Recently, I gave a copy of my book, “Man with a Pan,” to Kevin Burget, an old friend of mine and of Santa Maria’s. Apparently, the way I signed it had far-reaching consequences: As it is said, "When a butterfly flaps its wings in the Sahara, a hurricane is born in the Atlantic," and in this case, my few words put Kevin behind the stove for the first time in a long while. Here’s what happened:
JD's inscription in this lovely book proved to be a double-edged butter knife. In jaunty book-signing crabbed marker, he had written the words "You make all the other cooking dads look good." This was ostensibly a thanks for my having filmed countless videos of John creating extravagant meals in his home, (well, I had filmed one) and thanks were duly appreciated--that is until my daughter got a hold of the book.
To her the inscription's meaning was plain. In my efforts to cook I made ALL the other cooking dads look good. It took a 10-year old to discern the author's intent. That night, as I had not in recent memory, I reacquainted myself with the knobs for the burners, always challenged to discover which corresponded to which. The schematic showed a simple grid of four beside each knob. But by what consensus was it reached that the top left meant the BACK of the stove, not the front. It depended on whether you looked at the stove from above or below.
This had always troubled me, almost as much as it had my wife, and it usually marked the point at which the oven mitts were taken from me and put beyond my reach. At any rate, this time, the gauntlet having been thrown by a best-selling author, I retrieved it. And my family was not sorry. In fact it marked what I expect the future will recount to be the moment of my redemption.
As more and more meals created by me hit the table redolent of my self-confidence, our impaired family has been made whole again. The pants are again mine to wear. Which suits others just fine when I cook. The meal of my redeeming? Pasta, with fresh basil, diced fresh mozzarella, diced fresh tomatoes, and salt to taste drizzled and tossed with olive oil.
The trick is to let the pasta--cappellini or spaghetti work best, but any of the screwy cousins to these will do--to let the pasta cool somewhat, but not entirely so that as you toss with the ingredients it gently spreads the fresh mozzarella in a stringy way throughout without letting it clump like a nerve ganglion in the pot.
This is a meal my kids actually crave, and is one of the few meals that also happens to bridge current family life with the newlywed devil-may-care cooking days. So it's a brilliant synthesis of time and taste. To which I owe John Donohue everlasting thanks, and a meal some day! In the meantime I savor each page of this wonderful book while my spouse does the dishes.
Summer Tomato-Mozzarella Pasta Extravaganza
- 1 lb pasta of choice
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
- Two small cloves garlic, pressed
- 1/2 lb or so, fresh mozzarella, chopped
- 3 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, diced
- 1/4 cup or so olive oil
- Salt to taste
Cook pasta in pot of water.
Combine all other ingredients in serving bowl.
Drain pasta in colander. Put trace amount of olive oil in pot. Return pasta to pot and swish around to get noodles unsticky with eachother. Let noodles cool for about 2 minutes.
Turn pasta into the serving bowl and toss thoroughly with the mixed ingredients. Mozzarella should string about nicely if done right; comes with practice.
Receive compliments with an air surprise and humility.
Use the lure of preparing this meal again within a week as negotiating tool with children.