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?”
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.
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.
For someone who is patently terrified of all the offerings in the deli case pasta salad universe — the tri-colore, mayo-slicked, sugar-sweetened, canned tuna-flecked, curry powder-ed, and dotted with green peppers, raisins or ohgodboth — I sure spend a spectacular amount of each summer trying to come up with cold pasta preparations I’d find agreeable. I know that there’s one out there I could love and could love me back, but although a few attempts have gotten me closer, and even temporarily sated, my perfect picnic pasta salad eluded me.
Several years ago, because we didn’t have a kid yet, didn’t know about things like school break schedules and figured midway through February was as good of a time to escape the snow as any, we decided to get away to someplace warm and winter-free during Presidents’ Day week. We found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a beach resort that had to have easily been 75% children, and the kind that were at that time my worst nightmare of what kids could be [insert yours here, then multiply it as far as you can see] and we decided to both never have kids and never ever go away on Presidents’ Week again.
Over the last couple years — a dark time in which I’ve slowly had to accept that my once-tiny baby with fairly simple needs now required real square meals at very specific times of the day, such as dinner, far earlier than we ever do and that he’d likely be looking to me (me!) to provide them or face the hangry consequences — I’ve attempted to increase my repertoire of two things: 1. Dinners that can be made easily in under an hour that I actually want to eat, and 2. Casseroles. No, no, I don’t mean the canned cream of soupiness things. I mean, the idea of taking disparate meal parts and baking them in a big dish until they’re much more than the sum of their ingredients. Plus, they’re dinnertime magic: they reheat well; they make excellent leftovers for as long as you can stretch them; and they rarely require anything more on the side than a green salad (for grownups) or steamed broccoli (for people who haven’t yet come around to salad). Long Live The Casserole Rethought With Minimally Processed Ingredients! is hardly a sexy catchphrase, but there you have it: my new battle cry.