We have a pretty great rule in my house: when one person cooks, the other one cleans up.
No messy gender politics to contend with, no overburdened spouses. Everyone enjoys a nice home-cooked meal, and the kitchen is sparkling clean by nine o’clock. Perhaps my husband and I should write a book, having discovered such a vital shortcut to marital harmony. (Credit goes to my grandparents, Tom and Catherine, as this was their habit, too.)
Now, it might be obvious by now that I really love to cook. I find the rhythms of the kitchen deeply soothing. I love the tactile pleasure of chopping and stirring and smelling. It’s those ancient patterns of domestic life, centered around the hearth and the table, that bind us together as families, as nations, and as a species. We miss them terribly when they’re absent (hence the popularity of cooking shows and non-functional fireplaces) and that absence probably makes us sick (the American obesity epidemic). Cooking, in other words, is important.
But for whatever reason, I haven’t felt like doing it for about a week. Maybe two. Just the idea of cooking makes me a little cranky. The tedium of it all. I’ve gone out to eat with friends, stood in line at taquerias and tried to sell “turkey sandwich night” as a new culinary fad I’ve been dying to try. (Really big in New York right now. It’s going to be the next cupcake.)
So, what to do? I could choke down a ready-made meal or takeout again, but that doesn’t appeal. I want something good. I could, given the bargain struck with my husband, hand over the cooking reins and just clean up afterward. Maybe I’ll request Matt’s eggplant parmigiana, which is his mother’s recipe and a thing of beauty. Oh, but all those pots and pans. I just can’t. I am feeling supremely lazy and I just can’t.
But then, a promising stroke of luck: there’s a head of radicchio in the crisper and a fluff of Italian parsley on the windowsill. Yes! The Super Yummy Pasta Dish With the Egg on Top! (It’s how I generally refer to it. Clunky, I know, but it stuck.) In thirty minutes, we’ll be slurping up a delectable pasta and I won’t have to contend with those infernal dishes afterward. I didn’t even need to go to the grocery store. This is practically cheating!
Now, forgive me a little detour, if you will. (It’s in the name of science.)
At the turn of the last century, Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda detected a new specific taste, umami, adding it to the more familiar pantheon of sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Umami (which roughly translates, rather unhelpfully, to “delicious”) is essentially the specific taste receptor for monosodium glutamate, the much-maligned chemical known commercially as the additive MSG. Ikeda found that flavor-intensifying MSG occurs naturally in many foods, including fish sauce, anchovies, Parmesan, certain seafoods and ripe tomatoes. (It’s why Asian and Italian cuisines taste so good, I reckon.)
More recently, toxicologists have found that MSG doesn’t bother most people, even in large quantities, and the additive now gets filed under the FDA’s not-really-confidence-inspiring category “Generally Regarded As Safe”, along with salt and vinegar. (Much better to get MSG in its natural state, of course, from your Parm and anchovies than processed and powdered in your kung-pao.)
Why the science lesson? Well, I just bought a copy of food scientist Harold McGee’s fabulously geeky On Food and Cooking, for one. And second, if you take a glance at the ingredient list below, you might realize now just how intensely savory this pappardelle recipe is. This here is a ridiculously, wildly umami dish. It is just about guaranteed to knock your dishwasher’s socks off.
Bagna cauda (or “hot bath” in Italian) is traditionally served as a warm vegetable dip; here it takes the place of a sauce, to rich, flavorful effect. You won’t use all that much radicchio (a type of chicory whose bitterness will get tamed by the sauce), so shred the rest of the head and throw it into salads during the week. And if you think a fried egg on top doesn’t improve most foods (croque madames, rice and/or beans, braised greens, rye toast), well, you will after you try this.
Pappardelle with Bagna Cauda and Olive Oil-Fried Egg
adapted from Nancy Silverton’s A Twist of the Wrist
- 4 ounces egg pappardelle
- 3 T butter, diced
- 1/4 C extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 10 anchovy fillets, very finely chopped
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1/8 C flat Italian parsley, finely chopped (plus an additional T for garnish)
- 1/2 tsp lemon zest
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 2 large eggs
- 6 radicchio leaves, torn into large pieces
- Parmigiano-Reggiano wedge, for grating
- salt and pepper
Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil and prep the ingredients. Add pappardelle to the pasta water and return to a boil. Cook according to your package instructions until al dente: toothsome and a little chewy, but not starchy tasting.
Meanwhile, prepare the bagna cauda: heat butter, 1/8 C olive oil, anchovies and garlic in a large skillet over medium high heat. Use a fork or a wooden spoon to mash the anchovies until they melt away into the sauce, about 3 minutes. (Anchovy-phobic friends won’t even know they’re there.) Reduce heat to low and continue to stir, another 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and add parsley, zest, lemon juice and radicchio. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat 1/8 C olive oil in a medium nonstick skillet over high heat for 2 minutes, until the oil is shimmering and nearly smoking. Break the first egg into a small bowl and pour the egg into the skillet (mind the spatters so you don’t wreck what you’re wearing). Let the egg set for a few moments and repeat with the second egg. Cook for about 2 minutes, until the edges are tawny brown and crispy, the whites are set and the yolks are still runny. (The whites will poof and puff up in the pan and deflate once you take them out.) Use a slotted spoon and move them to a plate.
When the pasta is finished, use tongs to transfer the pappardelle directly from the pasta water to the bagna cauda skillet. Toss to combine. Heat for an additional minute or two.
Transfer pasta to serving plates. Generously grate Parmigiano-Reggiano on top, and transfer one fried egg to each plate. Sprinkle pasta with the reserved tablespoon of parsley and fresh ground pepper. Serves two. Let the dishes soak ’til tomorrow and have another glass of wine.