Do you ever have the kind of workweek where you go in expecting to have an easy-breezy time, and instead your office is handed a bomb with a sizzling fuse? Where your boss was supposed to be on vacation, but instead has to come back to defuse said bomb, and his frantic, disappointed aura sours everyone’s mood? Where you spend days on end combing through the haystack that is Google, looking for needles that may or may not exist? Where, to add insult to injury, the sky is gemstone-blue and the air is perfumed with fruit blossoms and the sun is high and bright for the first time so far this year, and you’re stuck indoors for all of it? Where you come home every night tasting sleep in your mouth, wishing to somehow melt your corporeal self into your mattress and lose consciousness for a million years?
Yeah. That was my week.
I’ve had no spare energy left for creativity. Which is a shame, because I had a really fabulous time cooking with friends over the weekend, and I’ve completely run out of words to describe it. I’ll try, though.
One of my favorite things to do on a Sunday morning is browse the stalls at the farmer’s market and knit together a dinner plan from whatever sings to me. I’d been planning for weeks to bring my friends Molly and Sarah along on one of these expeditions, and this past Sunday we finally made it happen. That turned into a dinner party for ten people, on a wing and a prayer and a big pile o’ produce.
It was SO FUN.
This is a yam. Not a giant mutant pear, or one of those toys that bobbles when you push it yet still manages to stay upright. A yam. Try finding that in your local mega-mart (as Alton Brown might say).
We roasted our (bizarre monster) yams, along with some adorable red-skinned potatoes and whole garlic cloves in their skins. High-heat roasting is absolutely my favorite dead-on-balls simple way to prepare root vegetables. A drizzle of olive oil, some salt and pepper, 45 minutes at 425 degrees. That’s it. Garlic cloves turn into caramel candy. Sweet potatoes become ambrosia.
Molly flattens a chicken breast. I used to call this process “hitting things with a frying pan,” but then I discovered that a rolling pin does a better job. “Hitting things with a rolling pin” just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, sadly.
Molly breaded the chicken breasts and baked them with lemon slices. That odd relish-looking dribble is my attempt at an impromptu sauce of caramelized shallots, lemon juice and sake. Next time I’ll remember to add liquid to the pan…
Sicilian Brussels Sprouts, minus the red wine vinegar and plus some thin-sliced, pan-crisped prosciutto. My freshman year of college, I once got into an argument with an acquaintance over whether Brussels sprouts and bacon belonged together. My argument, as I recall, was that adding pig products to vegetables was a travesty. I was so, so wrong.
Sarah, while an avid cook, is also a very picky eater. Her staple meal is angel hair pasta with what her friends call Sarah Sauce: a quick saute of olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and basil. She also likes broccoli, so when we spotted some gorgeous broccolini florets at the farmer’s market, we decided to toss them into a batch of her sauce. It turned out to be an inspired choice–the long spindly florets crisply mimicked the spinach fettucine we served it over.
And a bunch of asparagus, which we blanched, set aside, and then forgot about.
I love this kind of cooking: two or three people in the kitchen at a time, tasting, joking, swapping ingredients. It’s exciting and creative and effortlessly social. And now that spring is finally here–and I just might have the time to get out and enjoy it–I intend to do this again, as often as possible.
Sarah Sauce with Broccolini (serves 4 as a main course, 8 as a side)
About 2 lb broccolini florets, or whole broccolini cut into 3-inch lengths (or regular broccoli, for that matter)
5-6 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups diced tomatoes (fresh, canned or a combination)
1 tbsp fresh or 1 tsp dried herbs of your choice–Sarah uses basil, but oregano would also be great
Pinch of dried red chili flake
Olive oil for sauteing
Salt and pepper for seasoning
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large, deep-sided skillet or frying pan. Add garlic, red chili flake, and dried herbs (if using) and saute for 5 minutes or so, just until the garlic is golden. Add tomatoes and let simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until coalesced. Add broccolini and fresh herbs (if using), and toss everything together. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, until the broccolini is cooked through but still crisp. Serve over your choice of pasta.