Last night, I spent time with new friends who probably love food more than I do. They’re all about the hunt. Forget the fancy pants, reservations-only eateries, they’re more into the hidden gems–L.A. institutions and incredible Korean BBQ in strip malls. Yesterday, we feasted on Greek food that was full of flavor and low on price.
While we were chowing, my friend’s husband and I talked for a good half hour about chicken. How to make it, the unlimited permutations, and the glory that is homemade stock. I made stock last week from a leftover chicken carcass, and believe me when I say that if my home could smell like chicken soup 24/7, I’d never leave. Anyway, we got to talking about cookbooks and I said that I got really into cooking in 2002 when I started to watch The Food Network. Ina, Giada, Mario, and Nigella–I spent hours learning recipes and technique, and I’d discovered a true passion.
So call me nostalgic, but I tuned into Ina today and she made this pasta recipe that nearly made me fall off my couch. I was hesitant because cream makes me violently ill and then there’s the issue of my fennel fatwa. However, I assure you that faux cream can be made and the fennel flavor is subtle, at best.
Trust me, you will want this pasta in your life.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Ina Garten’s Cooking for Jeffrey, modified.
- 1 cup cashews + 1 cup water + 1 tsp salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large bulb of fennel, chopped
- 2 large shallots, chopped
- 1 1/4 pounds sweet Italian sausages, casings removed
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
- 1/2 teaspoon whole fennel seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 pound rigatoni
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
- 1 cup freshly grated Italian Parmesan cheese, divided
Now, we’re all about making the sauce. Saute the chopped fennel and shallots in a large pot (I used a Dutch oven) on medium heat for about 7 minutes or until the mixture is translucent and slightly browned. Add the sausage and gently break apart with a wooden spoon. DON’T overwork your meat by continuously stirring. It takes about 8 or so minutes for the pork to cook, so I come back every few minutes, break apart, stir again.
While that’s cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente (read the package directions, and cook for a minute or so less). Drain the pasta and set aside.
Once the sausage is cooked through, add the garlic, fennel seed, red pepper, and wine. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the cashew cream and tomato paste and stir until completely combined. I like my sauce super thick and luscious (see Exhibits A and B, above and below), but if you like your sauce on the thinner side, you can add more wine or stock. And if you’re not feeling wine, you can use chicken stock, no big deal.
Add your pasta directly to the meat sauce and stir until completely coated. Remove your pan from the heat and you can add freshly grated parmesan (I used a vegan kind, which is actually pretty decent), and chopped parsley if you’re feeling it. Candidly, I was so into the pasta that I ate it directly from the pot and forgot about the parsley.
Chow down, people.
Meatloaf never makes for a pretty picture, no matter how many pressed linens or bone china plates you add to the mix. It’s sloppy, messy, brown and red (tough colors to photograph), but it’s the kind of mess I like. It’s the juices-running-off-your-chin messy. It’s the I-got-chorizo-all-over-my-shirt (this actually happened) messy. Meatloaf is the kind of food you eat standing up, fork digging into the loaf pan, mixing moistened meat with scalding sauce. It’s the kind of food that will stink up your refrigerator, but who cares? No one should judge you for the contents of your fridge.
Most of the week I’m crazy busy, but I reserve Saturdays for “me” time. Now this isn’t the sort of time I use to get perfunctory work or errands done because I consider that work, rather it’s a day when I read long books, watch good movies, bake meat in loaf pans and take copious pictures of my cat pressing his vanilla paws into his face. However, lately, I’ve also been using it as a means to learn something new each week. This week a friend (and colleague) taught me how to use Snapchat, a non-intuitive platform that I abhorred using for a while. An old friend from New York and I chatted via Skype yesterday while she taught me sophisticated ad targeting techniques. Another friend taught me how to take better pictures (I’m still learning). And yet another friend reminded me about being patient, how to play the long game when it comes to my life and career. Not all of us have the means or privilege to “hunt down our passion” or “quit our day job”, but there exists nobility in finding purpose in the work that you do and then making time for the things you love to do that don’t necessary yield profit.
During my recent financial crisis, where I was living off my credit card and frightened of eviction, some of my friends suggested I monetize this space. I have a fair amount of traffic and readers and I could make some decent change by adding affiliate links to the books I suggest since I tend to read a lot of them. I thought about this, albeit briefly, and shook my head no, not because I was taking a moral high ground, but rather it would make this space work. Making everything about work takes the joy out of the pursuit. Or to put it bluntly, Lenny Kravitz learned from Prince that”[e]verything isn’t for business. It’s for the sake of doing it. It’s about the art, the moment, the memory and the experience.” While I’m not suggesting I create art on the level of Prince on this space, I do get a great deal of joy coming here without the burden of being beholden to people or feeling frightened that I’m not making as much money as I should. I don’t come here with the intention of creating posts that will generate more traffic (I mean, come on, I write 1,000-word posts that have nothing to do with meatloaf). I come here because sharing the food I make, the books I read, the experiences I endured make me happy in a way that’s difficult to describe.
Yesterday, I focused on learning and taking care of myself. I made meatloaf, and while you’d hesitate in wanting to take its picture, this is the kind of meal you want to be eating.
I have a hectic few weeks ahead of me, and I keep saying to myself: take care, take care, take care.
Today I spent the afternoon with an old, sweet friend, chowing, catching up, and thumbing through stacks of books at BookCourt. You have to know that I tried to resist, I went on about the stacks of books towering ominously in my living room, however, I broke down and bought Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist and Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. Jenna has impeccable taste in books, and she’s one of the few friends whose recommendations will make me buy books sight unseen–her appreciation for language and story are that great.
Over lunch we talked about food, marveling over the thin, crispy latkes dipped in sundried tomato aioli we ordered and the power of shared meals. Eating is a primal act, and the idea that we can share our most base need with someone else means something. Jenna and I are the kind of people who will pen sonnets over the food that we’re eating as we’re eating it. So when I told her about the shift I made this year–from stone-cold carb addict to veggie lover, from someone who checked out while eating to someone who plates their food and savors every bite–she was intrigued. And while she completely understood my need for nourishment and self-care, she wondered aloud if I’d missed anything from the old days.
Sometimes, I said, I ache for bread. Oh, for the love of god, BREAD. I miss pressing my face up against the oven window and watching the dough crisp and rise. I miss tearing into a hot loaf with cold hands and watching the cream butter melt into the crevices. And while I no longer crave cheese, cream, pasta or anything gluten (and I make a point to not simply replace gluten with its non-gluten counterparts because that’s sort of not the point in getting healthy)–I’ll pause in front of a bakery and think about boules and baguettes.
Have I mentioned that gluten is in EVERYTHING? I can’t have meatballs out anymore because they’re normally mixed bread crumbs or panko. So I’m forced to make them at home. And while that may sound laborious and inconvenient, there’s something thrilling about discovery abundance within limitation. I love these meatballs, which are rendered tender and moist due to the inclusion of sundried tomatoes and eggs. I’m bringing a pot of these with some pasta to a friend’s house tonight, and I hope she (and the kids) love them just as much as I do.
And yes, the first time I’m allowed to have gluten again I will be having bread.
1 1/2 pounds of ground sirloin, room temperature
1/2 pound ground sausage, room temperature
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup of sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil, minced
1 1/2 tbsp garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp coarse sea salt
1 tsp coarse black pepper
1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes (I use San Marzano)
1/2 28oz can of pureed tomatoes
1 lb of pasta (gluten-free or regular) pasta
Pre-heat the oven to 400F. In a large bowl, mix all of the ingredients (from beef to the black pepper) until just combined. Do not overmix. You can get 20-25 meatballs out of this mixture, depending upon how large you like your balls. Yeah, I realize I just typed that.
In a large roasting pan or two baking dishes, add the meatballs and the crushed tomato sauce + pureed tomatoes. Cook for 10-15 minutes.
While the meatballs are roasting, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook to al dente. Drain and set aside.
Add the pasta to the meatball + sauce mixture, and toss to coat. Serve immediately with fresh parsley!
If my friend Amber were here right now, I’d give her a pony. And possibly an orange kitten for good measure. All because she introduced me to the glory that is the AREPA. In my humble opinion, arepas are next-level tacos. A corn-based flatbread indigenous to Colombia and Venezuela, arepas have a doughy, yet crunchy texture, and are the perfect haven for all sorts of fixings.
AND AREPAS ARE GLUTEN-FREE.
Today, I fixed mine with leftover chopped chicken, chickpeas, kale and mixed greens. Clearly, I plan to add arepas to my repertoire. I’m envisioning pulled pork and veg, roasted vegetables, and taco beef.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Bon Appetit
2 cups arepa flour (precooked cornmeal)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Desired fillings (such as shredded cooked chicken or pork, stewed black beans with cheese and lime, corn salad with onion and fresh herbs; for serving)
Lime wedges (for serving)
Note: Arepa flour is precooked corn flour, not to be confused with masa harina. Sometimes sold as masarepa or harina precocida, it can be found in Latin markets and some supermarkets.
Combine arepa flour and salt in a medium bowl. Make a well in the center and add 2½ cups warm water. Using a wooden spoon, gradually incorporate dry ingredients, stirring until no dry lumps remain. Let rest 5 minutes to hydrate.
Knead dough a few times in bowl, then divide into 8 pieces. Roll each piece on work surface into a ball, then gently flatten to about ½” thick.
Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 4 arepas, cover, and cook until golden brown, 6–8 minutes. Uncover, flip, and cook (keep uncovered) until other side is golden brown, 6–8 minutes.
Transfer arepas to a wire rack. Repeat with remaining 1 Tbsp. oil and dough. Let the arepas cool for 10 minutes. Split arepas and stuff with desired fillings (I used chopped up chicken, chickpeas and kale sauteed in a pan with a little olive oil, salt and pepper); serve with lime wedges for squeezing over.