When I first started telling people about my food blog (friends, family, the unlucky soul sitting next to me on the subway on the way from my apartment to Whole Foods) about half of them looked at me as if I were crazy. (I guess the fellow subway rider had an excuse. Who IS this crazy girl who is talking to me about the pros and cons of owning a mandoline?)
My theory on this is that people in general have a fear of what they don’t understand. My mother, for example, doesn’t understand the internet. And so she finds this whole endeavor terrifying.
Some of my friends, I’m pretty sure, have a fear of not eating Chinese take-out every day. And so they can’t for the life of them comprehend why I own a candy thermometer, have a spice collection that is more well-stocked than that of the local supermarket, and care about whether the chicken I’m eating was cage-free or not.
But then. And here’s the crucial part. I tell them that I’m 100% Italian. Born and bred. Through and through.
And a complete metamorphosis takes place. They relax their muscles. Color returns to their cheeks. They stop looking quite so much like they are about to have their wisdom teeth pulled.
Why the sudden change? Because they understand now. They get me. “Italian! Of course! I should have guessed. You must have gotten it from your mother,” they say. With very contented looks on their faces.
Well. Not exactly. Because the thing my mother cooks most often is fried chicken cutlets. And Lean Cuisine. It’s not that she can’t cook. It’s that she has no desire to. So we’re not really sure what happened to me. (I’m going with alien abduction. But she swears up and down that such a thing never occurred. I have my doubts.)
This notwithstanding. While she may not have gotten the Italian gene that confers the desire to spend hours slaving away in the kitchen making homemade gnocchi or stirring marinara sauce, she does, however, have the gene that makes her want to feed anyone and everyone who walks in the door. And she doesn’t take no for an answer.
But what does she give these hypothetical people if she does not cook? You may ask.
And here’s where we get to the crux of the matter.
All you really need. Are what I like to call the holy trinity of Italian food.
Tomatoes. Mozzarella. And basil.
If you have those three things. You can’t. Go. Wrong.
So here are two dishes that use these exact ingredients (plus or minus two more). I promise they will please anyone who walks through your door. Which is why I keep them on hand. All the time.
And the best part is? These recipes are just the tip of the iceberg. You can do just about anything with the trinity (except for maybe use them as ice cream toppings. But I wouldn’t put it past myself to try it at some point) and they will still taste good. So experiment. Mix and match. Substitute. It’s the Italian way to do it.
Olive and Mozzarella Spaghetti
Serves 3, adapted from The Essential Pasta Cookbook
8 oz spaghetti
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil (I used roasted garlic olive oil that I bought at the Ferry St. Market in SF!)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 can black olives, halved
3 oz cute little mozzarella balls
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
salt and pepper to taste
1. Boil water and cook spaghetti.
2. While that is happening, cut your ingredients. When the water boils, just as you put the spaghetti in, heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet. Saute the garlic on low until the pasta is done.
3. Mix all of the ingredients and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Tomato, Basil, and Mozzarella Sandwich
Take a good piece of bread. Any bread. Or a bagel. (Also delicious.) Top it with tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Place under the broiler or on a panini press until the cheese melts. Enjoy.
Thanks for reading along with me! Stay tuned for the next installment of Cooking the Italian Way on the first Saturday of March!