Food Adventures

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Cooking for One

I am currently reading a book titled Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, a collection of essays, edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler, about cooking for one and dining alone.

The authors recount periods when they frequently ate alone and tell of some interesting rituals they engage in when eating alone. Many of the essays also provide recipes. While all the authors seem to enjoy food (enjoy it enough to think and write about it), what struck me was the spectrum of attitudes toward cooking for one: from utter enjoyment (one essay discusses all the comfort foods that can be made using an eggplant) to something resembling discomfort, eating only to survive and barely remembering the meal. Many of the writers admit that they do not like eating alone and tend not to cook for themselves when alone. They see cooking and eating as a communal experience and, when alone, seem to get by on food that does not require much preparation. Now, I can understand that not everyone likes to cook and, if you are in that category, it is perfectly understandable that you will enjoy it even less when there is no company. But I am surprised when people who otherwise enjoy cooking—some even having built a successful career as chefs and cookbook authors—see dining alone as less worthy of their effort than cooking for company.

I also enjoy preparing food for others and will go to great lengths to construct a menu that I think my guests will appreciate and shop for the best ingredients I can find. But I also don't mind cooking for one and dining alone. Good food is one of my favorite pleasures and I refuse to forgo it because I happen to be alone. So, when Michael is out of town and all of my friends are busy, I gladly cook lunch and dinner for myself, complete with wine, dessert, and great relaxing music. I have been known to make risotto for myself and even pasta from scratch (with a sauce also made from scratch). Even on nights when I simply have a grilled cheese sandwich, I make it fancy: Tuscan bread brushed with high-quality extra virgin olive oil, good prosciutto, Cambozola or Parrano cheese, green olives, and a glass of Valpolicella. I sit down at the dining room table for 12, make myself comfortable, and toast to the day and to my ability to prepare a great dinner for 1 or 12.

Which reminds me: off I go to make pasta caprese for one.

Pasta Caprese (for one)

Note: I use durum wheat spaghetti because their simplicity pairs well with this simple tomato sauce and the rich buffalo mozzarella. Use the best ingredients you can find for this dish as there are only a few ingredients and, when they are of high quality, they can really shine and make a very satisfying dish (that is also incredibly easy to prepare).

100 gr. durum wheat pasta
1/2 14 oz. can of San Marzano tomatoes, chopped (about 3 tomatoes)
1 clove of garlic, sliced thinly
2 oz. buffalo mozzarella (or the best quality cow's milk mozzarella you can find), cubed
3 leaves basil, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
pinch of sugar

Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two, until the garlic becomes fragrant (make sure the garlic does not start to brown as that means it is burnt and it will overpower the dish). Add the chopped tomatoes and the sauce they were in. When the sauce comes to a boil, lower the temperature and simmer for 15 minutes. Add salt to taste and a pinch of sugar.

In the meantime, bring to a boil a quart of water. When the water starts to boil, salt it with coarse sea salt and add the pasta. Cook until the pasta is al dente. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce. Toss and serve topped with the mozzarella and basil.



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