Simple Perfection, Perfectly Simple

My pal and sometime Skinny Girls sidekick Bob and his lovely wife Shoba came for dinner the other night with a small tub of gazpacho.

“Bob, this is incredible!” another dinner guest gushed upon first taste.

Cacio e pepe

Cacio e pepe

“Sean’s recipe,” Bob immediately fessed up. Although I must immediately fess up, it is the simplest off all recipes — ripe tomatoes, stale bread, water, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and salt into the blender. Done.

Simplest of all recipes besides, perhaps, one of Italy’s easiest, most delicious pastas — cacio e pepe. Or, roughly translated, “cheese & pepper”.

All the world’s great, simple dishes are the sum of the very best parts — sushi, for example, depends entirely on the quality of the fish and the rice. Traditional cacio e pepe is composed of three ingredients — pasta, cheese and pepper. I add butter and chopped parsley because I like to, and a real Roman might tell you that I have completely @#$*ed it up. But I am particular about the quality of the butter and the parsley. If I’m counting on five ingredients to make my dish a success, you better bet I care.

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Speaking of those five ingredients… the dish will be tasty even if you purchase whichever brands of spaghetti, pecorino, butter, parsley and pepper they’ve got at the local Safeway (or, because I can track readers on six of the seven continents, whatever the local grocery store in your neck of the woods/jungle/savannah/desert may be). But I highly recommend finding a beautiful aged pecorino, the highest quality spaghetti you can (I like spaghetti alla chitarra), fresh organic parsley, a freshly churned or raw butter and some tellicherry pepper.

If you’re like me, I’m guessing you won’t want to drink a white wine with this. And fortunately, the towering flavors of the pecorino and pepper stand up nicely to a medium to full-body red — try a Chianti or a California zinfandel or sangiovese.

And please… enjoy!

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Cacio e pepe
serves 4-6

1 lb. spaghetti
1 packed cup grated pecorino romano
1 heaping tbsp. best quality butter
2 tbsp. freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Cook spaghetti to al dente in a large pot of salted water.

Drain spaghetti, retaining 1/2 cup of the pasta water.

Return spaghetti to pot. Toss spaghetti with remaining ingredients until creamy and incorporated.

Season to taste with salt and serve.

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Wild Agave

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In the Northeast, we discovered that the bumpy line in the middle of the road is called a “rumblestrip”, what appears for all practical purposes to the Californian eye to be a lake is actually called a “pond,” and a small structure for camping is called a “lean to.”

Sagamore

Sagamore

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IMG_7996

It was our fifth night at the Buck Summerhill Camp in Big Wolf. And they were sick of my cooking, I could tell.

“We’re going to have a fridge tilt tonight!” Nancy announced, explaining the camp tradition of a big dinner to clear out leftovers and uneaten stuff. “So you can have a night off.”

I imagined them whispering in the bedroom:

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Host dad Dan tends to the important stuff

Host dad Dan tends to the important stuff

It all started with a text from my friend and oft-Skinny-Girls sidekick, Dan. His wife was out of town, he was at home with the kids, did we all want to get together over the weekend? Turns out my wife was going out for a “girl’s night” for a pal’s birthday on Saturday, and Dad’s Night was ON. More

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