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.
In my fantasy recipe-writing league, I’d cover everything, a million questions you hadn’t even thought to ask yet. Every recipe would work on a stove, slowly braised in the oven, on a grill, in a slow-cooker, a pressure-cooker, on a train, in a car, or in a tree. You could make the vegetarian carnivorous, the carnivorous paleo, the gluten-full gluten-free, the sour cream could always be swapped yogurt which could always be swapped with buttermilk, or milk and lemon, or soy milk and vinegar. We’d find a way to put kale in everything. You could use flat-leaf parsley instead of cilantro (because cilantro is the devil’s herb, naturally) or none of the above, because green flecks = grounds for dinnertime dismissal. We’d make food that your picky spouse, your pasta-eating kid, and your pesky fad-dieting house guests would applaud at every meal, and all of those promises made by food writers greater than myself in tomes more epic than this blog of food bringing people together for the happiest part of everyone’s day would be made good on at last.
You don’t have to look at me like that. I know, I know how you and most people feel about lentils. About how they’re mealy and brown and generally lackluster, like health food putty; about how you’ll eat them, sure, but only if you must. And how if I were trying to convince you that lentils are something that you will very much love if only you could try them this way, my way, that this yellow-and-muddy-purple-brown speckled thing up top, despite the ambitious efforts of the bright green parsley chop scattered over it, is not going to be the thing to pull it off.
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.
Guys, we should definitely, definitely talk about these. Here, I’ll go first: I think it’s essential that you not let another tomato season pass without making them. I realize that you might imagine rice-stuffed tomatoes to be something unappealing. Maybe you had a cold, stomach-turning one at a buffet wedding too many years ago that its squidgy horror should still be fresh in your mind, and yet. Maybe you cannot imagine why anyone would consider rice stuffed inside a tomato to be something noteworthy, being just rice and tomatoes, possibly two of the most generic foods out there. Maybe you’re waiting to hear what I dolled these up with to make them interesting — was there bacon or cheese or caramelized onions? Did I amp it up with whole grains or kale? Maybe I cooked an egg inside, like that one time? And maybe you’re going to be disappointed when I tell you that I added nothing, just about nothing at all, and that’s the best thing about them.
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?
If you’re one of those people who saw the word “pickled” in the title and said “Ugh, no, sorry, not for me,” do know, I was the same not too long ago and encourage you to fight the good fight for as long as you can, because once your tastes cross over to the vinegar side, there’s little going back.