I have the most boring thing, ever, to tell you today (and clearly it’s not “how to write an enticing lede”): I tried not to eat bread for a couple months. Wait, come back! Let me explain. I don’t mean ever. I am not anti-carb or anti-dessert, nor is Wheat Belly our new idea of a good bedtime story; I am ever your gluten-full host. I remain certain that freshly-baked, crackly-crusted artisanal bread is one of the greatest things in the world; to turn it down a moderate serving of it when you’re able to enjoy it (chemically and all that) is a sacrilege. But that’s not really what most of our bread looks like, does it? Most often, bread is merely bookends on a sandwich, with the goal of making filling portable. Or, it’s toasted so that it can sop up butter, jam or a runny yolk, or crouton-ed to make a salad feel bulkier. It’s all too infrequently in and of itself noteworthy. These latter categories of bread were what I suspected I wouldn’t miss if when I challenged myself to skip them. That is, at least two meals a day: an ascetic, I am not.
With all due respect, I think you’ve been putting cheese on the wrong side of your grilled cheese sandwiches. Or, at the least, neglecting the better ones, the exteriors. Wait, hear me out. It’s basic food math that while cold cheese is good, warm cheese is better. But if you take that a step further — and if you’re new here, let me tell you: we will always take it a step further — you will agree that melted cheese is better than warm cheese, and the melted cheese that rolls off a piece of sandwich bread and sizzles on a skillet, browning and crisping, is the top of the cheese tower… A place I’d very much like to live. Do you think a cheese tower might exist somewhere? Might it be France? Now I’m picturing an Eiffel Tower made out of cheese and what were we talking about? Oh right: melted and browned cheese wins, really for the same reason that browned butter trumps regular butter: the fats melt away from the dairy solids and toast them until they’re caramelized and achingly delicious and you forget why you’d ever eat it any other way. Don’t fight it.
Growing up, we made popsicles by pouring orange juice into these molds, letting them freeze and eating them outside so we didn’t sticky up the kitchen floor. But when I first bought these popsicles molds a year ago, did I put juice in them? No. I started dreaming about frozen cherry cheesecake popsicles and key lime pie paletas. I became obsessed with recreating the creamsicles of my youth, but only if the outside layer was orange and the middle was white. I began scratching out recipes for rum-mango-coconut popsicles, roasted peach and frozen yogurt on a stick and strawberry black pepper frozen ices that might taste like one of my favorite summer cocktails.
I’m not a summer person. Is it uncool to admit that you sort of hate sweating? Probably, so it’s a good thing you already knew I was a dork. New York City summers seem to be endless strings of heatwaves, and humidity so thick that even 82 degrees can feel like 105. Being pale and freckled, I seem to go through my body weight in sunscreen each summer, and still burn. Inside, the window air-conditioner units are always buzzing and always too cold; I consider summer something I must endure until my real love — crunchy fall leaves, cardigans, apple cider stands — returns in late September.
I was not, in fact, looking for a new farro dish. It rarely occurs to me over the summer, when there’s more eggplant/zucchini/tomatoes/peaches/plums/berries than anyone could fathom going through in the scant weeks they’re available, to wish I had more whole grains in my diet. And since we’re being honest, only occasionally in times that it probably should, such as in February, when refined flours and pasta are used to fill the endless gap in growing seasons. But, as it happens, because I’m terrible at timely meal-planning, I was attempting to make this chicken for dinner a couple weeks ago and it wasn’t ready on time, or even close to it, and I remembered a one-pan linguine dish I’d read about in Martha Stewart Living last month that sounded fascinating. Realizing I had almost all the ingredients on hand, I rustled it up instead and felt like such a domestic diva, I nearly took a bow when I brought it out, but resisted, as I prefer to only drop one dish a season. In the dish, pasta, only enough water to cook it, an onion, garlic cloves, some cherry tomatoes, olive oil, basil, salt and red pepper flakes are combined cold, brought up to a boil and cooked until the pasta is al dente and everything else becomes the dish’s saucy servant, all in a single saucepan, all at once. I realize you’re all leaving me right now to make it this very moment, and I don’t blame you. At the very least, you need to bookmark the recipe for when you’re in a pinch, and really, when is anyone not?
Recently, I attempted to roughly outline the parameters of the gap between the recipes you see here on this site and what I might have made for dinner last night. In the first category, we’ve got words like aspirational and exceptional or unusual and best in category or just seriously we all need to make this right now. It’s fun, noteworthy stuff. Sure, it’s also our dinner, you know, on the days such exciting things come to pass in my kitchen, but it’s the second category — staples, comforts and easy wins, things that miraculously make all three people around the table happy at the same time — that dominate our table the rest of the time.
I think we should all go to a party. And we should all eat this. I know, it doesn’t look like much. I am sure you’ve seen cheese spread on a slice of baguette before. It probably looked prettier than this too; less blue, more smooth. But please, lean in anyway, because I have to tell you: this is brilliant. And I can’t believe I’ve gone most of my life without knowing about it. Don’t let it happen to you.