This month, we've been asking food bloggers what they make for dinner when they're home alone, and today a married couple is weighing in! Jenny Rosenstrach and Andy Ward write the blog Dinner: A Love Story, and here's their friendly debate over what makes the best solo dinner...
Cacio e Pepe
By Andy Ward of Dinner: A Love Story
I know how this is going to sound. This is going to sound like another grumpy bald guy whining about how, ever since he had kids, he never gets to do what he wants to do any more, about how his once-independent, soundly-sleeping self has been lost forever in a sea of So You Think You Can Dance marathons, pre-dawn Candy Land sessions, Saturday afternoon trips to drug stores in search of the “right” kind of Hot Huez hair chalk, and wah wah wah. But I’m not whining about any of that here, I swear. That’s the stuff I love, to be honest. It’s the stuff I wake up thinking about at 3am, filled with dread, knowing that one day it will be gone. (And as for my once-independent self? From what little I can remember: overrated.)
No, my complaint here is far less existential. My complaint is: How the heck did my all-time favorite meal on earth, cacio e pepe, become the one meal that not a single other person in our house will eat? How did a simple bowl of pasta—with parmesan cheese, butter and pepper; the perfect combination of flavors—end up on the strict no-fly list? Of all the meals—hello, anything with eggplant—this the one you cast out?
Phoebe, our oldest daughter, is a lost cause: she hates pasta with the fire of 10,000 suns. Abby, our youngest, would rather eat pasta than pretty much anything else in the world...but only if it has marinara sauce on it. But you, my wife and family dinner compadre, the woman I love and have spent more years with than without, is—your words—“not a huge fan of pepper”? What? Not even Iris, our dog, will touch the stuff—and we’re talking here about an animal whose idea of a good meal is a few corn nuts and a roll of Charmin. I don’t want to go so far as to say it feels like the Universe has conspired against me, but come on: the Universe has kind of conspired against me! Which is why, whenever I have the chance—if I work late, or if you are out, or if everyone but me is down with the flu, or if the kids are at a sleepover and we decide to celebrate “Fend-For-Yourself” night at home—I make the exact same thing, the exact same way, and eat it on the couch while watching Jason Bourne movies.
As Billy Dee Williams once said, “Works every time.”
Recipe: Cacio e Pepe
Spaghetti, enough for 1, about ¼ pound
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. good, freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan
What to do:
Bring a pot of well-salted water to rolling boil and cook pasta according to package directions.
In a large saucepan, add olive oil, butter and pepper and saute over medium low heat until butter is melted and pepper gets slightly toasty. Remove from heat. Cook and drain the pasta, but—AND THIS RIGHT HERE IS CRUCIAL–make sure to reserve ½ cup of the pasta water.
Now, go back to your saucepan (the one with the oil, butter and pepper) and turn heat to medium. Add about half of your reserved pasta water and stir. Then add the pasta and, using a pair of tongs, toss gently until coated. Stir in the grated parm, and another dash of the reserved pasta water until the consistency is to your liking. Serve with more grated cheese on top, maybe a sprinkle of sea salt, and eat quickly.
Egg and Cheese Tortilla
By Jenny Rosenstrach of Dinner: A Love Story
So you like something that no one else in the house likes: This is great news! (You just don’t realize it yet.) I know I have a bad habit of glossing over the negative—a condition most people know as denial—but really, you need to reframe your thinking here. In our Meatless-Monday, soccer-on-Tuesday, ballet-on-Wednesday, 6:23-train-every-night kind of lives, isn’t it nice to know that some things just won’t ever fit into the routine? In other words, isn’t it nice to know that some things—some meals—retain a little special-occasion sheen?
Because make no mistake about it, “Fend-for-Yourself” dinners like the one you describe above are a special occasion. (Though I might trade Matt Damon for Reese Witherspoon.) And also, think about it: if the whole family liked cacio e pepe by now, it would’ve likely followed the fate of that pasta Amatriciana we used to make in our first apartment, once a week, every week, fifty-two weeks a year. Remember? Didn’t think so. I’ve tried to block it out, too.
I understand you better than you think I do. Since our daughters have refused to touch eggs for their entire lives, I have taken it upon myself to make up for this sad, sorry predicament whenever I am fending for myself—whether it’s after they’ve climbed on the bus in the morning (poached on whole wheat toast), or when I’m stranded and starving in midtown (microwaved, rubberized and wedged on a biscuit by a visor-wearing barista), or on nights when I come late or you are out and all bets are off on family dinner (scrambled, folded up and inside a warm corn tortilla with a slice of American cheese). It should be noted that this last example is my most favorite, because an egg sandwich meal is best experienced as the anti-family dinner—standing up at the counter scanning facebook or in front of X Factor while simultaneously responding to every iPhone ping. There are no utensils. There are no manners. There are no rules. There are no Please-in-God’s-Name-Finish-Your-Milks. I love my rogue egg dinners so much.
I don’t think it takes a psych major to figure out why. You probably think it’s because your bowl of spaghetti is simple, authentic, (really) peppery and takes you back to Italy, summer before senior year, where you tried it for the first time. (OK, fine, that might have a little something to do with it.) But here’s the thing: I’m convinced it’s precisely because no one else likes your cacio that makes it so special. It’s what makes it yours.
Recipe: Egg and Cheese Tortilla
Serves 1, but recipe can be doubled if a single sandwich is not enough.
Salt & pepper
1 corn tortilla
1 tbsp. butter
1 slice American cheese
What to do:
In a small bowl, beat egg with ½ teaspoon water, and salt and pepper.
Set a medium sized skillet over medium heat. Add tortilla and cook until warmed through, about 20 seconds a side. (Alternately, using tongs, just cook tortilla directly on the burner’s flame, flipping constantly to prevent scorching, until it’s bubbling and warm.) Remove.
Turn down heat slightly and add butter, brushing it all over pan’s surface as it melts.
Add egg, tilting your pan so it covers the entire surface of the pan. Lay down cheese in the middle, and after about 30 seconds, very carefully, fold one side of the egg on top, working in a circle until cheese is enclosed. (For more details on this technique, see Deb Perelman’s step-by-step.)
Again, very carefully, flip the egg-and-cheese bundle and allow to cook and melt together for another minute.
Slide onto your tortilla. Fold. Check email. Eat.
Haha, thank you so much, Jenny and Andy! Readers, whose side are you on?
P.S. More best recipes, including a French omelet and cheesy spaghetti sauce.
(Photos and recipe by Jenny Rosenstrach and Andy Ward of Dinner: A Love Story. Thanks to Shoko for helping with this series.)