It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Trust me, it has not been for lack of interesting gastronomical happenings (Frozen custard! A flour mill visit! King Arthur baking classes!). My never-intentional summer hiatus from food writing crept up on me as the sunny days begged to be enjoyed to their fullest by kayak, bike, and foot while they could, and the glory of summer fair demanded simple reveling. That and an all-consuming couple of months of job-searching quickly evolved into an all-consuming couple of weeks of moving and training and starting a new chapter. This is why I now come to you writing from a new kitchen tucked into the mountains of the Berkshires! Back in the place where so much sweet treat searching was done, I am excited to pick up where I left off and find the best slices of cake, Sunday doughnuts, and ice cream cones I can.
This also means that for the first time ever, I will be situated with a full kitchen to myself and tasked with navigating cooking for one on a recent-college-grad budget. While I had myself situated with a small, slightly contraband cooktop, a couple of pots and pans, and a reduced meal plan in favor of grocery money for my senior year to cook in my single dorm, it was not really the same as having a full kitchen to myself. And the past year and a half has had me cooking from an extremely well-equipped kitchen, but for a family of 3-4 depending on the time of year. Now, the time has come to explore reduced recipe sizes, strategic grocery buying, and emphasizing transformative processes rather than fancy ingredients. That, and no longer spending multiple hours preparing every aspect of a dinner from scratch. On workdays, at least.
So, what has my cooking looked like in this first, harried week in the Berkshires? I have the benefit of a well-sized and set-up kitchen space that is equipped with all the usual appliances. I was able to bring many of the standard tools on the move (aside from furniture I think kitchen equipment took up the most vehicle space), and what basics I hadn’t acquired over the years I got on arrival. Along with the hard goods, some actual food made the journey as well, giving me a starter pantry of three eggplants from the garden, some peaches from a neighbor, a tub each of white and red miso, a jar of yeast, a bag of AP Flour, chocolate wafers, cocoa powder, a jumble of decanted spices and, of course, Demeter the Sourdough Starter.
The first few days, being filled with moving, moving, training, and more moving, consisted heavily of takeout from local places. So, my first real cooking happened Sunday. I tossed a few options about in my head, trying to settle on something that felt momentous enough to mark my first real cooking foray in the new place, but reasonable for one person to make for themselves. Given the amount of eggplant I had, that was the clear jumping-off point. But what cuisine? What delivery method? And how much to start me off? Grilling with a simple seasoning – my favorite simple summertime option for eggplant and zucchini, or really any veg – was now out of the question. And even if I could, I hadn’t had the time to make a loaf of bread yet to have it with, nor the herbs to chop and mix into Greek yogurt that would have felt compulsory to round out the simple standard.
But what I lacked in bread I made up for in other grains. And when I let go of the idea of a well-grilled slice of sourdough, I quickly embraced an evening adventure with a pasta shape that was new to me – campanelle. It’s been a hot and happening year in the world of pasta shapes (which, after having gotten the opportunity to execute multiple tests, I have to say is worth the hype) but with the many shapes thrown around in discussion, campanelle is not one I recall seeing or hearing about before happening upon it in the store. Like a small flower on the verge of blooming, the pasta ravels into itself, and is accented by some medium ruffles on top. I was interested to see whether its thin and coiled design would prove too fragile to withstand a pasta with chunks, or if it would be ideal for catching bits in its bud. I boiled a half box just short of al dente, and threw it in with a mess of diced eggplant, tomato, arugula, and a crumble of feta, seasoned with a squeeze of lemon, oregano, and basil, and found not a tear amongst the bunch. In fact, it ended up being the perfect mix with bits of feta finding their way into the nooks and crannies of the pasta, and the dice of the eggplant and tomato being just the right size to nestle in as well when they saw fit. Bright yet earthy, salty and with a bite from a healthy few grinds of black pepper, it was a perfect pantry pasta to kick off the kitchen.
Since then, I’ve managed to make my way through the rest of the eggplant by means of a Yuzu Miyozaki glazed one over rice and frying the last one into coins for variations on eggplant parm. There’s been vinegar chicken, minimized pancakes, improvised fry-hash, and truly luxurious tacos. And, for the most part, I have not bogged myself down with immutable leftovers. I may be cooking for one now with a different set of tools at my disposal, but the kitchen remains as expansive as my mind allows it to be.