with its condimento, a few gloriously oily ingredients that coat, not drown. Any shape will do in this fantasy, really. I’m only discretionary when it comes to the stuffed variety: ravioli, tortellini, and, agnolotti are reserved for the appropriate appetite. Maybe there was bread or salad beforehand, but we were too busy witnessing how truly harmonious a dish of pasta can be to notice. 

The fatal error in my fantasy is that to be a worthy bowl of pasta, the noodle has to be fresh. Back in London, I was a drifter who didn’t have the means to accumulate the necessary arsenal of ingredients to make pasta by hand: a roller, fresh eggs, semolina flour, olive oil, elbow grease. And so on, and so forth. So I consulted my new Italian informant. There was a moment of pause, followed with his thickly-accented response: “Hmm… pasta? I don’t really go out for pasta.”

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Many Italians, I’ve found, eat pasta daily. It is a simple, humble staple. I spent a bit of time working in a kitchen in Tuscany. We were responsible for staff meal at lunchtime and if it didn’t involve pasta, the staff would gesture wildly in disapproval. This is why its important to know how to master making a bowl yourself. It is the perfect example of how difficult simple food can be. Most get it wrong - myself included, up until very recently, and still on occasion, when I do not give it the necessary thought it deserves, slipping shamefully back into ignorant ways. Pasta, if prepared poorly is a crass thing: overcooked, over-sauced, overcomplicated. This, I think, compounds its reputation as something on-occasion-gluttonous, not everyday-wholesome.

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The most common error is to overcook it. You’re looking for that elusive, but essential, al dente chew. Luckily there is empirical evidence of its toothsomeness right in the noodle: that small white speck of uncooked pasta in the center. An Italian pastaiola I read about refers to this as the anima. Anima means soul; the soul of pasta. But al dente (“to the tooth”) isn’t some kind of Italian folklore, although plenty has been written about its wisdom: legend has it that not only does slight undercooking make it more enjoyable to eat, but it keeps the pasta from feeling overly filling. This was taught to me not by a Sicilian, but a German with whom I had brief and clandestine romance; much of it occurring around the making and eating of tagliatelle bolognese.

Not one to take the lore of pasta at face value, I fact-checked his statement later on: overcooked pasta raises its glycemic index. The additional water picks up the slack of your digestive system. Occasionally, this predigestion is helpful, but with simple carbohydrates, like semolina flour, the slower the digestion, the less likely the spike in insulin. The German simply told me al dente would prevent it from sitting heavily in my stomach, and at the time, this visual of pasta as a soggy, listless noodle was off-putting enough not to inquire further.

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A good bowl of pasta should make you reflect on how it can be possible for a few simple ingredients to play so well together: I’d imagine that if they were the big, Italian family of its ancestry, such close proximity would be uncomfortable. Too much variety in condimento renders the dish a messy plate of vegetables instead of elegant, well-rounded bites. And my goodness: let pasta be your saving grace from the most destitute of kitchens! It will take to whatever bits and bobs of produce you have on hand.

You can tell what a food culture holds dear by the words used to describe the practice surrounding a single dish, which, in any other language, might only have one name. Pasta is the working of durum wheat flour and water “paste” into an elastic dough. Three preparations are regarded across the various regions of Italy: the most recognizable is past’asciutto, which is the accommodation of freshly boiled pasta into condimento (condiments), which becomes its sauce once a liquor of salted, starched pasta water is added. Pasta al forno finishes its cooking in the oven, where barely-cooked pasta is baked with its condimento instead of tossed. Pasta in brodo requires pasta’s smallest incarnation in order to be steeped and spooned up from a richly-flavored stock, referred to as “broth” when served as a dish, not used as an ingredient. Each necessitates working with different shape for the structural integrity and enjoyment of the overall dish.

For past’ asciutto, I’m having my moment with dried, heartier shapes like bucatini and rigatoni; the former with its satisfying twisting and curling: a slippery, comfy kind of companionship that only a noodle can provide (as far as food goes, anyways). The latter, a nostalgic stalwart that reminds me of my favorite childhood pasta alfredo. These shapes have more “soul” than thinner noodles, like spaghetti and vermicelli, making them more forgiving in the water than fresh, and thus easier to achieve “al dente perfection,” as the box or bag may claim. Fresh pasta, though a delicious, platonic ideal, is fussy to make and a bit like very young children or needy partners to cook: it requires near constant attention and perhaps a tender touch to ensure its strength and fortitude upon entry into the world. It is not an everyday pasta, as even Italians would agree: we relied on countless bags of dried rotini and penne to feed our kitchen army abroad.

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Lastly, sauce. Hardly sauce at all, really. Your condimento eventually becomes your sauce in just a few ingredients: a single vegetable or cheese, fat (olive oil or butter or both), and the pasta cooking liquid you salted well earlier (didn’t you?). Adding the freshly-cooked pasta directly into the sauté pan with a bit of cooking liquid allows the starch to thicken what is a essentially a pasta “stock,” allowing the flavors of the other ingredients to meld together.

The version above is a riff on misticanza,  the Roman word for a mixture of sweet and bitter leaves. Usually served as a salad of lettuces, I used dandelion, chard, and beet greens instead and prepared them rippassata-style. “Rippassare", “to go over again” means we cook them twice: first, blanched briefly in salty water then shocked under cold, then again, sautéed, in garlicky, chili-scented olive oil. Urfa bibir pepper, a Turkish chili, which has smoky, raisin-y undertones and is slightly sweeter than more common dried chili powders, turns the oil a brilliant shade of maroon. I drain the pasta when its still slightly too toothsome to eat (try a noodle and check for the anima), toss the hot pasta with the greens, oil, and water, and let it finish its journey in the pan. When assembled as simply and thoughtfully as the company you choose to enjoy it with (that’s my friend, Cristi, above), a pasta moment will never disappoint. 

  Pasta Misticanza (Pasta with Mixed Leaves)    A variety of leaves on hand, aiming for a mix of bitter (dandelion, escarole, kale) and sweet (chard, collards, spinach)  , about two big handfuls per serving    Semolina pasta (your favorite shape – I used rigatoni), about 100g per person    Garlic    Extra-virgin olive oil    Chili pepper flakes (I like Urfa bibir)    Plenty of salted, boiling water      Bring a large pot of water to the boil and salt generously. It’s important to taste at this stage, since the water will become an ingredient in the dish later on. It should taste as salty as the sea.  Meanwhile, fill the base of a pan large enough to hold your cooked pasta with more extra-virgin olive oil than you feel comfortable using: it should coat about a 1/4 in up. Remember, this will become your sauce.  Smash a few garlic cloves with the back of a knife and remove their skins. Add to the oil, along with a few generous pinches of chili flakes (try a few flakes to gauge the heat and flavor first). Slowly heat the oil until it smells fragrant and deepens in color from the chili. Be careful not to color the garlic or it will become bitter. Turn off the heat and set aside.  Remove any thick stems from the base and core of your leaves. Have a pair of tongs and a bowl fitted with a colander ready. Drop the leaves into your now-boiling pot of water until they turn bright green and any remaining stems are tender, about 20 seconds. Transfer greens to colander without removing too much liquid and run under cold water.  Drain thoroughly and roughly chop. Add to the oil and let warm though, on low.  Bring the water back up to the boil. Drop in your pasta and cook until its still firm, but edible. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pasta to the pan with the greens. Using a ladle, slowly add in about 1/4 cup of cooking liquid and let the noodles continue to simmer, tossing frequently. Continue to add liquid, bit by bit, until most is absorbed: you're looking for a velvety sauce that would coat the back of a spoon if you let it, and for the noodles to lose any undesirable firmness.   When the noodles are cooked to your liking, turn off the heat and plate immediately, topping with a grated hard cheese like  parmigiano reggiano  or  pecorino romano .  There you have it: you've just mastered pasta. Now go pour yourself a glass of wine, if you haven't already.

 Pasta Misticanza (Pasta with Mixed Leaves)

A variety of leaves on hand, aiming for a mix of bitter (dandelion, escarole, kale) and sweet (chard, collards, spinach), about two big handfuls per serving

Semolina pasta (your favorite shape – I used rigatoni), about 100g per person

Garlic

Extra-virgin olive oil

Chili pepper flakes (I like Urfa bibir)

Plenty of salted, boiling water

 

Bring a large pot of water to the boil and salt generously. It’s important to taste at this stage, since the water will become an ingredient in the dish later on. It should taste as salty as the sea.

Meanwhile, fill the base of a pan large enough to hold your cooked pasta with more extra-virgin olive oil than you feel comfortable using: it should coat about a 1/4 in up. Remember, this will become your sauce.

Smash a few garlic cloves with the back of a knife and remove their skins. Add to the oil, along with a few generous pinches of chili flakes (try a few flakes to gauge the heat and flavor first). Slowly heat the oil until it smells fragrant and deepens in color from the chili. Be careful not to color the garlic or it will become bitter. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Remove any thick stems from the base and core of your leaves. Have a pair of tongs and a bowl fitted with a colander ready. Drop the leaves into your now-boiling pot of water until they turn bright green and any remaining stems are tender, about 20 seconds. Transfer greens to colander without removing too much liquid and run under cold water.  Drain thoroughly and roughly chop. Add to the oil and let warm though, on low.

Bring the water back up to the boil. Drop in your pasta and cook until its still firm, but edible. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pasta to the pan with the greens. Using a ladle, slowly add in about 1/4 cup of cooking liquid and let the noodles continue to simmer, tossing frequently. Continue to add liquid, bit by bit, until most is absorbed: you're looking for a velvety sauce that would coat the back of a spoon if you let it, and for the noodles to lose any undesirable firmness. 

When the noodles are cooked to your liking, turn off the heat and plate immediately, topping with a grated hard cheese like parmigiano reggiano or pecorino romano.

There you have it: you've just mastered pasta. Now go pour yourself a glass of wine, if you haven't already.