Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"I Keeps it Real!"

by Xani

As you may know, there are a lot of other food bloggers out there. Bloggers who make more elaborate food, take better pictures, and who always seem to have the right ingredients around. That or they are just popping into some adorable little market after work so they can run home and whip up the perfect dish. Well, readers, I am not those bloggers. I am REAL. And that is why you read my posts, right? (Well, that and you are most likely related to and/or close friends with me or EP). And being real, that means that I don't have all the right ingredients at home. Being real means I'm a terrible grocery shopper-- I usually shop every couple of months (when I know I wont have a trip for a few weeks), spend an obscene amount of money and then race to cook/eat everything before it goes bad. This is the "feast" phase. Shortly thereafter comes "famine," where I have the only bare minimum for survival. Currently in my fridge I have 3 types of tortillas, but nothing to put in them. I have Parmesan cheese, a package of bacon, and limes. MY freezer contains an assortment of rolls and bagels, a package of edamame and 3 bottles of vodka. I'm not even kidding.

Cooking during the famine phase is a challenge. But, with no leftovers from Sunday Dinner this week (we had a rare take-out Sunday dinner-- everyone was exhausted from packing up BCD headquarters in preparation for a big move! More coming soon!), it was that or a dinner of tortillas with peanut butter. No thanks.

Spaghetti Aglio Olio (spaghetti with garlic and olive oil) is a lifesaver in this situation. It's so basic even I had all the ingredients on hand, and so delicious. I think I first learned to make it in college, although in college even having garlic and olive oil around was something of a rarity. Anyway, it uses only a few ingredients, its very simple, and it tastes GREAT. Its also good leftover (like most pasta) which is why I made a whole pound of pasta last night, just for me!

So how do you do it? To begin, put on the water for the pasta, and add lots of kosher salt. In another pan (a saute pan large enough to hold all the pasta you are cooking), heat about 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium low heat. When the oil has warmed up you add garlic, red pepper flakes, and anchovies. Let me address each of these ingredients, in turn:

garlic: for a pound of pasta most recipes recommend six or so cloves of garlic, crushed and minced. I used nine because, well, I love garlic, and there were nine left in the head, and who wants three sad little garlic cloves bouncing around in the vegetable drawer? Use as many as you like. I crushed them with the flat side of the knife, removed the peels, then chopped them pretty finely (in the end you probably don't want to bite into a big, raw piece of garlic.) The ancillary benefit of preparing a dish with this much garlic is the lovely aroma that will completely fill your kitchen (and if you are me, your entire house). Think of it as potpourri.

red pepper flakes: I use approximately a pinch of these. Use more if you like things very spicy or your flakes aren't that hot or have lost some potency because they've been sitting in your spice cabinet for 5 years.

anchovies: How many of you readers out there are thinking right now "I don't like anchovies, I will never make this dish." Or, "I don't like anchovies, I will just omit them from the recipe." Well, listen up. You DO like anchovies. You just don't know it yet. And this is the perfect recipe for you to find out what you are missing. Anchovies straight out of the can are, to some, slimy, hairy, fishy little beasts. You may cringe at the thought of them on salad or on pizza. But in this dish, and many other dishes where they are slowly melted in olive oil, they totally transform. Into something WONDERFUL-- they give a rich, nutty, indescribable flavor. They do not taste like fish AT ALL. Do not leave them out of the recipe!! Its a culinary sin! I used a whole can (save for one that i ate raw-- yeah, I'm one of those. Don't act so surprised.), chopped them into a few pieces and tossed them into the pan. AND I NEVER LOOKED BACK!

So now we've got our anchovies, garlic, and red pepper flakes slowly cooking in oil. Slow is the key here; if the heat is too high the garlic will toast, then burn. Cook everything slowly, stirring occasionally, breaking up the anchovies with your wooden spoon. You want to cook this mixture for approximately ten minutes until the garlic is soft (but not browned) and the anchovies have melted away to nothingness.... The timing works out pretty well if you put the pasta in the boiling water about the same time as you add the garlic to the oil. The pasta should be just about al dente when the sauce is finished.

Anchovies: now you see them...

Now you don't!

One more quick aside: This is where purists (BCD Dad, countless others) may start to cringe (if they haven't already). I made this dish with whole-wheat spaghetti last night instead of regular spaghetti. I KNOW! Its not "traditional." But one of the good things about cooking for one is that you get to cook exactly the way you want. I happen to like whole-wheat pasta-- it has a nutty taste and doesn't overcook as easily. Plus, a little fiber never hurt anyone.

Final steps: First, reserve about a 1/2 cup of the salty, starchy cooking liquid from the pasta pot. Drain the pasta, then add it to the pan with the sauce and toss with tongs. (optional: add some of the reserved pasta water here is you think the pasta looks a little dry or you just want it to be "saucier.") Throw in some chopped parsley (it was a true miracle that I had parsley in the house-- this particular bunch was looking a little rough, had a yellow leaf or two, but had not yet reached the "slime" stage, and was there for deemed edible.) Plate and top with lots of grated Parmesan cheese. Serve with crusty bread.

So there it is. And it was really, really delicious. I have lots of leftovers which will get me through most of this week. Next week is Restaurant Week in Baltimore and I've got more places I want to visit than there are nights in the week (so look forward to lots of posts next week)! So really, why bother going to the grocery store? I'll leave that to the other bloggers!



  1. Yeah...I am going to have to pass on this meal. I'd rather the tortillas with peanut butter!!!

  2. I like anchovies, but I don't like pasta - I think I can do this with veggies just as well though...

  3. Hmmm. I've been wanting to experiment with anchovies for quite a while. This recipe seems like just the ticket to spring them on my unsuspecting family.. ho ho ho...

  4. I love it. Great post, Xan. I am definitely an achovy convert after this dish and it is SO DELICIOUS!

  5. alexis-- check out this recipe for Bagna Cauda: http://www.epicurious.com/cooking/holiday/christmas/recipes/2827

    It is basically the same sauce, but served as a dip with veggies and bread-- SO GOOD!

  6. X you are SO right about anchovies! Why can't the majority of the population get past seeing them as stinky, salty, hairy little fish fillets? They are so under rated as they can go into a multitude of recipes or as we love, straight from the can dripping with oil! If only there was a way to make people realise what they are missing out on. Oh well, we'll just have remain with the happy minority that knows them for their true worth.



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