Kitchen adventures. dinner for two.
Usually I only try out new things when I am alone in the kitchen, but then there is the danger of being stuck with something truly horrendous for three nights in a row. The obvious solution, then, is to ask a brave friend who will eat anything, no questions asked, over for dinner whenever you want to try something new and aren't sure how it will turn out. In this way K. has fed me squid-ink pasta drizzled with white truffle oil and tossed with parmesan cheese (weird but delicious) and a pudding made with avocado and Kahlua (again, weird but delicious, although it was a disturbing shade of green). (In return I made a chocolate soufflé perfumed with lime). For some reason these experiments usually work. (Usually).
It is 7:30 by the time we leave work tonight and I am starving. I have half a box of orecchiette (leftover from a long-ago experiment), a head of escarole, two sausages (leftover from Monday's lasagne), some grated parmesan (ditto), and a giant tomato. My underequipped kitchen has no colander and I have doubts about the cleanliness of my sink, so the escarole is sliced and thrown into a pan of cold water to rinse, and then dried on paper towels spread across the counter. While C. puts water onto boil for the pasta, I chopped up the tomato. When I first cut into it, the flesh reveals itself as a mottled bright orange-and-red mosaic; it looks like one of those millefiori paperweights you find in Venice.
I'm in my groove now. The unoccupied front burner is too small to heat my deep sauté pan, so I move the boiling water to the smaller burner and put the sauté pan on the largest burner, pour in some olive oil. I throw some Maldon sea salt (it's all I have) into the boiling water and toss in the pasta. The oil is shimmering; I add the sausages (casings removed), and they sizzle in the hot oil. Once they've browned, I break them up with my spatula, and in goes the escarole. When the greens have wilted, the tomatoes are added. The juices from the tomatoes cook down, thickening slightly, and everything melds into a sauce. I have forgotten the onion (I would have cooked them with the sausages until golden and caramelized around the edges), but never mind. On the next burner, the orecchiette are boiling madly, bobbing about in their pot.
The timing's the thing, and I'm spot on. The pasta is al dente just as the sauce comes to the right consistency; I drag C. away from her magazine to hold a mesh strainer over the sink so I can drain the orecchiette. Dump the pasta into the pan of sauce, throw a handful of grated parmesan cheese over it all, and toss it until everything is mixed together. We sit down to eat, and just half an hour has passed since we walked in the door. It looks like a garden, with the red-and-orange tomatoes like flowers, the bits of greens like little leaves. The chunks of sausage are a little spicy, the escarole is tender and just faintly bitter, the tomatoes are sweet, and the cheese melts into the pasta, adding saltiness (since I don't have any salt) and a little complexity, all the different flavors contrasting and coming together into one whole dish. Perfect.
The great thing about experimentation is that when you are confident enough to know that something will work no matter what, you can think about how to change things just a little next time, refine your ideas. I will use more sausage, the spicier the better, next time I make this, add some garlic and onion, perhaps some mushrooms. Maybe I will try those canned San Marzano tomatoes, or halved grape tomatoes. Kale could be substituted for the escarole, or broccolini, or some other bitter green. The possibilities are endless.