Until recently, I have been a religious recipe follower. My obsession with doing it just right irritates certain members of my family, who wish I would loosen up and use my instincts. It's just that I want a dish to be perfect, and I trust that any recipe writer worth her stripes tested the heck out of whatever it is until it's just the way it should be. So why not follow the recipe to a t?
Well, I've learned something. Really, there is no one perfect way to make a recipe. Taste is utterly subjective. I, for example, love the earthy crunchiness of Grape Nuts. My husband thinks they taste like cardboard. He's right, actually, but I still eat them every morning, and he still avoids them. On the other hand, when it comes to molasses cookies, we are in agreement. The best ones have a sugary, cracked crust and a chewy, wet middle. But some people clearly prefer them cakey. Why else would they sell them that way at Starbucks?
The point I am coming to see about all of this is that cooking and even (my favorite) baking allow room for and even revel in in-exactitude. What's perfect to me is not perfect to you, unless we are drinking wine and sitting around a comfortable table, enjoying each other's company. And then it all tastes exactly as it should, because so much more goes into taste than the way the food molecules combine. It's the process: the feel of the food, the sounds and smells of the kitchen, the charge that comes with instinct and creativity. Perhaps most important of all, it's the people you're making food for, be it only you or a houseful of friends.
This blog is called Pan & Ink. I want it to be about making good food with simple ingredients and without spending a lot of money. It will be about eating healthfully most of the time and indulging in decadent desserts some of the time. What I'm reading might make an appearance, too, especially if it relates to food in some way. And I know that my family, the small space we share, our neighbors, our friends, and our city will become characters in the story as it unfolds.
In honor of not being perfect, I want to share the recipe for a dish I made recently, withOUT a recipe! Last Friday afternoon was green and sunny and warm, one of the first really nice spring days we've had this year. My husband called to suggest that we get out that evening before the boys' bedtime. I began to envision dinner at dusk on the deck of a local cafe. Margaritas and chips at Guapo's came to mind. And then I got a better idea, one I knew Steve would like because it would involve less spending: a picnic at the National Cathedral. I called to propose this to him: We would bring a blanket, meet him at Whole Foods, pick up a bunch of goodies, and, voila, a picnic we would have. But Steve had to take it one step further in the saving department (he always does). Why don't we just look in the fridge, he said, and see what we already have? Ho-hum, I thought, but then I took a look just to see (and to please him, which I secretly like to do sometimes), and...I surprised myself.
Here is what I assembled. It turned out quite well, and Steve was impressed, too. (He's one of the ones who wishes I would stop trying to make it perfect all the time.) It's not rocket science, but to me it means something because I made it myself, in a pinch, for my family...and it came out just right.
Last-Minute Pesto Pasta
You can use any veggies and/or meat you like in this dish. Pine nuts, chopped walnuts, or sliced almonds would be good, too. I used fusilli pasta, but you could use any type. Something with ridges or crannies is best, so that the pesto has a place to cling. We enjoyed it at room temperature, but it would be good hot off the stove, too.
1 lb. dried pasta
a handful of cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half if you like
a handful of olives, coarsely chopped (any kind you like)
4-5 slices of prosciutto, coarsely cut into strips
1/2 to 1 cup of coarsely grated parmesan cheese
1/3 cup frozen peas
3-4 tablespoons pesto
Boil water in a large pot for the pasta. Add salt when the water is boiling, and drop the pasta into the water. While the pasta is cooking, chop the olives, tomatoes, and prosciutto, and grate the cheese. You can do all of this on one large cutting board. When the pasta has about two minutes to go, drop the peas in to cook with the pasta. Reserve a cup of the cooking liquid. Drain the pasta and peas, and put it back into the pot. Toss in the olives, tomatoes, cheese, and pesto, adding a third of the cooking liquid as well. Add more cooking liquid if it seems dry.