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?”
I read about French farçous pancakes for the first time on Friday morning and by lunchtime I was eating them. As my usual process of funneling the hundreds of recipe ideas swarming around in my head into a single one worth sharing is an exercise in exasperation involving extensive considerations of how I’d like to approach something, ingredient availability, time availability, estimated number of rounds it will take to get said recipe right, scanning my worry meter over all the places I suspect it might flop, number of stores to get to find ingredients, all interspersed with baby feedings, and overdue items on an forever-long to-do list, getting from “yes I want to make this” to “eating it” in a little over an hour alone makes this the best thing I’ve made this year.
Among the great Ashkenazi soul food traditions — bagels, lox, chicken noodle soup, challah, brisket and its cousins, pastrami and corned beef — few are more deeply rooted in the communal psyche than kugels, or starch-based puddings that hail from southern Germany. The word kugel, meaning sphere, globe or ball, originally referred to dumplings dropped over a soup pot, the version baked casserole pans became my people’s favorite, always made in vast quantities, served on Shabbat or holidays in squares and usually shoved in the hands of unsuspecting relatives and guests in disposable foil tins on their way home. The smart ones know resistance is futile.
Thanksgiving may be my favorite holiday, I may look forward to stuffing, green bean casserole and all the pie the way normal people might anticipate Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day, but there is definitely a point — let’s call it right now — when I’m about at capacity with fresh fun ideas for soft orange vegetables and clever new ways to swim foods in puddles of rich sauces. Also, I still need to eat.
Is this a good place to admit that in all years I sat down at the Thanksgiving table when I didn’t eat meat, it never occurred to me that I needed an alternative meal? Because: sweet potatoes. Because: green beans. Because: stuffing and cranberries and dinner rolls and four types of pie! My plate was heavy. My face was stuffed. I mean, who’s really in it for the turkey?
Sara Jenkins is famous for making the Italian roasted pork street food known as porchetta trendy in New York. She’s also known for her way with pasta (and has a new book out with her famed food writer mom celebrating it). She’s had turns at a handful of great Italian restaurants in New York, earning them stars and accolades and has written at length for The Atlantic about Italian food. And almost all I ever want to talk about here? Her salads.
I have very strong feelings about stuffing, which, for once, I can express succinctly: GIMME. Well, that and a little bit of righteous indignation. Why do we limit our consumption of it to Thanksgiving? Why do we feign interest in all sorts of uninteresting things (dry turkey, thin gravy, occasionally awkward conversations with tipsy distant relatives) just to eat stuffing? Separated into components — croutons, broth, sautéed vegetables — we’d never reject them during all of the months that are not November, but together, for whatever reason, together in a casserole dish, it’s the fourth Thursday of the month or bust. I demand answers.