I like the quiet of cooking alone, for one. Of entering the kitchen as I please, of not catering to hungers other than my own. Of catering to my own hunger. Not taking into account likes and dislikes, timeframes and constraints. There’s a selfishness to it, yes, and it’s one I’m beginning to relish.
The pace is different. I enter the kitchen when I begin to crave something- whether it’s seven or eleven. And I make something simple, quick, fresh. Tomatoes are a recurring theme: cherry tomatoes with lots of cilantro and a big, sloppy kiss of zaatar-spiked labneh; cherry tomatoes with small cubes of sheep’s milk feta- delicate, impossibly creamy- topped with torn basil; big juicy tomatoes sliced thickly and wedged between slices of mozzarella. The bowl gets drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and that’s dinner: fast, fresh, juicy.
Or, I’ll slice up some vegetables and pile them onto a big plate, squeezing in a small bowl of labneh in the middle, and eat slowly, enjoying the vegetables’ crunch, their contrast with the smooth, tangy cheese, while sitting on the balcony staring out at the ocean- black as tar, folding into nothingness, into the night sky. Overhead, the stars are bright and far between, and my mind settles into calm.
There are eggs: fried in olive oil and topped with sautéed mushrooms; made into a thin omelet and stuffed with greens; hardboiled and sliced open, sprinkled with salt and a hint of cumin.
I do pastas, the empty pantry’s best friend. If it’s down to its bare bones, it’ll be Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe, ingredient list: pasta, pepper, parmesan, butter, olive oil. In fifteen minutes, you’re eating restaurant-level food, in the comfort of your home, and with a glass of wine, it’s a pretty good end to a day.
And then there’s tomato sauce.
A few days ago, it grew chilly for the first time and I went into the kitchen and gathered my tomatoes. One of the things I love about making tomato sauce in winter is the ability to just let it bubble for as long as you need to warm up your room or your heart. As I let it go, the windows fogged up, the apartment filling with the sweet smell of mellowing tomatoes and caramelized onions. I picked up a book, sat on the couch, and stretched out in this sauna of scent.
It took me back to my university dorm days- my roommate used to make tomato sauce like this- first caramelizing onions, then adding chopped fresh tomatoes, the heat turned up, the sauce bubbling rapidly in protest. Tomato sauce acquires a different taste profile this way, a different scent, as the tomatoes caramelize quickly, as opposed to the soft, mellow flavor of the slow-simmering sauces I normally make. There was something, too, about making do with what I had- the pots not quite the right size, my pantry practically non-existent, that took me back to those dorm days. During that time, we would head into the kitchen at the end of a long day, with no expectations, no planning ahead; and make something easy and elemental, to satisfy our hunger. And then there’s that: a reminder that sometimes what satisfies our hungers are the things we make when not following recipes, when reaching for tomatoes to fill your palm, and beginning.
Spaghetti with Tomato Confit
7 tomatoes, chopped
2 onions, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
red wine vinegar
salt + pepper
250 grams spaghetti
Place a pot over medium heat, with a generous swirl of olive oil. When the oil is warm, add the onions, and cook until they caramelize, and turn soft and golden, about 15-20 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices, and bring to a boil. Allow the sauce to bubble on medium-high heat for 30 minutes or longer, stirring often. About halfway through, add a good drizzle of olive oil, the brown sugar, and a dash of red wine vinegar, and season with salt and pepper. Taste, and adjust seasoning.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta. While the pasta is cooking, add a ladle of the pasta water to the tomato sauce to loosen. Drain the pasta, and add it to the sauce, tossing gently, and giving it a minute or two to absorb the sauce. Serve and top with freshly grated parmesan and basil, if desired.