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?”
Let me get the obvious out of the way: you are not going to win friends, neighbors with whom you share airspace or small children over with cabbage casserole. It’s beige and gray with traces of drab green. It’s cooked forever, or until whatever vim and vigor may have initially been in the leaves has departed. At best, it’s akin to unstuffed cabbage, which means that it will be comfort food to some but torture to others.
Here’s a thing I’ve been doing since the year began that’s made me very happy in the kitchen and it’s so simple, I completely expect you to roll your eyes at how un-revolutionary it is, but it goes like this: Find a recipe that sounds good to you and make it immediately. Don’t put it in the queue; don’t save it on that to-cook-one-day list, just dive in and dig in. So far, it’s been nothing but great; there was a giant egg bake, ugly cookies, green dinner pancakes, a giant cabbage casserole (recipe added!) we heaped on coarse mustard-slathered bread and a towering spaghetti frittata. And while all of these things have been delicious, what’s been the most fun about them is getting back to a kind of impulsivity that’s gotten pushed to the wayside in this hyper-scheduled so-called adult life. It’s also led to conversations I want more of in 2016, such as “well, if you’re around anyway, why don’t you stay for dinner and I’ll guinea pig a new recipe on you?”
For the last seven Christmas Eves, I have made the gingerbread cake Claudia Fleming made famous during her time at Gramercy Tavern. The first year, I was so excited about it that I made it twice, first, for the holiday and then so I could tell you all about it because I think we all know that a Deb-fitted torture chamber would be me making some awesome cooking discovery and not being able to run to the internet to tell you about it immediately.
Prior to last week, I only liked baked potatoes two ways and the first was so weird, I usually had the decency to keep it to myself. Many years ago, I had an internship a couple blocks from a lunch place with a baked potato sub-menu, full of odd and awesome topping combinations. My favorite involved a marinated tomato-pepper salad, avocado, cheese and — yesss — ranch dressing and it was amazing and wonderful and stop looking at me like that because I have missed and longed for it since. The second way I like baked potatoes is equally troublesome, the classic with “the works” involving heaps of cheese, butter, sour cream, bacon, chives and blood pressure medication. I no longer eat them the first way because the sandwich shop is 250 miles from here and also it has since closed; I usually resist eating them the second way because if I’m going to have all of the fat and calories of a golden, glistening and salted pile of French fries, I’d rather have them in said French fry format.
Does anyone ever need an excuse to eat pie? Nobody we should be friends with, is my mantra. But, in an effort at inclusivity, here is a handy dandy excuse-finder, should you need a little convincing:
- Because it is not Friday yet.
- Because you probably woke up before you wanted to, and went to a job that even if you love, is still by definition something you wouldn’t do for free. Pie is an excellent consolation prize.
- Because yesterday felt like spring and everyone’s 3-month bad mood instantly evaporated. Today you needed a hat and gloves again. And a slice of pie, warmed just enough that a scoop of vanilla ice cream trickles over it.
- Because you’re probably never going to win that Maine Inn in time for lobster and blueberries season with an essay. (Although we are all rooting for you. And blueberry pie.)
- Because if you’re in the Northeast, fresh fruit pies are still months off, which means you get to make pies with chocolate and gooey caramel instead.
I’m pretty sure I’m the last person in the cooking-obsessed world to get Sean Brock Fever, the chef behind McCrady’s, Husk, and Minero in Charleston. Worse, this is probably a good time to admit that I was sent his first cookbook, Heritage, when it came out and rejected it on sight alone. There was something about those sleeve tattoos cupping the sacred rainbow beans, an image I’ve seen variations on countless other farm-to-table cookbook covers and magazine spreads, that put me off. Skimming the recipes didn’t always help. Your red peas, cornmeal and gold rice should be from Anson Mills, and if not, at least the cornmeal should be fresh from a gristmill. Your tomatoes should be home-canned, or at the very least, San Marzano. Your pork should be from a heritage pig, your buttermilk and goat cheese should come from a local farm, as should your Red Bliss potatoes; this is your heritage after all.