Pasta


Here’s another pasta and potato dish that suits the summer. No claims to originality here. This combination of ingredients can be found, I’m sure, in many other recipes. But, then again, how many combinations of basic refrigerator staples can there be? I open the door of the fridge, see a cauliflower that demands to be consumed before it grows mold, some pancetta or guanciale in the same condition, and a few fingerling pototoes in the straw larder. My options are limited, but fortunately I love the effect of combining these elements.

1. Preheat oven to 400.

2. Cut either a small whole cauliflower or half a medium-sized one into florets. Then halve or quarter them. Put the cauliflower pieces in a bowl. Pour in a slug of olive oil and stir to coat the pieces. Add salt and pepper. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spread the cauliflower around the baking sheet. Don’t crowd the pieces. Put in oven and roast for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges of the cauliflower turn brown and caramelized.

2. Put on a pot of well-salted water to boil. Measure 3 1/2 oz of orecchiette pasta and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, mince a big clove of garlic. Dice 1 or 2 oz pancetta, a strip of bacon, or guanciale. Cut into small cubes about 4 fingerling potatoes. Scrap the kernels off one ear of corn and set aside.

4. Sauté the garlic in a bit of oil in a medium sized skillet. Add the pancetta or bacon and stir so that the garlic doesn’t turn golden. After a few minutes, add the potato cubes and corn and continue sauteing.

5. When the cauliflower is done, scrap the pieces off the foil into the skillet.

6. Add 3 1/2 oz. orecchiette to the boiling water and cook for the recommended time minus 2 minutes. Scoop out the pasta with a slotted spoon or spider and dump the wet pasta right into the skillet. Turn up the flame. Add a touch of pasta water (not too much) — just to provide moisture to keep the pasta cooking. Attend closely, let the water evaporate, season as necessary.

7. Meanwhile, chop the parsley and cut 1 oz parmesan cheese to have it ready to grate at the end.

8. When the pasta has reached the degree of firmness you like and the water has almost entirely evaporated, tip the contents of the skillet into a pasta bowl, scatter parsley over it, and grate the cheese.

9. Eat.

10. Savor.

Partially inspired by an old Saveur recipe.

Patricia Wells’s recipe for Penne ‘Risotto’ taught me how to make a rich pasta sauce with little effort by treating the dried pasta like arborio rice. It’s a trick well worth adding to your bag of techniques. Last night, I surveyed the contents of my fridge: half a duck-and-cherry sausage, some homemade chicken broth, and carrots. I put them all together as if I were making risotto.

Et voilà…

around 2 cups chicken broth (you may have some left over)

a little bit of olive oil or a teaspoon or two of duck fat

2 1/2 – 3 oz duck sausage (failing that, use Italian sausage), casing removed

1/2 small onion, diced

1 carrot, diced

3 1/2 oz gemelli pasta

kosher salt

Parmesano reggiano, grated

Warm a pasta bowl in the oven while you prepare the pasta. Bring the chicken broth to a simmer in a saucepan.

Put the oil or fat in a small or medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, one in which you might make a small amount of risotto. When the oil is hot, break up the sausage as you put the pieces in the fat. Sauté until it starts to brown. Add the onion and stirring to prevent sticking to the bottom. If you see there is more than a tablespoon or so fat, pour off excess fat and return to the burner. Add the uncooked pasta and the diced carrots, stirring to coat them in the fat. Sauté until the color of the pasta has deepened as if it has been toasted, 3-4 minutes over a medium-low flame.

When the pasta has thoroughly absorbed the fat, pour in a half cup of the broth, reduce the heat to a simmer, and stir occasionally until the liquid has mostly evaoporated. Think of each additional half cup of broth as adding a layer of flavor. Wwait until each  layer has been absorbed into the pasta before adding more broth. You will probably add 1 1/2 to 2 cups of broth, depending on how quickly the broth evaporates. It will take a bit longer for the pasta to soften than it would if you were boiling it furiously in water. Cook until the sauce is reduced to the consistency you prefer.

When the pasta is nearly ready — firm to the bite, without crunch — add salt and pepper. If you need more moisture, add broth very sparingly. Take your warmed pasta bowl out of the oven and tip the pasta into it. Grate the parmesan and go eat.

Next time:

  • I’ll try it with Italian sausage.
  • I’ll pour in some white wine when I’ve added the pasta and carrots, although it’s liable to slow down the cooking process, but that’s ok. The additional flavor would be worth it.
  • And chopped parsley.

Adapted from a recipe that I can no longer find (The Guardian, I think).

Why did I plant sixteen tomato plants? My kitchen counters are awash in tomatoes. So, I’m cooking with them as much as possible. By dinner time last night, I had enough Weight Watchers points to use a bit of bacon and an ounce of parmesan with pasta. Swiss chard (from my garden), tomatoes (ditto), and red onion laid over a base of garlic and smoked bacon made for a hunger-diminishing plate of pasta. This is a pasta dish where there is definitely more sauce (mainly vegetables) than there is pasta. But you won’t care.

Calories for 1 serving: 350

Weight Watchers points: 7

Servings: 2

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 thick strips of smoked bacon, cut into small chunks

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 red onion, chopped

a bunch of Swiss chard leaves, stems removed

1 pound plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped

salt and pepper

a scant two cups (112 g) dried orecchiette pasta

Prepare all the ingredients before you proceed. Put pasta bowls in warm oven. Put a pot of water on to boil for both the chard and the pasta. While it is coming to a boil, heat the olive oil and add the bacon pieces. Fry until not quite crisp. Reduce heat and add garlic and red onion. Stir to prevent the garlic from turning deep gold.

When the water is boiling, add the Swiss chard leaves to the water. Depending on how fresh or thick they are, blanch the leaves anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes. Drain, let cool, while you continue to stir the garlic to prevent from burning. After a few minutes, add the chopped tomatoes.

Bring the water that you’ve blanched the chard in  to a boil again and add the pasta, which should take 11 minutes or so, which will give you time to continue.

While the tomatoes cook down, use your hands to gather the blanched chard into a ball and squeeze as much water out of it as possible. Roughly chop the chard and add to the bacon, tomatoes, garlic, and onion. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to incorporate. The tomatoes should give off liquid. Adjust heat to prevent the liquid from evaporating completely.

Drain the pasta, shake excess water off, and toss into the skillet with the sauce. Stir and taste for seasoning. Transfer to heated pasta bowls. Grate fresh parmesan over the plates and serve.

from The Kitchen Diaries, pp. 372-74.

I had an organic Mary’s duck in my freezer. The temperatures are soaring into the 100s. That frozen bird, I knew, would not last until fall. I had to roast it no matter how hot it made the house. Not only is roast duck out of season, but the recipe I chose to make — because it’s the most straightforward — is Nigel’s early Christmas lunch. You can’t get much less seasonal than that at the end of June. Oh, well. In for a penny, in for a pound.

But I also decided to eke as many meals out of that one duck as I could. I’ve managed four: roast duck and potatoes; pasta with duck; another pasta with duck; and duck broth for soup. Plus, I saved all the fat (you can strain it, if you’re fussy about the clarity of your duck fat).

First, Nigel’s basic recipe (bookmark this for the fall holidays):

a large duckling, weighing about 2.5 kg [or 5 1/2 pounds]

potatoes, such as Maris Piper — 6 medium [I used Yukon Gold]

pancetta — 150 g [or about 5 oz; or the same amount in unsmoked bacon]

olive oil, mild, not fruity [this means not extra-virgin]

onions — 2 medium

thyme — 5 or 6 sprigs

bay leaves — a couple

a wine glass of Marsala [Shadowcook: I used Madeira]

Preheat the oven to 200 C [or 400 F]. Remove the giblets from the duck, rinse the bird inside and out and pat it dry with kitchen paper. If you can do this an hour or so before you begin to cook. leaving the duck in a cool place, then all to the good.

Peel the potatoes and cut them into finger-thick slices, dropping them into cold water as you go. Cut the pancetta into cubes, then put it into a large roasting tin [or pan] with a tablespoon of oil. [Shadowcook: Use as little oil as possible; the duck will release rivers of its own.] Warm it over a low heat, letter the pancetta flavour the oil but without letter it colour. Introduce the slices of potato, shaken dry, into the fat and let them cook slowly.

Whilst this is going on, peel and cut the onions first in half, then each half into about six. Add them to the potatoes along with the thyme leaves stripped from their stems.

[Shadowcook: It’s sweet of Nigel to give us the benefit of the doubt and order the steps of this recipe as if we were all flash peelers like he no doubt is. But if I were you, I’d peel and cut up the onions before I started sweating the pancetta and frying the onions. Get all your ducks in a row, as they say, before you begin cooking.]

Turn everything over gently as it cooks, letting the potatoes and onions colour very slightly. Season with salt and pepper and a couple of bay leaves, then remove from heat.

[Shadowcook: Actually, I put the bay leaves into the cavity of the bird.]

Price the skin of the duck all over with a fork, then season it inside and out with salt. Lay the duck on top of the potatoes, then put it in the oven and roast for an hour and a half, until the potatoes are soft and both they and the duck are golden. From time to time, push the spuds, particularly those that are browning too quickly, to one side, and spoon a little of the cooking juices over any that appear dry. During the cooking, carefully tip off most of the fat taht is pour out of the duck and that has not been absorbed by the potatoes.

[Shadowcook: The danger here is that the potatoes will burn, like some of mine did. In addition to keeping a close eye on the roasting pan, pouring off the fat will help avert the danger of burnt potatoes.]

Test to see that the duck is done. there should be no sign of blood in the juices and the skin should be crisp and singing. Remove the potatoes to a warm serving dish.

[Shadowcook: And then again, there’s the meat thermometer. At this step, I’d remove the bird at 165-170 F and proceed.]

Turn the oven up to 220 C [425 F]. Put the duck back in the oven and let it crisp for five minutes or so, then transfer it to a warm dish. Quickly pour the Marsala [or Madeira] into the roasting tin [or pan] and place it over a moderately high heat (you don’t want it to boil away), scraping at any stuck bits in the tin [or pan]. The idea is to get any pan stickings and sediment to dissolve into the gravy. Whilst the sauce is bubbling, carve the duck and serve it with the potatoes. Check the pan juices for seasoning — they may need a little salt — then spoon over the duck.

Enough to serve 2 generously. [Shadowcook: I’ll say! I carved off a leg and saved the rest for the following recipes.]

Now, my turn:

1. Sauteed cherry tomatoes and duck meat over fresh pasta

1 serving

1 – 2 teaspoons duck fat and NO MORE

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 shallot, minced

somewhere between a 1/2 quart to 1 quart cherry tomatoes, as many as you would like, halved

[In the photo above, most of what you see is cherry tomatoes reduced to a sauce]

the meat of one of the breasts from leftover carcass of roasted duck, chopped or sliced into thin strips

salt and pepper

3 oz fresh pasta

flat leaf parsley, chopped fine

1 oz freshly grated parmesan cheese

First, put a big pot of salted water on to boil. Then put a pasta bowl into a warm oven to keep it warm.

Then, in a smallish skillet, heat the 1 or so teaspoon of duck fat over medium low heat. Add the minced garlic and shallot. Sauté until softened. Add the halved cherry tomatoes, turn the heat up a little, and leave to sauté for 3-5 mins. As they soften, mash some of the tomatoes with the back of the wooden spoon, and stir. When the tomatoes have released juices and created a sauce, turn down the heat, and add the chopped duck meat. Season to taste. Simmer on low until the pasta until sauce is reduced to your liking. Keep warm until pasta is ready.

Cook the fresh pasta 4-5 minutes, drain, and without shaking the extra water off immediately transfer the pasta to the skillet. Sprinkle chopped parsley over and stir. Transfer to warmed pasta bowl and grate parmesan over. Eat.

2. Sautéed artichokes, duck, and sorrel over fresh pasta

several small artichokes

quarter of a lemon

1-2 teaspoons duck fat

1 shallot, minced

the meat from one breast of a roasted duck

1/4 to 1/2 cup white white, preferably a sauvignon blanc, not an oaky wine

French sorrel or flat-leaf parsley, chopped

3 oz fresh or dried pasta

Don’t start the water until you’re ready to sauté the artichokes. Put a small bowl of water to the side. You’ll put your artichoke pieces in it to prevent them from turning brown. Squeeze into it the juice of a quarter or half lemon.

To prepare the artichokes, break off all the leaves until you get close to the center, where the leaves are more yellow than green. Cut off the top part, above the rim of the artichoke heart. With a small paring knife, peel the stem and smooth the underside of the artichoke where you’ve broken off the leaves. Then cut out the center of the choke so that you have a small hollow. Your little artichoke should look like a baseless goblet. Cut it into quarters or eighths, depending on how big it is. Drop into a bowl of lemon water.

Now, put a pot of salted water on to boil. Go on with the recipe, but put the pasta in the water whenever it’s ready. Heat the oven to its lowest setting and put a pasta bowl in to warm it.

Put one teaspoon (or more, depending on how many artichokes you use, but a little goes a long way) in a skillet over a medium low flame. Add the chopped shallot and stir. Watch to make sure it doesn’t brown. When the shallot has softened, drain the artichoke pieces, shake off the excess water, and then add to the skillet. Stir to coat them with the fat. Turn the heat up a little and sauté them for about 5 minutes. When the artichokes have softened a little, add the duck meat. Stir to coat the meat and let cook for a couple of minutes. Then add the wine and adjust heat so that the liquid reduces but only so fast as to keep pace with the cooking pasta. If necessary, add water to keep it all moist.

Drain the pasta. Try not to shake off the excess water, if the artichokes and duck are a little on the dry side. Add the pasta to the skillet, toss, let it heat, and sprinkle the sorrel or parsley over it. Pull the warmed pasta bowl out of the oven and tip the sauce over the pasta. If you want to add parmesan, go ahead, but I prefer it without.

3. Vietnamese Duck Soup with Noodles


The broth:

1 duck carass with lots of shaggy meat on it (although you should cut off chunks or slices to put in the soup at the end)

1 onion sliced up

2 cloves

1 star anise

the seeds of 1 cardomon pod

1/2 teaspoon coriander seed

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon Vietnamese fish sauce

Put all the ingredients in a stock pot. Fill with water to a couple of inches above the carcass. As the liquid heats, skim the scum off the surface of the broth. Bring to a boil. Once it’s at a boil, turn the heat to low and simmer for 2 to 3 hours.

When the broth is ready, strain the broth through a fine-meshed sieve lined with either cheesecloth or a paper towel.

You’ll have more than you’ll need for a big bowl, so pour into a saucepan four cups of the broth. Freeze the rest of keep it in the refrigerator and use it within a few days.

The soup:

4 cups duck broth

1 serving size fresh ramen noodles or any other fresh Asian noodles you like

1 serrano chile, minced

cilantro leaves, whole

green onions, sliced thin

bean sprouts

Bring a medium sized pot of water to a boil. Lightly untease the fresh noodles and drop them into the water. I prefer what Ramen Fanatics (of which I am merely a wannbee) call “less boiled.” Fresh noodles should not take more than 2 minutes. I keep testing the noodles a little before and after four minutes.

[Shadowcook commenting on myself: The James Beard of Japanese Cooking, Shizuo Tsuji, author of Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, recommends bringing the water back to a boil after you’ve added the ramen, then adding a cup of cold water, and bringing it back to the boil again. After 3 or 4 times of this routine, taste the noodles. Why does he boil them this way? I’m not sure but I think it has something to do with the preference of Japanese cooks to avoid boiling their food. A gentle, rolling simmer to broth and stew preserves the delicate flavors of Japanese soups. Boiling, I gather, leaves bruises. Then again, I could be making that up.]

Drain the noodles quickly and rinse them in cold water. Make sure they are not clumpy. Put the ramen in a big soup bowl.

Meanwhile, heat the 4 cups of broth, adding minced serrano chile to taste. When the broth is not but not boiling, pour it over the noodles in the soup bowl. Add the cilantro leaves, scallions, and any scraps of duck left over from the carcass. Don’t burn yourself carrying it to the table.

[Shadowcook: Next time I make this — I have about 6 more cups of broth, after all — I want to punch up the broth. Maybe some minced ginger. More fish sauce, less salt. It’s a rich soup. so this entire post is worth bookmarking and returning to in the fall.]

from How to Roast a Lamb, pp. 212-213.

Back in the old days, Greek women had arms like lumberjacks. Or so I gather. Michael Psilakis’s new book reminds me of how hard it is to make thin phyllo dough by hand, how much muscle you need to make a Greek béchamel. You needed a lot more brawn than the homemade pasta and the labor intensive polenta Italian women used to make from scratch.

I am blessed with five Greek brothers-in-law and nephews. My late sister married a Greek and I was married to a Greek. One of my Greek former brothers-in-law is in the country. We had not seen each other since my 50th birthday party in Paris five years ago. After a camping trip to Yosemite with his partner, they drove north to have dinner at my house. Call me foolish, but I decided to make a traditional Greek dish.

Pastitsio is to Greek cooking what lasagna is to Italian and steak-and-kidney pie is to British cooking. It’s in the stodgy category. When done well, it still sits like a lump in your stomach. Nevertheless, I decided to give the Psilakis version a try. I have made only one other recipe from the book. His spanakopita is a little too creative. I fed it to a crowd of people who adored the flavors, but I felt it looked like a mess.

This recipe worked very well. The béchamel custard set properly. I worried that it would make it gooey, but that was not a problem in the least. The cinnamon-nutmeg flavors in the meat sauce worked beautifully with the custard. Pastitsio could almost be a dessert — but not quite.

As for ingredients, thanks to Mediterranean Market here, I found everything I needed, from the Misko Macaroni to the Cretan graviera cheese. If you haven’t investigated the Mediterranean/Middle Eastern groceries in your area, here’s a reason to do so. Start hunting.

If you have time, make the meat sauce the day before.

First, the béchamel sauce, which has the corollary benefit of building muscle:

5 ounces unsalted butter

10 ounces all-purpose flour

1 1/2 quarts whole milk, warm

2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Large pinch nutmeg, preferably freshly ground

1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt

Cracked black pepper

5 large eggs, lightly beaten

In a large, heavy pot, melt the butter over low heat, whisking with a large balloon whisk. Add the flour and whisk to a very crumbly roux, not a smooth paste.

Shadowcook: Think of pie dough before you add the water.

Whisk constantly and energetically for about 5 minutes to cook off the raw flour taste, but do not allow to brown (slide the pot off and on the heat every now and then if you sense it is getting too hot).

Shadowcook: By the time you incorporate all the flour, you will start thinking about switching to a wooden spoon. Hold on as long as you can with the whisk. It’s a pain, but keep clearing the middle of the whisk wires of dough that’s stuck there. I found tapping it on the bottom of the pan worked.

Still whisking constantly, drizzle in the warm milk until smooth.

Shadowcook: That is very important. Do not rush incorporating the milk into the roux. If you try to whisk in too much at once, the sauce will be lumpy. At this point, your arm is going to feel the strain, because unlike other béchamel recipes, this one starts out thick as concrete and winds up still thick but thin enough to stir without cramping your arm. Just be patient.

Continue cooking, adjusting the heat as necessary to keep the mixture at a very low simmer, until very thick.

Shadowcook: Ha. Right now you’ll be thinking, is he crazy? Does he pump iron?

Whisk in the cinnamon, nutmeg, kosher salt to taste, and a generous amount of pepper.

Shadowcook: This is the moment to get the seasoning right. Taste it. And don’t undersalt it.

Scoop out about 1/4 cup of the warm sauce. In a bowl, whisk the sauce into the eggs to temper them. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk all the egg mixture back into the béchamel.

Shadowcook: Tempering the eggs is a good trick to learn. It’s a great way to incorporate egg yolk into hot liquids without the yolks forming bits. Avgolemono soup (Egg Lemon Soup), a divinely delicious soup, is made velvety through this technique. Eggs are needed here to make the custard consistency.

Ok, now back to the Pastitsio:

3 tablespoons blended oil (90% canola, 10% extra-virgin olive)

1 large Spanish or sweet onion, finely chopped

3 fresh bay leaves or 6 dried leaves

2 cinnamon sticks

2 pounds ground beef

1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Pinch ground nutmeg (optional)

Pinch ground cloves (optional)

1/4 cup tomato paste

2 1/4 quarts water

1 (28-ounce) can plum tomatoes, crushed slightly, with all the juices

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper

1 (500-gram) package Misko Macaroni Pastitsio no. 2

1 3/4 quarts Greek Béchamel Sauce [above] with eggs

1 cup coarsely grated graviera cheese

Shadowcook: If you can’t find the Misko Macaroni, try using perciatelli or bucatini, any long pasta with a hole in the middle. If you can’t find graviera, use Pecorino Romano.

Make the kima sauce: in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat, add the oil and wilt the onion with the bay leaves and cinnamon sticks for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the ground beef and brown thoroughly. Add all the spices and the tomato paste and stir for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the water, tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, about 2 tablespoons of kosher salt, and a generous grinding of pepper. Bring to a boil.

Shadowcook: I made the kima the day before. It saved a lot of time and distributed the work more efficiently over two days.

Reduce the heat, partially cover, and simmer for 65 to 75 minutes. Skim off the fat once or twice.

Shadowcook: If you make it the day before, scraping off the fat is easy.

Reduce until the sauce is almost completely dry. Proceed with the recipe, or cool and refrigerate.

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large pot of generously salted boiling water, cook the macaroni until almost tender, a minute or so before the al dente stage. Drain well. Spread 1 cup of the Greek Béchamel Sauce [above] on the bottom of a deep roasting pan or lasagna pan [or 13×9 pyrex dish], and sprinkle with 1/3 cup graviera.

Lay half the noodles out on top of the bechamel. You should have 2 to 3 layers of noodles. Spread another cup of the béchamel over the noodles, without disturbing the direction of the noodles, to bind them. Scatter with 1/3 cup of the graviera. Spoon all of the kima sauce over the top and smooth flat. Spread 1 more cup of the béchamel over the kima sauce, scatter with 1/3 cup graviera.

Layer remaining pasta noodles over the béchamel. Spoon on the remaining béchamel and scatter with the remaining 1/3 cup of graviera. Bake uncovered until crusty, golden, about set, about 1 hour.

If you don’t have a convection oven, you may want to increase the heat to 400 F at the end, to brown the top.

Shadowcook: I increased the heat to 400 F and you see the result.

Cool for at least 40 minutes, to allow the custard to set so that the squares will remain intact when you cut them. Or, cool to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight.

A recipe of my owning devising (at least, I think so…)

Recipes resemble tunes in that they are easy to plagiarize without realizing it. Who knows if I once read somewhere that asparagus, pancetta, and potato together make a delicious three-part harmony? Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. But standing in front of my refrigerator last night, I saw that I had a little of all three. Pasta and potatoes together seems counter-intuitive. Two starches in one dish equals too many starches in one dish. But something made me want to experiment. The key, I realized, is not too much of either. The pancetta’s fat enhanced the crispness of the outside and the floury inside of the fried potatoes. Both complemented the subtle taste of asparagus and the texture of the pasta. The keys to the success of this dish depend on achieving a balance among the ingredients and using pasta — saucer-like orrechiette would work– that cup the bits of asparagus, pancetta and potato. I had on hand only cavatappi, which did not make it easy to pick up the ingredients.

Here’s what I made for myself:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1-2 ounces pancetta

1 small russet potato (be prepared to jettison half of it)

1/3-1/2 lb asparagus

3.5 ounces pasta, orrechiette or another kind that catches up small bits (and I mean 3.5, NOT 4 ounces, even though I know that’s what you’re going to cook for yourself)

Put a big pot of salted water on the stove to boil. While the water is coming to a boil, slice the pancetta. Then cut the small potato in half and cut it into small cubes. Dispose of the remainder of the potato. Then cut the asparagus spears on the diagonal into about 1/2 inch thick slices.

Shortly before the water comes to a boil, start heating the olive oil in a 10- or 12-inch skillet. Put in the pancetta and let them begin to sizzle and release their fat before adding the potatoes. Make sure all the pancetta pieces and potato cubes cover the bottom of the skillet in a single layer. Leave them to crisp and brown on their edges, which means leaving them along without stirring as much as possible without letting them burn.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in the salted water. Set a timer for  2 minutes short of the recommended length of time for the pasta. When the timer rings, add the sliced asparagus to the pasta water. As soon as the pasta is finished, drain the pasta (save half a cup in case the pasta sauce is too dry) and the asparagus and before shaking off all the pasta water, quickly tip them into the skillet. Turn the heat up, stir the contents of the skillet for a minute or two, add the reserved pasta water if you want, and then pour into a pasta bowl. Drizzle with a little bit of extra-virgin olive oil. Skip the parmesan. Eat right away.

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from The Art of Simple Food, p. 204.

I have a theory about Alice Water’s dominion of food. The restaurant-patrons of this country owe Alice more than we are conscious of. The standard she set at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California has become so assilimiated into our expectations of restaurant food that a visit to her restaurant — the upstairs café, at any rate — may produce a reaction merely on the level of “it was a very good meal.” I have eaten three times in the café, never in the restaurant downstairs that is open only at night. Each time I have been impressed by the quality of the ingredients and its preparation. But the food never sang to me. Friends whose discernment I trust have eaten in the restaurant and praised it highly and higher than the café. The daughter of a friend of mine worked there for a few months and loved the experience. The establishment treats its employees well. Still, Chez Panisse has evolved into one among many good expensive restaurants. People now are aware of Alice for her admirable advocacy of public health and improving the food we eat, but it’s easy to forget that, more than any other chef in the country, including Thomas Keller, she made excellent restaurant food attainable for anyone with a bit of disposable income. I expressed elsewhere in this blog my political reservations about the Slow Food Movement, which she promotes, but I respect her efforts, even if she is quintessentially a product of the People’s Republic of Berkeley.

Her cookbooks, on the other hand, have always let me down. There is not one any longer on my shelves. I’ve long been convinced that she farms them out or does not devote to them the attention to detail she ought to. But now The Art of Simple Food is beginning to change my mind. My friend Sherry has made several recipes that I’ve tasted and greatly enjoyed. This simple dish is the first from the book that I’ve tried. I like it, although it required tweaking — of course. Which cookbook recipe doesn’t?

Here is her recipe with my emendations interspersed in italics:

Makes 2 1/2 cups

Cut the stems from the florets of:

  • 1 1/2 pounds broccoli

Shadowcook: Halve the amount of broccoli

Trim off and discard the dry ends of the stems, and peel the rest and slice thin. Divide or chop the florets into small pieces.

Shadowcook: The point is to reduce the broccoli into as small pieces as possible.

Warm in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat:

  • 6 tablespoon olive oil

Add the broccoli with:

  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • a pinch of dried chile flakes (optional)
  • Salt

Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Add:

  • 1 cup water

and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a bare simmer, cover the pot tightly, and cook until very tender, about 1 hour. Stir occasionally and add water if the broccoli starts to dry and stick. When the broccoli is completely tender, stir briskly (the broccoli will be falling apart) and season with:

  • Juice of 1 lemon

Taste for seasoning and add salt, lemon juice, or oil as needed.

Shadowcook: Follow these instructions, but bear in mind that there’s likely to be more liquid at the end than she leads you to believe. So, whip the top off, turn up the heat, and reduce the liquid. I did that while water for 3 oz of twisty-type pasta came to a boil. The lemon is a nice touch. I grated parmiggiano reggiano over it. I think it helped it.

Next time:

You’ll be surprised at how heavy this dish can be, if you’re not careful.

I experimented by reserving a small amount of pasta, adding a big spoonful of broccoli to it, and then stirring in little bits of soft gorgonzola to melt. It was good — and certainly did not need any salt — but I preferred the purist version. I liked this recipe quite a bit.

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