I’ve recently returned from spring break, where I scrounged a few quiet minutes to lie down poolside and devour “The Upstairs Delicatessen,” by Dwight Garner, a book critic here at The New York Times and a known eater of exceptional taste. The subtitle of this memoir: “On Eating, Reading, Reading About Eating, and Eating While Reading.”

In the book, Dwight refers to “pasta nada,” which is what his father-in-law, an accomplished chef, called pasta dishes that were made on the fly from whatever was in the house. Pasta nada! A perfect phrase, and one of my preferred ways to feed myself. I emailed Dwight to ask him to elaborate on what pasta nada looks like in his kitchen. “The only requirement is that it be simple,” he replied:

One of our standbys is sage with toasted walnuts that are chopped somewhat finely. We always have a sage plant or two to raid, so this is easy. And it’s bliss. If you keep the basic ingredients for puttanesca (tuna, capers, anchovies, black olives, garlic, etc.) around, you can generally omit any two or three of them, add parsley and have good nada. Small leftover chunks of mozzarella mix well with cherry tomatoes or basil or both. Some nights, for us, dinner is just pasta with parsley and red pepper flakes and a mix of butter and olive oil. And decent bread and a glass of red wine.

We’ve got many nada-ish pastas on NYT Cooking (pasta with tuna, capers and scallions; with olives and walnuts; with bacon, greens and a fried egg), though it seems that a true nada would regard these recipes as broad-strokes maps and then off-road at the first turn. I’ve included one such pasta below, along with four other recipes I feel are in the nada spirit: flexible and made with few ingredients, the kinds you might keep stocked in the fridge, pantry or freezer. Tell me what you think at dearemily@nytimes.com. It’s always good to hear from you.

Citrus shortbread (but rolled out and cut with cookie cutters); herby feta and yogurt dip with sumac; boiled potatoes with butter and mint; and this superb braised lamb with squash and brandied fruit (without the squash, because I’m done with butternut squash until October, but with the brandied dried fruit, because I had some lingering in the fridge begging to be used up).



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