Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A better handle on things

There are snowflakes swirling outside, highlighted by the multi-colored bulbs from a string of Christmas lights. Idyllic, except that I'm in a Starbucks and those chairs get really uncomfortable after an hour or so.

I just returned from a few short days in Chicago and am holed up once again in Ann Arbor to begin my second semester of law school. I'm trying to remind myself that not all of last semester was as crazy as finals period, but it's difficult sometimes. I have, of course, made all sorts of resolutions involving baking bread and visiting the Humane Society more often so here's hoping I'll have a better handle on things this go 'round.

Speaking of bread baking, I whipped up my first loaves over Christmas break with the help of The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Gorgeous, gorgeous stuff, that book. And my loaves weren't half bad either. Two loaves made fabulous crostini, c/o my father's technique. The loaves themselves didn't have nearly enough color, and the holes weren't there yet, but it was a start.

I took my time over break to relax, sleep, read by the fire, watch Christmas movies and cook. I made dinner practically every night, lots of braises and slow soups that require loads of time to simmer which in turn gave me plenty of time to do the previously mentioned activities. Old favorites (smothered cabbage risotto, slow-roasted tomatoes and the delicious confections you see pictured) came out of the woodwork, and we had our traditional holiday meals (roasted lamb, prime rib, fondue).

What I'd like to tell you about today, however, is the meal I made when I arrived tonight, the ultimate standby dinner. It was the first pasta dish I can remember making on my own (excluding buttered egg noodles and macaroni, of course). It's also the one recipe I make entirely by feel, so bear with me if the instructions are a bit loose.

This is one to keep though, people. It will never let you down, and once you try it, you'll find yourself in the habit of picking the ingredients up every time you're in a grocery store. I'm tempted to call it the LBD of dinners, but that sounds cliché. It is my go-to dinner though, when I want something easy and delicious, and when I want to treat myself a bit too.

Pasta Puttanesca

1 lb. linguine or spaghetti
5 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. crushed red pepper
handful of drained capers
14 kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1 large (28 oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped*
1 small can tomato sauce (optional--depends on whether I've got it in the cupboard)
1 tsp. dried oregano, or to taste
1 tin olive oil packed anchovies
salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Once boiling, salt generously.

Heat up the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat then add the garlic and crushed red pepper. Once the garlic becomes fragrant and starts to turn golden, add in the capers, olives, tomatoes with their juice, tomato sauce (if using) and oregano. Let simmer for 15 minutes, stirring periodically.

Drain the anchovies and separate them as you place them in the sauce. Mix everything vigorously, using a wooden spoon to cut the anchovies in half to help incorporate them into the sauce. Turn the heat down to low and let cook through another 10-15 minutes, until the anchovies are completely dissolved in the sauce. Salt and pepper to taste (you probably won't need much, if any, salt).

Boil pasta according to directions, until al dente. Combine the pasta and sauce together and serve showered with freshly grated parmesan cheese. I recommend eating it in warmed bowls with a fork, spoon and glass of red wine.

Serves 4

*I've taken to using my kitchen scissors to cut the tomatoes while they're still in the can--much easier clean up and keeps the juices in the sauce, where they belong.