I’ll admit it — I hesitated to include a cooking feature on this blog for fear of veering too far away from fashion. But style and cooking are symbiotic — both are easily malleable to suit your personal tastes and both are skills that can be learned with diligence and practice. And the ultimate goal in both disciplines is to appear effortless but elegant.
The very essence of a style pragmatist is achieving greatness while tethered to practicality. And to that end, I’ve developed my own method of cookery that rejects complicated recipes and relies on simplicity. Everything I make can be replicated without worrying about measurements or complicated lists. And best of all? It’s food you can serve to a friend without apology or explanation.
Thus, my first stab at a non-recipe recipe: my version of a trattoria pasta inspired by something I once had, strangely enough, in Avignon, France.
Spaghetti sauce is such an accessible commodity, it’s easy to forget how simple it is to make a fresher, brighter version yourself. My version employs cherry tomatoes, which are easy to chop and chuck in a pan without peeling. To flavor the sauce, I smash garlic gloves but leave them whole — you can fish them out later and get all of the flavor without worrying about burning any minced garlic bits.
I don’t bother salting the sauce, either — instead, I use anchovies, which magically dissolve while cooking and create a salty backdrop that drops like a curtain. (You get extra points for being sophisticated, too.)
After my light prep of chopping and smashing, I throw a handful of pine nuts into a dry pan over medium heat and wait until I smell them. Then, I chuck them into a small bowl for later.
Next, douse the bottom of the same pan with extra virgin olive oil and throw in the smashed cloves until the air gets fragrant. Once the garlic goes gold, the oil is sufficiently perfumed, and you can remove the cloves entirely.
Throw in your tomatoes. After a couple minutes they’ll transform into a creamy, macerated mess.
After things get creamy, throw in your anchovies and stir around. They’ll break up and melt away shortly.
For an extra hit of tomato flavor, I squirt in a bit of tomato paste. It’s totally optional, but look on the bright side: it’s a good way to use the tomato paste that’s lurking in your fridge.
I hit the mixture with a sprinkle of red pepper flakes and because I keep forgetting to buy Parmesan, I used some heavy cream to add luxurious texture. If you can’t handle the idea of cream, you can always dump in some dregs of red wine and reduce that instead.
After a few minutes of light bubbling, the sauce has reduced and is ready for greenery. I chopped up some flat leaf parsley, but you could also use baby arugula from a salad bag in a pinch.
Meanwhile, your pasta should have been cooking. I buy the more expensive pasta ($5 per packet or so) for the same reason I buy expensive meat — so I’ll buy smaller amounts and treat carbs and meat as luxuries instead of cheap staples. It may be a weird psychological trick, but it seems to work.
Once the pasta is nearly done (maybe a minute away from al dente), strain it and dump it into the saucepan. Stir, stir, stir. Throw in the toasted nuts. The pasta will plump up and absorb all the sauce. (Because this is a light sauce, I always keep a coffee cup of the pasta water nearby in case the strands stick together.)
After a minute or so, you’re done.
You’ll notice that the velvety sauce very lightly dresses the pasta, which is a more European method of preparation. (If you’re looking for snob appeal, consider the sauce smothered varieties at Olive Garden as a comparison.) Best of all, everything takes less than 20 minutes and can feed 2 people for an entire lazy Sunday.
If you try this non-recipe, please let me know how it turns out!