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.
I have forever seen recipes on TV and around the web for something called Mexican Lasagna, a giant layered casserole that contains pretty much everything we love and cannot get enough of — tortillas, beans, salsa, cheese and then some — but couldn’t bring myself to make one because I make bad decisions based on trivial things, such as the name, which made me cringe (must we blame the people of Naples or Mexico for the unholy ways we Frankenstein their cuisine?) and the fact that I hadn’t exactly run out of excuses to eat tortillas, beans, salsa and cheese yet and thus didn’t need to enlist another one. Don’t worry, Deb is going to see the error of her ways in the next paragraph.
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?