Last night was a photograph worth taking. Ten incredible women feasted on cheesy pasta, brussels sprouts salad and grilled chicken and kale salad. I planned the party last month before I secured two incredible projects. Before my life resumed any sense of normalcy. Sending out the invites was a bet on myself, on my comeback. So much of my life feels tethered to the east coast, and last night was the first time I feel as if I’d established roots. I was surrounded by mostly New York transplants–people who wanted a different kind of life, women who wanted to break ranks without breaking themselves down–and it felt good to see my friends trade numbers and friend one another on Facebook. It felt good to have my friends Merrill and Meghan linger after everyone had left and we talked about the New York we used to know and the women we were a decade ago.
I take none of this for granted.
While I slowly work to pay down my debt, repay my friends, and get some semblance of a real budget in order (I’ve resolved that this will be the year I get my proverbial house in order, I’m making it my point to help as many people as I can. Experiencing random acts of kindness from friends and strangers saved me, and I want to be able to share that compassion and kindness with anyone whom I can help.
To be honest, I’m exhausted, but I wanted to share the culinary highlight of the evening–Chrissy Teigen’s pasta a la Norma. I passed around Teigen’s cookbook and everyone paged through the recipes and called out their favorites while feasting on this cheesy dish. And while I couldn’t eat a bite, it made happy to see my friends fawn over this dish. It made my night seeing them leave, stomachs full, new friends made.
It’s good to be home.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings
For the eggplant:
1 cup olive oil
2 1/2 pounds eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp red pepper flakes
For the baked ziti:
1 pound ziti or penne pasta (with ridges)
Perfect Tomato sauce (recipe below)
2 cups goat cheese
1 1/2 pounds fresh mozzarella (buffalo)
1 cup basil leaves (hand torn)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp red pepper flakes
For the Perfect Tomato Sauce:
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups diced onions
2 tbsp finely minced garlic
3 1/2 pounds juicy ripe Roma (plum) tomatoes, diced
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
For the eggplant
In a large skillet or a wide soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When you can see little waves in the oil, carefully add the eggplant and sprinkle on the salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes and cook stirring once in a while, until the eggplant is soft and golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
For the baked ziti
While the eggplant is cooking in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the ziti to al dente according to the package directions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Preheat the oven to 400F. Add the eggplant (and any oil from the skillet) to the pasta along with the tomato sauce, goat cheese, two-thirds of the mozzarella, the basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, the black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Dump the mixture into a large baking dish and top with the rest of the mozzarella, gently pressing the pieces into the pasta.Bake until golden and bubbling, about 1 hour. Let stand for 5 before serving.
For the Perfect Tomato Sauce
In a 4 quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until translucent and beginning to turn golden, about 13 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant and then 1 minute longer. Add the tomatoes, oregano, thyme, remarry, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the sauce thickens slightly, 25 to 30 minutes for fresh tomatoes, 20 to 25 minutes for canned.