Enthusiasm and Everyday Cooking
August 3 – August 9
Monday: Mozzarella with Tomato Salad – Adapted from Franny’s Burrata with Tomato Salad – Our Reprise of Isaly’s Ham Barbecue Sandwich
Tuesday: Daily Chili from Michael Symon
Symon’s Grilled Pizza picture was out of focus – above is our own Margherita from Saturday
Wednesday: M. Symon’s Grilled Pizza
Thursday: No memory of this meal exists in our photos or in our minds
Friday: Penne with Marcella Hazen’s Tomato Sauce
Sausage and Asiago
Saturday: W. Stewart’s Oven Pizza
Sunday: Watermelon Salad, Grilled Brats with Billy and Emily
Enthusiasm is precisely what I lacked last week.
There are times in the course of business and life when the task of coming up with an appealing dinner seems overwhelming. When this happens, I still cook, but the whole exercise feels like hiking through knee-high snow in combat boots, or sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, or, worst of all, listening to a long graduation address gaseous with platitudes and realizing that you will soon have to endure the catcalls and cheers as the graduates from Aaronson to Zymanowski stroll with the lugubriously slow dignity of tortoises across the stage to accept their diplomas. Now wait a minute – how did we get this far from cooking?
Oh, ennui, as I was saying, set in last week. (Not to be confused with the playwright, whose Beckett was the most often produced play of my youth, after A Man for All Seasons and Guys and Dolls. By the way, the playwright spells his name in that infuriating non-phonetic way the French have adopted: A-n-n-o-u-i-l-h.) But, once again, we have drifted far afield from food.
Last week there just weren’t any great dinners with friends – Dick and Hilly were back on the Eastern Shore. The overwhelming heat and humidity which have oppressed Pittsburgh for coming up on four weeks now, persisted. Various other things – a fine new novel, trips to the vet and the rheumatologist and the dentist – also distracted me from cooking. (You have, perhaps, noticed that distracting me does take a great deal of effort). Cooking just wasn’t top of my mind.
Now, it doesn’t take much to cure my boredom – a new cookbook, an interesting recipe in the NYT or bon appétit or an interesting cooking show on TV can knock me out of my torpor in a flash. So, when SWMBO and I saw Michael Symon and his wife grilling pizza in their back yard, surrounded by a beautiful garden, I thought – let’s cook M. Symon’s stuff this week.
His chili was good, but not great, and his grilled pizza had to be finished in the oven, we just couldn’t generate enough heat in our Weber grill (the same as his) to cook the crust. So, ennui returned with redoubled force and I found myself on Friday at a total loss – what to cook?
The spine of an old favorite – a Marcella Hazan cookbook – caught my eye and it occurred to me that I didn’t need fish sauce, or charred poblanos or quail eggs to cook a fine meal. We always have pasta and canned tomatoes in the pantry and parmigiana or pecorino and butter in the refrigerator and an onion or three in the basket on the counter. And that, my friends, is all you’ll need, to revive your interest in cooking and eating.
The simplest and best red sauce for pasta ever created has to be Marcella Hazen’s Simple Sauce. The key to this delicious concoction is the slow cooking of halved onions with the tomatoes and the addition of butter. After that, a little adjustment of seasoning and the addition of some al dente pasta will give you a meal that will knock the ennui right out of you. If it doesn’t, have someone check your pulse.
Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce
(no adaptations necessary)
Timing: 50 minutes
Ingredients: Serves 4 – enough sauce for 1 lb. of pasta
28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes or 2 cups of chopped fresh tomatoes (do yourself a favor and splurge on San Marzano, if you’re using canned tomatoes)
5 tablespoons of butter
1 onion – peeled and halved
Salt to taste
Put the tomatoes, the onion and the butter in a saucepan and add a few pinches of salt. Bring to a simmer over medium and cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When the sauce is finished, remove the onions – you can cut them up and put them into a salad or just discard, correct the seasoning and serve with pasta and grated cheese. You will not believe the addictive flavor of this simple concoction. No – I mean that – you will not believe it until you cook it and taste it.
Note: I usually pour the canned tomatoes into a large bowl and break them up by hand. If you do this, crush the tomatoes under the surface of the tomato juice or you will ruin your oxford-cloth dress shirt. Who wears an apron? You can also cut them up in the pan with kitchen shears, or break them up with a spoon as they cook.