If you didn’t have a nonna to do so when you were a wee lucky thing, it’s more than likely that Marcella Hazan was the person who introduced you to the concept of a spaghetti frittata, a cozy mess of leftover spaghetti, scrambled egg, some butter, parsley and a fistful of parmesan, cooked in a skillet and cut into wedges. It’s unfancy food at its best, as should be no surprise from the woman who was very distressed by complicated chefs’ recipes, wondering “Why not make it simple?”
Here’s a thing I’ve been doing since the year began that’s made me very happy in the kitchen and it’s so simple, I completely expect you to roll your eyes at how un-revolutionary it is, but it goes like this: Find a recipe that sounds good to you and make it immediately. Don’t put it in the queue; don’t save it on that to-cook-one-day list, just dive in and dig in. So far, it’s been nothing but great; there was a giant egg bake, ugly cookies, green dinner pancakes, a giant cabbage casserole (recipe added!) we heaped on coarse mustard-slathered bread and a towering spaghetti frittata. And while all of these things have been delicious, what’s been the most fun about them is getting back to a kind of impulsivity that’s gotten pushed to the wayside in this hyper-scheduled so-called adult life. It’s also led to conversations I want more of in 2016, such as “well, if you’re around anyway, why don’t you stay for dinner and I’ll guinea pig a new recipe on you?”
I am, as ever, a sucker for a recipe with a great name. Bring me your grunts, your bundts, your fools, slumps and sonkers. Take me across the pond and let me feast on jammy dodgers, bubble and squeak, rarebit and rumbledethumps. I hope you know it’s only a matter of time until we take in some scrumptious nun’s farts. And so, for no reasons other than an inherent fascination with great food names plus egg whites to use up after a batch of these evil things, I turned my attention this week to the brutti ma buoni (meaning “ugly but good”), an egg white cookie that hails from Prato, Italy.
The night before I went to the hospital to have this little nugget, in one last burst of frenetic nesting — a tornado of focused, effective energy I sorely miss in these early months — I decided to do something so practical, I’m still patting myself on the back for it: I made a big volume of lazy baked ziti and divide it into three dishes, two that went into the freezer. I have not been this productive or effective since.
I am never a better citizen of the sidewalks of New York than I am when I have a newborn, or at least the variety we’ve been assigned twice now: those that can only be calmed by long walks in the stroller. And so we stroll, even though it’s unforgivably hot out, even though we rarely get out of the apartment early enough to enjoy those brief parts of the day when there’s an actual shady side of the street to hover on, even though we really don’t need anything else from the Greenmarket or anywhere else, we make up excuses so we have somewhere to go. On the best of days, we see people that we know and the neighborhood feels like something out of Mr. Rogers (although his is notably absent of the guy who yells outside my apartment all day about his superstitions and the clouds of secondhand decriminalized smoke we wade through). We bumped into my son’s old preschool teacher a few weeks ago, someone who likes to cook almost as much as me, and she said she’d recently made a big batch of caponata and had been having it with everything — for breakfast with an egg, in sandwiches for lunch and even with pasta for dinner and I thought that sounded absolutely brilliant. I just needed to learn how to make caponata.
The internet might be loaded with a ga-jillion recipes, but finding the great ones can still be a little bit of a needle in a haystack. My favorite way to find new recipes is to ask a random person what their cult favorites are. Bonus points if they claim to hate cooking, because these are the people who are only going to be excited for dishes that work with airtight reliability that are unquestionably worth your time. I have found so many gems this way; Marion Burros’s Purple Plum Torte (which, if you have not made yet, shut this browser tab and get to it, please), Cook Country’s Chicken and Dumplings, Jeremiah Tower’s Raspberry Brown Sugar Gratin, this crazy simple beef braise and Ina Garten’s Lemon Cake. (If you ask me about mine, I might also up this curious tuna salad from the New York Times Magazine, this zucchini and almond saute). In more recent memory, it’s from asking around that I learned a lot people have a very deep fondness for a raw tomato sauce for a 2006 issue of the late Gourmet Magazine.
One of the things I’ve first-world struggled with since the beginning of this incubation period is a lack of appetite. Of course, there’s the glib side of me — great for managing weight gain! why “eat for two” if you can eat for half?! — but mostly, it’s a bummer. I thought that after the first trimester nausea passed, I’d be good to go and yes, I’m back to eating regular meals, but my enthusiasm has only returned in short bursts. Sure, I’ve shamelessly consumed all matter of crispy eggs with soy sauce, sesame oil and chile flakes (flipped only long enough to keep the food police at bay, or so I tell you). I will eat almost any green vegetable roasted to a blistering crisp with olive oil and salt and finished with lemon juice. Speaking of lemons, we go through homemade, barely sweet lemonade by the half-carafe. And some cravings are even fun; for example, “the baby wants ribs” was a text I sent out to friends a few weeks ago while led to a great deck party. But do you know when I sat down with my plate after an afternoon of carefully preparing three glorious racks of ribs, I could only eat one? It’s rather grim for a so-called food writer to go through life unmotivated by hunger and cravings, to have become a person who shrugs and says “Meh, whatever you want to eat is fine.” I don’t even know me.