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Posts Tagged ‘basil’

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I needed to be in the kitchen today. Too much work and too much abject crazy in the world made it absolutely, crucially necessary; and thank the universe, it chilled me right out (and fed me very well at teatime today).

The above is a sausage bread. I’ve never made a stuffed bread before, and looked online for a good recipe, but all I could find were recipes that started with a tube of Pillsbury. Then it occurred to me that a stuffed bread is a lot like pizza dough with, you know, stuff in it. So I used Bon Appetit‘s recipe and added anything I thought would taste good.

First I crumbled up 12 ounces of hot Italian sausage and grated about a cup and a half of mozzarella. Then I made the dough, adding some Parmigiano-Reggiano and dried basil and rosemary. (I’ve noticed when you buy stuffed breads, the bread’s flavor itself is somewhat neglected; the focus seems to be on the filling alone.) Then I let it rise, and worked it into a ball the way I learned when I did a brief stint at a restaurant. (I was one of two people who, on weekends, rolled 250 balls of pizza dough per day. It was strange rolling just one!)

Then with a rolling pin I rolled it into a disk, loaded it up with the cheese and sausage, then treated it as I do my chocolate-cinnamon babka: I rolled it up jelly-roll style, pinched the ends, twisted it, and coiled it. It got an egg wash and I popped it into the oven, figuring 350 degrees F would do. It did. Took Julia Child’s advice and took it out when I could smell it.

I sat down with it, hot, the whole thing, at my dining room table and pulled off steaming little pieces. Nibbled and looked out the window and was soothed. Sending all of you the same wishes, with or without a sausage bread.

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In Louise Fitzhugh’s brilliant, mouthy Harriet the Spy (1964), the heroine insists on a tomato sandwich every day for lunch. In her case, she likes it plain. In my case, I like thick-cut, sweet Vidalia onion, salty cheese (Cotija or feta), extra virgin olive oil, a leaf or two of fresh basil if you can get it (I couldn’t), and an heirloom tomato. If none, or only a portion, of an heirloom is to be had, a tomato from a local garden is a worthy pinch hitter. The above sandwich was supplemented by my friend Charlie, who left an upended crate of tomatoes for me on a bench by his back door.

Tomato season lasts from mid-July through September—a painfully short duration for the addicted.

For the past few days this sandwich has been lunch, or dinner, or lunch and dinner on the same day. If you’ve never tasted a local, ripe, sun-warm heirloom tomato, this admission will come across as lunatic. If you have tasted one, it will come across as utterly sound…and in fact, you’ll wonder what keeps it off my breakfast table. I’m beginning to wonder myself.

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Midsummer, and we’re all starting to ooze into the fabric of our beach chairs (but today temps hit 90 again, so full disclosure: I’m oozing into my sofa as I write this).

A hazy, dreamy list of the not-to-be-missed—summer delights,`a la me.

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Beach rose in early evening light.

1. Go to the beach between 4 and 6p. The shadows are long, the sand has a golden glow, and the crowds have cleared. It’s the most beautiful time of day.

2. Or go to the beach between 7 and 9a when the ocean is sparkling in the morning sun. It’s the other most beautiful time of day. Dive in. You’re swimming in a big splashy tub of glitter.

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3. Eat locally grown fruit, picked perfectly ripe. To get the full flavor, resist refrigerating it. Trust me on this one.

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Sticky ripe plum.

4. Don’t put fresh basil in the fridge, either. Treat it like the plant it is: Trim the ends and stick the bunch in a jar filled with water. Use as needed. If flowers start to emerge, pinch them off to keep the leaves from getting bitter.

5. Go barefoot. Feel the differences between the textures of this or that sand, or this or that grass. Don’t freak over rough patches forming on your feet; they’re giving you the power to explore the summer world further.*

6. Make a pie. Any sensible pie crust comes together in the Cuisinart in 10 minutes, I promise, zip zip zip, and it won’t have any weird stuff in it. Then you can add anything summer gives you—blueberries, blackberries, late-season cherries. Doll them up or leave them alone.

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Peach custard pie.

7. Find a funnel cake and dive into that, too. Any will do, but I like ’em puff-tastic.

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From the very nearby Asbury Park, NJ boardwalk. I’m not 300 lbs., and it’s miraculous.

8. Slurp up an heirloom tomato—and go local on this one as well, too, for best flavor and price. All other tomatoes will seem like the soggy tube socks they are. Slurp at room temperature. A ripe uncut tomato will live happily on your kitchen table for a few days, if you can restrain yourself longer than I can.

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9. Ride your bike. It’s just as you remember—like flying.

10. Go to a playground and swing on the swings. Go at night. Even better.

11. Find an old-fashioned ice cream parlor and order something retro. The one near me, in business since 1901, offers a really sweet, really kaleidoscopically colored soda called a cherry-lime rickey. Or go back just as far as the boomers, who order butter pecan, black raspberry, and cherry vanilla.

12. Collect wildflowers and let them brighten your counter or night stand. Tiger-lilies, false Queen Anne’s lace, and many others grow in profusion in meadows and along roadsides. If you pull the latter up fully, smell the roots; they smell like carrots (a cousin). Cool, right?

13. Buy a melon from a farm stand. Be sure it’s local for best ripeness. You can eat it in slices or chop it up and make a smoothie or an agua fresca out of it. Use a knife; a melon baller wastes too much fruit.

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I inserted a sharp knife one half-inch into this Sugar Baby and it cracked itself right open. That’s ripe, my dear friends. That’s how melon should be, and taste.

14. Sleep with the windows open. Falling asleep and waking up to a breeze is beauteous.

15. Find something yummy growing somewhere wild and have a little snack. Then tell me about it. Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me.

*Gabrielle Reece, pro beach volleyball player, has said she isn’t ashamed of her weight—she is grateful for it, because she needs every pound to play with the force she wants. I feel the same about callouses on my feet; I’m proud of every one because I need every one.

 

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My mom’s potato salad with mayo, salt, black pepper, sundried tomatoes, fresh basil, toasted pignoles, and fresh minced garlic.

Last week I dropped my old PC and new laptop off to the kids* at the Microsoft store to do a data transfer. I wasn’t worried about system withdrawal. So I’d be without a proper keyboard for a few days—so what. So substantial agita ensued, that’s what.

That’s the bad news. The good news, which came as a total shockeroo, was that suddenly I was wild with energy and ideas. I needed to be creating something, producing SOMEthing, all the time. So I hit the kitchen. When I was 90% finished with one recipe, I’d start thinking about what I was going to make next. I’m not saying it wasn’t manic, but I sure ate well.

I note, with some dismay, that I didn’t take pictures of too much of what I made. I don’t remember what happened all that clearly, but best guess, I was too busy eating it all. My reputation precedes me.

Here then, a list. Made all of this within 2.5 days.

-Watermelon-lime smoothie

-Carrot cake with a blop of yogurt cheese on top that I stirred some cinnamon sugar into

-Panzanella with local, organic vegetables: basil, onion, cucumbers, and tiny heirloom tomatoes

-Bourbon-spiked jalapeno ketchup (which has already graced many a turkey burger, and I have lots more)

-White-peach vanilla jam

-Fried zucchini blossoms (going back for more because I have a delirious crush on them, not least of which because I didn’t torch them this year, and am obsessing even as I type)

-Potato salad

I have my units back now. But I have more peach jam to make, as well as a quart of beach plums to pit and jam up as well.

The beat goes on.

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Carrot cake. I bought the carrots from the teenager at Silverton Farms who had just pulled them out of the ground and washed them–she handed them right to me.

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Local organic heirloom tomatoes, Red Bank Farmers’ Market.

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That red stuff between the onions and the cheddar? That’s my ketchup!

*The unvarnished truth.

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I read that in some communities you don’t dare leave your car unlocked in high summer or you risk finding your backseat packed to the ceiling with your neighbors’ surplus zucchini. Hit-and-run altruism. Or desperation, take your pick.

Despite the myriad uses people have come up with to use this prolific squash*, a favorite of mine today was a Sunday morning staple when I grew up, simply called zucchini, onions, and eggs.

It’s hardly a recipe, really; like most memorable dishes, it was invented with what happens to be around. Right now in New Jersey it’s this.

Slice zucchini into rounds and saute over medium-high heat in a pat of butter or a good drizzle of olive oil. Turn them when you can start to smell them; that’s a sign they’re speckled with brown underneath.

Chop up some onion and throw it in with the zucchini, stirring often until it’s lightly browned. Hit the mixture with a little salt.

Whisk together some eggs and pour them over the veggies. Add freshly ground pepper and some Italian seasoning, or any variation of fresh or dried basil, thyme, oregano, and rosemary.

If you want to get fancy and have good wrist skills, by all means flip that dude over and call it an omelet. Or just stir gently until set through. I like it lightly browned as well.

There, you’re done. Wait! I just thought of this—a shaving of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano would be incredible.** That’s new.

I upped my game with the dish this year by using local ingredients and it was so good: zucchini and ‘candy’ red onion from Silverton Farms in Toms River. I also sliced in some of their sweet uncured garlic.

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The eggs were from Wyman Farms, from in county. Then I dressed it up even more by making fries with some of the first of Silverton’s itty bitty fresh-dug potatoes, oven roasted with olive oil and tossed with salt. This is breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

I don’t have a garden. But if you do, let me know and I’ll leave my car unlocked for you.

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* I also read people use them as baseball bats—good for precisely one hit, I’m guessing. I need to stop reading so much.

**Caveat: if you’re at all tempted to use anything that started in a green can, please disregard entirely the above suggestion.

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Overblown saplings–a miniature Terabithia.

When I was a kid, people took care of their yards, made them look nice, but not to obsession. No one was shooting for the front lawn of Versailles. What was the point? People had better things to do, and besides, they had four kids and eleven nieces and nephews and consequently were going to host barbecues and egg hunts. You mowed your lawn, maybe you planted a few flowers or a vegetable garden, but that was it.

In our yards we’d tear around under the sprinkler a lot. We played Hide and Seek behind the azalea and rhododendron hedges and climbed the Japanese maples*. We played Red Light Green Light, Midnight, and Mother May I. In the fall we once mapped out leaves in a grid on the grass to make pretend rooms, and played house. At my aunt and uncle’s place we’d amble out to the ground cover at the southern end of the yard where our cousins said little men lived, and they told us stories about them. It’s one of my earliest memories.

Ubi sunt, a motif in medieval literature, comes to mind.** The Latin translates to ‘where are?’ As in, ‘Where are the people we used to hang with, where are the places we used to love to visit, where did the old times go? Why does everything have to change? What gives?’ This brand of nostalgia is just as applicable in the poems of our daily lives as it was in Beowulf. Some days I feel the old chain mail rattling on me a lot.

It’s true that much is different today; and back to yards, when it comes to them, I can’t imagine that those differences are good for anybody. I mentioned in a recent post that the current owners of my cousins’ house ripped out almost everything—the sour cherry tree, the loosely growing hedges, the tree house, even pulled the patio right off the back of the house—and covered the holes with Astro-Turf green sod. It’s as soulless as the eyes of a Rodeo Drive mannequin.

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Woodland strawberry leaves, early winter.

I know a couple whose yard is a self-imposed leaf-free zone. I mean all year. I mean in a town with enormous, century-old trees. The kind with leaves on them. To put it plainly, keeping the yard free of leaves is a combo platter of futility and insanity. One time the wife spotted six insurgent leaves in the front flower bed and asked her husband to get rid of them before company came that day ‘because they didn’t look good.’ I swear to you I’m not making this up.

Forsythia hedges, meant to grow with extravagant wide shaggy yellow arms every spring, are now often shaved into somewhat unnerving spheres. At the school bus stop across the street from the house where I grew up, another massive hedge, covered in spring with sweetly perfumed white blossoms, has been chopped down to a waist-high nub.

Why does it seem everything these days has to be senselessly tidied? Prettified? I’ve talked about this a lot—with food and otherwise. It seems to be pervasive everywhere, this notion of showboat over substance. Creeps me out, quite frankly.

Well, I’m not poopy by nature. Bash on, regardless! as the English say. So. Below, my personal recommendations.

Mind you, now, I am not suggesting you stifle your creativity. If your yard is your proverbial canvas, have at it. But…I am gently but firmly asking that you don’t create yourself into a box—a predictable, restrictive, limiting box. Creativity is supposed to make the world bigger, not smaller. Hint: If you routinely call out things to the kids like, ‘Don’t touch the hydrangeas,’ ‘Stay away from the garden arches,’ ‘No Aquasocks near the day lilies–you’ll elevate the pH in the soil,’ you’re in a box. Take a note from my boy Jim Morrison and break on through.

How To Keep A Yard

1. Let it be a little rough here and there. Let the hedges get a little overgrown. They’re hiding places. They’re necessary.

2. Let the paint on your deck steps be imperfect. Rough spots are the scrapbook pages of stories told there, after-school cuddles, lunchbox parking spaces, jumping games.

3. Teach the kids how to apply bug spray, show them what poison oak and ivy and sumac looks like, and then leave them alone.

4. Value the romance in the edges of a yard, where the cultivated meets the wild. They are the places where the wondrous and the scary and the huge and the tiny and the improbable can dance. I don’t believe there is anything in the universe—even the universe—bigger than a kid’s imagination. Spending time in the shadowy crevices, in those places where human order bumps up against natural disorder—that’s where imagination can spin, that’s food for the soul. The best kind.

5. Let kids have a little patch of earth that’s all theirs. They get to choose what’s on it. A pizza garden with basil, oregano and any vegetable they deign worthy of eating, or just a dusty tableau to imagine onto, with or without props. And when it rains it’s mud. Tell me what’s better than that. Want to create? Want them to create? Start with mud.

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Happily, ubi sunt holds off from time to time. It’s a relief. I visited the nubbed-down hedge at the bus stop today. There are flower buds on it. Only about 16, but I’ll take it.

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And the ground cover at my cousins’ house remains. When I walk past I think about what my cousins said, about the little men who lived in it. Who knows? Maybe they did. Or still do.

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*Oops. Just outed us after 35 years 🙂 Sorry, Mom.

**I love how a literary motif I learned in 1989 will never be lost to me, but I couldn’t tell you the license plate number of the car I’ve driven for 11 years.

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I had a be-in with a plum a few weeks ago. It was sweet. After that I canoodled with a muskmelon, some pickles, and more than a few heirloom tomatoes. I register my guilt here in this photo essay.

You can’t blame me, can you?

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Softball-sized muskmelon. The innermost center tastes like honeydew, and the deeper you dig, the more it tastes like its cousin, the cucumber. The spoon is at the best part.

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Local, organic strawberries. The jelly jar is foreshadowing. But you probably guessed that.

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With organic vanilla yogurt—an unbeatable breakfast or teatime snack.

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Cupcake with homemade Nutella (guanduja), both in the batter and straight up as a topping.

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Morning glory, late summer.

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My cousin’s sangria, with raspberries, strawberries, lemons and limes.

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Surfers backlit by sunset.

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Cobblestones near train station, Hoboken.

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Fresh peach custard pie made with local eggs.

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Really ripe heirloom tomato.

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My summertime obsession again, here on a whole wheat bun, with local basil, fresh mozzarella, olive oil and salt. In short, breakfast.

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Tiny lemon square.

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Mulberries picked from a branch hanging by my balcony, simmered with sugar and some Petite Syrah.

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S’mores made for my friend Laura’s 5th of July party.

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A spoonful of late-summer flowers.

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Bread-and-butter pickles made from a 100-year-old or so recipe.

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Assemblage of toasty artisanal bliss, Porta National Park, Asbury Park, Labor Day.

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Nutella sandwiched happily between two thin discs of homemade pizza dough and doused in powdered sugar. The smears below showcase my brother-in-law’s determination to get every last bit. Porta National Park.

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And of course, the pan in which I shamelessly assassinated a quart of olive oil. The summer wasn’t all pretty.

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Lombardi’s outdoor sconce, lighting our way at the start of the tourney—an All-Carb Olympic torch.

Porta in Asbury Park, NJ makes a pizza carbonara so good I want to roll in it like a dog. Before I say anything about pizza anywhere else, I need to impress this upon you, because this kind of quality is what I had in mind when my sister and brother-in-law treated me to a pizza tour of Manhattan last October. Porta’s chewy, deliriously addictive crust and buttery, runny, full fat housemade cheese—my mozzarella muse, which I say with precisely zero shame—that’s the taste I had in my mouth, and it’s what NY was up against.

Five pizza places, some new, some very, very old; five thin-crust Margherita pies (tomato, mozzarella, basil) to keep the playing field level; five pies judged for quality of crust, sauce, cheese and overall experience.

Below, a photo essay of our day, and I’ll be sure to unpack my adjectives.

Lombardi’s (below), A.

Often enough, the big-name grandpas of the restaurant world strut their leisure suits and flash grins full of metal bridgework, hoping to convince you that they haven’t lost their mojo. But their best years are usually way behind them. Others, happily, have still got it, and the oldest pizza place in the city is one of them.

Crust: Straightforward with a bit of a crunch, somewhat light hand with the salt.

Sauce: Bright flavor, sweet.

Cheese: Chewy, perfect amount.

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Luzzo’s, A.

Crust: Delicate, thin as a Saltine cracker.

Sauce: Salty, but it worked.

Cheese: Creamy little dairy pillows.

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Luzzo’s beautiful old interior–brick, beam and detail.

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Well worn swivel chairs, bar paneling and vintage tile floor.

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Tools of the trade plus a bit of incongruous Indian corn just for fun.

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Patina in the old tin ceiling.

Motorino, A+. Good and soppy pizza extravaganza.

Crust: Chewy, rustic and doughy.

Sauce: Fresh and sweet.

Cheese: Happily runny cheese pillows.

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Worth a second shot.

Gruppo, B+.

Crust: Paper thin and crispy, somewhat forgettable.

Sauce: Spiciest so far.

Cheese: Plentiful, chewy.

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Okay, next was Grom, because with four pizzas down and one to go, we’d already thrown our hats over the fence, so what did adding authentic Italian gelato matter? Below is vanilla bean and chocolate. I was quite undone by it, and not because I was full from pizza. Out-of-the-ballpark good.

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Co. Pizza, A++ As close to Porta as I could find. We were stuffed and yet still ate two of these pies. Better than Motorino by a hair* (please forgive the indelicate expression; I know we’re eating).

Crust: Drug like. The doughy, pliable kind that stretches a little when you try to pull it away from the other slices. Tip: Everybody pull at once.

Sauce: Fresh, evenly flavored.

Cheese: Oozy, goopy and plentiful.

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More than a little dismaying to think that Co., which offers such outstanding pizza, felt they needed to add a disclaimer such as this to their menu. To the customers that inspired it: Kindly get a grip.

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Reigning champion.

Where’s your favorite ‘za? What makes a pie the best? Don’t hold back—it’s a cold night. Consider it a public service.

*I just grossed out my mom. Sorry 😀

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Now come on. Just hear me out.

I used to loathe this dish when I was a kid, it’s true. Anchovies, garlic and nuts of any kind were way up there on my yuck list. So on Christmas Eve, when everyone else was having this for dinner*, I had pasta with something else. Admittedly, something tamer. Tame dishes have their place, such as when the eater is recovering from something catastrophic, such as stomach flu or trying to land a buyer on eBay. But I’ll also make a strong argument for trying something new, even if it may seem bizarre at first. There are times when random ingredients come together to make something celestial. This is one of those times. I’ve said it before and here it is again: Try and it hate it—you’re welcome to hate it!—but try it.

This is an honest, very hearty, very flavorful recipe from Liguria, a dish made with a handful of pantry ingredients, and it has a wonderful bracing effect on a nasty winter night. Makes you feel powerful, as if Everest is for wussy pants, as if you have the stamina to brave that cold night with zero worries.

All of the ingredients are to taste. If you really dig walnuts, or hot pepper flakes, or herbs, use more.

Simple stuff…here we go.

1 lb. pasta

8 filets whole anchovies, blitzed in a small grinder

2 fresh garlic cloves, minced**

3/4 cup of olive oil

2 tsp dried basil

2 tsp dried parsley

1 tsp hot pepper flakes

2 c shelled and roughly chopped walnuts

Salt and black pepper

1) Set a pot two-thirds filled with salted water over high heat and cover. Then set a colander in your sink.***

2) While you’re waiting for the water to boil, put a wide, heavy skillet over medium low heat and add the walnuts to toast them. You’ll need to shake the pan every 10 seconds or so to make sure they brown evenly. They smell really good when they’re done. Put them in a little bowl to wait nicely.

3) Put the olive oil in that same skillet over medium low heat again, and add your minced garlic, pepper flakes and herbs. Give everything a little stir. Then add your anchovies and stir again so they don’t stick to the pan. Add salt and pepper. Go easy on the salt, though, because anchovies are salty. After about a minute, take the skillet off the heat.

4) Once your water comes to a low boil, the lid will tell you it wants to come off. Take it off, then wait until the water is at a good rolling boil. Then add your pasta, stir frequently, and cook for as long as you like it cooked. For dried pasta, eight minutes is about my limit.**** Put oven mitts on and pour the pasta and water into the colander. Shake the colander and then pour the pasta into your skillet with the sauce. Add in your walnuts. Use tongs or a long handled wooden spoon and fork to distribute the sauce through the pasta. Have a bite and doctor the seasonings until it tastes right to you.

5) Eat up a big, narcissistic bowl of this.

6) Gloat.

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*We’re Italian, but for some reason we never did the Christmas Eve Seven Fishes thing.

**Not the stuff that’s already peeled and minced up in a jar, and not cloves that are whole and already peeled. When you take the protective natural coating off any fruit or vegetable, you’ve instantly started aging it. The way I see it, you’re bothering to cook…you want a good return on investment…so use fresh ingredients. Buy a firm head of garlic, pull off as many cloves as you want, and either peel off the papery skin with your fingers or use the Food Network method: Put a clove on the counter, lie the blade of a chef’s knife flat on top of it, and press down on the blade with the heel of your hand. This will split the skin, and then you’ll be able to get the clove out pretty easily.

***Don’t be like me and leave anything in the sink. Once I was a lazybones and did that, then poured the boiling hot pasta water into the colander. The sudden heat cracked a bowl into several hundred pieces. Not my brightest moment.

****Where did the idea of throwing pasta against a wall to see if it’s done come from? I’m a heathen, you know I am, but even I don’t go for this idiocy. Grab your tongs, coax a noodle up out of the water, toss it in your colander to cool it for a second, and then have a taste. Trust your mouth, not your drywall.

*****Per one of my New Year’s resolutions to start drawing again, I give you drawing #1!

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Growing up, I’d only eat tomatoes in ketchup or in sauce—never fresh. I don’t know if it’s because in the 1980s heirloom tomatoes weren’t as prevalent as they are now or because my family pretty much stuck to Foodtown’s beefsteak variety, but I found any fresh tomato on our summer table to taste, well, boring. Even the celebrated Jersey tomato didn’t do it for me; it tasted like a wet gym sock.

Now I wait through bleak Novembers, raw Januaries and rainy Aprils for heirlooms, and I get them organically grown from Silverton Farms in Toms River.

Heirloom tomatoes are old varieties that didn’t make the homogenous cut for supermarket stocks. The ones you see there were bred to withstand the rigors of shipping and sitting on a shelf for days or even weeks. “Ripened” not by way of sun and time but by way of ethylene gas (yum, right?), let’s just say they weren’t bred for flavor.

The tomatoes on this page, on the other hand, are grown the way they always have been. No messing around with the natural order of things means their natural flavors and characters remain intact.

Silverton’s first batch is ready in July and the season continues through September. Variety and abundance are at their peak around now. They come in shades ranging from crimson and canary yellow to pink, dusky purple and even brown. They’re fragile, allowed to sun-ripen. And they taste the way they always have…for centuries. Pretty comforting, and pretty incredible.

These red ones below, ‘Juliet’, are shaped like plum tomatoes but are smaller and have an acidic, bright flavor that works well with almost any recipe you’ve got, from cooked down into sauces to cut up onto a pizza to chopped up into salads. Use these when you make panzanella, that glory of mid- to late summer.

Get out a big bowl, cut up day-old Italian semolina bread into 1-2″ pieces, sprinkle with cold water until somewhat tender, and put the pieces into the bowl. Add cucumbers, cut to about the same size (I cut out the seedy centers first), and white onion. Mix in salt and pepper, and add olive oil and red wine vinegar until it’s fairly well coated, even a bit saturated. Taste and see what it’s lacking. Fix. Last, rip up a handful of fresh basil leaves and throw that in. Toss and serve. It tastes even better the next day if you are lucky enough to have any left over.

The yellow guys below, ‘Sungold’, are cherry tomato-sized, candy-sweet like the berries they are, and are my favorites to use in a spicy pasta dish. I love a good paradox.

Heat up some water for your fettuccine in a stockpot, and while that’s coming to a boil, cut a quart or more of the Sungolds in half. Put them in a big, wide saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil (extra credit if you can get a hold of some oil that’s had chilies steeped in it for awhile), salt, pepper, minced fresh garlic, and red pepper flakes, all to taste. In a little saucepan, heat some more olive oil until it’s crackling but not smoking. Then add a couple of handfuls of fresh bread crumbs, left over from any old bread. Stir it now and again until it’s golden and a bit crispy. Take it off the heat. Cook the pasta, drain it, and plunk it into the wide saucepan with all of the other goodies. Toss it together, then add a few torn fresh basil leaves. Load up a bowl for yourself with the pasta, then sprinkle some of the bread crumbs on top. Killer.

I admit with some shame that I don’t know the names of the varieties below. But I can tell you the best way to enjoy them.

Take two slices of white bread (even the lame squishy kind will do, although a denser white bread is best). Slather mayo on both slices, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Cut one of these voluptuous mamas into quarter-inch slices. Use a serrated knife to make it easier. Hold a slice up to the light. This is an essential step; you need to see exactly what a marvel of nature this is.

Layer one or two tomato slices onto the bread slices. Salt it, close it up, slice your sandwich in half, find yourself a soft chair in a very quiet part of the house, and chew slowly.

I promise you—it doesn’t get any better than that.

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