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.
This might not be the kind of meal you want to photograph, but it’s one certainly worth eating. I’ll tell you something that may sound pretty gross, but it’s one of the few fond memories from my childhood.
Growing up, I ate pasta. A lot. Lasagne, spaghetti and meatballs–the whole lot. And while the meal itself was exceptional, we always waited for the leftovers. We’d grease a pan with butter and add the cold pasta and fry it up. Nothing compared to the taste of a little butter in a meat sauce, how the noodles got slick and tender, and how we’d pile cheese on top. Nothing compared to pan-fried pasta, and even to this day, I still savor leftovers.
I’ve been in my new home since Wednesday and I couldn’t be happier. I hosted a guest on Friday and I made my four-hour bolognese, and my guest and I devoured two bowls.
And this weekend I had all. the. leftovers. Pan-fried, et all.
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lb ground sirloin
1/2 lb ground pork
1 yellow onion, rough chop
4 cloves garlic, rough chop
2 carrots, rough chop
2 ribs of celery hearts, rough chop
1 28-ounce can San Marzano crushed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can organic tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
2 cups red wine (I tend to use a full-bodied Cabernet, but if you’re not down with white, simply sub in some beef stock)
6 sprigs fresh oregano, chopped
3-4 tbsp of sugar, to taste (adjust based on the acidity of your tomatoes)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (you can opt to use vegan butter)
1 1/2 lb penne
In a large pot (I used my Le Creuset dutch oven), heat olive oil. Make sure you have enough to thinly coat the pan, and that your pan is searing hot. There’s nothing more criminal than boiling beef, so use a large pot and ensure that it’s scorching hot. Once you have the heat of Hades, toss in your meats, flavor with salt and pepper and stir gently with a wooden spoon to break apart the meat.
While your meat is browning (5-7 minutes), blitz your mirepoix — onion, carrots, celery — and garlic in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. It’s important that all of your veggies are roughly the same size because no one wants a huge chunk of carrot or onion in their pasta bowl. NO ONE.
After your meat has browned on all sides, deglaze the pan with the wine and add your veggie mix. Cook for 5-6 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, sugar, and oregano. Bring all the ingredients to a simmer and taste. Add salt and pepper as needed.
Simmer covered for about 2-4 hours. The longer, the better, and I tend to stir the sauce every hour. When the sauce is done, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a hefty pinch of salt to the water then add your pasta. Stir and cook until al dente. Add the pasta to the sauce; be sure to save some pasta water in case you need some. If the sauce is too thick, add the water until the desired consistency.
Remove from heat. Add the butter. Drizzle each serving with some extra olive oil. DIG IN.
To say that I’ve been in a food rut would be an understatement. Since I moved to California, my tastes, in general, have changed. I no longer want to resemble a bruise with all the black and blue I used to wear, so I’ve set aside the darkness in favor of the light–pale blues, creams, blush. Labels no longer interest me because I spend most of my days working in a coffee shop or a couch, and I rather pay down debt and book trips that hoard purses. I never thought I’d want anything mustard in my home, but now I’ve got gold and mustard all the joint.
And then there’s food. Before I left New York, I was disciplined. In the morning, I’d have a protein shake and there would always be some salad over the course of the day, and gluten and dairy were verboten. Now that I live in Los Angeles and have lost the ease in which I can move about a city when I eat out it’s planned around location and traffic, but mostly I cook at home or eat locally because it’s cheaper and I don’t have to worry about sitting on the 10 or 405 for an hour just to get across town. I’m lucky in the sense that eating healthier here is ubiquitous There’s no corner deli serving up bacon, egg, and cheese, and finding good bagels are challenging. Eggs, shakes, and acai bowls are the norm, and I’ve often had to roll my eyes at eateries that sport “bone broth” on the menu because they’ve basically gussied up chicken stock with some clever Kinfolk-esque re-branding.
I’m also lucky (and privileged) to live in a city where everything is in walking distance. I have two markets in a five-block radius of my home, and the Santa Monica Farmer’s market is worth a weekly visit.
But my tastes have changed. I can’t explain it. I’ve paged through the cookbooks that gave me joy in New York and I’m uninspired. I’m also tired of overcomplication.
A year and a half ago, I went at life so hard. Workouts weren’t worth it unless I felt like I was going to die. Cooking food wasn’t great unless I was hunting down ingredients. Work wasn’t purposeful unless I juggled a pile of projects. All this velocity became exhausting. Perhaps this is why I haven’t returned to the megaformer (I’m just not interested in pushing myself until I faint, vomit, or both, so now I spin or do pilates), stopped ordering ingredients off the internet, and have focused my energy on juggling 2-3 projects at a time.
So, this pasta. Last week, I was in Barnes & Noble and I found Maya Sozer’s book on the New Releases table and the burger on the cover gave me pause. I thumbed through the book and not only did I find the meals tasty and pretty easy to assemble, they were healthy. I’ve made dishes with squash as a “cheese” sauce, like this penne and chicken & this lasagna, but I’m trying to chill with my gluten and dairy intake (I normally have either once a week and I make sure it’s GOOD–like a baguette with butter, cacio e pepe, or a homemade grilled cheese sandwich). Enter this pasta.
I will say a few things. This sauce is a bit too much for a pound of pasta. I think you can dial this back by 1/2 cup and save it or add more pasta. And while this doesn’t taste like “cheese” (and it shouldn’t because that would be really lame), the nutritional yeast and cashews give a creamy, comforting texture, and the spice mixture gives the dish a pop. I fried up some sweet italian sausage and mixed that in, along with some diced sundried tomatoes and fresh parsley, and I hoovered two bowls and saved the rest for lunch tomorrow.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Maya Sozer’s Easy Vegan Breakfasts & Lunches (I modified based on what I had on hand)
For the mac & cheese:
1/4 cup raw cashews (this is important–you can’t use salted, roasted or any of that other nonsense)
1-3/4 cups cooked butternut squash or 3/4 of a 15oz can of squash puree
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-3/4 cups almond milk (must be unsweetened, unflavored)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons sweet curry powder (I have regular curry powder and it worked fine)
1 to 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (I didn’t use this as I didn’t have ginger on hand and don’t much like it in cream sauces)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound penne rigate or rigatoni pasta
Fresh parsley (or thyme)
sundried tomatoes, packed in olive oil
Put all the ingredients, except the salt, black pepper and pasta, into a food processor or high-speed blender and mix until smooth. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Add the butternut squash sauce to the same pot after draining out the pasta water. Cook, stirring, over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the pasta is dressed with the sauce and is piping hot.
Add your garnishes, if you’re feeling it.
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.
My god, I miss being in the kitchen. I miss poring over cookbooks, marking my favorite recipes, and mapping out my meals. While I loathe shopping (department stores give me rage blackouts), I could spend hours in a supermarket. I’ve always been fond of food and the way in which it brings people together. We choose to share our meals, our most primal of intimate acts, with the people we love. Nothing makes me happier than feeding people, and the past seven months have been hard because food is expensive and entertaining is a challenge when your days are spent burrowing under blankets because the thought of going outside is unbearable.
Luckily, my days of cozying up to cashmere have come to an end. (Thank god for meds.)
However, until financial conditions improve, my food budget is pretty limited. Now I tend to make recipes I can reheat for a few days, and my days of making food just to share it on the blog have been put on pause. While typing this I’m trying to forget that this week is important in the sense that I need to close on a project to stay in Los Angeles. Anxiety is futile, it doesn’t serve me, so instead I focus on a gift a dear friend sent me–Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook! It’s been a while since I’ve read through a cookbook and earmarked nearly all of the recipes. I can’t wait to make her chili, cheeseburger and kale salads. However, for now, I fixed up her easy-peasy cacio e pepe recipe.
And as Edith Piaf so sagely sang, I have no regrets. This dish was remarkable. A bit heavy on the pepper, though, so I dialed it down by half a teaspoon. You will want to make this ASAP.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings: Recipes for All the Food You Want to Eat
12 ounces dried spaghetti (I used gluten-free fettucini)
1/4 pound (about 3/4 cup) pancetta or bacon, finely diced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp (about 4 big cloves) minced garlic
1 tsp red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
3 cups baby arugula (ack! I forgot to get this at the grocery!)
In a large pot of heavily salted boiling water, cook the spaghetti to al dente according to the package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water (it comes in handy), then drain the pasta.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook the pancetta over medium-high heat until crisped, 7 to 9 minutes. Add the olive oil, then add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and black pepper and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the lemon juice to the skillet, then toss in the drained pasta and toss to coat. Add the Parm and toss, adding the pasta water, a couple of tablespoons at a time, just to help the cheese coat the pasta. Add the arugula and toss until it wilts, about 1 minute. Season to taste with additional salt, lots of black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Serve with more Parm.
Yes, I know, another pasta recipe. Every week I make a pasta pot and alternate the hearty dishes with veggies, grains and legumes. This dish makes for 6 meals and it’s perfect for the days when you want to cuddle up with the remote, your feline and a bowl of piping hot YES.
This week was a hectic one–I met up with old friends and had a few new business calls and lunches. The leads are slowly trickling in, and although nothing has landed just yet I continue to be hopeful. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the semantics of happy, and I’m shying away from the phrase “be positive” because it feels forced. It feels as if I should cloak my real feelings with artificial ones. I don’t want the blindness of relentless positivity, rather I want to sit in what I’m going through now. Getting sober is akin to having dozens of band-aids ripped off and although the pain is searing, it’s brief. Drinking, or any form of anaesthesia only serves to prolong the inevitable. The pain is omnipresent, the circumstances in your life haven’t changed, and the only way to get beyond it is to go through it–to sit in discomfort with the knowledge that the sorrow and pain will lessen with the passage of each day.
So I don’t want to “be positive”. I grew up in the generation of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”, but I want to worry when worry is warranted. Instead of engaging in blind positivity or whitewash my life with smiley faces and emoticons, I want to be realistic, honest, and hopeful.
Until my next project, there’s pasta.
2 tbsp olive oil
5 small carrots or 3 medium ones
2 celery stalks
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 lbs of ground sirloin
1/2 tube of tomato paste (1/2 of a 4.5oz tube)
1 cup red wine (or you can also use beef stock)
1 cup unsweetened almond milk (or you can use whole milk)
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 lb of pasta (you can also use rice, or lentil/bean pasta or spaghetti squash)
1 cup pecorino romano cheese
Blitz the carrots, shallot, and celery in a food processor to a fine mince. In a large pot or saucepan, on medium heat, add the mirepoix, salt and pepper, and saute for 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the beef and toss to coat the meat with the veggie mixture. Don’t fuss with the meat all that much or it’ll get overworked and grainy. Turn up the heat to high. Allow the mixture to cook until the meat browns, 5-7 minutes. Add the tomato paste, wine, and milk, thyme, and stir, cooking until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce to low, cover, and cook for at least two hours. The sauce will reduce and thicken.
Fifteen minutes before the bolognese is done, cook your pasta in salted boiling water until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Add the drained pasta and pasta water to the bolognese. Add the pecorino cheese and toss until everything is completely coated. Serve immediately, with extra cheese, of course.
It’s been a while since I’ve shared a recipe around these parts. In all candor, keeping up a food blog is pretty expensive and my meals as of late have been about what can be repurposed or stretched and what I can afford. I love this dish because it gives me four filling meals (especially with the lentil pasta), there’s an ocean of green on the plate and it’s delicious. Luckily, I live by a farmer’s market where the produce is inexpensive (the herbs were $1.50 each for a huge bunch!) and fresh.
2 cups parsley, chopped
1 cup chives, chopped
1/2 cup pistachios
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 lb chicken breasts chopped into 1/2 inch cubes/strips
1 lb gluten-free pasta (or you can use this delicious lentil pasta)
Optional: 1/2 cup pecorino romano cheese
In a blender (or food processor), blitz the first seven ingredients until smooth and creamy. Set aside.
Cook the pasta per the directions on your box, removing a minute early so the noodles are al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water–you’ll need this to make the sauce super creamy.
In a large non-stick skillet, add 1/2-1 tbsp olive oil, the chicken, salt, and pepper and saute until brown, 5-6 minutes.
Once the pasta is cooked, add it to the skillet along with the pesto. Mix until the chicken and noodles are complete combined. Add the reserved pasta water. Finish off with cheese, if that’s your bag. Enjoy!
I’m in this odd place. After a bewildering few weeks, I finally felt some semblance of normal. I cut my hair, ripped hair out of my face (as I’d start to resemble Chewbacca), drafted new project proposals, revised short stories I’d written, and resumed trading cat photos with my closest friends. And then yesterday happened. I couldn’t get out of bed and I felt such a wave or sorrow I crawled under the covers all day and wrote. This felt so unsettling that I made myself walk nearly five miles to Marina Del Ray to watch Room. I had the theater to myself and it was strangely wonderful to enjoy (if one could say that about Room) an exquisite, heartbreaking film. After, I felt normal. On the way home I realized I agreed with this review, that I’d just seen a misogynist movie about misogyny, and thought about all the ways we’ve internalized hating women for the choices they make. Even the most resolute feminists. I came home and it was cold and I stayed up late, seemingly happy, and made plans for today.
Over the past few months, I’ve been thinking about the concept of how we choose to share parts of ourselves online. I’ve shared much of my life (with some very definitive limits I’ve set for myself–things you will never know) on this space but lately I’m feeling the need to withdraw, because sharing drives strangers to tell me what they feel is best for me and even though the words come from a place of good, they’re words from someone who knows only one part of me–the one I’ve chosen to share online. Very people know the whole of other people–doing that not only requires a tremendous amount of vulnerability but it empowers people to know you in context, know you beyond the words you share or how you shape a story. They see beyond your shape.
My friend Amber (who’s the kind of beautiful friend who checks in on me daily and I love her for it) shared this post today and much of it resonated, specifically this:
Another thing I’ve learned about friendship is that you will often be surprised by who shows up for you and who doesn’t. Sometimes, the people you show up and show up and show up for let you down. And sometimes they show up and show up and show up for you and you let them down. And sometimes the people you’ve blown off or that you would blow off if given the opportunity are the first to show up for you.
Geography has a way of letting you know which of your friends are willing to put in the work, or which friendships devolve into the passive catch-up game on Facebook. I read your status update and blog post, hence I know what’s going on in your life. The kind of friendships you scroll through but never exist in a more profound way. Since moving to Los Angeles, I’ve found comfort from people whom I least expected. New friends and old who’ve been through what I’m going through or they’re good at navigating sorrow. They don’t try to “fix me”, rather they just listen. The say, what can I do? They ask, how can I help? Sometimes they don’t say anything at all but they pick me up at my apartment and walk around Santa Monica and let me talk about everything but my sadness because my sadness has been the only thing I’ve been thinking about. Or they invite me to their home, cook me dinner and give me a list of things I need in the event of a zombie invasion. I laugh on the car ride home and think the world is filled with good, beautiful people and happiness is something worth fighting for. I wake to hope because reading this makes me feel like I’m not crazy.
So I’m doing this most annoying thing ever–I’m writing a winded blog post about what I’m not going to talk about. I’m in an odd place and every time I’ve attempted to blog I struggle with not wanting to talk about what I’m going through and finding something else to say. I’m finding a way to talk around this that’s honest because I only want to publish something on this space because it means something to me. I’m not here for the filler. I’m not beholden to anyone but myself. I don’t care what people think of me. While this vague and very nebulous sadness weighs heavy (and will be resolved, offline), I’m also surprised at the rate in which I’ve been able to produce new work. Amidst all this stuff, I’ve been writing non-stop. I’m working on a mixed-media story collection tentatively titled, Women in Salt, and these are stories about women in and out of peril, in various states of disquiet and unrest. I’ve living off savings at the moment and I’ve been spending money in commissioning custom illustrations and photography for the pieces I’ve written–all in an effort to add a visual layer. I also want to include short commissioned films throughout (10-15 seconds) so you feel these characters as if they’re matryoshka dolls–the varying media forms reveal layers within the story.
I published this short piece on Medium today, and who knows if anyone’s reading these stories or if anyone cares. Yet there’s one truth that is a certainty to which I need to hold on–this work is giving me joy amidst a disquiet I can’t logically explain. While my consulting proposals sit in inboxes this work gets me up in the morning. This work makes me want to care for the person in disquiet.
So there you have it. What I’ll talk about (everything but the elephant in the room), what I won’t talk about (this sadness and my journey through it), this new project, and lunch thrown in for good measure. I never said this was going to be neat and tidy. But it’ll be honest.
1 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil
2 tbsp of the reserved olive oil
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp onion powder
4 sage leaves
1 tsp salt/1 tsp pepper
1 15oz can pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cups crushed red tomatoes
4 cups of chicken stock
Salt/pepper to taste
1 lb gluten free pasta
1 lb ground sirloin
1 cup pecorino romano cheese
I was inspired to make this dish based on a soup I made last year, which was surprisingly delicious. It may sound bizarre to mix pumpkin and tomato, but I assure you that the combo yields such a superb depth of flavor. Just make sure you use pure pumpkin puree, not pumpkin pie mix–they’re often shelved alongside one another during the holiday season so be careful as you don’t want your pasta to taste like pie…well, unless you’re into that sort of thing.
In a large pot, add the sundried tomatoes, reserve oil, garlic, onion powder, salt, pepper, and sage leaves and cook until fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Add the pumpkin, tomatoes, chicken stock and stir until completely combined. Let it simmer on medium heat for 15-20 minutes. Blend the mixture with an immersion blender or in a standard blender. Allow the sauce to simmer on low, and if you need to thin out the mixture, add chicken stock.
In a large pot with salted water cook your pasta to al dente based on the package directions. I chose a gluten-free rigatoni, however, you can use any kind of pasta (linguine, fettucini, penne, etc). While the pasta is cooking, fry up the sirloin in a large skillet on medium/high heat. Over the years, I’ve learned a sage lesson about browning meat–don’t mess with it. Add the meat to the hot pan, break up a little with a wooden spoon and let cook for 4-5 minutes before you break down the meat so it cooks completely. If you keep futzing with your beef, you’ll overwork it and it’ll get mealy.
When the meat is done, ladle in the sauce, drain and add the pasta. Add salt, pepper, and pecorino cheese and serve immediately!
I read a post this week, one of those exhausting listicles from someone who purports to have learned universal truths and feels impassioned to pass them along. I hate these lists because they carry an assumption that life is neatly demarcated, as if a decade of years can be excised and put under a microscope for observation and analysis without realizing that truth doesn’t reveal itself in a linear continuum. I never compare decades, rather I think of what I’ve learned, and more importantly, unlearned, in the context of a complete life. We’re forever trying to figure things out; we’re always students and teachers at once–the only difference that age brings is the shifting balance between the two. In Hridaya Yoga, there’s a concept called spanda, or the primordial tremor of the heart, and I like to think of this in terms of pulsation between points in time–a present heart oscillating between the past and future, and life feels as if you’re always reconciling the two. There are things I knew about life intuitively when I was 10 that I struggle with now, at 39, and vice versa.
When I was ten I started to realize that you could lose people. Kids hopped off roofs and fell out of windows. The junk-sick lay, arms outstretched, in the park, their eyes and fingers jaundiced. And although the police have covered their bodies you could still see their toes, a patch of skin. People took pills, lots of them, and fell into a dark, undisturbed sleep. Cancer and tumors serve as breath-robbers and we lie on the pavement trying to memorize the license plates of cars that read, I keep on living. Time doesn’t take it, rather it shows you the inventory of what has been lost and how you’ve navigated your way through sorrow and fear, how you continue on as one of the living until you’re the one somebody cries over. You have become paper-thin, ash, a figure in the past tense. In the space between you will lose and you will be lost, you exist in the phrase, I am here. In the present, I order $400 worth of end-of-the-world supplies (iodine tablets, masks, 3,500 calorie food bars and packaged water) because you never know. In the present, I meet an extraordinary poet, a fellow introvert who skulks in corners and writes operas, and I think it used to take me a bottle of wine to walk into a room and wonder if meeting people, the excruciating fear of it, will get easier.
It’s easy to meet people but hard to cultivate a tribe, and while part of me aches for my friends back home and the ease with which I could see them, I love being in California because it affords me the thing which I thought inconceivable–a fresh start. And what I know at 39, I knew at 10–sometimes it wonderful to know someone without the burden of your history. The burden of that specter–who you used to be–no longer exists, and there is the only the present and the future and you’re retelling of your history.
I’ve spent much of my life as the caretaker of my own company. This is not a cause for slow-singing–I prefer solitude, however, I know the downside of that: the fear of never finding where I fit. The unease that accompanies an odd sort of voyeurism–while I prefer to be distant from things I sometimes long to be a part of things, and my struggle is achieving a balance between the two. Facebook is sometimes terrible in the way that it reminds me of all the things of which I’m not a part while at the same time providing a forum for which I can meet new people. Facebook reminds me that I’ll have to get blurbs for my book at one point and it’s harder because I’m not part of the “club”. Facebook reminds me of all the conversations I feel intimidated to participate in because I’m not part of the conversation. Most times I feel like an interloper, eavesdropping on conversations, skirting the edges. Most times I’m reminded that I’m not a part of something. Part of me is fine with this because belonging has its own set of rules, etiquette, and potential baggage, but what I knew at 10 is the same as 39–we yearn for people, we long for a place to lie down our head.
Last night I met a few extraordinary artists. One of them approached me as I was studying my story, head-down in a corner. Another came over because she preferred the quiet of corners too. An old friend, the host of the event, interrupts the conversation and I talk to her about her work. A decade ago she published a remarkable story collection and time and the business of work has altered her affection for work. We talk about the installation she’s created on the wall–a visual odyssey of her zig-zag journey across the country–all in an effort to understand and reconcile loss. She’s struggling with the project because the journey wasn’t (and isn’t) a linear one. The story doesn’t start at point A and ends with point B, rather depending on where you are in your life when you enter the story you might cleave to point C. Or point D may be your beginning. The narrative alters itself based on your experience (or point-of-view). I told her that I started the installation at one place, the middle, and the mess, and found myself reading not from left to right, not to establish a point of entry, rather I tried to understand her journey as a kaleidoscope, where one oscillates between confusion and clarity and the only thing that time brings is an accumulation of experience. And while she’s back in Los Angeles and has some sort of roots planted, she’s still traveling and I get it. I’m here, but I’m still traveling. I moved here because it offers the advantage of geography–physical and emotional space on terrain that is new, undiscovered, and alive.
At 10, at 18, 24, and 39, I’m still nomadic. I’m still trying to find my tribe.
1 qt (2 pints) low-sodium, organic/local chicken stock (or you can use vegetable)*
1 shallot finely diced
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp chopped fresh sage
1 cup of arborio rice
5 tbsp of pumpkin puree (you can use canned pumpkin, but DO NOT use pumpkin pie mix. This is a common mistake as both products are merchandised alongside each other)
2 tbsp truffle goat cheese (you can use regular goat cheese, as well)
1 tbsp pecorino romano cheese
1/4 tsp sea salt; 1/2 tsp white pepper
*1 quart is the equivalent of 32oz or 2 lbs
In a large pot, bring the stock to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Keep this pot next to our sauté pan, as you’ll need to continually ladle from the stock to the skillet, so proximity is key.
In a large sauté pan (translation: a skillet that can hold 3-4 quarts), sauté the shallots and salt on medium heat until translucent (1-2 minutes). Add the sage and stir for another 30 seconds. Pour in the rice and cook until the rice is translucent and browns slightly, approximately 1-2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low. You do not want burned onions or rice, so if this starts to happen ladle in liquid immediately. Do you want to sob over burnt risotto? My guess is NO WAY, NO DAY.
Add the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, and stir, and stir, and stir, until all of the liquid is absorbed. Keep ladling in the liquid in increments until all of the water is absorbed and the stock is thick and creamy. Remember, risotto isn’t a dish that will cook itself, it requires dedication, so be prepared to stand in front of the stove stirring for 20-30 minutes. I’ve been blasting Lil Wayne’s “I Feel Like Dying” in these sorts of parallel parking scenarios.
Once all of the water has been absorbed, stir in the pumpkin and pepper until the risotto transforms into a satiny orange. Mix in the cheese. Stir for a good minute and serve hot.
When I was told that I’d have to go without gluten for nearly a year I was sure the rapture was coming. I would sit in my doctor’s office while he pored over my bloodwork, shocked about my insulin spikes. What are you eating? he wondered aloud. How did you insulin levels jump this high so fast? At the same time my dentist studied my x-ray, studied me, and asked how I’d developed seven cavities in one year. I was 38 years old, drinking kale smoothies like it was my job and I was on the road to diabetes and several root canals.
DIABETES? You’ve got to be kidding me.
We have an image of sickness. A series of photographs and warnings that leave their indelible mark. I’m a relatively educated woman but I thought (erroneously) that diabetes was reserved solely for the obese, those who consumed processed foods. Let go of this image. Immediately. Diabetes doesn’t discriminate. Genetics also play a role, and seemingly “healthy” people can suffer from the illness. And while I was blitzing up smoothies and shopping local and organic, I couldn’t ignore the pasta, bagels and paninis I ate every. single. day. I couldn’t ignore that sugar and carbs subsumed the measly amount of vegetables, whole grains and legumes I consumed in comparison.
Last year I was on the road to ruin and I had to change my diet. FAST. But holy shit, how was I going to live without pasta.
When I first saw my nutritionist, I completed an exhaustive seven-page questionnaire and logged a food diary. One of the questions invited me to list foods I couldn’t imagine living without. I wrote: bread and pasta. These were my non-negotiables. Shoot me up with broccoli rabe and beets all you like–you’d have to pry a box of pasta off my dead body before I’d let go.
That was kind of a problem.
Recently I read Sarah Hepola’s Blackout. There’s a scene where she recounts lost time to her therapist. Hepola says, Everyone has blackouts, to which her therapist, bristled, replies, No, they don’t. I nodded along to this because I assumed blackouts were par for the adult course. One drank until they saw black. They drank until their mind was literally no longer able to create memories–the alcohol set up shop and was ready to do serious business.
I say this because I have a predilection for liking something to its unhealthy excess. I’m used to creating my own ruin because at least I thought I could control every aspect of it simply because the form of addiction is familiar. We cleave to that which is known–we’re frightened otherwise. And although I joke about chickpea fatwas and avocado addictions, there isn’t a day that goes by that I have to be mindful, aware, of my behavior. Am I ordering that pizza because I want to cope with an impossible client? Do I sit in front of my laptop and eat mindlessly because although I love Los Angeles, although I don’t regret–even for a moment–moving here, I miss my friends so dearly. I miss Amber. I miss Persia. I miss Mauve Cat Alex and Alex Alex (I’ve a lot of friends named Alex).
Food is for fuel not for recompense. Food is for subsisting not for cowering, shielding and hiding.
It took me a year but I now live a life where I’m not tethered to a box of macaroni and a loaf of bread. My insulin levels are normal, and after an expensive summer of painful dental work, I’m healthy, balanced.
Portioning my food into storage bins helps. Patroning farmer’s markets and connecting with the people who grow + cultivate the food I eat helps. California has brought me the gift of incredible produce. Never have I tasted peaches so ripe, with fruit so blistering claret. Never have I seen the diversity in pesto and tomatoes. Yesterday, before I met a friend for lunch, I trolled my local market and picked up bags of tomatoes, basil, peaches, cheese, figs, and local pork.
When I was eating gluten-free (I still sort of do), I hated the pastas. While it’s true that gluten-free fare has come a long way, corn, soy and potato are just as nutrient empty and unfulfilling as it’s white flour counterparts. Some brands didn’t keep well in the fridge, others were gummy and quinoa, for some reason, makes me extremely ill when I eat it.
I discovered Explore Asian’s bean pastas on a lark. The woman in front of me in checkout piled a few bags on the conveyer belt and I asked her if the pastas were any good. She nodded, said some were better than others, and she liked that they had a hefty amount of protein and held up well for leftovers. I’ve tried nearly all of them and they’re pretty exceptional. I’ve made them with avocado basil pesto, with chicken and all sorts of vegetables, and while the flavor takes a little getting used to (think of it as when you switched from Danon yogurt to Greek), these pastas are a mainstay in my pantry.
So after baking a peach crumble (i.e. this morning’s breakfast), I made this exceptional pasta dish. Not only did I need less of it (since the protein pretty much filled me up making room for PIE), I loved the flavors of the roasted tomato and bean with the salty sausage. AMAZING.
For the pesto
1 cup of tomatoes quartered. You can use any tomatoes, but I used 3-4 small of these farmer’s market tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil, salt pepper (all are for roasting)
2 cups of basil, packed
2 fat cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 tbsp pecorino romano cheese
1/2 cup olive oil (dial this up or down depending on how smooth you like your pesto)
Salt/pepper to taste
For the sausage pasta
1 package of your favorite bean pasta (I used this one), but you can just use a pound of your favorite pasta
1/2 pound of Italian or breakfast sausage out of their casings and roughly chopped
1 tbsp of olive oil for frying the sausage
Start with the tomatoes. In a 400F oven, roast the tomatoes with the olive oil, salt + pepper for 35-40 minutes until charred. Set the tomatoes aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a large skillet, fry up the sausage in olive oil until brown (7-10 minutes). While the sausage is cooking, add the pasta to the now boiling water and cook until al dente (per your package instructions). While both are cooking, add the tomatoes (and their juices), basil, garlic, cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper to a blender and blitz until smooth.
Drain the pasta (leaving 1/2 cup of pasta water aside), and add the pasta to the pan with the sausage. Toss to combine. Add the pesto, toss to combine, and let cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.
Serve hot with fresh basil and pecorino cheese. Enjoy!