We often use the Internet as a vehicle for bitching and complaining, and I suppose that’s OK. But sometimes things go well, and we should talk about that too. With a hairdresser anecdote and pasta-sauce recipe.

It was an at-home Vancouver Saturday, our much-belated summer now fully in residence. On impulse I joined the afternoon pickup soccer game. At my age, an hour’s soccer with no pulls or sprains is a minor triumph, and chasing a bouncy sphere around a nice grass field on a sunny afternoon is really very refreshing.

Now a bit of back story; on Friday, I went for a haircut because after all I’m keynoting a conference in Mexico City on Tuesday. The lady who cuts my hair has a tiny comfy one-seat shop and serves only men. She has a TV to watch while she cuts, but if you’re there on a weekday you’re going to be watching women’s TV; on Friday it was some food channel with a handsome young Anglo-Italian doing pasta sauces. Never in a million years would I sit down and tune in such a channel, but I admit enjoying it, and it gave me ideas for dinner.

They were doing a Puttanesca recipe, but I loathe anchovies, so I made this variation:

  1. Cover the bottom of a frying pan with olive oil. Heat it up gently.

  2. Peel and cut up a bunch of shallots and a few cloves of garlic, and put them in the oil. Adjust the temperature so the oil’s not smoking but the veggies are sizzling softly. Let this go on for a while; it’ll take 20 minutes or more before the shallots and garlic are nicely golden-brown but not burned. This process smells really good.

  3. Pit and cut up a bunch of olives.

  4. Cut up a large chorizo sausage. I sliced it really fine for maximum flavor extraction, but I guess you could also go for larger chunks for sinking one’s teeth into.

  5. When the shallot mix is ready, dump in the chorizo and olives and a can or two of chopped tomatoes, along with half of a small can of tomato paste.

  6. You could add extra seasonings at this point, in particular some basil and a bit of something hot-&-spicy, but I didn’t.

  7. Simmer till you can’t resist the smell any more, and you’ve cooked up some good pasta to put the sauce on.

This is quite a lot of chopping and peeling and so on. I put on Robert Silverman’s Final Sonatas Beethoven recording, but I’m sure that any of Jack White’s recent oeuvre would serve just as well.

I made more pasta and sauce than I thought I’d need, but then we picked up an extra 12-year-old and everyone had seconds, so there were no leftovers. If I were going to change one thing it’d be the choice of olives; I picked up dry seasoned Moroccans, along with an outstanding chorizo and some soft cheese for lunch, at our excellent local Benton Brothers. The Moroccans were overly salty and unsubtle; I think next time I’d stick with your basic Kalamatas, which also have the advantage that you can buy them pre-pitted in a supermarket; pitting olives is slow and irritating.

This, eaten on the back porch in the slanting sun with a decent 2008 Argentinian Malbec, left me really nothing at all to complain about.

How about you? Got a pleasant-afternoon story to share?


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Josh Bloch (Aug 06 2011, at 22:08)

You should get an olive pitter (e.g., http://www.amazon.com/OXO-Good-Grips-Cherry-Pitter/dp/B000NQ925K). Once you have one, it's downright fun to pit olives.


From: BWJones (Aug 06 2011, at 22:12)

You may loathe anchovies, but try just a bit of anchovy paste as you are building your pasta sauce by squeezing in a teaspoon or two just after the tomatoes go in and sautéing that around some before adding your olives. http://prometheus.med.utah.edu/~bwjones/2006/12/seafood-pasta/

As for olives, I like to use the kalamata and Cerignola olives early in the sauce building. There is a substance and a pepperiness to the Cerignolas that is wonderful.


From: Alex Pretzlav (Aug 07 2011, at 08:12)

You may not like the salty flavorless anchovies used at typical pizza places, but puttanesca really shines with just a bit of high quality anchovies in oil, the kind that come in a small glass jar.

Added early and in moderation they'll more or less dissolve into the sauce as it cooks, imparting a richness that doesn't taste fishy at all. Asian fish sauces play the same role in many asian dishes.


From: Michael Zajac (Aug 07 2011, at 10:34)

In a pinch, pitting olives with a chopstick is more graceful than cutting or stripping the meat off with the fingers.

Hold an olive firmly, and poke it through the pointy end, sending the pit out of its navel.


From: schvin (Aug 07 2011, at 11:56)

great post - thank you.

i implore you to post a photo next time!


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