Most of my understanding of the category of diner sandwiches we know as “melts” comes from the hyper-local archive of culinary amusements I know as Foods My Husband Will Order For Himself When Left To His Own Devices. I can’t give away all of his secrets — well, I can, but for a fee — but I have been given permission to tell you that the list is topped with Regrettable Chinese Takeout With a Life-Threatening Amount of Sichuan Peppercorns (to be repeated next time, no lessons learned), and somewhat further down the list, only if the day has been long and terrible enough, is a tuna melt — as in jarred mayo meets canned fish meets something square and flat that only passes for cheese in America. Did it not always come with a side of steak fries, which I want to steal because you should know by now that fries don’t count when I say I’m not hungry for dinner, I’d probably be breaking our house “don’t yuck my yum” rule even more often than my offspring.
One of my probably most annoying insistences in the 15 years that I didn’t eat meat was that I suspected people didn’t really like it as much as they thought they did. Take bacon, no doubt the first thing that comes to mind when some leaf-horfing former vegetarian has the audacity to suggest that you could live without flesh. You love the way it’s smoky and salty and crispy and fatty, right? But how much of that has to do with the actual taste of pork belly, versus the way we’ve treated it to make it even more amazing? How much of Korean short ribs are about the unseemly delicious marinade, how much of Southern fried chicken is about that shattering crust, comprise mostly buttermilk, flour and grandma love? How much of barbecued ribs is about the gloriousness of the meat on the bone versus the long tenderizing, smoking and the sweet-salty-spicy stuff we mop or crust on top? [Sorry, I have to stop this paragraph right here so I can eat it.]
For reasons I cannot — for once, I mean, good riddance — articulate, I spent half the summer, the half I was gestating this tiny moppet, with a nonstop craving for broccoli cheddar soup, something I’d never actually eaten before. I think a comment got it started and even though I can no longer find it, I’ll never forgive it. Sure, I had heard of the soup, but it always seemed to be in that category of foods it was better not to investigate. I mean, just consider all of the ways our lives have been ruined by finding how ridiculous brown butter and sea salt flakes are in crispy treats, or what happens when you make saltine crack into an ice cream sandwich, or butter in tomato sauce. I didn’t want to know why a cheddar cheese soup base was an obsession of so many people.
I may have suddenly, and at least a month earlier than I’d hoped, reached the slightly less awesome phase of pregnancy, which I suspect is nature’s way of ensuring that despite all of the great things about gestating — thick, shiny hair! elastic-waist pants! people actually encouraging you to be lazy! — you will have little desire to stay this way forever.
Although my parents claim to have loved us, there were all sorts of delicious foods that my sister and I knew our friends got to eat in their homes that we were denied in our own, glorious meal-like substances such as shake-and-bake chicken, hamburger helpers, sugar cereals with colorful marshmallows, and popcorn in that thing that unspirals itself and expands in the oven, like, whoa. Childhood was tough! Even now as (theoretically) an adult, I routinely hear about wondrous foods that I have never even once experienced, such as the broccoli-cheese casserole that someone (was it you?) requested I try my hand at earlier this year.
I don’t mean to undersell this, but this is just a frittata. It’s not going to help decimate your weekend’s apple haul, it’s not to going to solve the whole homemade-pizza-on-your-schedule crisis, it’s not a cake you’ve been missing out on since 1983, which was 30 years ago, ow. No, it doesn’t have higher powers or reinvent grilled cheese, it’s not even the life-changing soup stock I’ve been meaning to tell you about for two years now (next week?) and I was about to say that it didn’t make the unconquerable in the kitchen conquerable, except that might not be true. This, in fact, did exactly that last Monday night, when someone told me about the recipe that morning and we had it on the table by dinnertime, no small feat some Mondays.
Here are the things I jotted down on my cooking wish-list whilst (!) I was in the UK: baked cauliflower cheese, a “proper” English Sunday roast (with
mash fried potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, creamy horseradish sauce), the “full English” breakfast (authentic = every item must be fried, apparently!), cider vinegar + Maldon sea salt crisps with champagne, please, chunky olive oil and mushroom risotto, clotted cream and marmalade scones, Welsh cakes, chocolate-dipped digestives and fall apple-plum crisps thickly drizzled with fresh cream.