Our household is in hunker-down mode. Dinners are tried-and-true standbyes. Things
we’ve I’ve made before that we love that don’t require hours at a time. Quick, easy weeknight meals are our fast friends. I’ve finally become inseparable from my slow cooker and all I can say on that is, where has it been all my life?
Needless to say that recipe development, at least what I like to do with it, has come to a screeching halt. At least for the time being.
Until I hand in the manuscript for the kimchi book due in, gulp, a few weeks, I don’t have much bandwidth or desire to experiment. I’ve got enough static in my head as it is. For now – I focus on what I know best. Meanwhile, Forrest labors tirelessly. Sundays are, apparently, for office hours. At least between naps anyway.
It’s not so terrible for us. Dinners are delicious, really. Roast chicken, sweet potato and black bean salad, chana masala, parsnip and leek soup, white bean and kale soup, among many others. It’s you, reader, who gets shafted when it comes to new material.
These days when I make dinner at night, it’s usually to give myself a break from spending over eight hours of staring at the computer screen. Cooking as a break to give my brain a rest. This means that I need to glide around my kitchen as in some meditative trance, moving methodically from one step to the next as if guided by memory. When I work on new recipes, I alternate between cups and scales, spoons and grams; I measure, re-measure, make endless notes on the recipe sheet, and so on. It doth not make for a smooth cooking process. Give me a few weeks and I promise to have something good.
Not to say that this here pasta isn’t good. It’s great, in fact. Stupendous. It’s a total keeper, and has quickly climbed to the top of my favorite pastas. And I think it’s here to stay. It requires only the most basic ingredients, the ones that are most likely already in your pantry.
Which reminds me of a story I meant to tell you. A few weeks ago, I was hell bent on making this pasta and discovered that we had run out of anchovies. Nary an anchovy in sight. In my cooking life, this has never happened. Outside it was howling wind and rain and we weren’t going to rectify the situation by venturing out for anchovies. We’re wusses plain and simple. So we made do with sausage and tomato sauce – and it was good, but I was craving anchovies and capers and a sharp bite of cheese. Running out of anchovies made me feel as if my pantry was semi-naked.
This gem of a recipe comes from the one and only David Tanis. He of the apricot jam fame. He of the tripe in tomato sauce fame (something I will most certainly make this winter). And his excellent column in the New York Times never disappoints. But the recipe for this pasta – might just be my absolute favorite so far. You make your “sauce” while the pasta cooks (in less time even) and in half an hour, prep and cooking time included, you’ve got a delicious dinner waiting. Throw in a salad for good measure, a glass of wine, and it’s quite a stunner of a meal.
And now that I’ve told you all about this, I’ve got to get back to the manuscript. The clock is ticking. Wish me luck.
Adapted, barely, from David Tanis
David Tanis advises to use salt-packed anchovies and capers, but I’ve found that there are some oil-cured anchovies out there that taste delicious as well. Whatever you use, make sure it’s something you like the taste of. While the ingredients are few here, it’s particularly important to have the best ingredients you can find. There’s nothing to hide behind. Sometimes, Andrew and I splurge and buy fancy-pants dry pasta. My favorite is buccatini – they look like thick spaghetti with a tiny hole in the middle, like a straw of sorts. Pastas that are made in Graniano, Italy are considered to be particularly high quality. And while it sounds crazy, the taste of these pastas is by far so much better than their store-bought cousins, that every once in awhile, it’s totally worth the splurge. Having said that, for this recipe, I typically use anchovy packed in oil and my capers are nothing to write home about. Still, what emerges is so delicious, Andrew and I fight for the tiny bits of the “sauce” that remains. I say it serves 4, but I think if you’re like us, then probably 3.
1 pound spaghetti
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 fat garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
8 anchovy filets, rinsed (if applicable) and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed (if applicable) and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/4 cup chopped parsley, optional
Parmigiano-Reggiano for grating, optional
1. Put the spaghetti in a large pot of well-salted rapidly boiling water set over high heat, and cook only until firmly al dente. (The cooking time will vary depending on what brand of pasta you are using, so check frequently for doneness.)
2. While the pasta is cooking, warm the olive oil in a small skillet set over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute, without letting it brown. Stir in the anchovies, capers, and red pepper flakes and cook for a half-minute more. Turn off the heat.
3. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Pour in the garlic-anchovy-caper mixture, add the parsley, if using, and toss well to combine. Serve with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano if desired – I like a heap of cheese on top of my pasta.