Look, I’m not going to call Friday night’s dinner a disaster. For one, my husband would jump its undeserving defense and hey, nobody went to bed hungry, did they? But, I hated it. It was a tremendous amount of labor for a just shy of average outcome, none of the dishes lived up to my taste bud’s anticipation of them and even looking at the photos as well as the ample leftovers the next morning, ugh, I just wanted it all to go away. We can’t be great cooks every night, can we? I suppose some disappointing baigan bharta, oily cauliflower with onions and tomatoes and lackluster naan are small prices to pay for lucking out round one with garlic soups and sable cookies.
Because I’m just not the kind of person who handles disappointment well, or without immediately seeking out karmic retribution, on a bleary, rainy Saturday night when after a day of running exhausting errands, my husband and I lacked motivation to do anything but take in some back-episodes of The Wire, I cooked some foods that never fail me.
First on tap was a cauliflower soup that’s showy enough for your next dinner party but takes less than 40 minutes from emptying the grocery bags to steamy sipping. The second is a tuna salad, as untraditional as it gets. Pulled from the New York Times Magazine exactly two years ago, in an article about hunting down unforgettable dishes, it’s my husband’s favorite and I urge you to try it, if dill and pepperoncini are your thing. Finally, we had some Caesar salad with garlic-rubbed Ciabatta bread croutons. I’ve been making Caesar dressing in some format with my mother since I was a kid and we were on vacation at one of those old Inns where the tuxedoed waiter makes everything in front of you, and I fell in love. There is no comparison, no parallel whatsoever between the bottled stuff with its “parmesan” grit and homemade, if you ask me, and over the years I’ve found a recipe that can accommodate any food preference, from a distrust of raw eggs to a dislike of hairy, oily fish (guilty as charged). It won’t mock you for being a fusspot, I promise.
I know it says unbecoming things about me that it took a tried-and-tested meal to reassemble my cooking ego, but sometimes the gap between my expectations and results is so vast that I’m not ashamed to admit needing some comfort before setting out again. In a few days, I’ll renew my hunt for a baingan bharta recipe that mimics the one we’ve fallen in love with at Bombay Talkie, and naan as intriguing as Floyd Cardoz’, until then, I’m taking comfort in leftovers we can’t wait to get into.
Silky Cauliflower Soup
From David Lieberman
Serves 4 to 6
1 head cauliflower
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 quart low-sodium chicken stock
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Remove the leaves and thick core from the cauliflower, coarsely chop, and reserve.
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or soup pot over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. Cook until softened, but not browned, about 5 minutes.
Add the cauliflower and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the cauliflower is very soft and falling apart, about 15 minutes.
Remove from heat and, using a hand held immersion blender, puree the soup, or puree in small batches in a blender and return it to the pot.
Add the Parmesan and stir until smooth.
Season, to taste, with salt and black pepper. Keep warm until ready to serve.
Deb’s Caesar Salad Dressing
2 tablespoons mayonnaise – or – 1 egg
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 oil-packed anchovy fillet, finely chopped (optional)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Whisk all except last together. Gradually whisk in 1/4 cup olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. (Dressing can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature and rewhisk before using.)
Dill-Pepperoncini Tuna Salad
Recipe from the New York Times Magazine 9/5/04
Yield: About 2 cups.
10 to 12 ounces good-quality solid tuna packed in olive oil, well drained*
2 scallions washed, trimmed and chopped fine
6 pepperoncini peppers, destemmed and julienned
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup roasted or smoked almonds, chopped roughly, or a small handful toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup good-quality olive oil (or the oil the tuna was packed in)
1 tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice or more to taste
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.
Mix all the ingredients well with a fork in a medium-size, nonreactive bowl. Taste and adjust the lemon juice and pepper. The salad can be made up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated.
* I’ve done this two ways, with oil-packed and the reserved oil, as well as using drained water-packed and adding in 1/4 cup olive oil, and have to say that I find the latter to be a far less oil-slicked result. You can always add more olive oil, but I found it hard to take away the heaviness the oil-packed came with.