This, this is my culinary Mount Everest. This twenty-layer striation of noodles, ragu, béchamel and cheese, repeated four times and then some took me more than five years to conquer. To be honest, six years ago I didn’t know what it was. Sure, I had heard of lasagna but I wasn’t terribly fond of it because I don’t much care for the texture of ricotta once it has baked. (Ricotta, I’d argue, is best rich, fresh, and cold on toast.) But I was galloping through a post on an Italian food blog and I stumbled upon a parenthesised side-thought that stopped me dead in my tracks. It said something along the lines of “I don’t know whose idea it was to put ricotta in lasagna but… shudder.” And I thought, but wait! What’s supposed to go in lasagna? But there was no answer, so I set out to find one.
Every year at just about this time I renew my obsession with tomato sauce. It’s late August, after all, and just about anyone who has ever gardened or knows people who garden is drowning in tomatoes and I am here, with my virtual bucket, eager to help you out. Don’t be too fooled by my so-called benevolence, however, as it’s really a selfish endeavor; I find spaghetti with tomato sauce to be one of the universe’s perfect meals, so I’m hardly kicking and screaming my way to the kitchen the next time the whim for a new one strikes me.
Even though I have a lot of book left to write (unless you’re my editor, in which case, just kidding, almost done!) and deadlines both before and after that one requiring my attention, endless paperwork, emails and all sorts of tiresome things on my real-life agenda, I’ve decided to focus my daydreaming on something more aspirational: what to cook on a lazy summer night.
A couple months ago, we went out with friends to a new Austrian restaurant in our neighborhood and over too much Grüner and Very Large Dark Beers, got in an animated discussion about spaetzle, and how it was the perfect food. It manages to be both dumplings and noodles at once, and as good tangled with cheese and herbs and bacon and vegetables and as it is alongside a hearty braise. It is never unwelcome. And then my friend turned to me, I guess presuming I’m a person who knows how to, like, make things and ask me how it was made. And I realized I had no idea. This never happens — not that I am clueless, as I am routinely clueless, especially in the realm of denim — but it’s rare that I haven’t a single inkling as to how a food is made. But homemade spaetzle, I hadn’t even considered before.
Look, it wasn’t my finest moment but my Happy Valentine’s Day gift to my husband was an epic meltdown over book deadlines and recipe flops and the near impossibility of getting anything done with a toddler underfoot in a kitchen that doesn’t actually fit the two of us. It wasn’t pretty. We ordered pizza and watched How I Met Your Mother.
Anyone running the marathon this weekend? I have a hunch that the overlap between people who, say, read a home cooking blog that unapologetically embraces butter and people who, say, run 26.2 miles in their spare time as an personal challenge, is slim-to-none. And yet, I know a handful of people running this weekend that love good cooking as I do, despite the fact that we obviously have nothing else in common. Seeing as they run when not chased, I bet they also do dishes for pleasure and go to bed advisably early for a less cranky tomorrow. Weirdos.
One of the most frequent requests I get is for is to organize a category of recipes that freezes well, or can be packed up and brought to new parents with bigger (er, tinier) things on their agenda than stirring pots. And you’d think I’d be an expert on this, having been in their shoes just one year ago but I never bothered. New York City is not a place where you have to stock your freezer to get a good meal in; we can get literally anything delivered to our door in under an hour, even food that is both healthy and better than I make at home. (Well, almost.) Plus, almost anything that sits in my freezer for more than two weeks smells… freezery. It was hard to summon enthusiasm to store anything worthwhile inside it.