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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Change is Good

For the last eight years, I have religiously read The Minimalist column in the New York Times Wednesday food section.  I "found" Mark Bittman and his wonderful column when we moved to Pittsburgh and started getting the NYT everyday.  I wish I had come to know him sooner because Mark definitely has had a huge influence on my cooking.  Now, with the end of The Minimalist column, I feel like it's the end of an era.

All of this is not to say that Mark is disappearing.  Quite the contrary.  There'll be his blog.  And the recipes  in the Sunday Magazine.  There'll be the articles in the opinion section of the Times.  And, of course, all the cookbooks, many of which I already own.  But the real bummer is he won't be there waiting for me on Wednesday mornings.  Mark also won't be with us at dinner on the occasional Wednesday night either.  So often I've read the column in the morning and the recipe, or some version of it,  ended up on our table for dinner that same night.

The thing I love about Mark Bittman and his recipes is that they feel very sophisticated without feeling pretentious.  They're accessible.  The recipes always get me thinking about using ingredients differently.  Mark's recipes have made ingredients like anchovies, sardines, and miso staples in my pantry.  I don't always follow his recipes verbatim.  Sometimes I don't really follow the recipe at all.  Instead I take the "feeling" of the dish and run with it.

My favorite Mark Bittman recipes are those that are comprised of very simple ingredients and very simple techniques but that when you eat them they feel like so much more.  They're the kind of recipes that produce that perfect little dish of pasta that you imagine Thomas Keller (French Laundry, Per Se...) would whip up in two seconds at 11:00 at night.  They're not fussy but are  hugely satisfying and a giant step up from Trader Joe's frozen fried rice.

Well, Mark.  You may be gone from my Wednesday mornings but I'll be seeing you on Sundays and on your blog.  I think it's just a little change and change is good.

Recipe:  Pasta with Sardines, Bread Crumbs and Capers
(NYT March 31, 2010)

Note:  The first time I made this pasta it was only fair because I didn't add enough of the cooking water to the finished pasta.  Make sure to reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water (even though you won 't need that much).

I have now made this pasta several times and I have noted in the recipe some of the changes I have made.


1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs, made from stale bread (*Last time I used olive bread.)
1 onion, chopped
freshly ground black pepper
1 pound long pasta, like perciatelli   (*I just use spaghetti if I don't have perciatelli.)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons drained capers
2 cans sardines packed in olive oil (*Or try a handful of pitted kalamata olives cut in half lengthwise in place of one of the cans of sardines.)
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.  Put half the oil (2 tablespoons) in a medium skilled over medium heat.  When it's hot, add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring frequently, until golden fragrant, less than 5 minutes, and then remove.  Add the remaining oil and the onions to the pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until it's just tender; drain, reserving some of the cooking liquid.  Turn the heat under the onions to medium-high and add the lemon zest, capers, and sardines (and olives, if using); cook, stirring occasionally, until just heated through, about 2 minutes.

Add the pasta to the sardine mixture and toss well to combine.  Add the parsley, most of the bread crumbs and some reserved water, if necessary, to moisten.  Taste and adjust seasoning, garnishing with more parsley and bread crumbs.

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