Every time I make an Ottolenghi recipe, I become convinced that he has finally lost his mind. Really, turmeric, black sesame seeds and parmesan together? Three tablespoons of fresh oregano? A full half-cup of tahini? And as my anxiety grows — you see, I, too, understand the bubble of time, ingredients and trust that we invest into new recipes, which, when popped, leads to the kind of frustration that can only be righted with a scalding review — I wonder if this will be it, the day I finally make an Ottolenghi recipe that’s just plain off. And, without fail, we sit down to something so spectacular in a way I hadn’t even considered before, I’m in awe of his talent and relieved that I ignored every instinct not to follow his recipe faithfully.
So, I didn’t really know how to tell you this earlier, but we’ve gone to roam. I mean, we are in Rome, here, for a week and a half. Why so long? Why Rome? Does it even matter? The itch for travel that was more than an overnight book trip to one city or another was intense, as I remember a time pre-kid when we used to go places all of the time, just following the promise of cheap airfare passable-enough hotels to Vienna and Prague and Paris, just because. But we were scared of travelling with a three year-old because I don’t want to wreck the reputation of the one that’s been assigned to us, but you see, as normal as this makes him, he doesn’t always listen. Sometimes he yells? He’s not so good at airplanes. Or fancy restaurants. But I knew there would be a point where the inconveniences incurred by travelling with a preschooler would feel less of a burden than spending another minute taking a serious family vacation somewhere we’ve always wanted to study up close, to linger in long enough that it might almost feel routine after a few days, and here we are. At last.
It’s been over six years since I mooned here over a lost dumpling love. Dumplings are kind of a fixation for me; I am unwaveringly convinced that small pockets of food wrapped elegantly in a thin dough are among the universe’s most perfect foods; portable and petite, servings easily scaled, I dare you to find a nutritious food not improved by an adorable doughy package. The vegetable dumplings that I used to get at a chain of otherwise average west side Chinese restaurants were my all-time favorite; before they changed the recipe, I regularly rerouted my day to stop there for an order, and a beer. (Sidebar: Can we talk about how delicious a cold beer in a glass is with potstickers? No, different conversation, huh? Onwards!)
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.
I think that if we’re going to continue to be grand old friends, you’re going to have to admit that you at least occasionally wish you could have potato salad for lunch any day of the week. That you think it’s kind of lame that potato salad is relegated to backyard barbecue indulgence; packed up in Tupperware, saved for 3-day weekends, eaten with apology to the swimsuit you’ll wear the next day. If nothing else you might admit this so that I can feel my habits are less cuckoo. You’d do that for me, wouldn’t you?
I’m not really a pea-eater. 99 percent of pea dishes do absolutely nothing for me, no matter how buttery, minty, creamy or how close they come to winning a Top Chef honor. I enjoy them in Indian food and I won’t leave them on the rim of a bowl of pasta, but you’ll never catch me hoarding a bag of them in the freezer, waiting to meet their end on my stove.
I’ve spent way too much time this summer trying to dream up a pasta salad that wasn’t boring, or predictable, or well, you know, the kind of familiar pasta salad territory you don’t need me to go over for you. Because I love a good pasta salad, I just don’t find them often. Usually, they’re missing the freshness you’d expect from something you eat in the summer, when the markets are bursting at the seams with peak-season produce. Often the dressing is a throw-away, either a too-plain vinaigrette or heaps of mayonnaise, lending itself to more of a mass than a salad. So I knew what I didn’t want, I just hadn’t figured out what I did.