Week 6: Small Victories – V’s picks

I can’t remember how, or why, I first came into contact with Julia Turshen’s work. It’s probably through the New York Times Cooking site, or maybe through one of the many cooking magazines I subscribe to. Regardless, the second I heard about her, I knew I wanted to buy her books.

This week’s book is Small Victories, which I was quite pleased to find on Chris’s cookbook shelf when I moved in with him. I hadn’t cooked from it yet, although I have cooked a few of Turshen’s other recipes, all of which I remember being wildly popular with the family, and of course, none of which I can remember. (Which is part of the reason why I’m writing this blog. It serves as an excellent external hard drive)

Find the book here on Amazon.

One of the things that I admire most about Turshen is that she is, among other things, an activist and a promoter of equality and diversity, specifically through the lens of food. Which is pretty damned amazing, and I’m incredibly happy that at least one person is attempting to use her power, position and influence to help change the food industry.

This article in Food & Wine magazine tipped me off to some of her activism. Turshen has founded a website and directory, Equity at the Table (EATT) to promote women, people of color and LGBTQ+ identified humans who interact with the food industry. Just a cursory glance at the front page of the site shows me bloggers, chefs, farmers, photographers, nutritionists and more. I love this.

Despite buying Turshen’s books for the activism, I’ve found that her writing is generally excellent, her recipes are great and easy to follow, and her menu suggestions are fabulous. For me, this is a win/win. I was intrigued by her concept of small victories, as I generally either go for lazypants cooking, which involves putting in the bare minimum of ingredients, thought and effort, or massive feasts, which involve $300 grocery bills for a single meal, days of prep, hours of cooking, and then getting well-sloshed at the end of the evening because my feet (knees…legs…everything) will hurt for days. Her definition of small victories can be anything from helpful kitchen tips, to, as she says in the introduction, small victories show that, “…cooking doesn’t have to be complicated to be satisfying or over-the-top to be impressive.”

For my meal, I wanted something relatively quick and easy, that I could make on a weeknight, so I chose the Orecchiette with Spicy Sausage + Parmesan (pg 143).

I swear, I wanted to make this meal. I even bought the spinach that was called for in the ingredient list with the INTENTION of making the original recipe. But then I was seduced by the list of “Spin-Offs” on the following page, which, in a few brief paragraphs, told me how to switch up the original dish into a bunch of other dishes.

Suddenly, the Orecchiette with Spicy Sausage was transformed into Penne Arrabbiata. I mean… The Orecchiette did’t have any tomatoes. Who am I to make a pasta dish without tomatoes for my sorta-Italian tomato-obsessed husband? And who am I, if not a person who takes all recipes as suggestions? Here’s a cookbook author who encourages that? DONE. Challenge accepted. It’s on. The poor spinach languished in the fridge for another night.

The final product. We were all pretty happy with this.

The Arrabbiata was amazing. Spicy, lush, very tomato-y. Georgia loved it, Chris loved it, and Francis went nuts for it the following day after he got home from school. Lucinda didn’t try it, but she’s on an insane rehearsal schedule for her school’s opera production, so I forgive her.

Pseudo recipe: To make the Arrabbiata, I cooked the sausage in a big stainless steel sauté pan, and then removed the sausage. I used one Vidalia onion, thin sliced on the mandoline (and did NOT slice my finger thankyouverymuch), which I then cooked into submission in the sausage drippings. Once the onions were thoroughly “melted,” I added a few cloves of thin sliced garlic, a lot of red pepper flakes, some tomato paste and a can of whole Marzano tomatoes (squishing them to break them up as they went into the pan. Nothing is more fun than squishing tomatoes barehanded. I recommend wearing an apron though, as things get messy). And because I’m me, approximately a third of a bottle of Montepulciano, as that was what was open at the time, and it went well with the sauce.

While the wine was cooking down in the sauce, I boiled water for the pasta, and everything was done at approximately the same time.

Leftovers: Gone. I’m happy. Book was great. Can’t wait to cook more of her recipes (from the other books of hers that we have).

Chris’s picks will come tomorrow.

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