Oh, I am going to miss those slow, lazy days of summer. When there was some time to think; I miss the time we had for making choices. School has started and we are back in our familiar, though swift-moving, routines. We leap out of bed to shower, Hoover up breakfast, gather lunch, dash out the door, work, learn, play, volunteer, weed, grocery shop, home to chop, slice, dice, cook and scrub. Whew. Not to mention getting ready to do it all again tomorrow. And laundry.
This is when we have to get strategic, and plan ahead, just a bit – even if the future only means saving enough time and energy to read a chapter of Lessons in Chemistry before bed. And maybe we’ll talk to our family while doing all the food prep. How else are we to experience teen angst all over again, if not through our children? (I’ve noticed it is hard to be glued to an iPhone when you are chopping onions, too.) We can conduct our own Cordon Bleu school of cooking – where else will you be able to experiment with different methods for peeling garlic? They certainly will never acknowledge us in the moment, but the children will learn more through osmosis and experience in your kitchen than from YouTube. As Julia says: “…no one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.”
We like having a couple of recipes on our steady weekly meal rotation: Monday is pasta, Friday is pizza. I’m usually happy and ambitious on Mondays, and by Friday I can barely drag the stand mixer out of the pantry to make the pizza dough. If Monday is frantic we will have a simple, no extra-shopping-required pasta, like spaghetti with butter and garlic, or Cacio e Pepe. Recently the New York Times published a Baked Spaghetti lasagna-type casserole which is one of its most popular recipes. It is insanely easy, and has the added benefit of being perfect for left-overs: for dinner or lunch. Baked Spaghetti.
Baked spaghetti is as satisfying as lasagne, without the terrifying process of layering slippery, boiling hot, ribbons of lasagne in a pan, or remembering the proper order of sauce, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, ricotta cheese, hot pasta, sauce, which cheese? And with baked spaghetti you don’t have to make enormous commercial-kitchen-size pans of baked spaghetti. You can adapt it to the moment and the number of folks home for dinner tonight. This Sunday I am going to assemble a pan of spaghetti to bake on Monday night, to have again for lunch on Tuesday, and for dinner (again) on Thursday. I’ve never been able to re-heat Cacio e Pepe satisfactorily, so once we get this dish into the meal rotation it will simplify life. Which will save time and aggravation and will give us a brief moment of breathing space.
I can’t begin to contemplate dense and complicated fall and winter casseroles, and while this is warm meal, this pasta dish isn’t just for winter weather. It bakes for 40 minutes, so we won’t be heating up the kitchen too long. And it doesn’t require much in the way of fancy techniques or ingredients: it’s not Boeuf Bourguignon or Baba Ghanouj. It is warm, satisfying, and it re-heats well, making leftovers an added treat in our busy week.
If you have time on your hands on a Sunday afternoon, as I did last week, go ahead and bake this chocolate cake. We have been doling out pieces for lunch every day, and the cake just gets better as the week goes on: Ruth Reichl’s Giant Chocolate Cake https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017692-ruth-reichls-giant-chocolate-cake?unlocked_article_code=TkDK1ae-xVzuIIpW28vv9oEDVKoUiJaoio5wmt3_MpWXHF4UTRDT8sxmjrvUxmSrstkKld723jhGp65Gy0zI_v1REzz8m_JJjn3-IODZo-YEnjC-cyOnrhtRyQ__WDOSydOPSOgaocLjMbnCJMzZS0XwRFCf1l64lt4fe6fNOax8l_oudo9aLlXNamlwkNrAoL8zH4t5_pBhyY1OYqrJ682VVZFxQoUIc3UeuLKyyZ2jT9H3XCiEk2YvO5_SQjG3bPQlRChjooMrDaX8d64zvgPHEYE-PHVB2JAcrYa3sHMYj-v4L_sOjdYvgZu4pQBpBmN0EvzEBukqQ0EZrGmOjywk06fzYQ&smid=share-url I made it as a sheet cake, not a layer cake, and I halved the recipe, because we didn’t need that much cake tempting us every day. Deelish.
It helps to read the email notes from NYT readers who have already cooked the recipes. They tend to be amusing, acerbic, and insightful. One reader suggested substituting ziti for the spaghetti noodles – they thought the spaghetti dried out too much during the baking process and ziti stays moist and hefty. One other of the notes: “Classic! Whenever I use marinara from a jar, I rinse the jar out with 1/2 cup of red wine, which I add to the sauce. It transforms any off-the-shelf marinara.” That is pure inspiration. I love it when folks openly admit to buying jarred sauce. We are not alone.
“‘If you are careful,’ Garp wrote, ‘if you use good ingredients, and you don’t take any shortcuts, then you can usually cook something very good. Sometimes it is the only worthwhile product you can salvage from a day; what you make to eat. With writing, I find, you can have all the right ingredients, give plenty of time and care, and still get nothing. Also true of love. Cooking, therefore, can keep a person who tries hard sane.’”
― John Irving