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Posts Tagged ‘skillet’

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.

IMG_4183*****

*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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Almost a year ago I got into an accident which broke my collarbone, put my dominant arm into a sling, and forced me to give up cooking anything that was too physically demanding. All last fall and winter I was surprised at how much I missed cutting up apples and slicing into fresh pumpkins to make pies and cakes, and at how deprived I felt of those lovely flavors. I know, I could buy other people’s creations, and I did. It wasn’t the same. I wanted to taste my own recipes. And what surprised me most was that I actually craved the process of making them, the actual work, just as much as the tastes.

I met a new friend recently who put it perfectly: She said making things yourself makes you feel like more of a person.  And to put an even finer point on it, I think it’s the labor-intensive stuff that does the job the best. After my accident I lost the ability to do lot of what made me feel like a person. I like the physicality of cutting into a cheese pumpkin. I like feeling—through the resistance of a chef’s knife—the difference between a crisp Empire apple and a soft Macintosh. I was amazed at how much the work I put into baking flavors the pie.

My shoulder and arm have been strengthened in the past year by physical therapy and theatre therapy (in other words, crewing shows, mostly recently one that required me to lift antique gramophones that weigh as much as a Chevy Impala), and I have been swooning with excitement at the thought of working with fall fruits again. So a couple of days ago I got started with the above. It’s a hot sandwich that I made with apples and a sharp Jack cheese.

Take an apple. Wash it well, cut it in half, core it, and cut half into thin slices. Eat the other half while you work. Grate or slice up some of your favorite cheese.* Take out two slices of your favorite bread and put them side by side on a plate. Heat up a pat of butter in a wide skillet** over medium heat and swirl it around. Put half of the cheese on one bread slice. Top with apple slices. Put the rest of the cheese on top of them. Put the other bread slice on top.

Using a spatula and your hand to balance, lower your thing of beauty into the skillet. Let it sit there for about 30 seconds. Then slide the spatula carefully underneath it, put your hand on top of it, and invert. Give yourself points if nothing falls out. Gobble up whatever does fall out. Let the sandwich sit on the heat for another 30 seconds, then slide it onto a plate, cut and keep eating.

For gooier fun, make a panini*** using the low tech method: Find a brick, wrap it in parchment paper, and plop it on top of your sandwich while it’s cooking. It’s way, way cheaper than one of those fancy-schmancy presses from Williams-Sonoma, you don’t have to clean it, and it can live in your oven. Pressing the sandwich flattens it a bit and melds the apples and cheese together into a most appealing crunchy/oozy combo.

This is the simplest of sandwiches. It celebrates one of the season’s iconic flavors, and in my case, regaining the ability to cook the way I love.

Can’t wait to work with pumpkin next.

Standing by.

*The sweeter the apple, the sharper the cheese it can take. It’s like a spirited debate between friends. Go for an aged cheddar or something along those lines.

**Don’t get cocky (like me) and use a little saucepan and burn your ring finger and pinky while flipping the sandwich (like me).

***This is actually the plural of the famous pressed sandwich. Panino is the singular. Whatever.

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