Simpler, slower food … and life. Plus an easy end-of-summer pasta salad.
|October 5, 2011||Posted by ameliaps under Italian, pasta and grains, summer|
A few events recently have made me reconsider the pace at which I live my life (read => too fast!). I realized that I was caught in a speed spiral, always saying “yes” to everyone that asked me, always attending every event I was invited to, always trying to do everything “perfectly” (which just means perfect in aspiration, btw), always creating more work for myself even when there was no need for it. That includes this very blog, which –don’t get me wrong- I enjoy and will continue to maintain. But what I have started to learn, one step at a time, is how to prioritize: something that no one had taught me before. Life has its ways sometime to teach you what you are missing, doesn’t it?
A friend of mine recently lost her husband, suddenly. He was a healthy 40-something with no apparent previous conditions. A loving father of two, generous, strong, hard-working, religious guy, that had touched so many people in his life. This event stumped me. It stopped me in my tracks. It was the second such event that happened to someone I know (see my recent post on Jenny P.). It could can happen to anyone. A sudden death, no warning, no goodbyes… I HAD to stop and think about this. I HAD to stop the superfluous stuff for a short while and re-prioritize.
The speed at which we move, in our daily ignorance, can be numbing and can anesthetize us, isolate us, turn us into replicants. Only when we take time to silence the “noise”, can we listen to the things that really matter, and watch everything else in “slow motion”, learning that if we slow down the world still spins anyways. Let it spin, but jump off the rollercoaster every now and then, for a breather, if you can! I am fortunate enough that I could take these reminders and clues from a distance. I can sit here writing this with a light pen, with a regained sense of meaning. What a gift!
And while writing about food was for a while “silenced” and sent to the back, I have to say that this trivial endeavor and passion of mine has its energizing and therapeutic purposes and it helps make my life lighter, which in turns brings happiness to everyone around me.
During this hiatus, I have been making simpler, slower food: lots of hearty vegetable pastas, legume soups, pressed Panini, comforting one-pot dishes. In the process, I have slowed down and enjoyed every bite with my family, breaking bread and giving thanks around the table, going for more walks and bike rides in the woods, playing cards (we like the all-Italian “scopa“), running around the house playing pillow fight or hide and seek, sitting lazily on the patio, star-gazing, and definitively reading a lot more: to my kids and to myself. I have grabbed a notebook and have started writing down memories and playing a game of food association. Who knows, one day all this might very well turn out to be a memoir…
“By living slowly , you understand other things, too; by slowing down in comparison to the world, you soon come into contact with what the world regards as its “dumps” of knowledge, which have been deemed slow and therefore marginalized […]. In coming into contact with this “slow” world, you feel a new (or renewed) relish for life, you sense the potential of different methods and forms of knowledge as counterweights to the direction currently being imparted to the tiller that steers our route toward the future. You reassess the elements of consumer culture, and in rural knowledge, you discover surprisingly simple solutions to problems which speed has made complex and apparently insoluble.” —Carlo Petrini, Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should Be Good, Clean, and Fair (2007, Rizzoli Ex Libris)
Here is a simple end-of-summer pasta dish. It is something my dad makes a lot. You can play with additions but it is a cold pasta that can be prepared ahead of time (the longer is sits –at room temperature – the better) so the ingredients mingle and get to know each other and marry happily ever after… You’ll want to use your last tomatoes, a few bell peppers, zucchini, mozzarella, basil, and capers to begin with. Then, it’s your decision on what other “friends” they might need (olives? zucchini flowers? pine-nuts? oregano? fresh onion? sun-dried tomatoes? asparagus tips? celery? fennel? pink peppercorns? Green beans? fresh chili peppers? smoked mozzarella? anchovies? some balsamic vinegar?). It makes for a great picnic or boat trip take-along. I also pack it for my kids’ lunch sometimes. The trick to making this dish is to fry (or sauté, but frankly it’s not the same) all the vegetables in separate batches (so they keep their “individuality”) and then bring them all together after. Use the best quality durum wheat pasta you can find. I wrote in the recipe below to use bell peppers…if you are lucky enough to find some delicious small Italian green peppers (“peperoncini verdi”), go ahead and use those.
1 lb. pasta (ziti, penne or similar: I don’t like ridges in mine)
1 Italian eggplant, peel-on, seeded and diced
2 red and yellow bell peppers, cut in small squares
1 zucchini, cut in thin rounds
1/4 cup rinsed (if using salted, my favorite) or drained capers
8 ounces mozzarella (buffalo-milk or good quality cow-milk), cut into cubes (you can also use “bocconcini”, the small individual morsels)
8 ounces grape or cherry tomatoes, halved if large
2 tablespoons fresh herbs (basil, oregano, parsley, or mint)
1 smashed garlic clove
Salt and fresh grated pepper, to taste
Enough peanut, grapeseed, or canola oil to fry the vegetables
Salt the eggplant diced and allow to sit in a colander for 30-60 minutes (this will remove the bitterness and will also dry them up a bit so they soak in less oil when fried). The rinse them under running water and squeeze to remove the excess water. Pat dry with a kitchen towel.
Heat a good amount (at least 1liter/quart) oil in a deep frying pan. Bring the temperature to about 180°C/350°F (do not let it smoke!). Fry in batches and then drain the eggplant dices when they are browned with a slotted spoon into a plate (do not put kitchen paper…you will need some of the oil to flavor the pasta…yes, I know… but this will be the dressing of the dish).
When you are done with the eggplant, do the same thing with the zucchini first, then with the bell peppers. Set aside in a dish, as you did with the eggplant.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add some salt. Cook the pasta “al dente” (with a bite: firm but not crunchy nor mushy). Drain and rinse it, then place it in a large bowl. Add all the prepared ingredients, season, and toss. Allow to sit at room temperature at least half an hour. Remove the garlic clove, add some more fresh herbs and serve.