Lasagna is something of a Christmas tradition in Tim's family, and meaty tomato sauce is one in mine, so last weekend we combined the two for a meaty, cheesy lasagna good enough for a festive family gathering on Christmas Day.…
Good morning, guys! Well, I say good morning, but, technically, it’s about 11 AM over here at my parents’ place on the day after Christmas. While I am freshly showered, I am also typing these words from bed, so morning seems appropos. This is a lazy morning, the kind with little on the day’s docket, the kind that define the term “holiday” to me. I love mornings like these—slow breakfasts, unhurried schedules, time to sit and think. And I figure as long as I’m sitting here thinking about mornings from here in my old room, now might be a good time to talk about Megan Gordon’s new breakfast book, Whole-Grain Mornings, and about the first recipe Tim and I made from it: buckwheat crepes.
The exclamation point at the end of this post’s title is a little gimmicky, I know. But if there were ever a time to use an exclamation point in a post title, this is it. As soon as I saw this post at The Kitchn about making homemade pasta in the food processor, I was curious. As any Italian grandma would tell you, pasta-making traditionally involves very specific rules, from the mounding of the flour on the counter to the setting the eggs in the center to the incorporating everything into a workable dough. If the process could actually be as simple as a few minutes in a food processor, why wasn’t everyone doing it that way? Was this a gimmick or a trick? I’ll admit I was skeptical, but since The Kitchn rarely steers me wrong, regularly pointing me to such interesting resources as a simple sourdough starter, cool kitchen designs and a reminder about a Samoa popcorn recipe I have got to try, I figured this concept was worth a shot. That very day I saw the piece, I pinned the article, scrolled through the how-to guide and told Tim I wanted to try it with einkorn flour, that ingredient we’re always talking about here and that people say is especially wonderful when used in homemade pasta dough.
When I was a kid, my parents would dart around the house in the final moments before company arrived, lighting candles, cleaning bathrooms, setting appetizers out just right. You could feel the energy in the air in those almost-game-time minutes—a sort of nervous, happy energy—something greater than the sound of my mom’s boom box playing its background harps or violins. When the doorbell rang, my dad would rush to the door, opening it proudly, beaming, welcoming guests inside as he took their coats and greeted them, motioning my brother and me to come say hi. Then, my mom would emerge from the kitchen, winded but obviously delighted at whatever was in her hands, prompting oohs and ahs and questions from the ones who’d been invited to come. Each one meal and its accompanying conversation would take two or three—maybe four or five with particularly talkative friends—hours before dishes were being cleared and the food getting wrapped up and people’s coats being pulled back out to usher them to their cars. But, as any host could tell you, its planning began long before, sometimes as much as a month ahead of time. Long before the good china was on the dining room table, I’d see my mom jotting down a potential menu and shopping list; I’d be around when she tested recipes before deciding to serve them to company; I’d be there the week of the dinner, when my parents talked about what they were making and at what time guests would arrive.
As an adult myself, I’ve followed my parents’ footsteps, often clumsily, feeling my way from the early days of solo hosting (where, once, my guest and I continued working on the uncooked chicken together after she arrived), to my current stage of couple hosting (where Tim and I tag-team the process).
Over time, I’ve grown more confident. Having one person for dinner isn’t stressful; having two is usually okay; but, last weekend, when we hosted Tim’s entire family for an early celebration of Easter and the annual April birthdays (of which, in his family, there are four), and we had ten people at our table more than once, I have to admit the experience felt completely new.
Like businesses, music, vacations and books, most meals begin as ideas—but as ideas that come more quickly down the mental conveyor belt than sonatas or summer getaway plans. A conversation at the office jogs a memory of Grandma’s butter cookies, and the kitchen finds you rolling dough; a blog post inspires dessert and you’re beelining for the pantry; or, unexpectedly on a weekday afternoon, a hunt through the refrigerator, opening drawers and crispers, fills your hands with bright red peppers and cauliflower and recalls a possibility you’d almost forgotten—and then, that quick, momentary thought, incubated right away in discussion and action, becomes a recipe you test twice in one week with your husband, the two of you lost together in discovery, in watching the abstract become something you hold in your hands and eat.
My brother hasn’t been in the car with us twenty minutes before I hear him say something in passing about a spring pea risotto he’s tried the week before, and before I can stop myself I’m exclaiming, “Risotto! I want to make risotto! How do you do it? Was it hard?”
Then, to Tim, “Remember our carrot risotto in California?”
That risotto we’d had at La Bicyclette, the highlight of our meal and maybe our entire trip, was the kind of entrée you never forget, so even though I ask him, I know Tim knows it, too: a carrot risotto so creamy and buttery, so cheesy and comforting, so beautifully bright orange the way things hardly ever naturally are, that I heard at least three other bloggers say they would tackle this recipe when they got home.
Of course, I wasn’t one of those bloggers saying I’d make it later, just so we’re clear. I responded by saying how much I liked it, how warm and savory and amazing it was, but I didn’t dream of going home and trying it myself because, between us, risotto scares me. In my mind, risotto is great chefs and top restaurants and five-star reviews. It’s talent and skill and precision. There was a time, once, when I approached it, but the results were hard and bland and crunched when you took a spoonful, so Saturday, when we’re driving down the highway and I say, “I want to make risotto!” to my husband and my brother in the car, I don’t actually mean I want to make risotto. I mean that I want to eat risotto! and if it’s the La Bicyclette kind, preferably by the mixing bowl!
Because here’s the thing: risotto is hard. Risotto is fussy. Risotto isn’t something I can do.
But then my brother comes to town.
You know, when it comes to the kitchen, the idea of cooking with other people, any people, may seem charming at first, but the truth is that not all cooks make good companions. You don’t have to share your kitchen many times before you see this is true.
There are cooks who will come into your home and take over, for example, leaving you stressed out and insecure even as they rearrange your spice cabinet. There are cooks who will second-guess you, who will comment on the weird way you hold the frosting bag while they take it out of your hands.
But then on the other hand, there are cooks like my brother, the kind who already know you so well that they are easy partners whatever the project. They come to visit and tell you about a risotto they made and make it seem so approachable and possible that before you know it, it’s Monday afternoon and you’re standing with them over arborio rice cooking on your kitchen stove, learning as you watch them, gaining confidence as you work together. These cooks aren’t common, but when you’re blessed to find them, give thanks—these are the people you want to cook with.
And so it is that Adam and I are making risotto together, frozen stock thawing on the stove, my hands pressing buttons on the food processor to shred carrots, his hands chopping parsley on the cutting board. It’s not night yet, but the sky is darkening as storm clouds gather overhead, and the kitchen seems smaller and smaller as it grows more dim, so he flips on the overhead light above the stove; I close the blinds in the living room. He stirs the risotto, moving a long wooden spoon steadily through the rice and wine and carrots; I add stock, half cup by half cup, letting it soak in and be absorbed and change the rice to soft and plump and fragrant.
The two of us, who have been cooking together for as long as we’ve been cooking, work side by side in the entire process, like four hands in the same singular machine, a product of lifetimes of shared experience and kitchens and food. Even as it seems strange to be doing it now in Nashville, in my home, the one I share with Tim that’s eight hours away from where Adam and I spent most of our lives, it also seems familiar, just like Sunday afternoons making pizza in his Chicago apartment or weeknights baking cookies at Mom and Dad’s.
Today, while we scoop ladles of risotto into bowls and sprinkle them with parsley and chopped carrots and Pecorino, I think how this person standing next to me has known me all his life and most of mine and how he’s been the first friend I talk to about decisions and passions and, two years ago, Tim.
I think how nice it is to cook with him because he knows me, so I can say to him, keep your eye on this and know he will; I can trust him to anticipate the next step, to catch something I miss; I can go to turn the pepper grinder just before we finish the risotto and, when it releases half a jar of whole peppercorns instead of a light sprinkling of ground pepper, I can count on him to laugh with me even while we have to laboriously pick peppercorn after peppercorn out of the simmering food.
After the last bit of stock has been worked into the pot, we take our bowls of risotto to the brown leather sofa and plop down, side by side, putting our feet up and flipping through movie trailers on Apple TV, and I feel so thankful for this brother who cooks with me, even as I feel thankful for the thing we’ve cooked, the thing I feared, the thing we eat spoonful after spoonful on the couch: risotto.