Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Last Supper: In Memoriam

The last meal of the year should be special in some way, and I always make myself something of which I am particularly fond, like a good veal chop or an old-fashioned London broil; something symbolic, like lentils; or something I don’t often have time to do, like a classic lobster bisque with a New England twist.  Whatever it is, it is something comforting. This year, as all you true foodies know, was a year of lost luminaries in the food world, and two in particular, Marcella Hazan and Judy Rogers, were old kitchen friends of mine. What to make in memoriam for the year and these women whose food has comforted me and millions over many years?  I will save Judy Rogers’s roast chicken with bread salad for another tribute meal, soon. Marcella and I go way back, and it is one simple dish—spaghetti with smothered onions—that I have made and loved scores of times, that seems the perfect punctuation for the year, and the perfect emblem of the genius of Italian cooking.

After the news of Mrs. Hazen’s death, when everyone was talking about their favorite dishes, I realized that I had really learned to make Italian food from her books, The Classic Italian Cookbook and More Classic Italian Cooking. This actually came to me as somewhat of a shock, because I had literally internalized so many of the recipes that I scarcely open the books anymore, which I bought when they were first published by Knopf: 1976  and 1978, respectively—I was still in my 20s! I had completely forgotten, for example, that I learned to make pizza, which I made every single Friday night for more than 20 years, and still do often, from her second book. I still make my dough, and my sauce, the same way. I could list dozens of dishes that are just as second-nature, and just as frequently made.

Marcella Hazan once said, “"I am never bored by a good old dish and I wouldn't shrink from making something that I first made fifty years ago and my mother, perhaps, fifty years before then.”  I couldn’t agree more.

Happy 2014. Eat well, and stay healthy.

Spaghetti col Sugo di Cipolle
(Spaghetti with Smothered Onions)

I have made only one minor change to this perfect recipe, indicated below. It contains lard, which you all know I adore; you can substitute butter or use all olive oil if you must. But do try the lard in Mrs. Hazan’s honor. Serves 4-6 as a first course.

1 ½ T lard
5 T extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ lb sweet onions, liced very thin
Freshly ground pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg (my addition; optional)
½ cup dry white wine
2 T chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Heat the oil and lard in a large sauté pan; add the onions, cover, and cool over very low heat for 45 min or more, til soft.  Uncover, raise the heat to medium-high, and cook until golden brown, scraping with a wooden spoon occasionally. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper, and a whisper of nutmeg. Add the wine, raise the heat, and stir until the wine has boiled away and you have a golden, creamy-looking mass. Stir in the parsley and remove from the heat.

Cook the spaghetti until firm—about 10-12 minutes. Reheat the sauce gently. Drain the pasta and add to the sauté pan; raise the heat and toss for a minute. Serve with the grated cheese, tossing lightly. You can also have a little garlic bread, really a bruschetta, the way Mrs. Hazen directs: toast the bread lightly; rub with a smashed clove of fresh garlic; and drizzle fairly generously with olive oil so it softens nicely. Mangia!