Some people are chef-chasers, meal-collectors. Being at the right restaurant exactly when it’s the newest thing so they can say they ate there first, or knew so-and-so would be the next Top Chef long before anyone else is where it’s at. Some want to be the first in line for Chef’s take on ramps, rhubarb, some adored garlic chive tangle and five different soft-shell crab specials each spring. Some people rank bathrooms (no really, they do) at the city’s best eateries. The thing is, I don’t know these people, and secretly, I’m kind of relieved.
For me, restaurants are about something else. I love to go to great ones, glorious places where each and every dish is perfect in a way you hadn’t considered before. Cranberry beans in an artichoke cup? I’m so glad I’ve met you. Seared quartered baby artichokes with pistachios, mache and manchego cheese? Two weeks without you makes me sad. Tabla’s Indian-spiced popcorn? It’s pathetic, but you can actually make my day. In their own ways, restaurants have become my muse. Thus, I didn’t just want to go to The Little Owl for my birthday Monday night because a friend had raved about it after her Food & Wine holiday party, I wanted to go because one glance at the constantly-changing menu told me I’d be brimming with new ideas when I left.
And was I! I didn’t even know what fideos was when I walked in there, and in the days since, it’s been every other word out of my mouth. Fideos. Fideos. Fiddle me some fideos! Monday night, they served them with a tomato-y broth-based sauce (yes, I know that’s not exactly the most articulate description, but that’s the way I noted it in my head) with red peppers, barely cooked, fresh fava beans, black olives and wee clumps of cooked-in melted cheese, and there was a squiggle of a smoky red pepper sauce next to it. I loved it to pieces. I ate it embarrassingly fast. I vowed to make it the very next time I cooked, which because no birthday week is complete without a trip to the Bread Bar, brought us to Wednesday.
I resorted to an old Rick Bayless recipe for guidance, which is unfortunate, you see, because I obviously suffered some memory loss around the last time I used a Bayless recipe. Last year, the New York Times had run his recipe for chipotle meatballs, which piqued my taste buds so fiercely that I had to make it that very evening. The following week, the Times printed a correction that no, you were not supposed to use one to two cans of chipotle as they’d originally dictated, but one to two canned chipotles and ha, ha, ha, oh, I’d gotten the memo, but the evil, mouth-searing, food-went-in-the-trash kind of way. Now, the Times blames an “editing error” so I suppose he should get a pass, but, well, there Rick and I were again Wednesday night, his single charred jalapeÃƒÂ±o* somehow so fiercely over-spiced I thought a single bite would kill me. I ended up adding a cup of tomato puree in hopes to dampen its singeing effect, but in the end it only slightly helped.
It’s a shame, because I think half, or a quarter of that chile would have made for a delicious dish. I love this fideos idea, sauteing fine noodles until they are browned, tangling them up with other seasonal ingredients. I loved it on my plate at the restaurant, and when I could ignore my mouth’s screaming for an ice cube, or any such relief, I loved it at home. But I’d approach that whole jalapeno with caution next time, as even my Tobasco-fiending husband felt the spice was above and beyond.
Speaking of Alex, he has been nudging me for days to please, please please tell you that Smitten Kitchen has been nominated by the lovely folks at Culinate.com for their Grill Me contest in a chance to win a trip to Napa Valley and take a grill master class with two pros, and I get to take a guest if I win. (Yes, that’s where he comes in.) So, um, if you feel like contributing to the effort to send me and Alex to Napa, baby, Napa, just press this wee little button to the right and, well, you know the drill. From the bottom of our grill-obsessed gullets, we thank you.
Update: People, thank you so much for your mind-blowing response to this! You’re so rad. So, you’re not going to believe this but for the second week of the contest, Culinate is letting people vote a second time. For real! So, you can vote again for your favorite blogger and everything, and by golly, well, I think we all know where Alex and I stand on this, but you should go and vote your conscience, okay?
Fideos with Favas, Red Peppers and Black Olives
Inspired by The Little Owl, but no doubt, lacking resemblance to the original
1 large tomato
1 large jalapeno
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic
6 sprigs cilantro
Large handful of fresh beans, in their pods
1/4 cup canola oil
7 ounces short angel hair noodles, or longer strands broken into one to two-inch pieces
2 cups chicken stock
2 red bell peppers, cut into matchsticks
1/2 to 2/3 cup pitted black olives, coarsely chopped
Cotija or queso blanco, shredded
Heat a dry cast iron skillet (or ungreased skillet) over medium-low heat until a drop of water sizzles on contact. Place the tomato and jalapeno in the pan and cook turning frequently, until the skins are blistered all over, about 15 minutes. Remove the tomato into a mixing bowl to catch the juices. Place the chile in a paper bag and let rest for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the fava beans. Remove them from their large outer pods, and blanche them in boiling salted water for one to two minutes. Drop them in an ice bath, then remove their light-colored skins, revealing the edible fava bean within. Set aside.
When the chile is cool enough to handle, peel of the charred skin and halve it, reserving the other half for another use. Place the tomato, onion, garlic, cilantro, and half chile in a blender, or food processor, and process until smooth, about 1 minute, set aside.
Pour the oil into a dutch oven or medium saucepan over medium-high heat until it ripples, add the pasta and cook, stirring constantly, until golden. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of oil, add the pureed tomato and chile mixture, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring continually. Add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, ensuring there is a bit of liquid left in the pot. Add the prepared favas, olives and red peppers, stirring them in and replace the lid for another few minutes cooking time, or until the liquid is absorbed. Serve with shredded cheese, giving it a good stir to make sure it has melted and merged with the ingredients.
* Could someone explain to me how I can add a whole jalapeno to a salad or pico de gallo, and the bite is mild at best, but somehow this whole one that’s cooked for a significant amount of time (isn’t that supposed to dull it’s knife-like effect?), it’s fiercely inedible? Because I’d sure like to figure this one out.