Last night there was a lot to celebrate: my friend Lisa is in town from Wisconsin, and oh also by the way I’m moving to New York in like two weeks to go work in an ad agency (and possibly also to gay marry Zachary Quinto, but that’s still only at about a 50/50 probability). So, everything is very exciting! Also? TERRIFYING. I have so much to do in the next couple weeks (including, much to my chagrin, this project, the bane of my existence). My head may just burst into flames at any moment. Fun! I’ll be sure to document all my meltdowns on Twitter. Anyway, I made three recipes last night, because I need to get this train a-rollin’ and also because I am a masochist.
I picked three recipes that seemed like they would go well together, based on absolutely nothing: Bruschetta, Artichoke & Pine Nut Pesto, and Sole a la Grenoblaise. And it all turned out pretty mediocre! Sorry, Lisa, it’s the nature of the beast.
First, let’s talk about the bruschetta. The recipe calls for you to toast some bread, rub it with garlic, and drizzle olive oil on top. Now, Wikipedia tells me this is, in fact, the standard definition of bruschetta, but let’s face it: when you say “bruschetta” you mean toasted bread with some tomato mixture on top of it. Anyone who says otherwise is a snob (which, of course, explains everything about this recipe’s inclusion in the book). Hilariously, the full title for the recipe is “Bruschetta (or “garlic toast” as my daughter calls it),” which is just the best because A) she’s even condescending in regards to her daughter, and B) APPLE IS CORRECT TO CALL IT THAT. Don’t call this bruschetta, Gwyneth, even if it’s technically accurate. That’s just obnoxious, and it’s good to see that Apple has a firmer grasp on reality than her mother. Because that’s what this recipe is: garlic toast.
Anyway, I started by making the pesto, which was simple and rather unusual, seeing as there’s actually no basil in it whatsoever. I threw some artichoke hearts, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and fresh tarragon into the trusty Magic Bullet and blended it right up. And that, my friends, is pesto. I set the finished pesto aside and boiled a pot of water to cook our pasta (shells, to better trap the sauce, of course).
Pre-pesto. Say what you will about the Magic Bullet, it is MADE for pesto.
Kind of a gross close-up of the pesto.
After that, it was time to get to work on the fish, which was, really, very easy. And it should be, because listen to this hilarious origin story for the recipe: “One evening out at the beach my mother invited some of her friends over and I was assigned chef duties with not a lot of time to prepare. I made this flavorful, light sauteed fish, based on the classic French preparation. I didn’t let her down!” Haha. FALSE. This did not happen, not a chance in hell. Although I do love the image of Blythe Danner reclining on the beach, her wealthy, WASPy friends gathered around her, casually waving her martini glass in Gwyneth’s general direction and shouting, “Daughter! Make us some FISH. And don’t let me down.” A real high-stakes childhood in the Paltrow home.
Anyway, I dredged some beautiful Dover sole fillets in almond milk and flour, which seems to be Gwyneth’s preferred method of making batter (and which I, as a fried food connoisseur, find rather disappointing). I then heated a mixture of butter and olive oil on the stove and proceeded to sautee the fish for a few minutes on either side, until brown and crispy. Meanwhile, I melted butter in a small pot and mixed in a few scoops of capers. Once the butter had browned a bit, I removed it from the heat and added some slices of lemon to the sauce, completing possibly the easiest sauce ever.
A strangely shadowy photo of sole a la grenoblaise. Blythe Danner would be disappointed.
At this point, I strained the pasta, prepared the table, and realized I hadn’t made the “bruschetta” yet. Gwyneth says to grill it for a few seconds over a flame, until “just barely charred at spots.” I turned on the burner, dropped a slice of our (very fancy, very Gwyneth-approved) country Italian loaf atop the flame, and continued with the 800 other things I had going on: mixing the pesto with the pasta, plating the fish with the sauce, and, most importantly, drinking wine. So within 30 seconds, the kitchen was filling up with a noxious black smoke, and I had a flaming piece of bread on my stove. Whoops.
We opened the window, got rid of the failed bread (not out the window, although it was suggested), and I tried again. Once again, I forgot about the bread, and we had a second slice of flaming bread on the stove. The third time proved the charm, though, and eventually I managed to hold my attention on the bread until we had enough grilled slices. I then rubbed each slice with a clove of garlic, feeling vaguely sexual and strange about the whole procedure, and then drizzled some olive oil across the whole thing (using olive oil I brought back from my Italy trip, no less. Ooooooooooh!). The bread looked very unimpressive.
Now, this sounds like a lot to cook, but I should state that even with three recipes, this was one of the fastest cooking experiences I’ve had on this whole project. So that’s a huge plus. The finished plates, however, looked rather monochromatic:
So Katie brought a little life to the plate:
The end result was, well, just so-so. The “bruschetta” was stupid, and a total waste of a good loaf of bread. It tasted like slightly burnt bread, with a hint of garlic and olive oil. UNIMPRESSED. The pesto was actually pretty good, and I particularly liked the fact that the sauce had Parmesan in it, which turned the pesto into a cheesy, melty concoction when mixed with the warm noodles. So that was pleasant. And the sole was really good. Lightly fried, so as not to overshadow the tenderness of the fish, and the capers added a lot. The addition of the lemon slices, however? TERRIBLE idea. Each bite with lemon resulted in a lot of embarrassingly puckered faces, because that stuff was sour. What was the point of adding whole slices of lemon to this otherwise delicate dish? It completely overpowered it, and we all quickly resorted to eating the lemons separately, just to get it over with so we could go back to enjoying the fish. I don’t know why Gwyneth didn’t just have us squeeze some lemon juice over the fish, the way normal people usually do it. I also don’t know why, five months into this thing, I’m still expecting her to think like a normal person.
Overall, a pretty mediocre celebratory dinner. Hooray! And now begins a whirlwind couple of weeks, of finishing up a job, saying goodbye to everyone/everything I love in Portland, finding an apartment in New York, moving cross-country with a dog, and starting a new job in the craziest city in the world. Expect me to have completely lost my last vestiges of sanity by Thanksgiving.
(On a related note, if you know of anyone in New York who has an open room, wants to live with a dog, and DEFINITELY isn’t a serial killer, please email me. Whoever finds me a place to live will get a special delivery of Gwyneth’s grandma’s peanut butter cookies, baked by me!) (This may be the worst contest ever.)