It occurred to me (just recently) that I’m basically doing a Julie & Julia project. When the pandemic hit last year, I decided to embark on a cover to cover cooking challenge using Alison Roman’s first cookbook Dining In. It was around the second half of last year when I got inspired by a hardworking homecook who worked on Alison’s second book Nothing Fancy. Since I got nothing better to do, why not. It will keep me occupied (and not wallow in my grief), make me shoot food photos on a regular basis, and allow me to improve my cooking skills. In the end, I’m making food, shooting food, and eating food. It’s my dream job, really.
I was able to cook roughly around 27+/- dishes out of Dining In, a feat for me because there are a lot of ingredients that were not easily found in the Philippines (artichokes, trout, figs to name a few). I was sweating my ass off each day, dedicating my morning time towards these recipes. I secured ingredients which have now expanded my pantry ten times than it was before. I cooked, sometimes successfully, while other times a total disaster. I shot each dish as best as I could. This was my favorite part. I was huffin and puffin all throughout, crammed in my little kitchen, working through the heat (small kitchen and oven heat is living hell literally), and making the most out of the limited sunlight I get between 1pm and 4pm. Looking at my pictures now, most of them were rubbish. But I’m so proud of myself for pushing through. Jed and I had a laugh at the not-so-good food and rejoiced over some that were mindblowing, how-could-I-not-think-of-that dishes. It was a blast!
So I’m doing it again.
This time I’m working on Sam Sifton’s No-Recipe Recipes, a cookbook with no detailed measurements of ingredients, recipes that invite the homecook to improvise more than follow an exacting recipe like, well, any normal cookbook. At first the idea sounds hard but interesting. I mean my mother, who is a very very good cook, cooks this way—by taste more than by rigid instructions. She moves with ease in the kitchen, estimating the amount of seasoning and tasting the food every step of the way. As for me, I’m a recipe follower, an obsessive one at that. That’s also probably the reason I like baking more, it’s exacting (which I know is also why most people hate it). All you need to do is follow the baking recipe to a tee (oh how I love the control freak details) and more often than not you’ll get good results. So this is Sam Sifton cookbook seemed to me like a good idea to cure my control issues (lol) and embrace the “fun” side of cooking—more fluidity, less rigidity (okay rhyme).
I’ve cooked about twelve recipes so far. It’s been a rollercoaster. I wasn’t in love with every dish that I made, but when it’s good, it’s really great! What I didn’t expect was how simplified most of the recipes were. I should have known since these were built as guides rather than recipes. So to ensure great results, they teeter towards the simple and straightforward, rather than the convoluted but worth-the-effort recipes.
If I have to choose a favorite among the twelve dishes I’ve made thus far, I would have to say… it’s the pasta puttanesca (the roasted mushrooms with buttered baguette is a very close second).
I love pasta just like the next person. I cook and eat a lot of it, but for the life of me I don’t know why I haven’t made puttanesca before. It’s basically me as a dish (alright cheesy af). This cookbook has taught me that it is so easy to make. I’ve always thought it was a complicated kind of pasta, with lots of seafood ingredients. Boy was I wrong. It’s basically a capers, olives, and anchovies trifecta of a sauce. With a generous amount of red chili flakes, I am over the moon with this dish. It’s simple but it rocks. LOL. Here’s the recipe if you’re curious. Actually, don’t be just curious, if you’re not allergic to anchovies, please make it asap, I bet you already have the ingredients in your pantry.
Pasta Puttanesca from Sam Sifton’s No-Recipe Recipes
Red pepper flakes
Parmesan (I even skipped this but it still tastes sooo good. Alright now I’m overselling it. Goodluck!)
1. Sauté some anchovies and a lot of minced garlic in a lot of olive oil. (At least four anchovies and the same amount of garlic. I used about 6.)
2. If you have two burners, you can start cooking your pasta as you cook your sauce. I don’t so the pasta had to wait after I cooked the sauce.
3. When the fish are melted and the garlic turns gold, add a large can of tomatoes and stir everything together. Let that simmer awhile until sauce thickens.
4. Then add the olives and capers and red pepper flakes, as fiery as you like your sauce to be. I always go for an insane amount of red chili flakes.
5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
6. Once the pasta is done, mix together with the sauce.
7. Shower the pasta with grated Parmesan and serve.