Friday, March 5, 2010

A Simple Recipe

If it seems like it has been a little longer than usual since my last post, that’s because it has. You can blame a certain important international sporting event that has been going on for the past two weeks in my home country that has made me a captive to my television set. Life is back to normal now, though, and I want to share a dish with you that I made, incidentally, on the night of the opening ceremonies of said international sporting event. First, a little about the recipe’s source.Mark Bittman has been a favorite food writer of mine for quite some time. I follow his blog and I am a big fan of his book Food Matters. Bittman has also published an impressive number of cookbooks, many of which I have browsed and used. This particular recipe came from a book of his called Kitchen Express. It contains 404 recipes, organized by season. What makes this book unique is how the recipes are written: you won’t see lists of ingredients, precise instructions, or exact measurements anywhere. Each “recipe” is a short paragraph, giving general guidelines on what to do and how much of each ingredient to use. For example, here’s the recipe for “West Indian Pork Kebabs”:

Heat the broiler. In a bowl, combine some minced garlic, about a half teaspoon of ground allspice, a pinch of nutmeg, some fresh thyme leaves, a chopped small onion, and the juice of a lime. Toss this mixture with about a pound of pork shoulder cut into one-inch cubes. Thread the pork onto skewers and broil for about six minutes or until cooked through, turning to brown all sides evenly.
-Bittman, Mark. Kitchen Express. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009. p 99.

Some cooks may not like this style, may even object to it, in fact, on the basis that these little paragraphs don’t constitute recipes. However, I happen to like it quite a lot. These are not recipes to be meticulously followed, never wavering from the directions given in black and white. These recipes are guidelines as, really, all recipes are. But by presenting his recipes in this format, Bittman seems to be encouraging his readers to experiment, to use these recipes as inspiration, rather than gospel.I put this concept to good practice when I made “Linguine with Butter, Parmesan, and Sage”, a simple classic of pasta tossed with sage-infused browned butter, a little pasta cooking water, and a bunch of freshly grated parmesan. I made a few simple changes: I used garlic and basil pasta from Trader Joe’s, and I added cubed, roasted butternut squash to the mix.The dish came out well, though I would make a few slight changes the next time I make it. I would definitely use plain linguine rather than the garlic and basil infused variety I tried this time. The flavor of the pasta took away from the delicate, nuttiness of the browned butter and the aromatic sage. Also, I would add less cooking liquid at the end than I did this time. I managed to actually water the whole thing down more than I’d like, so I’d be more careful with that the next time. All in all, though, a tasty, simple pasta dish to curl up with in front of an exciting television event. (Hint: the Oscars are on Sunday!)
I like that Bittman challenges his readers to play with his recipes by presenting them in such a basic, stripped down way. When directions are more precisely given, it is more intimidating to waver from them. So while some cooks may feel thrown into the deep by a book like this one, I hope that they will take a chance on it and use it as an opportunity to be creative, and use a recipe as inspiration for a masterpiece of their own.In honor of Bittman, I will attempt to describe my version of his recipe as clearly and efficiently as he does.

Linguine with Butter, Parmesan, and Sage
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express.

Peel, seed, and cut a medium butternut squash into ½” cubes. Toss with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and some salt and pepper, and roast in a 400 F oven until browned, 25-30 minutes. Cook linguine in salted, boiling water until al dente and reserving a couple ladles of the cooking liquid. Meanwhile, melt three tablespoons of butter, then add a few handfuls of sage leaves over medium-high heat. Cook until the sage leaves shrivel and the butter has begun to brown. Add the cooked pasta to the pan along with a third of a cup of the reserved liquid. Toss and cook about a minute longer, adding more cooking liquid if the pan gets dry. Toss in the roasted squash and a few handfuls of freshly grated parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

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