Monday, November 26, 2012

Tiny turkey, big flavor

It was a tiny turkey, rather like an overgrown chicken.

But it was all the turkey I needed.

This Thanksgiving was a little different than most.  I wasn't expected anywhere.  I didn't have to do anything.  I wasn't expecting anyone, or to have to cook for anyone either.  I could do whatever I wanted, eat whatever and whenever I wanted.  I could cook or not.

I chose to cook.  And I cooked and ate at a leisurely pace, from about 11 a.m. to about 6 p.m.  Several appetizers, a couple of rebujito cocktails, a little wine, and then a great dinner. Some would call it gluttony.  I call it a supremely relaxing and satisfying day.

I wanted a turkey full of flavor, moist, and with perfectly crisp skin.  I had a large head of fennel, plenty of oranges from the two trees in my yard and some beautiful basil.  And I had my tiny turkey, only 10 lbs.

I made a paste of fennel fronds, orange peel and basil and emulsified it with some EVOO.  Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper heightened the melodic and harmonious properties of these simple ingredients.

I separated the breast skin from the breast meat and rubbed most of this paste directly on the meat.  I used a little more to rub the turkey all over, then showered my tiny turkey with plenty of sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  The remaining paste (about 1 Tbs.) I set aside to add to the reduction sauce I planned to make before serving the turkey.

Then  I cut the orange into quarters and stuffed it into the cavity of my tiny turkey with more fresh basil and fennel fronds.

And then, as a roasting rack, I used the fennel stalks after I had sliced up the bulb very thinly and tossed with with a little EVOO, kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to be roasted separately.

Into the oven, preheated at 425 degrees, it went to crisp the skin for about 20 minutes, then I added some dry white wine to the pan, tented it with foil, and reduced the oven temperature to 350 degrees to finish roasting my tiny turkey until it was beautifully golden.  The house was fragrant with orange and fennel.

Meanwhile, I enjoyed my appetizers at a casual pace (see recipe for fried green tomato napoleons here; I'll share another recipe for spinach-stuffed portobellos later) and whipped up some great sides, which I'll write about in future posts.

The tiny turkey rested on a sheet pan while I made the reduction sauce by straining the pan juices, then adding more white wine and the rest of the orange peel/fennel/basil paste.  With a crisp, juicy white wine, and a very affordable one at that, I reveled in my lovely, leisurely day of food and wine.  And I was very thankful.

Crisp, juicy golden delicious apple and while floral notes pair well with the turkey recipe.

Roasted Turkey with a Fragrant Paste of Orange, Fennel and Basil, and a Reduction Sauce

     The initial searing at a high temperature crisps the skin and seals in juices while the fragrant paste of orange peel, fennel fronds and basil infuses the turkey breast with flavor and keeps it moist.  The quantity of ingredients is for a smaller turkey (10-12 lbs.).  If you have a larger turkey, just double the ingredients.

1 10 to 12 lb. turkey
1 medium orange
3 large sprigs basil
1 large bulb fennel
2 to 3 Tbs. EVOO
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups dry white wine, divided

1.)  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2.)  Clean the turkey well, inside and out, drain well, then tuck the wings neatly behind the back and set aside.
3.)  Remove the peel from the orange, avoiding the white pith, with a vegetable peeler.  Reserve peeled orange for stuffing into cavity
4.)  Drop the peel into a small food processor or blender, along with 2 of the basil sprigs.
5.)  Trim the stalks off the fennel and set the bulb aside for other use (I like to slice it thinly and roast it with a little EVOO, salt and pepper until crispy and serve it alongside the turkey).
6.)  Trim the fennel fronds from the stalks, making sure you give everything a good wash.  You will use the stalks later for a "roasting rack."
7.)  Place 3 or 4 fennel fronds (about 1/4 cup in volume) in the processor or blender.
8.)  Drizzle in a couple of tablespoons of EVOO and add a little salt and pepper.
9.)  Process mixture until it resembles a coarse paste (see picture above), adding more EVOO as necessary until you have the consistency of cooked oatmeal.
10.)  Using your fingers, carefully separate the turkey breast skin from the breast meat as much as you can.
11.)  Smear the orange peel mixture on the turkey breast under the skin, covering as much surface as you can and using about 3/4 of the mixture.
12.)  Use about half of the remaining mixture to smear all over the outside of the turkey, including the legs, thighs and wings.
13.)  Refrigerate remaining mixture for use in the reduction sauce after turkey is finished roasting.
14.)  Season the outside of the turkey well with salt and freshly ground pepper.
15.)  Arrange fennel stalks in bottom of roasting pan to form a "rack" and place the turkey on top, breast side up.
16.)  Cut peeled orange into quarters and place inside the turkey cavity, along with the remaining sprig of basil and several more fennel fronds.
17.)  Place turkey in lower third of preheated oven and roast for about 20 minutes to sear skin.
18.)  Pour 1 cup dry white wine into roasting pan.
19.)  Tent turkey fairly securely with foil, leaving an edge for steam to escape.
20.)  Return turkey to oven and reduce temperature to 325 degrees.
21.)  Roast turkey about 3 to 3 1/4 hours, or until internal temperature of breast meat registers 165 degrees.
22.)  When turkey is done, remove it from the oven and transfer it to a sided baking pan or cutting board and let it rest, covered with foil.
23.)  Strain pan juices through a fine-mesh strainer into a small saucepan, scraping up any juicy scraps and transferring them to the strainer as well.
24.)  Pour remaining cup of white wine through strainer and over scraps to loosen up and disgorge any remaining juices; discard contents of strainer.
25.)  Add remaining orange peel, basil and fennel paste to saucepan.
25.)  Bring saucepan contents to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until reduced by about 1/3 in volume, about 10 minutes.
26.)  Remove sauce from heat, taste and correct seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary.
27.)  Carve turkey and serve with reduction sauce and roasted fennel.  Serves 4.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fried green tomato napoleons with shrimp in remoulade sauce

I was gifted with some green tomatoes recently.  They sat in the refrigerator for a few days while I thought about what to do with them.

"Please don't fry us, please don't fry us," they whispered to me from their shelf in the refrigerator.  And that's where I confess that I might not be quite right because frankly, anyone who thinks vegetables are talking to her when she opens the refrigerator door is either A.) tripping out on LSD, or B.) cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.

Having never tried LSD, the default is option B.  But you say I'm crazy like it's a bad thing.

I didn't want to fry the green tomatoes because I always want to fry the green tomatoes.  Isn't that what one does with green tomatoes (other than make chow chow or salsa verde)?   But this time, I couldn't stop thinking of the fried green tomatoes I had had on my first trip to New Orleans several years ago.  I was at K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen on Charles St. and I still remember every last bite of the appetizer that eclipsed all others that night--three beautifully seasoned and fried slabs of green tomato layered with crabmeat and remoulade sauce.

I can make remoulade sauce fairly easily and often do.  It's one of those concoctions I try to always have on hand in my refrigerator because it elevates everything it's served with.  It can make old shoe leather taste great.  When remoulade accompanies crabmeat or shrimp, it is a miraculous thing.  What's not to like about seafood adorned in a rich sauce of mayonnaise, capers, gherkins, Creole mustard, a little dill and some scallions, heightened by fresh lemon juice and a little cayenne?  I never tire of if.

Fried green tomatoes, slightly acidic, tender and silky inside, crispy and salty outside, are one of the simplest of things, yet hold great mystery and potential.  Typically fried in seasoned cornmeal, they seem almost provencial, country fare.  They are undoubtedly delicious.  But coat them in egg and panko, fry them until beautifully golden and combine them with a seafood remoulade sauce, and this dish is not only gorgeous on the plate--pale green contrasted with pale pink--but the ingredients are the perfect foil for each other in texture and flavor.

Here's how I did it:

Fried Green Tomato Napoleons with Shrimp in Remoulade Sauce

8 oz. jumbo lump crab meat or peeled, tailed and deveined cooked cocktail shrimp
1 cup Remoulade Sauce (recipe follows)
2 medium green tomatoes, sliced about 1/4 inch thick (you should have about 12 slices)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup panko
oil for frying
chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
drained nonpareil capers, for garnish

1.)  Mix together the seafood and the Remoulade Sauce and set aside and keep cold until ready to assemble.
2.)  Dip green tomatoe slices in beaten egg, then coat both sides in panko.
3.)  Heat about 1/4 inch of oil on medium heat in a skillet until rippling, then fry green tomato slices on both sides until golden brown.
4.)  Drain on paper towels and cool slightly.
5.)  To serve, place one fried green tomato layer on plate, spoon a little seafood/remoulade sauce on the fried tomato and repeat two more layers.  Build four appetizers this way.
6.)  Drizzle a little sauce around the plate and garnish with parsley and capers.  Serves four.

Remoulade Sauce:  Mix together well 1 cup mayonnaise (I like to use Duke's for remoulade), 1 Tbs. nonpareil capers, drained, 1 Tbs. minced gherkins or cornichons, 1 Tbs. freshly minced parsley, 1 Tbs. finely chopped scallions, 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice, 1 1/2 tsp. Creole or coarse Dijon mustard, 1 tsp. anchovy paste, 1/2 tsp. dill, 1/8 tsp. cayenne, and a dash of Worcestershire sauce.  Makes about 1 1/4 cups sauce.  Will keep for about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.


What you can drink with this little nosh is a crisp white wine like a pinot gris, or if you prefer a red, a sangiovese or a beaujolais.  Or, you can do as I did in New Orleans all those years ago:  have a Cajun Martini.  The recipe below is as close a reconstruction as I can manage of the one I had at K-Paul's.

Cajun Martini

Swirl a little dry vermouth in a chilled martini glass to coat the sides.  Pour in 2 oz. chilled pepper vodka.  Garnish with a pickled jalapeno, a cornichon and some pickled merliton, skewered together on a long toothpick.  Makes one drink.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

But what I really need is a cocktail

If you've agreed to host Thanksgiving dinner this year for friends and family, hooray for you!  You deserve something extra special, because as the host, you have responsibilities (to your guests) and a reputation (with your neighbors) to consider long before your guests trudge up the sidewalk and into your home for the next 6 hours (or the next 6 days).  And then you must consider your recuperation.

Even if you've hosted plenty of dinners and holiday meals, you might have already discovered that Thanksgiving seems to be the one holiday that has the potential to deteriorate pretty fast, rather like a talapia fillet left in the trunk of your car on a summer day in Central Texas.


If you're anticipating a warm, friendly gathering of friends and family that loves to be together on Thanksgiving, then you are very fortunate.  I have been fortunate on most occasions to have enjoyed a very pleasant day in the company of family and friends.  I treasure those memories.  But for some, this kind of holiday celebration is far from reality.

So what is it about Thanksgiving that takes the fun out of dysfunctional?  Sometimes, it's a situation of forced togetherness for people who spend most of the year feuding or avoiding each other.  Thanksgiving is also an extended family gathering that invites complete pandemonium and wild, often unrealistic expectations.  And then there's the combination of too much alcohol and the discussions of political and lifestyle choices.  When the conflict starts, it goes way beyond Cowboys vs. Redskins, or paper vs. plastic or cornbread stuffing vs. white bread stuffing.  It goes beyond the loudly-complaining picky eater and the person, who despite your pleas both privately and publicly, still insists on denigrating certain groups of people who are not like (and therefore, threatening) to him or her.

I would suggest that the potential to have your Thanksgiving Day plans for a peaceful dinner deteriorate so quickly exists solely because of the lethal combination of personalities and competing egos that tend to be present at any large gathering.  Think of Congress, by way of example.

But this post is not about how to orchestrate a miracle and effectuate healing of broken souls in an intervention-style maneuver.  Nor is it about avoiding the Fiscal Cliff.  That is just too much work for a holiday weekend and belongs in the capable hands of a professional.  Or, in the case of Congress, people agreeing to work together for the good of all.  As if.

No, I would suggest a much more efficient, immediate and expedient way to alleviate your suffering in an unpleasant situation, or to expand your joy in the midst of a happy one: let's have a Thanksgiving cocktail.

I am not a proponent of heavy cocktails for either myself or my guests when I am hosting a dinner, although dinner in my home is almost always happy, joyous occasions where everyone likes being together.  However, I have found that drinking a heavy cocktail encourages poor knife skills and turkeys wanting to jump out of ovens like they were on the Golden Gate Bridge.  It also can produce vignettes that involve tears and blue mascara running down a cheek or two, too many inappropriate jokes being loudly showcased outside the boundaries of the "inappropriate joke-telling area" (which in my home is always the kitchen), or the use of the F-bomb at the dinner table in front of Aunt Bessie. 

What we want is just enough alcohol to help the guests "chill out" a little, become convivial and full of good cheer, or in some cases, smooth out all the rough edges so that they can mingle together more easily--perhaps even consider liking one another for the next several hours.  And we want just enough alcohol for the host to reduce the over-stimulation of having 20 people in the house at one time and still be able to get dinner on the table without incident. 

I am not talking about the incident in which you have a "discussion" with your cousin about whether your lovely home-made cranberry sauce infused with ruby port and candied ginger or the canned cranberry sauce she brought should be in Grandma's antique crystal bowl.  That discussion is unfortunately unavoidable.  As host, I think I have a right to say that my home-made cranberry sauce goes in Grandma's crystal bowl.  However, in the interest of keeping the peace, I will also smile my tight-lipped Southern belle smile and indulge my cousin, who has clearly not had enough of her cocktail to make her see things my way.

The Thanksgiving cocktail I suggest--the miracle worker--is actually a spritzer called a rebujito or a sherry cobbler.  This drink is light, lovely, refreshing and low in alcohol content.  You can sip away the afternoon (and even begin at 8 a.m. when the turkey goes in the oven, if you'd like, but be sure to add some orange juice!) and still be quite cordial and competent as both host and cook.  And you can indulge in wine or another libation for dinner and still not be too loaded when you load the dishwasher or decimated when you divvy up all those leftovers.

The formula is simple: 2 ounces of sherry poured over ice in the prettiest glass you have, a small squeeze of fresh lime (you can use orange or lemon too) and then fill the glass up to the top with seltzer, soda water, tonic water or any kind of lemon-lime soda.  Sherry is quite lovely on its own and it comes in many styles, so you can vary this drink to your preferences.  Depending on whether you like the dryness, saltiness and sharp bouquet of a Manzanilla sherry, or the spicy, nutty characteristics of a Fino sherry, or the velvety smoothness and slight sweetness of a Cream sherry, you and your guests can enjoy any number of sherry-based cocktails that are elegant, complex and totally delightful.  Try one or several of these variations.

And, by the way, Happy Thanksgiving, all you brave souls who are gathering together this week.  Better try out a few of these cocktails in preparation for the big day...


     This cocktail is also especially good if you substitute some of the carbonated beverage with pear or apple juice.

2 oz. sherry (I prefer Fino or Manzanilla, but Amantillado or Cream sherry will work nicely too)
fresh lime, cut into small wedges (you can substitute orange or lemon)
soda water, seltzer, good quality tonic water, or lemon-lime soda

Pour sherry over ice in a tall, pretty glass.  Add one or two lime wedges, squeezing the juice over the ice a little.  Fill glass with soda water, tonic water or lemon-lime soda.  Sip and smile.  Makes one drink.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Savory bread pudding with cream gravy and fried sage

Although I often do my best to avoid it, I love bread.  I grew up on my mother's home-made bread and when she went back to teaching full time, we eventually had store-bought bread in the pantry.  And I'm not talkin' about Wonder Bread, the production of which is apparently at risk (along with Twinkies) in a current labor dispute.  

Mom bought Arnold Brick Oven (which you can find here in Texas as the brand Orowheat) and Pepperidge Farm bread.  She felt guilty, I suppose, for not baking home-made bread anymore and I know she thought she was doing a good thing by making our sandwiches on the more expensive, denser bread.  Turns out, she was on to something.  She discovered one day that my brother had been trading his Pepperidge Farm sandwiches with another kid at school for sandwiches on squishy white bread because that kid thought my brother must come from a rich family if he could get a sandwich on Pepperidge Farm bread.  Not to mention, the squishy white bread sandwich my brother accepted in exchange was filled with a brand of peanut butter we didn't EVER buy (Skippy) and off-brand grape jelly.  Boy, was my mother irritated.  I would say "pissed," but my mother, being a good Baptist woman, did not get "pissed."  She would get irritated, agitated, annoyed and sometimes angry.  But never pissed.  It just wasn't Biblical.

My brother got in trouble for eating it...and it pissed my mother off.

I think Mom was irritated mostly because my brother would have rather had the squishy white bread and the Skippy peanut butter instead of the grainy, substantive Smucker's she faithfully bought for her family.  And, of course, it must have aggravated her to no end that my brother was eating off-brand grape jelly (instead of the beautiful grape jelly she labored to make in late September during Concord grape season).

But my brother wasn't the only one with a guilty secret about squishy white bread.  I loved eating it when we stayed at my grandmother's house.  Keep in mind that this was my mother's mother.  Grandma always had a loaf of Sunbeam bread in the breadbox, and real butter, always at room temperature, on the countertop.  As a pudgy child who craved anything with carbohydrates, I would toast two slices of bread in her toaster and slather it with the soft butter.  Biting into that warm, pillowy, buttery toast was not just a forbidden treat.  It was Bread Nirvana, and for some time, I thought it was the most fabulous food on the planet.  I ate toast made from squishy white bread as often as possible (read: when my mother was not around to supervise what went into my mouth).  And while I ate my forbidden treat, I would gaze, in my foggy carbohydrate-induced stupor, at the little girl on the bread wrapper, imagining that she and I would one day be playmates.  I imagined that one day, she would explain to me how you could eat bread and butter and still be at a normal weight like she was.

Little Miss Sunbeam, my imaginary playmate.

But then something happened to me.  My break-up with Little Miss Sunbeam came when a teacher showed us how to make modeling clay out of bread.  You could mix it with white glue, dye it with food coloring and shape things out of it, like little roses and jewelry.  After you let it dry for a few days, it was unbreakable.  I began to think about what that white bread was doing in my stomach.  It certainly didn't need much help from the white glue to make it unappetizing when you began to squish it into a ball.  I imagined it lying in my stomach in a dense, hard lump.  I knew what this meant: years before Facebook was even conceived, I knew I would have to unfriend Little Miss Sunbeam.  I would have to give up squishy white bread.

After that, the scales fell from my eyes, much in the same way that they did when I found out where Jello really came from (let's say I finally realized that Jello didn't just come from the box).  I haven't touched Jello since, and that made me very sad, since, besides having a breadbox full of Sunbeam bread, my grandmother's other virtues included making a really great lemon Jello salad with nuts and celery.  She served it at holiday dinners, cut neatly into squares and placed carefully on leaves of iceberg lettuce.  On tea saucers, no less.  There was a dollop of Miracle Whip on each serving, as I recall.  My grandmother could really do it up.

Today, I am a bread snob (and I still won't eat Jello).  This should come as no surprise to any of you.  I tend to make my own bread from this recipe or buy it somewhere that has great bread.  I simply cannot be trusted with a loaf of Seeduction from Whole Foods or a loaf of olive bread from Central Market.  I could live on a good ciabatta and I crave the crackling crust and toothsome, yeasty interior of a good loaf of French bread.  These breads have come my new Nirvana.

So you might wonder why I would bring you a recipe for savory bread pudding that is made with squishy bread.  The short answer is that it's just plain outstanding.  It is dense and rich from the custard and tender enough to be eaten with a small fork (even a plastic one).  When graced by real cream gravy studded with bits of pork sausage, it's a fabulous breakfast or brunch.  I use a combination of white and wheat store-brand bread and you can, of course, use better quality bread, but you need to allow extra milk and overnight soaking time for the custard to be fully absorbed.

Savory Bread Pudding with Cream Gravy and Fried Sage

     This recipe is a combination of my mother's Yankee bread stuffing recipe (for which there is no written record), the classic Fanny Farmer Herb Stuffing recipe and the basic 3:1 egg to milk ratio for bread pudding.  Be sure to make the cream gravy and fried sage leaves for extra glamour if you have guests to impress, although this bread pudding is good all on its own as well.

8 cups cubes day-old bread (white, whole wheat or a mixture)
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp.  kosher salt
2 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. marjoram
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery (some chopped celery leaves are nice too)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. chopped flat leaf parsley.
6 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
1 cup shredded cheese (I used Gruyere and Parmesan), divided
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1.)  In a large bowl, combine cubed bread with pepper, salt, thyme, basil and marjoram in a large bowl.  Set aside.
2.)  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
3.)  In a medium-sized skillet, melt butter and when foaming, add the onion and celery and saute for about 5 minutes.
4.)  Add minced garlic and saute briefly but do not toast.
5.)  Remove from heat and stir in the parsley.
6.)  Combine eggs, milk and one-half of the cheese.
7.)  Season egg mixture with salt and pepper to taste.
8.)  Pour butter and sauted vegetables over bread cubes and herbs; stir well to combine.
9.)  Pour egg mixture over bread mixture and stir well so that bread absorbs the liquid.
10.)  Spread mixture evenly in a well-greased 9 x 13 pan and sprinkle with remaining cheese.  At this point, you can cover your pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you're ready to bake (as long as overnight).
11.)  Bake for approximately 50 to 55 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean.
12.)  Cut into squares and serve with Cream Gravy (recipe follows) and Fried Sage (procedure follows).  Serves 8 hungry people.

Cream Gravy:

1/2 lb. pork sausage (such as Jimmy Dean's)
3 Tbs. flour
1 cup cream or half and half
2 cups milk
kosher salt to taste
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper

1.)  Fry pork sausage in a medium-size pan or skillet, crumbling it up as it cooks.
2.)  Off heat, remove sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon to another dish, leaving drippings and fond in pan.
3.)  Return pan to heat and add flour, stirring well with a sturdy spatula or whisk to blend flour and fat, cooking until bubbling.
4.)  Add cream and milk to pan gradually and continue to stir until well-blended and there are no lumps from the flour mixture.
5.)  Cook until mixture begins to slowly boil, reduce heat if necessary and add salt to taste.
6.)  Remove from heat and add nutmeg, white pepper and cooked sausage along with any drippings.  Stir well to blend.
7.)  Serve with Savory Bread Pudding and garnish with Fried Sage (see below for procedure).  Makes about 3 1/2 cups.

Fried Sage:

Several fresh sage leaves, washed and dried
2 Tbs. oil

Heat oil in a medium-size skillet over medim-high heat until rippling.  Add sage leaves and fry until darkened and crisped, less than a minute.  Remove sage leaves from oil and drain on paper towels until ready to use.  You can fry these a day ahead and store them airtight.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Crab diabolo on pasta with cotija cheese

Inspired by a recent post on the Saveur Facebook page which featured Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter, I created, by sheer alchemy (as her son Guiliano rightly claims), a simple, deliciously rich sauce comprised of three basic ingredients.  Canned plum tomatoes.  Butter.  Onion. 

It took less than an hour. 

Photo credit: Todd Colemann

This sauce is my new staple.  I was enchanted by the silkiness and texture, and the fine balance of acid and fat.  I find that it graces the most humble of dishes and is very compliant in forming the foundation of something magically delectable.  Our maiden voyage with Marcella's Sauce (as I have come to call it) was a simple dinner of thin spaghetti, a pork chop breaded with panko, Romano cheese and Penzey's Italian Herb Mix and lightly pan-fried a la Milanese, and plenty of Marcella's Sauce on both pasta and pork.  A final flourish of freshly grated Romano cheese and a crispy salad of bitter greens dressed with a bracing vinaigrette was all it took to win us over on a Monday night.

But here I must reveal the symptoms of my hoarder mentality: I didn't want to use all the sauce up just yet, even though I could make more very easily.  This sauce was so good, I wanted to dole it out sparingly, even though I always have a large can of plum tomatoes hanging around in my pantry as well as plenty of butter and onions.  The salt and pepper also called for in the recipe?  I sleep with them under my pillow.

The thought of running out of Marcella's Sauce, however, gave me a jolt of anxiety.  Running out of this sauce would be like running out of wine.  Unthinkable.

And here is where hoarder mentality has its blind spots: having Marcella's Sauce in the fridge made me over-confident about my ability to produce what I have come to think of as A Memorable Dinner.  Like having several dozen pieces of mismatched formal glassware and china and far less silverware makes me over-confident about my ability to entertain the entire editorial staff of Architectual Digest and have A Memorable Evening.  I can picture the polite and tight-lipped smiles.

Image from

A dinner of pasta with sauce (even Marcella's Sauce), a little cheese and no significant amount of protein--though it may be sufficient for some--does not give me a sense of security.  Dinner might be the last meal I ever eat should I die in the night, I reason.  What if I wake up hungry?  What if all those carbs make my blood sugar crash?  I am anxious about hunger and blood sugar for a reason: those middle-of-the-night events are disruptive to my sleep, which, as some of you know, is not something that comes to me easily.  Luckily, I am not often anxious about dying in my sleep--since there is so little of it.  I rather think I will die fully alert and conscious. 

And I'd like to think I'd handle that gracefully.  Perhaps I'll even have matching glassware, silverware and china by then.

And so, last night, forced to consider the bleak possibilities resulting from the fact that I had removed no protein from the freezer for dinner before leaving the house that morning, I ransacked the pantry in hopes of finding something that would inspire me.

Aha!  A can of Bumble Bee Brand crabmeat sat at eye level under a can of red Thai chile paste, a tin of anchovies and a package of dried shiitake mushrooms.  Where did this can of crabmeat come from?  I had no idea, since I'd like to believe that canned crabmeat is not something I'd feel compelled to put into my shopping cart.  Its texture leaves a lot to be desired and the flavor?  Well, what flavor? 

However, considering that perhaps the crabmeat had appeared in my pantry rather like manna had appeared to the Israelites, I eagerly seized the can and now had a pan and a plan:  Marcella's buttery, rich sauce would be the perfect medium for crabmeat diabolo over some leftover cooked pasta.

Psych!  You thought I was going to find a way to incorporate the chile paste, anchovies and shiitake mushrooms!  Didn't you!  Thinking about it now, Marcella's sauce would have made a lovely, rich, puttanesca-like sauce with anchovies, capers and some big, fat olives (also on the same shelf of the pantry), but I can always try that next time.
Obviously, not the same can of crabmeat that was in my pantry...the photo is too good and the lighting is much better than what's available to me in my smallish kitchen with my decrepit cell phone camera.

Into the saucepan went a big dollop of butter, some minced green onions, a fat clove of minced garlic, a very generous pinch of crushed red pepper and the drained crabmeat.  I let that simmer very gently, then added some dry white wine and a little salt, along with several heaping tablespoons of Marcella's Sauce.  I let those ingredients gently meld to preserve the structure (I was going to use the word "integrity" here, but saying that canned crabmeat has integrity is rather like saying that canned green beans have decorum) of the already overcooked canned crabmeat and then served the sauce on top of the pasta and garnished with a generous sprinkling of crumbled cotija cheese.  I confess I was too lazy to chop up some parsley for what would have been a very appropriate garnish.

This pasta was entirely satisfying, salty, rich and tangy with a pleasant heat from the crushed red pepper, and a silkiness from the butter.  Surprisingly, I could taste the sweetness of the crab.  I immediately wanted to eat it again.

Here's how you can do it:

Crab Diabolo on Pasta with Cotija Cheese

          Make the tomato sauce first; store leftovers in the freezer.  If there are any.

Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion
(as published on
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed
¼ tsp. sugar
1 28-oz. can whole, peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed by hand
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered lengthwise
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Bring butter, sugar, tomatoes, and onion, to a boil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat; reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until flavors meld and sauce is slightly reduced, about 45 minutes. Discard onion, and season sauce with salt and pepper before serving.  Makes 3 cups.

To make the crab diabolo sauce:
2 Tbs. butter
3 or 4 green onions, minced
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. (or more to taste) crushed red pepper
1 6 oz. can crabmeat, drained (or use an equivalent amount of cooked, picked crabment from the seafood counter)
kosher salt to taste
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 to 3/4 cup Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter (see recipe above)
2 to 3 cups cooked, warm pasta
4 Tbs. crumbled cotija cheese
chopped flat leaf parsley, for garnish, optional

1.)  Heat butter in a small skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat until foaming.
2.)  Add green onions, garlic, crushed red pepper and crabmeat.
3.)  Simmer very gently for about 2 minutes, reducing heat if necessary.  You don't want to break down the crabmeat.
4.)  Add salt to taste, then add white wine and continue to simmer gently.
5.)  Add Tomato Sauce and heat through.
6.)  Divide pasta between two plates or pasta bowls and spoon diabolo sauce over pasta.
7.)  Divide cotija cheese between the plates and garnish with chopped parsley if using.  Serves 2.