Dwight Garner, of the charming Paper Cuts blog, is Senior Editor at the New York Times Book Review, author of Inside the List, and former Salon Book Editor. His profile of Nicholson Baker is an old favorite.
Below Garner contributes some recipes that are nearly as straightforward as Norman Mailer’s steak instructions — and far less likely to result in a visit from the fire department.
It’s easy to cook a fairly remarkable meal in August, when farmer’s markets are fables of abundance, or if you live near a big-city market like Dean & DeLuca.
The two recipes I’m happiest to have in my mental rucksack require zero fancy shopping — the pokiest small-town A & P will usually do. No gadgets or fancy kitchenwork are required, either. These are humble yet profound, the Swiss Army knives of recipes. They have saved the day for me more than once in remote summer houses, or when a planned, fancier dinner went up in oven smoke. The recipes are: a puttanesca sauce and a lemon ice cream.
The puttanesca sauce I learned, when I was fresh out of college, from Raymond Sokolov’s terrific The New Cook Cookbook — a volume I no longer own. Inexpensive to prepare and almost impossible to screw up, this dish got my wife and me through the lean early years of our marriage, and we still eat it about once a month; it’s pushy, it’s got bite — it’s a palate-cleanser, something to re-set your culinary clock. The recipe exists in my head (I haven’t consulted Sokolov in ages) as follows:
Place on the counter in front of you a few cloves of garlic, some olive oil, a tin of anchovies, a can of tuna (ideally packed in oil), a big handful of cured black olives (pitted) and a big pinch or two of capers.
Chop the garlic and heat it in the oil until just fragrant. Drain and mince the anchovies, and add them, mashing with a fork. After a minute, add the drained tuna, and keep mashing, so everything gets mixed. Chop the olives pretty finely and add them, too, mashing occasionally. Add the capers and mash some more. Don’t mash so hard you turn things into pulp. You don’t want to punish your sauce. But you want the flavors very well mixed.
(If you are missing any one of the ingredients above, do not fret. Like the women of easy virtue for which it is named, puttanesca is forgiving.)
I like this straight up, on top of whatever pasta I’m in the mood for. But you can also add a glug or two of decent red sauce to the mix, if you wish, to soften the edges and extend the portions a bit.
Grab some crusty bread and put on a Junior Kimbrough record, and you are set up.
The ice cream recipe I stole, years ago, from John Thorne’s book Outlaw Cook. I am giving you this from memory, too, because it’s a recipe I no longer need nor want to consult.
You will need: 1) The juice and zest of 3-4 lemons. 2) One cup superfine sugar. 3) 2 cups cream (ideally non-ultrapasteurized). That’s it. Here are the directions in their totality: Place ingredients in a shallow serving bowl, mix gently with a spoon, then freeze.
The tart lemon, the rich cream — unlike most desserts, this will never let you down. Serve in pie-like slices, maybe with few cookies on the side.
Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux do pretty well with this. And that little A & P probably stocks them.
Image swiped from Vulture.