The other night I found myself in for a solitary evening at the apartment, wondering what I could fix for dinner. Should I fix something Chinese, rich and savory with umami? I had a cabinet full of sesame oil, miso, vinegar, and hot spices. I’ve found myself making more use of these ingredients of late, perhaps because my new budget has me in the kitchen more, determined to make use of local (read: cheaper) supermarket fare. I’ve made some delicious stir-fried cabbage and rice with diced sauteed kielbasa and pickled vegetables. I throw in dashes of savory oils and spices as inspiration seizes me–a sprinkle of sesame seeds here, a dab of miso there. The finished products are delicious and heady with hot and sour and spicy notes, accenting the crunch of the cabbage and the salty meat.
But tonight I didn’t want something so salty, so infused with Asian umami, glorious as it is. I wanted pasta. I wanted olive oil, and capers, and roasted little tomatoes. And anchovies! OK, so maybe I did want salt.
Off to Chaoyang Da Yue Chang I went, for my tomatoes and other essentials.
Back at the apartment, I lobbed my tomatoes in half and roasted them with olive oil. I rinsed spinach and left it draining in the colander. I decided to get fancy and followed a method I saw for making garlic chips on Matt Armendariz’s blog, “Matt Bites.” He has you boil the garlic in water, ostensibly to mellow and soften it, before slicing it thinly and frying it in a pan with olive oil. I decided to go crazy and fry my capers as well.
I opened the can of Chinese anchovies I’d picked up, and gingerly removed a few from the tin. They smelled like cat food, and I briefly reconsidered defiling my pasta with their stinky saltiness. Then I thought, eh, what the heck, and tossed them to sizzle in the pan with more oil.
I broke these up and added my tomatoes, the fried capers, salt, pepper, spinach, and a bit of salty pasta water from the spaghetti I had boiled. I added this all back into the spaghetti pot with the pasta and mixed vigorously to incorporate all the lovely gooey tomatoes and spinach in with the noodles.
On the side I tossed some extra spinach with toasted almonds, pumpkin seeds, dried cherries, and blue cheese. I made up a vinaigrette with mustard, plum jam, white wine vinegar, and olive oil.
Naturally, while I was cooking I sipped a red grape cognac martini. Just for class, of course.
I piled my pasta onto my plate, topped with a few extra roasted tomatoes, sprinkled with the garlic chips, and mounded salad on the side. I poured the dregs from a bottle of Chilean rose into a glass and sat down to a feast for one. The pasta was delicious. Freshly shaved parmesan cheese would have sent it over the top, but the roasted tomatoes, crunchy garlic chips, salty capers and anchovies made for a fresh and complex spaghetti. The salad was the perfect accompaniment. How can you go wrong with dark leafy greens, toasted nuts and blue cheese? I’ll tell you: you can’t.
Since I was on a roll I decided to make Smitten Kitchen’s potato chip cookies. I’ll spare you all the details, because you can go to her site to see those.
However, I will urge you to do so immediately, because these cookies were phenomenal. I used regular old Lays and crushed them pretty coarsely. I used almonds instead of pecans, and added chopped dark chocolate. I dipped the finished cookies in dark chocolate, and sprinkled them with more chopped almonds and potato chips.
Perfection. There were like potato chip sandies, which, if you think that sounds weird, just push your doubts aside and plough ahead. They were so simple, because shortbread usually is. The dough was easy to work with, roll into neat little balls and in sugar, before squishing them flat with a drinking glass. I loved them. Salty, sweet, crunchy, refined, crumbly, unexpected.
So if you don’t have anchovies, tomatoes, blue cheese, nuts, or potato chips knocking about your cupboards, I sincerely urge you to make a dash for those and get cooking! With a martini in hand.