Friday, January 12, 2007

Confessions of a Recipe

Shit. Last night I mentioned my delicious dinner of pasta with lemon cream sauce. I almost posted the recipe but didn’t, because then I would have had to admit where it was from. Well, Gaijin Girl had an inquiring mind. I promised to post, and so I will oblige. Figures this is the night that my dear Yetta, aka Dear Prudence, perhaps the best cook in the world after my mother (sorry, Yetta, but if she ever finds out about this blog, she’ll not only kill me for the "Dirty Little Secret" post and my liberal use of the word “fuck,” but she’ll also get me for insulting her cooking), joins the blogging ranks.

True to my word, the recipe follows, but there’s a story to tell first. You can skip it if you want; the recipe is really good, and I’ve also introduced a variation. In fact, why don’t you skip my story that I’m telling to cover my shame. I’ll feel better.

The Story

Tagliatelle with Lemon comes from one of five self-help books I’ve ever purchased (when you think about it, as a thirty-three-year-old American woman, I’m doing great in that department). Here’s why I bought it.

Two years ago, around this time, I stepped onto the doctor’s scale and wanted to cut off my ass. WHAT THE HELL!? I WEIGH WHAT???!!! FUUUUUUUUCK!!! It was the single biggest number I’ve ever, ever, tipped the scales at. I walked out of that office, utterly defeated, at my All Time Fat (ATF).

That’s it, I resolved. Something must be done. But what? In my early twenties, I did the no-fat thing and reached my All Time Skinny (ATS). It was the only time in my adult life I had people trying to feed me because I was too thin. Thing is, non-fat “cheese” is disgusting. My diet was terrible, consisting of mostly instant soup, fat-free quesadillas (fat-free “tortillas” with non-fat “refried beans,” non-fat cheese, and salsa), and eggbeaters. Not to mention all those fucking SnackWells. Part of the reason why my diet sucked was because I didn’t know how to cook, but mostly it was because I was afraid of food. Still, enough was enough. Wanting flavors back, even if they came from restaurant food, I eventually gave up. Up, up, up went the scales.

In my late twenties, determined to do something about the bod again, I gave veganism a go and became obsessive about exercising. I ate soy “cheese” and joined a gym. That worked too. Although I have nothing but respect for vegans, for me, life without real cheese is downright depressing. And I hate workout machines, not to mention gym culture. While in the process of changing jobs and moving, I lost the rhythm. I also learned how to cook around then, but not how to eat. However popular it might have been, I looked upon the Atkins Diet with scorn. What kind of diet dissed bananas, but allowed people to eat steak with butter and bacon, washed down with a gallon of Gallo? So, I cooked up and ate my fat and carbs and didn’t find a suitable, regular exercise routine. It took a while, but eventually I wound up at my ATF. I was so depressed.

I’ve mentioned before that I work for a publishing company (I’m not an editor, so don’t get snarky about my grammar). We get a subscription to Publishers Weekly to keep us current with the industry. I usually spend my Friday afternoons reading the book reviews (and looking for typos—that rag has a shocking number of them). Right after I’d hit the ATF, I happened to come across a review for this “diet” book that wasn’t, well, a diet book. It was a book on how to enjoy food without being fat. That sounded far more appealing than a life without real cheese, so I picked it up.

Say whatever you want about this book—that it is a commercial for that wino company she works for, or that that leek soup is one of the more vile things ever concocted, or that there’s a very good reason why French women don’t get fat, and it nothing to do with sensible eating habits (cigarettes, anyone?)—French Women Don’t Get Fat has a lot of good advice. (Oh, God, did I just admit to owning that book? Please, stop reading this. Just skip to the recipe. Please. This is humiliating.) In it, Mireille Guiliano describes how one can eat real food, really insanely good food, with all the fat and calories, and not turn into a photo-op for a photojournalist doing a story on American obesity. It just involves a little discipline, playful self-deception, and common sense.

When I’ve followed her advice (I fell off the wagon for a bit, owing to some personal stressful circumstances, Ex-Boyfriend’s penchant for pizza and Indian food, and the aftermath of the infamous e-mail), I look great. Not only that, I am healthy. And fucking happy because I can eat real cheese.

In addition to the good advice, French Women Don’t Get Fat also contains some kickass recipes. I’ve served some of the dishes from this book to unwitting guests, and I always get applause. The bread recipe is simply amazing. So is Tagliatelle with Lemon. Here’s the recipe.

The Recipe, with Variation

Tagliatelle with Lemon
(serves four—I cut this down to one portion)

You’ll Need:
12 ounces tagliatelle
4 lemons
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces crème fraîche
4 ounces parmesan cheese (NOTE: If you use fresh-grated, good parmesan, this will come out much better)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

To Assemble:
Cook the tagliatelle in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain.

While the pasta is cooking, grate the zest of lemons and squeeze and reserve the juice of 1 lemon.

In a saucepan, warm up the olive oil, add the zest, and cook over low flame for 2 minutes. Add the crème fraîche and bring to a boil; pour in the reserved lemon juice and bring to a boil again.

When the cream starts to thicken, add the parmesan, season to taste, mix well, and cook for another minute. Add the drained pasta and toss to mix. Serve immediately.

Free-Styled Variation, with Mushrooms
I made this up tonight, and I don’t have exact measurements for this, but you should get the idea.

You’ll Need:
Mushrooms (I used oyster and cremini [porcini would be delicious]; don’t use those icky white things popular in grocery stores), enough for the portions you are cooking (I used four cremini and four pieces of oyster mushrooms to feed me, and it did nicely), sliced

Shallots (I used a generous slice from a medium-sized shallot to feed one, but if you really like them, you could do a bit more), chopped finely

A bit less olive oil, and a small amount of butter (adjust for the servings, but I used a dab)

The crème fraîche (you might need a bit more), a smidge less of the lemon juice (I squeezed a half-lemon lightly to feed me), parmesan, and the salt and freshly ground pepper listed above

Flat leaf parsley, for garnish, chopped

To Assemble:
This pretty much follows the method above, except that while the water for the pasta is boiling, sauté the mushrooms and shallots in the olive oil and butter in a saucepan.

Cook the tagliatelle until al dente and drain.

Once the mushrooms have cooked, turn down the heat. After a minute or so, add the crème fraîche. You might need a bit more than for the lemon sauce, but take it easy. Bring to a boil. Add the lemon juice. Bring to a boil again. Follow directions above. Garnish with the parsley.

NOTE: Both recipes call for Italian-style portions. In Italy, pasta is never the main course. Plan for a second course (I’m a vegetarian, but I’m a non-judgmental one, so I won’t tell you what to do), and follow with a salad and whatever subsequent courses you will. Please, drink wine, unless you can’t. If you are looking to lose weight, be aware that this is still a caloric bomb. I didn’t overindulge for breakfast or lunch yesterday or today.

People love to hate the French lady. Thing is, eating like this since New Year, I’ve lost five pounds. Beats the hell out of non-fat or soy “cheese.”


dive said...

Okay; you've got me drooling (and not just for the food, hee hee).

Are you sure you're American?
I mean, not only do you have a brain, but you've realised what the world outside the US knows: that eating top food (but not to excess) is GREAT for you and makes you feel good.

Hoorah for you, Sassy. Keep it up. Though don't go totally Frenchwoman and stop shaving (Eww) …

Robyn said...

Oh, very funny about the shaving, Dive. I will give this recipe a shot, now that my husband only wants to eat soft food he doesn't have to chew. French women DO get fat, it turns out, but I have flipped through that book several times at Borders, stopping just short of buying it.

dive said...

I think you have enough recipe books, Robyn.
On second thoughts, one can NEVER have enough books, so go for it!

Sassy Sundry said...

Yes, Dive, I am American. Indeed, I'm even very American, but I know it, which, come to think of it, might make me a little less American. I'm not going to go totally Frenchwoman. I couldn't even go that route when I went vegan. I was a bit of a renegade among the vegan feminists for it. Well, that and the gym thing.

Robyn, you're right. Not all French women are skinny models. Let me know if you buy the book. Your husband will be rewarded for not chewing.

RICH said...

I have that book. It's on my list to read. Maybe you can just tell me if there's any spicey parts?

Old Knudsen said...

The japs were complaining about the Yanks saying that they can control their eating so why can't the yanks? its not acceptable to be overweight there, probably a lot of very american eating disorders.

Sassy Sundry said...

Rich, groovy new photo. I wouldn't say spicy, but she does emphasize the sensual aspects of food and pleasure. And that can be kind of spicy. As for spicy, hot food spicy, not so much.

Knudsen, the way we eat here is really and truly messed up. Regular meals are enough to feed a small former Soviet republic, and diets consist of no food at all.

RICH said...

yes The ameican diet as it's known is now found at burger king and wendys etc. Studies show that the wealthier Americans have much better eating habits and less obesity and compounded health problems as a result. So eveyone should just get rich so they can eat lots of fruits and veggies. It all comes down to lifestyle and how people are raised, or should I say what they were raised on.

I like to eat plenty of grains fruits, veggies and some protien thrown in that with lots of good ole fashion exercise will do a world of good.

Gaijin Girl said...

thanks for posting the recipe, sassy. i love the mushroom idea, and i think asparagus would work nicely too. i've been wanting to go back to vegetarianism for ages, so this will be a good recipe to keep on hand. in addition to the ingredients, now i just need:
a) more than one a single-burner camping-style stove
b) some saucepans
c) a kitchen that has more than a sink and single-burner gas stove, and that actually has some bench space.

i've heard about US-style portion sizes from americans at work. it's something they didn't question until they left the States and saw differently food is regarded here.

i'd say there would be as many eating disorders in japan as there are elsewhere. just as i thought j-girls had naturally straight hair (a lot get straightening perms) i always thought they were naturally tiny, too. turns out a lot of em just don't eat. in a clothes store recently, i picked up a tiny size 000 top and was suddenly embarassed when i realised i was shopping in the kiddies department. after a look around, the embarassment turned to horror as i had been in the women's clothing section the whole time.

the pressure here to conform and look like everyone else is probably more insidious than elsewhere, as conformity is the very basis by which society is controlled.

end rant.

Jupiter's Girl said...

Love your blog, Sassy Sundry. Funny and informative.

I saw the French woman who wrote this book on Oprah and got the bottom line before turning off the tv (hint #1 - get off the couch and do something). I thought it was way sensible to be able to indulge in a sumptious meal and then eat lighter for the next couple of them. Balance. (And, yes, cigarettes) Thanks for the recipe.

I would never attempt Atkins. Love my carbs too much. Everyone I know that lost weight on that diet found it again as soon as they ate a slice of bread and baked potato.

Sassy Sundry said...

Thanks, Jupiter Girl! Atkins just doesn't make any sense, does it? Bread is way too good to cut it out of the diet.

Dear Prudence said...

Thanks for the accolades Sassy. I will also give your recipe a try, perhaps this weekend.

Sassy Sundry said...

Great rant, Gaijin Girl. I thought I had no space and a tiny stove, but I stand corrected.

Yetta, the kudos are well deserved.

Bock the Robber said...

Oh come on. Let's not be always attacking the American people (except Dubya,of course, and associated assholes).

You'll find the best food anywhere in the States (as well as the worst, obviously, but let's look beyond the obvious). If you've never been to NY NY, you haven't eaten.

You'll also find the most sophisticated, courteous and decent of people (as well as the rednecks, obviously, etc . . .)

And the most cosmopolitan (as well as etc . . . .)

It's about time we got away from stereotypes. After all, stereotypes begat Bush, and Bush begat Eye-rack and the rest is history.

Sassy Sundry said...

New York is food heaven.

Bock, for me it isn't that American food is horrible (well, Spam is disgusting). It's the way most of us eat it. One of the things I love about eating in this country is that I can have any type of cuisine I want (I think I'd be bored to tears if I had pasta every day of my life, except summers).

Carissa said...

Oooh. I've been wanting to read that for a while. I just checked and they don't have it....but the HW libraray does. Methinks I will be making a trip to the library...