We are having a crisis in the much vaunted Spy Test Kitchen: the gas oven suddenly stopped working, and the repair people won’t be here until Friday morning (the day you are reading this, we hope). The range is still working fine, so Mr. Friday has been able to brew his coffee every morning, but the oven has been cool as a cucumber all week. This will prove problematic if it isn’t repaired in time for Friday night pizza, but I am not going to borrow trouble just yet. I’ll still make the pizza dough, and we can grill it outside, and indulge in tasty Big Love Pizza once again.
In the meantime, we have had to get a little more creative with our weeknight meals this week. Luckily, as summer swelters on, our palates are pitched toward lighter fare – caprese salad, pasta salad, tuna salad, and gazpacho. We have been learning to adapt to social distancing, so we are being more diligent about cleaning out the fridge and using up the leftovers instead of venturing out for daily recreational and socializing visits to the grocery store.
This is what we ate for dinner this week:
Monday night we had leftover chicken piccata with a side of pesto pasta. That was the night we discovered that the oven didn’t work. Originally I was going to heat up the leftover chicken, but we discovered that it tasted just dandy cold with the accompaniment of pesto pasta.
I followed Marcella Hazan’s recipe for pesto found in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, and raided the container garden for our first basil harvest of the summer:
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup extra virgin oil
3 tablespoons pine nuts
2 or 3 garlic cloves
Sea salt (we always use Maldon salt)
Toss everything into a food processor and then while it chops, drizzle the olive oil in a thin stream until a coarse paste is formed.
After whizzing the basil, oil, garlic and pine nuts, transfer the mixture to another bowl, and by hand add:
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated Romano cheese
3 tablespoons of room-temp butter
After boiling your favorite pasta until al dente, reserve a cup of the pasta water, just in case, to add a little to the pesto, to thin it out. You can always add more olive oil, too. Combine the pesto with the pasta, and be sure to have extra grated cheese in a bowl on the table.
Samsin Nosrat’s version is more labor intensive and probably more deelish. She visited Italy for her Netflix series, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, and believes in the craft of using a mortar and pestle. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkKWtGQxjwM I was delighted to use my little food processor, and did not once feel as if I was cheating. And we use our own homegrown basil, which probably isn’t as wonderful as anything harvested in Italy, but we think it is pretty damn tasty.
Tuesday night we had a crazy and quick caprese salad, with an entire container of sweet cherry tomatoes, prosciutto, olives, fresh mozzarella, capers and a fistful of basil. (You can toss anything you like into the salad bowl, really – roasted peppers, croutons, anchovies…) I drizzled it with olive oil and a smidge of balsamic vinegar, added a pinch of Maldon salt, and we enjoyed it with a loaf of crusty French bread, good Irish butter and the usual cheap white wine.
Wednesday we made gazpacho. Because it is summer. And if we can’t be in Spain, then we can pretend that we are enjoying ourselves at a sophisticated Barcelona café, waiting for the night’s adventures to begin. And because we are such experienced cooks and eaters, we like recipes that we read once, and follow instinctively forever after. In the summer, after a fulsome trip to the farmers’ market, we have our pick of fine tomatoes – which are key to the success of so many summer dishes. Samsin Nosrat has the answer to our prayers, again:
I have been listening to the ever delightful Samsin Nosrat and her co-host, Hrishikesh Hirway’s, podcast Home Cooking. You should try it. They are smart and funny – and wildly entertaining. https://homecooking.show
Last night we had basic boring tuna salad, using my mother’s secret ancestral recipe, which is probably just like yours: mayonnaise (we couldn’t find Hellmann’s, so used Duke’s for the first time and it was perfect) and chopped celery. I also made a humble macaroni salad: adding mayo, chopped green onions, carrots, and red pepper to a bowl of elbow macaroni. We also had a handful of cherry tomatoes. And wine. Also, candles.
It’s hot and muggy this July. I hope you are staying cool and calm and safe. Now we are waiting for the repair folks to show up to fix the oven. Cross your fingers. Wear your mask, and go hunt up some tomatoes that taste like summer. Winter will be here before we know it.
“In Spain, we mainly use red plum tomatoes, but it is always fun to experiment. Try using a mix of colors or substitute green tomatoes for plum next time you make a tomato dish.” Jose Andres