When recipes became widely available and searchable online, it changed the way many of us cooked. No longer did we go to our trusted recipe files or our shelves full of cookbooks and decide what we were having for dinner. There were elements of both trust and experimentation in our old cooking libraries. Some days we would go to the tattered, stained pages and cook what we knew was going to be delicious. And on others, we’d flip through the pages of a new cookbook or one we had never used before and decide to put our faith in the author.
There were no search fields where we could type in the ingredients we had on hand and magically find a recipe that used them all. There were no reviews where we could see what hundreds or thousands of other people thought of the meal. There was no reading a five paragraph theme about why the recipe was horrible, even though the cook changed half the directions and half the ingredients. “I substituted tofu for the chicken thighs in this Buttermilk Fried Chicken recipe and it was horrible! I also baked it instead of frying it. Zero stars.”
Perhaps it’s nostalgia or just wanting to take my eyes away from the computer, but there are some days I just want to pull an old cookbook off the shelf and remove myself from the data overload of food websites. (By the way, the irony of writing this on my food website is fully appreciated.) If I want to make homemade gnocchi, there are thousands of recipes and hundreds of reviews. Hundreds of small variations on a relatively simple dish. Data overload. Some days I don’t want the responsibility of making the choice. I just want to be put in trusted hands and enjoy the ride.
So, on those days, I pull a book off the shelf and open it up to a recipe I remember making for my husband and our two good friends. I remember the evening in our old house (three moves ago) and the sunny backyard and the bottles of red wine we consumed with the meal. I remember our kids all running around the house, probably playing dress up or singing made up songs while we ate dinner. The baby is now in middle school. The rest are in high school and college.
I made Alice Water’s Spinach Lasagna on a Sunday. I spent the day in the kitchen rolling out pasta, making tomato sauce, and counting layers of cheesy goodness as I listened to the silence of pre-teens and teens (secluded in their rooms) and scolded two wrestling dogs who stay by my side. The scolding takes time, but it fills my kitchen with the noise I need as children grow. On this Sunday, I made the lasagna in a different house, in a different state, and getting close to an age that makes me think about Botox.
But as evening approached, the dogs found their beds, the husband abandoned the sports on TV, the children emerged from their rooms, and the red wine was poured. I never found the time to shower or exercise, but we sunk into the moments of lasagna and family and a fleeting night of togetherness. Nights that are hard to come by. Nights where you want to feel the dough, smell the sauce, savor the lasagna, and store the moments in your brain forever. Nights where you want Alice to take the wheel so you can enjoy looking out the window.
Find the Spinach Lasagna recipe in “The Art of Simple Food” by Alice Waters. I highly recommend the the sauce and pasta dough recipes too. I like all of her variations, but I always add fresh mozzarella to the mix. Definitely also try out her Scone recipe. Be sure to add chocolate chips and take them to a neighbor on a snow day.