I recently moved into an apartment in Mid-City. The process was stressful, and by “stressful,” I mean goddamn exhausting. I have accumulated many things in my 42 years on earth, most of them heavy. It is during times like this that I begin to regret my mania for collecting books. The paperbacks aren’t such a problem, but I have several hundred cookbooks, and those sons of bitches might as well be made of lead.
Additionally, while the new apartment is very nice, it lacks the built-in storage space I have enjoyed for the last 14 months or so. It’s not exactly “Sophie’s Choice,” but having to choose which cookbooks I can keep on hand—and which I have to box up and store—added to my consternation.
Then there is the kitchen. It is a very nice kitchen. It is spacious, the appliances are excellent, and the sink is so deep and lovely I find myself mildly attracted to it. So far, however, the kitchen has been like a mirage to me. I can see it, but it remains insubstantial – just out of reach. I haven’t had the time to un-pack most of my (extremely heavy) gear and get to cooking. Or at least get to much cooking. I have cooked one meal.
Because I am somewhat dim about certain things, and because I have a lot going on at the moment, I did not time my move with great precision. The short version is that I did not provide the required notice to my former landlord in time to avoid having to pay rent for June. While this afforded me the luxury of prioritizing what I had to move immediately, and what I could leave for another day, it also had the downside of allowing me to procrastinate moving my pantry. So when I cooked dinner the other night, I was without a few things that I would ordinarily have had on hand. Olives, garlic, and herbs, to be precise.
I cook a lot of pasta. It’s a perfect way to put a meal on the table after work, because in the time it takes to boil a big pot of water, you can generally make a satisfying sauce. One of my standards is zucchini with garlic, mint, olives, and feta. You see where this is going? I find that some of the most rewarding things I’ve ever cooked have been improvised. I have also found that improvisation is a hell of a lot easier when you’ve got a full pantry and a well-stocked fridge. Don’t get me wrong, the pasta was still pretty good. It’s just that knowing I had the ingredients to make it even better, but had forgotten or neglected to bring them to my new, lust-inducing kitchen, left a slightly bitter taste in my mouth.
I thought that I would provide you with the recipe as I would normally cook it, with notes as to what to do if, like me, you are bereft of certain ingredients. To wit:
For two people or five medium-weight ferrets:
3-4 tbs. olive oil
pinch of dried red pepper flakes
1/2 large onion halved lengthwise
1-2 cloves of garlic
1 large zucchini
1/2 cup chicken or veal stock (optional – substitute water or vegetable bouillon if you like)
1/4 cup pitted olives, whatever type you like, sliced lengthwise into strips
About 2 cups dried pasta such as penne, farfalle, cavatelli, or fusilli
2 tbs. fresh mint leaves, cut into thin strips
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
Fill a very big pot with water, add enough salt to make the taste noticeable, cover it, then put it on high heat.
Slice the halved onion lengthwise in a radial fashion – with the stem end facing you, start at one edge with your knife almost parallel to the cutting surface, and continue slicing every 1/8th inch or so for the entire 90 degrees. Make a final cut near the root end, perpendicular to the prior cuts, so that you have thin rectangles of onion. Alternatively, don’t be an obsessive prick like me, and just chop it.
Mince the garlic.
Cut the zucchini into batons about 2 inches in length and a quarter inch thick. (See alternative above.)
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan on medium heat. Add the red pepper flakes, stir for a minute or so, then add the onion. Season with salt and let it cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and stir for another minute or two, until the garlic just starts to take a little color.
Is the water boiling? If so, add the pasta. If not, use profanity to make it heat more rapidly. Alternatively, make sure you put a lid on the pot. Continue to use profanity.
Add the zucchini to the saucepan, taste and season with salt again if necessary, then stir for 3-4 minutes. Add the stock, water, or bouillon and the olives. Let the sauce cook until it has reduced by half, around 3-4 minutes. Taste and season again with salt and pepper.
Is the pasta ready? Is the water even boiling? Use profanity as necessary.
When the pasta is cooked, drain it briefly, letting a little of the cooking water cling, then add it directly to the saucepan. Stir well to mix, then add the mint and feta just before serving. If you have some very good extra virgin olive oil, now is the time to deploy it. Just drizzle a little over the pasta after it’s been portioned out into serving bowls.
You may also wish to continue deploying profanity at this point, but hopefully the recipe worked out well enough for you to make profanity superfluous.