Solace and joy. This is what I feel almost every night I prepare our dinner while confined during this pandemic. The relief and comfort that come from making an old family recipe or the joy from discovering a new one, along with a nightly cocktail, keeps us going.
Today, I’m highlighting just two examples of dishes from last week that sustained not only our bodies but our souls.
During this pandemic and while sheltering in place, my husband and I have been struggling to make room in our over packed freezer. One by-product of this effort has been the “mystery meal,” something frozen so long ago that we don’t know what it is. Sometimes even after opening the container, we’re not able to identify it.
During these long days of sheltering at home, I find myself endlessly, and at times mindlessly, surfing the web, diving through email, floating on social media, and swimming in the sea of blogs. To maintain my sanity, I’ve made it a rule to suspend all such e-aquatic activity for the day before we sit down to our preprandial libation and eventually move on to dinner. Given the current social and political climate, our dinner hour(s) provide, more than ever, a refuge from what we’re all facing. And one of the most reliable sources of comfort at our table is pasta.
A frequent reference made by many food bloggers these days is to the Food Network’s show “Chopped.” As are its television contestants, real-time home cooks are often faced today with a hodgepodge of ingredients from their fridge and pantry and challenged to get a meal on the table.
“Technology.” It’s a word that doesn’t come up much in my posts. In fact, I think this may be the first time it has, since my focus is usually on food and not the appliances that I use to make it. But today, this musing is on an appliance that I believe will help me prepare some spectacular dishes as it did earlier this week as well as last night.
Not since I purchased my first Cuisinart food processor in 1978, have I been so impressed with culinary technology. Back then, on a graduate-student budget, $160, the price of the “economy” Cuisinart model, was a challenge; but even after using it once, I thought it was worth every penny.
An insightful essay by food-and-wine mavens Diane Darrow and Tom Maresca on the evolution of Italian-American cuisine brought me back to growing up in Brooklyn with a family that had survived the Great Depression. Although my parents and aunt were better off than most, having been gainfully employed and comfortably housed, during that dismal era, they nonetheless were deeply affected by it. My mother especially, who frequently recounted woeful stories of having witnessed people on breadlines in her youth, was extremely frugal, despite being the wife of a successful attorney. Moreover, as a family, our weekly dinner menus closely reflected the Depression-Era pattern described in Darrow and Maresca’s essay:
“Pasta three days a week was common; soups and frittate (Italian-style omelets, usually with vegetables or cheese sufficed for two or three other days. Monday, in almost every household, was soup night. Sunday was sacred to un buon’ pranzo. . . antipasto or soup, or at least a broth, followed first by a pasta course, then by a roast meat, most often a chicken. Dessert in the time-honored form of fresh fruit usually concluded the meal.”
Last night, throwing caution to the wind, I finally made a frittata from left-over rigatoni and meatballs and even a hard-boiled egg. The egg found its way into this omelet when I mistook one of my husband’s hard-boiled eggs, stored in an egg carton, for a fresh one and tried to crack it open. Well, I thought, as long as I was taking a chance with the pasta, what harm could adding the egg do? Now, I’ve made plenty of pasta frittatas before, some of them chronicled on this blog. None, however, featured something like pasta with meatballs.
Frequent cooking at home typically yields a variety of odds and ends in the fridge: a handful of mushrooms, a small piece of cheese, a few herbs, a cup of sauce. For us, ingredients like these usually wind up in a frittata or a pasta. Such was the case the other night when, while cleaning out the fridge, I found some uncooked tomato sauce and a three-ounce piece of mozzarella left over from making a pizza a few days before.
I don’t know exactly why, but it seems that when I make a homemade pizza, everything seems OK. Maybe it’s my Neapolitan heritage, but when the simplest of ingredients come together and cook in just a matter of minutes, for me, all’s well with the word.
Let others enjoy the “gourmet,” multi-topping pizzas so popular today; for me, a plain Margherita is the only way to go.
After numerous requests from my husband for stuffed cabbage, I set out to make the dish. The recipe is from a now cancelled series on the Cooking Channel that featured Laura Calder, a Canadian chef who focused on French cuisine. In fact, I had made this dish with some success about five years ago; however, last night’s attempt was an epic failure.
Some of the responsibility for my culinary mega flop is mine. Rather than buying the savoy cabbage called for by the recipe, I mistakenly purchased a Napa, or Chinese, cabbage since it was marked “Savoy” on the shelf.