Good morning. If there’s anything we’ve learned from a pandemic spent watching people make quesabirria tacos and soondubu jjigae on TikTok, it’s that culinary authenticity is a slippery concept: internet fame, as Tejal Rao told us recently, both broadens demand for particular dishes and flattens our perception of them. Suddenly there’s only one way to make a dish.
That’s been the case for Italian food since probably before the birth of the internet. Carbonara, puttanesca, Bolognese: For many people, there are strict cultural rules governing their preparation, and woe to those who break them in the name of curiosity, diet or taste. (My inbox is still recovering from the fallout after the publication of our excellent recipe for vegan Bolognese.)
“So it is with full self-awareness, self-consciousness, hypocrisy and trepidation,” Gabrielle Hamilton writes for The Times this week, “that I dare present this classic Venetian risi e bisi — rice and peas (above) — with modifications and bastardizations of my own, including the addition of dense, firm baby zucchini.”
Don’t clutch your pearls! Gabrielle’s is a lovely dish, with ratios that favor the vegetables over the rice, green and vibrant against a creamy, cheesy background. It is the very distillation of spring. And, anyway, as she points out in her piece, she’s Italian, from back when she was married to an Italian, with whom she shares her two children. “I’ve been sworn in, and have my passport, and here is my risi e bisi,” she writes. “Feel free to text with your own ex about it, with exclamation points or puke emojis. I will totally understand either way.”
(Compare and contrast: Here’s David Tanis’s risi e bisi; and Martha Rose Shulman’s; and Molly O’Neill’s, which omits the conjunction to become simply risi bisi.)
Other things to cook this week: a watercress, pear and Gorgonzola salad; an asparagus, goat cheese and tarragon tart; black bean tacos with avocado and spicy onions.
That last recipe is Melissa Clark’s, and the pickled onions she makes for it are fantastic. But lately I’ve been making pickled onions of my own, using a no-recipe recipe I’d like to share with you because, on Wednesdays, no-recipe recipes are my thing. The idea is to prompt you to make food that’s a little more improvisational than usual, and in so doing to learn to trust yourself in the kitchen a little more, to grow confident in your cooking.
And so: Grab yourself a couple of red onions, along with some limes, cider vinegar, chile-garlic sauce and around half a can of Coke. Get a good amount of the cider vinegar going in a saucepan with the juice of the limes, the Coke and the chile-garlic sauce to taste — everything to taste, actually! — making enough liquid so that when it comes to a simmer and starts to reduce, there’ll be enough to cover the onions. Peel and slice the onions while the pickling liquid burbles away, then put them in a bowl and pour the hot liquid over them. Stir to combine, allow to cool, then put in a covered container in the fridge. They’ll last for ages there, and you’ll definitely like them on the tacos. (If the Coke freaks you out, fine: Just sprinkle some sugar into the hot acids instead.)
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Now, it’s nothing to do with sprats or saffron, but I’ve gone deep on the Mike Bowditch series of crime novels by Paul Doiron and think you might enjoy them yourself. Among other things, it’s nice to be in the Maine woods.
I think you’ll like Lauren Collins in The New Yorker, on the rise of French tacos. “French tacos are tacos like chicken fingers are fingers,” she writes. “Which is to say they are not tacos at all.”
Also in the food space, here’s our video about the mesmerizing way Cantonese-style rice rolls are made, on YouTube.
It’s soapy and strange, but as I continue my search for good content way out on the edges of Streaming Town, I’ve been enjoying the South Korean mystery-thriller “The Lies Within,” on Netflix.
Finally, here’s a new Rhiannon Giddens track to play us off, “Calling Me Home,” with Francesco Turrisi. Enjoy that and I’ll be back on Friday.
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