walnut and marjoram pesto with radicchio

walnut and marjoram pesto with radicchio
There are some people who seem tickled to take on your sad history as their own. It’s an object to cuddle and sculpt to their floating aspirations. They see a chance, in you, to be their best selves. You can be the prettying gleam they turn their profile toward. –From Darin Strauss’ Half a Life

People have opinions, and they’ll do anything to share them short of buying a megaphone and shouting from the rafters. Their point-of-view resembles a three-piece luggage set they’re desperate to unpack. Everyone wants to warn me about Los Angeles, a vapid wasteland suffering from a drought of intellect. I don’t understand why you’re not moving to Santa Cruz, some says, to which I respond, it’s not for you to understand. I read endless articles where long-term tourists anthropomorphize New York, throw glitter on a city and call it their unrequited lover, while I sit mute, incapable of reply because New York is my home, not some romanticized idol from one’s misspent youth.

Some want to spend time talking about my move through the lens of their life. They use it as a filter to validate (or question) their life choices. Should I move too? Should I be making a major change? Am I okay? There are those whose sole responses are nothing more than plentiful and positive platitudes. This will be a needed change for you! Let in all the light!, etc–reductive, airless words that don’t invite dissent. My fear feels like an intrusion in this pretty space, and I’m left to express thanks and move on. Others have spent the past six months asking me detailed logistical questions about a move I’ve only started to plan–they want the story neat, packaged, and digestible so they have an aperitif worth passing along to others come brunchtime. Everyone likes the status update about me finding my dream apartment but no one wants to hear about the paralyzing fear and uncertainty of leaving the only home I’ve ever known. Give me a picture painted in sepia without the details.

I’m baffled and exhausted. I’m moving across the country–I’m leaving my home, friends, everything that is comfortable, convenient and known–yet I’m shouldering the weight of the collective self-analysis, the burden of opinions. I’m moving. I, first-person singular nominative case personal pronoun. My move is not about you or your life choices. Over the past few months I’ve felt subsumed by the noise that comes with people telling me how I’ll feel, where, when and how I should move, however, I can count on one hand the number of people who’ve asked, quite simply:

How you holding up?

No one’s asked me how I’m doing. Are you okay?

Instead, every encounter is an hour where I get it up for someone else. I present a tidy story that can be repackaged and sold elsewhere. Sometimes I watch the discomfort when I talk about being afraid of making my rent, my fear of driving and not being able to buy a car. I think: what if I can’t start my new book? What if I fail? (Though I know failure is a good thing, but it doesn’t make the sting of it any less cruel). I watch people wave the fear away, change topics, tell me that everything will be okay because I’m like a cockroach in the apocalypse. In the end, my fear feels small, not worthy of casual conversation, and I go home and collapse into bed and wonder if I can tape record the story of my move and press play so as to avoid all the good things people want to hear.

Don’t get me wrong–I just closed on an apartment and I’m thrilled beyond measure. The idea of biking along the beach and hiking in the mountains makes me quiver. The notion of navigating a new place and creating familiarity amidst the foreign is a challenge I welcome. I’ve friends in L.A. I haven’t seen in years and reuniting with them excites me. But still. I’m afraid, and this fear isn’t simple or neat–it’s raw and ugly and is like a suitcase overturned and the contents strewn all over the place. I want to feel this mess, the whole of it, and perhaps this is why I’m not seeing a lot of people. Perhaps this is why I’m withdrawing. Because I don’t want a broom just yet. I don’t want to spend my time making you feel okay about my major life change. Right now I need to be selfish. Right now I need to go through this.

Right now I need to surround myself with people who will hold my hand through the way–just as I’ve always held their hand during their moments of disquiet.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from A Modern Way to Eat, modified slightly.
12oz gluten-free penne
1 head of radicchio (about 7oz), shredded

For the pesto
1/3 cup shelled walnuts
1 small garlic clove, peeled
sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch of fresh marjoram, leaves picked
1 bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of one lemon

DIRECTIONS
In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add the pasta, stir to separate and cook to al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, toast the walnuts in a dry pan for 2-3 minutes. Remove the walnuts and blitz with the garlic in a food processor until it’s a thick paste. Add the herbs and blitz. Add the oil and lemon juice and blitz. Season with salt and pepper.

When the pasta is done, take 1/4 cup pasta water and drain the rest. Mix the pesto, pasta water, pasta until completely combined. Add in the shredded radicchio and mix. Serve hot!

walnut and marjoram pesto with radicchio

walnut and marjoram pesto with radicchio

homemade pad thai

pad thai

Funny how Facebook has a way of breathing new life into old wounds. Killing time, I stumbled upon news of a birth. Someone I used to know and love had a child, and normally I would be unfazed–I’d just keep scrolling, but this singular update, a life change, put my heart on pause. I was reminded of the cold excision of our friendship, a hurt from which I would need two years to recover. I spent most of today reliving that sadness, breathing through it, in hopes that it’ll pass as swiftly as it arrived. Today was supposed to be different. Today was supposed to be an extension of yesterday’s jubilance, of scrolling through potential homes in Los Angeles. Today wasn’t supposed to be this.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Gourmet Cookbook
1 cup boiling water
2 tbsp tamarind (from a pliable block)*
3 tbsp Asian fish sauce, preferably naam pla
3 tbsp packed palm sugar or light brown sugar
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 (7 ounce) package dried flat rice noodles (1/8 inch wide)**
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten (I nixed this)
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 small shallots, coarsely chopped
1/2 pound medium shrimp in shells (31-35 per pound), peeled deveined and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (I nixed this)
1/2 pound plain ultra-firm tofu, rinsed, patted, dry and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
8 scallions, quartered lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1 inch pieces
4 tbsp crushed unsalted roasted peanuts
1 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
Lime wedges are tasty

*The tamarind I purchased at my local market was fresh and already in liquid form so I nixed this whole process.
**I used brown rice noodles.

DIRECTIONS
Pour boiling water into a bowl, add tamarind, and stir mashing gently, for 3 minutes to soften. Pour mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on solids; discard solids.

Combine fish sauce, tamarind mixture, palm sugar, granulated sugar and salt in a small saucepan and heat over moderate heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Soak noodles in 10 cups boiling water in a large bowl until softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Drain well. Alternatively, you can cook your rice noodles to package directions. As long as you rinse the noodles in cold water, you’re fine.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wok ( or large deep skillet) over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Add eggs and cook, stirring, until scrambled and just cooked through, about 1 minute. Transfer eggs to a bowl and tear into small pieces.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in wok ( or skillet) over moderately high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add garlic and shallots and stir-fry until just beginning to brown, about 1 minute. Add shrimp and stir-fry for 1 minute, then add tofu and stir-fry until shrimp is just cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to bowl with eggs.

Heat wok over moderately high heat until hot. Add tamarind sauce and bring to a boil. Add noodles and stir-fry until tender and excess sauce is absorbed, 2 to 3 minutes. Add egg and shrimp mixture, 1 1/2 cups bean sprouts, scallions, 2 tablespoons peanuts, and red pepper flakes and toss well.

Mound pad thai on a platter, top with remaining 1 cup bean sprouts, and sprinkle with remainging 2 tablespoons peanuts. Serve with lime wedges.

pad thai

kale fried rice + “being an adult”

kale fried rice

How old are you? My accountant for nearly a decade rises from his chair and asks what he already knows. He moves into another room where I can’t see him. I buy time, ask what he’s making. Pasta fagioli, he says. The way he speaks reminds me of Italian matrons holding court in Bensonhurst, severing vowels at the end of sentences. Fagiol. I stand outside of his kitchen, but never dare enter it, because it would be rude to trespass this space. I think about a profile I recently read on Italo Calvino, penned by his English translator for The Paris Review. For nearly twenty years the two were colleagues, Calvino trusted Weaver with his work, yet the two spoke to one another using the formal address, lei. Even though I make the annual trip to my accountant’s home, even if I sit on his couch and use his pens to make notes along margins, stepping into his kitchen feels like an intrusion, a shift from the formal to the intimate and informal.

I don’t tell Paul my age but I lay down a few cards (not the whole hand, mind you), and reveal what I’m close to, what’s nearby: 40. To which he responds, You make this money but where does it go? Because you don’t strike me as the spendthrift type. He pauses, tries a joke on for size: Are you like the kids? What is it, weed? Alcohol? I laugh and consider the woman of ten, fifteen years past. A woman who loved her red wine and her coke cut into fine lines. She would be unrecognizable to both of us, but perhaps she lingers just beyond my reach. Perhaps she’s someone, if you look close enough, you can still see.

Or perhaps I strike him as the kind who would be anaesthetized with things that are ephemeral rather than the things that collect dust and fade over time. But this isn’t about blow or booze, not really, this is about being an adult. About having your house in order. About making a healthy six figures and still find yourself choking on an even healthier five-figure tax bill. This is about not having a house yet. Not being married yet. Not having kids yet. This is about a woman who spent years in banking but who can barely balance a checkbook.

I tell Paul that I’m still paying the debt from a previous life. I’m paying for the life I thought I needed, a life I felt I deserved. And that life was rife with finery, pretty things that stockpiled in tiny closets. I bought a life that was about to burst and here I am, years later, still paying the debt for all the things I have given away. Because by the time I realized what sort of life I really deserved, it was already too late.

I’m happy, truly happy, but I sometimes find myself bound to the traditional notions of what it means to be a grown-up. I am mature, I’ve the weight of years, knowledge and experience, but I don’t feel it. I look in the mirror and I don’t see 39. And when I look at bank account I certainly don’t fit the role of 39.

Part of me thinks I’ll always be this way–mercurial, nomadic, odd, strong, yet unable to reconcile an income statement. Part of me will always feel as if I’m straddling a strange middle between childhood and adulthood–some kind of curious adolescence. What is it mean to be an adult anyway? I never understood the dictionary with its binary definition of every word. The weight of the word feels unbearable, something to which I can barely live up. Instead I focus on what’s ahead–paying taxes, securing projects, saving for California. Focusing on a new home, hopeful for a new love, a quieter life.

Maybe one day I’ll get this money thing together, I say, collecting my bulk of papers and forms I need to sign with checks I need to mail. We exchange looks that say the unsaid, the very opposite.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from My Father’s Daughter by Gwyneth Paltrow, modified slightly
2 cups baby kale, stems discarded
1 ½ tbsp vegetable oil
2 clove garlic, peeled and very finely minced
3 large scallions, cut into 1/8 inch diagonal slices
2 ½ cup cooked brown rice
1 tbsp + 1 tsp tamari sauce

DIRECTIONS
Cut the kale leaves in half lengthwise and then cut crosswise into very thin ribbons (chiffonade).

Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, being careful not to brown the garlic. Raise the heat to medium and add the steamed kale and scallions. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the greens have wilted, and then add the rice and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring. Add the tamari sauce and cook for 30 seconds more.

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creamy avocado pasta + a healthy living update

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I’m going to say something that’s rather shocking: I’m no longer in love with pasta. In fact, I’m glad we’ve been on a mini-break. I realize saying that is antithetical to sharing this recipe with you, but bear with me.

I’ve spent the greater part of my adult life in a rapturous relationship with the noodle. If you count the number of recipes on this space over the years (and I have), pasta will far exceed any dish. I’ve made every kind of pesto imaginable; I was the McGyver of spaghetti–you give me a noodle and I’ll find a new way to cook it. I consumed pasta every day, sometimes twice a day (shudders), and when I first met my nutritionist and she asked me about my non-negotiables, what would be the one food I could not live without out, without hesitation I wrote: pasta. My doctor, after reviewing the startling results of a routine blood work, expressed concern about my insulin levels. What are you eating, he asked? Describe a typical day. To which I responded, oatmeal, kale smoothie, or bagel for breakfast, pasta for lunch and perhaps pasta for dinner, a light went off and I imagine he could picture all those refined carbohydrates turning into sugar.

It’s been eight months since I started on this journey to living a mindful life, where I’ve abstained from gluten and dairy (and, for a time, a laundry list of other, unrelated foods), and really thought not only about the food I was consuming over the course of day, but also the composition of food on my plate. Setting the weight loss aside (which wasn’t the primary reason for seeking help, the impetus was related to the severe abdominal pain I’d been enduring for over a year, in addition to a host of other ailments), the journey has been both a difficult and auspicious one, and with a diet primarily comprised of vegetables, legumes, gluten-free grains, lean proteins, and good fats, keeping up my pasta addiction was impossible.

Don’t get me wrong–I’ve found other cruel substitutes (the potato is quite extraordinary as is dark chocolate)–but I’ve gone weeks at a time without even having a gluten-free variation. Because although the new forms of gf pasta are pretty tasty, the best kinds are made with rice and corn, which are not necessarily rock stars in the nutrition department. Often, I’m left unsatiated, and I find myself eating nuts to quell my hunger. I never really noticed this before–the hit that eating a pesto pasta can give you, that momentary feeling of euphoria, before the crash and the desire to eat again all too soon.

In the past month I’ve had small portions of cheese (in Nicaragua), and without realizing, a small bit of gluten (whole wheat flour in a mujadara I’ve been buying, the ingredients of which I only discovered yesterday), and while the flare-ups from this summer have abated I still feel off. I can’t explain it. Even with minor portions I feel bloated, tired and sluggish, and I’m remembering a conversation I had with my nutritionist when she explained that gluten and dairy, moving forward, should be considered treats, indulgences of which I can take part twice a month.

That’s gluten OR dairy two times a month. For the rest of my life. I’m going to let that sink in.

At first I was horrified because I always initially balk at change, but since I’ve had to go around the gluten and dairy business (and gluten-free substitutions for every dish kind of miss the point of being healthy and vegan cheese does not entice me in the least) I’ve discovered so many other foods and flavors that have rocked the casbah.

I’m not even going to talk about the plantain and bean game in Nicaragua without weeping into tissues.

Over the past eight months I’ve had the joy of reintroducing the AVOCADO back into my life. You guys don’t even understand. For nearly 15 years I couldn’t eat avocados because I spent a summer overdosing on them and, as a result, developed a severe allergic reaction whenever I consumed them (similar to how I used to feel eating copious amounts of gluten). This year I slowly incorporated them back into my life, and aside from the glory that is the GUACAMOLE, I’ve been surprised how often I use avocado as a creaming agent. I’ll throw 1/3 of an avocado in my morning smoothie to thicken it. I’ve made a chocolate mousse; that is so strong you won’t even miss the milk. I’ve added it to soups (squash and tomato are favorites) just as I’m about to blitz the mixture in the blender (a nice alternative to cashew cream and you’ll barely taste the avocado, yet reap all of its nutritional benefits), and yesterday I blitzed up a creamy basil pesto.

My god this was GOOD.

I added in twice as much basil from the original recipe and the juice of a whole lemon, which really made this sauce sing. The noodles have a light coating of cream and they’re absolute silk when you stir in some of the reserve pasta water.

And while I LOVED this dish, I was a little hungry (not as ravenous because I had some good fat from the sauce, but still) a couple hours later and hoovered some nuts before I went to bed. But still, this dish is a lovely indulgence without the weight of cream in your system.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Oh She Glows Cookbook with slight modifications.
9 ounces (255 g) uncooked pasta (use gluten-free, if desired)
1 to 2 small cloves garlic, to taste
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, plus more for serving
Juice from a medium lemon
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 ripe medium avocado, pitted
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon (1 to 2 mL) fine-grain sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Lemon zest, for serving

DIRECTIONS
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package.

While the pasta cooks, make the sauce: In a food processor, combine the garlic and basil and pulse to mince.

Add the lemon juice, oil, avocado flesh, and 1 tablespoon (15 mL) water and process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed. If the sauce is too thick, add another 1 tablespoon (15 mL) water. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Drain the pasta, setting aside 1/4 cup of the pasta water, and place it back in the pot. Add the avocado sauce (and reserve pasta water) and stir until combined. You can gently rewarm the pasta if it has cooled slightly, or simply serve it at room temperature.

Top with lemon zest, pepper, and fresh basil leaves, if desired.

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the best gluten-free meatballs you’ll ever make (no, seriously)

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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.

INGREDIENTS
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

DIRECTIONS
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!

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creamy tomato basil pasta (vegan/gluten-free…I know, but it’s really good)

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You should know that I used to be addicted to pasta. As someone who used to drink men under the table, under the floorboards, I know a bit about compulsion, about the need to feel anesthetized. To be here, but not really, and you know how it is. It got to a point where I went through several boxes of pasta a week. I’d have a pesto pasta for lunch and gnocchi for dinner, and I’d only post a photo of a kale salad or green smoothie, but you know all about that faux Insta life–it’s proliferated all over the internet to a point where one could call it a disease.

When my doctor and nutritionist broke the news, that even after these nine months of living gluten-free I can never eat like I had before, I was practically catatonic. I kept asking how did this happen? How did I allow myself to get to this place? How had I substituted a glass of red wine for a seemingly demure plate of cacio e pepe? Had I been asleep for the bulk of my waking life to only wake to a smack in the face? When I learned that I could only have gluten OR dairy once a week, that pasta would soon be relegated to an occasion meal, it took a while to accept this. It took a good two weeks to overcome my withdrawal from gluten.

Even now, even when there are so many terrific gluten-free pasta options (I found Bioitalia while I was in Spain and I’m hooked), I have to be careful. Because I’m swapping out gluten for rice, potato and other starches, which are fine in moderation but don’t for a healthy, balanced diet make. And I’ve got this thing for developing unhealthy attachments to specific foods (Exhibits A, B, C: pasta, avocados, chickpeas–all of which required individually-deployed fatwas). So know that when I post a pasta recipe it better be a DAMN GOOD ONE because I can’t have it for another week or two.

You should know that cashew/almond cream is the best thing to have entered my life since Cup4Cup flour. The combination yields the creamy texture and taste of heavy cream without the bloat and the sickening full feeling that invariably happens when you feast on any dairy-rich dish.

Trust me on this.

Part of me wishes I’d never found this recipe because now I have leftovers in the fridge that I can’t touch until the end of the week. DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE GLUTEN STRUGGLE? It’s real, friends. Real.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Oh She Glows Cookbook, with modifications
1/2 cup roasted unsalted cashews (soaked for 2 hours, or overnight)
1/2 cup unsweetened, unflavored almond milk
9 ounces uncooked gluten-free pasta (basically 3/4 of a package)
1 tsp olive oil
1 small shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups canned crushed tomatoes, drained (I use San Marzano)
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
3 handfuls baby kale
1 cup packed fresh basil, finely chopped
2-3 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Start by soaking the cashews. Place the cashews in a bowl and add enough water to cover. Soak for at least 2 hours, or overnight. Drain and rinse. Blitz the nuts and almond milk in a high-speed blender until smooth and creamy (approximately 1 minute). Set aside.

Boil water and cook pasta according to instructions on package.

In a large pan, heat oil over medium heat. Saute onions and garlic for 5-10 minutes, until translucent. Add tomatoes and kale and continue cooking for 7-10 minutes over medium-high heat, until the kale is wilted.

Stir in the cashew cream, basil, tomato paste, oregano, salt, and pepper, and cook for another 5-10 minutes, or until heated through.

Drain the pasta (reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta water) and add it to the sauce. Add the reserve pasta water, and stir to combine well, cooking for a few minutes until heated through.

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lasagne bolognese al forno {translation: the best lasagne you’ll ever make}

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Who just up and abandons a stack of Gourmet magazines in mint condition? Who retires a magazine, rich with 65+ years of gastronomic history and the stories traded in the company of our beloveds, to the recycling bin? On my way to the city yesterday, I paused in front of a few large brown boxes filled to the brim with back issues of Gourmet from the years 2004-2007. Perhaps I’m insane but I took as many issues as I could carry and took some on my return trip home. While I have a relatively clutter-free home and I live pretty minimally, Gourmet is the only, worthy exception in breaking my sparsity rule.

Gourmet is the reason you break every rule.

On the subway I rifled through the issues and found myself captivated by the April 2006 cover — an austere white plate showcasing a decadent slice of lasagna bolognese. Clearly I felt compelled to spend three hours on a Sunday afternoon making the grand dame of baked pastas, and as Edith Piaf once so sagely crooned, I have no regrets.

This is the sort of lasagne you want to pull apart with your hands. It’s primal, intensely flavorful and delicious. I’ve no shame admitting that I stood over my kitchen counter and dove right in with a fork and an appetite. Friends, Romans, Countrymen, PLEASE DO THE SAME.

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INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Mario Batali for Gourmet, April 2006
For the Ragu Bolognese:
5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp butter
1 carrot, finely, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 rib celery, finely diced
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 pound veal, ground {I used beef}
1 pound pork, ground
1/4 pound pancetta or slab bacon, ground
1/2 tube tomato paste
1 cup milk
1 cup dry white wine {I used red wine, a Montepulciano}
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmigiano-Reggiano, for grating

For the Lasagna al Forno {you can also use homemade lasagne sheets purchased from gourmet food shops, as I did}:
4 extra-large eggs
6 ounces frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed very dry and chopped very fine
3 1/2 to 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus 1/2 cup for dusting the work surface
1/2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

For the Besciamella:
5 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
3 cups milk
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
8 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, for grating

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DIRECTIONS
For the ragu bolognese: In a 6 to 8-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and garlic and sweat over medium heat until the vegetables are translucent and soft but not browned, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the veal, pork, and pancetta and stir into the vegetables. Add the meat over high heat, stirring to keep the meat from sticking together until browned. Add the tomato paste, milk, and wine and simmer over medium-low heat for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and remove from the heat.

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For the lasagna al forno: Combine eggs and spinach. Mound 3 1/2 cups of the flour in the center of a large wooden cutting board. Make a well in the middle of the flour and add the egg and spinach mixture and the olive oil. Using a fork, beat together the spinach, eggs and oil and begin to incorporate the flour, starting with the inner rim of the well.

As you expand the well, keep pushing the flour up from the base of the mound to retain the well shape. The dough will come together when half of the flour is incorporated.

Start kneading the dough with both hands, using the palms of your hands. Once you have a cohesive mass, remove the dough from the board and scrape up and discard any leftover bits. Lightly reflour the board and continue kneading for 6 more minutes. The dough should be elastic and a little sticky. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. Divide the dough into 3 equal portions and roll each out to the thinnest setting on a pasta rolling machine.

Bring about 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons salt. Set up an ice bath next to the stove top. Cut the pasta into 20 (5-inch) squares and drop into the boiling water. Cook 1 minute, until tender. Drain well and refresh in the ice bath. Drain on towels and set aside.

For the besciamella: In a medium saucepan, heat butter until melted. Add flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until light golden brown, about 6 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat milk in separate pan until just about to boil. Add milk to butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth and bring to a boil. Cook 30 seconds and remove from heat. Season with salt and nutmeg and set aside. Your bechamel should be thick and lump-free.

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For assembly: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a brownie pan, assemble the lasagne, beginning with a layer of ragu, a sprinkling of grated Parmigiano, a layer of pasta, a layer of bechamel, a layer of ragu, a sprinkling of grated Parmigiano etc. until all sauce and pasta are used up. The top layer should be pasta with bechamel over it. Top the lasagne with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and bake in the oven for 30 to 45 minutes, until the edges are browned and the sauces are bubbling. Remove and allow to cool for 10 minutes before slicing.

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quick eats: parsley + chive pesto pasta with grilled chicken

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DIRECTIONS: Blitz the pesto ingredients: parsley, chives, garlic, nuts, cheese + olive oil to a smooth paste. Set aside in a large bowl | In a large skillet, add a tablespoon of olive oil and the seasoned chicken chunks, and cook until the chicken is browned on all sides {3-5 minutes} | While the chicken is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the fresh pasta and cook for under a minute. Drain, and add pasta to the pesto and toss to combine. Add pasta water if the mixture is too thick | Add the chicken and toss to combine | Serve with freshly-grated pecorino romano

packing lunch for the week: easy skillet lasagna

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INGREDIENTS: 1lb ground sirloin | 1lb tagliatelle {or any flat/wide noodle} | 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped | 4-8oz of your favorite homemade tomato sauce. I’m giving you a wide range, as I tend to like my pastas on the dry side, lightly dressed with sauce | 1/2 cup pasta cooking water | 6oz fresh mozzarella cheese |2oz fresh goat cheese | pecorino romano, salt, pepper to taste.

DIRECTIONS: Pre-heat oven to 350F | In a cast iron skillet, add about a tablespoon of olive oil, salt, pepper, and saute the meat until brown | While the meat cooks, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the pasta and cook to al dente | Once the meat has browned, add the sauce and basil | Once the pasta is al dente, add the pasta water and pasta to the skillet and toss to coat | Add the cheeses and mix to combine | Bake the lasagna for 15 minutes until the cheese is melted | Add pecorino to taste.

herbed arugula pesto chicken with pasta

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“The violence of this erasure needs to be exposed. While “do what you love” sounds harmless and precious, it is ultimately self-focused to the point of narcissism. Jobs’ formulation of “do what you love” is the depressing antithesis to Henry David Thoreau’s utopian vision of labor for all. In “Life Without Principle,” Thoreau wrote,

… it would be good economy for a town to pay its laborers so well that they would not feel that they were working for low ends, as for a livelihood merely, but for scientific, even moral ends. Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for the love of it. “-Miya Tokumitsu, “In the Name of Love”

I’ve been thinking about this notion of doing what you love lately, in light of a comment my friend made when I expressed frustration over not defining concretely what it is I want to do with my life. I was adamant about this sort of work being the thing that lights skies, something so pure that it borders on an idyll, and she relayed that maybe I wasn’t meant to know you, that maybe this journey I’m on is the work. On the subway ride home I gave thought to when I’ve been happiest, and my joy comes from an odd mixture of pursuits. I love being challenged by marketing to consumers, creating organizational models and workflows, and sometimes I even revel (if you can believe it) in the telenovela-esque drama that accompanies execution of the above. Yet, I also love the intimacy of being alone, of writing and baking and not feeling as if I have to make a job out of doing both. I guess what I mean to say is that I like the juxtaposition of challenge and work and the freedom of non-work, and more importantly, my ability to control how much time I can devote to the two. For me, turning my creative side into something that drives monetary gain feels wrong, somehow taints the art for me, reduces it to something rote whereas it can be something that does not define itself (and its success) solely on the terms of how much money can be derived from it.

For a time I believed that I should only pursue that which I love, however, when I gave this a bit of thought I realized that, akin to the argument Tokumitsu makes, that ideology is an exercise in flights of fancy. It also doesn’t truly suit me. I have real, pragmatic financial obligations, which can’t be tossed aside for hopping on planes and jetting around the world for months at a time, but I don’t mind having to work really hard to be able to take off weeks at a time to travel to the places I only dreamed of, to take yoga classes during the day and spend more time with the people I love because I have time. To me, that’s the great gift in all of this, time.

Perhaps this is a winded way of saying that what I love is balance, is having all of my creative and intellectual children playing nice in the sandbox, as it were.

Come Sundays, I prepare my lunch for the week, for I work three days in an office, one day at home, and the rest of the time is devoted to the creative play that fuels me for the next week. I’m thoughtful in what I make and how I pack my lunches, and while my commute is long and sometimes challenging, and the frenzy of office life can be subsuming, I don’t feel the anger and bitterness that once consumed me, because I finally feel as if I have control over my time.

INGREDIENTS
1 lb pasta
1 lb chicken strips, sliced into one-inch cubes
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp chopped fresh oregano
1 tsp Maldon sea salt
1/2 tsp cracked pepper
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
1/4 cup pecorino romano cheese
Arugula pesto (recipe)

DIRECTIONS
In a large bowl, add 1 tbsp olive oil, chicken, rosemary, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper. Toss to evenly coat, cover with plastic wrap, and leave for 20 minutes, at room temperature. Make the arugula pesto, and set it aside.

Fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Add pasta, stir and cook until al dente (1-2 minutes below the cooking time as labeled on the package.

While the pasta is cooking, add the herbed chicken, the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to a large, hot cast iron skillet. Don’t stir too much, but cook until all sides are brown, 6-8 minutes. Add the pesto to the chicken to coat.

Drain the pasta, add it to the chicken and stir to combine. Add cheese and serve hot!

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