Damn you, Jamie Oliver. You always make me hungry.
Long, languid morning moments in bed with the Chef are almost always my favorite of the day. In a way, that time is sacred space. I don’t mean that we light candles and chant incantations. I mean, in the utter mundanity of cups of hot coffee, worn cotton pajamas, and the rustle of the newspaper between us — there is life.
The two of us? We have increasingly busy lives. I have to work hard to resist climbing onto the computer as soon as I wake up (comments to publish! Intriguing emails from New York! More questions to answer!), starting the workday before I have put my contacts on. Sometimes, the lure of the outside world calls to me like a siren song. But then, I look up and see the Chef shuffling to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. His hair looks like he has survived a windstorm in the middle of the night. He’s rubbing the sleep from his eyes, and he probably could have slept for an hour more. (That man works hard. Ten hours of prepping and cooking without sitting down once? Whew.) Even though there are always emails to answer, I step away from the computer and slip my bare feet into the wet grass outside to retrieve the paper. We meet back in the bedroom.
And there we stay for the next few hours, listening to the Bob Rivers show on weekdays, eagerly anticipating Breakfast with the Beatles on Sunday mornings. Every morning, I take apart the newspaper, throwing away the sections we never read, and folding open the living section to the comics. I hand it to him. He always reads the comics first. (Frankly, I once thought this was strange. Now, he has me reading Pickles and Lio too.) Long silences lapse, interrupted only by the turning of pages, the sipping of coffee, and the laughter between us. We discuss nearly every story. By the end, our fingers are stained grey and black. Sometimes, I touch his face when I kiss him, and I leave a grey smudge running down his cheek.
And at some point, early on, one of us always says, “What do you want for breakfast?”
(The answer is usually eggs.)
Something we don’t do much of in the mornings that might surprise you? Talk about food. Other than the daily discussion of the first meal of the day, we don’t dream up recipes, hash out last night’s dishes, or imagine what we could create next. Why? Long ago, we tacitly agreed: this is our time together, apart from our work, apart from the world. We are far more than our love for food, expansive as it is. Our love for each other doesn’t always involve memorable mouthfuls, meals that linger in the mind, and mache salads. There are reminiscences of eye surgeries as a child, imagined trips to Lake Powell, and the repetition of a thousand inside jokes that no one else could possibly understand. Food wants to creep in, but we gently push it aside. We want to be alive to each other in a different way, on those long, lovely mornings.
Besides, whenever we start discussing fish specials and speculations of future recipes, the Chef starts dancing. His fingers start tapping on his knee and his toes start pointing north. This waltz has a frantic pace. He’s thinking of the restaurant, and it’s time to go. All his sentences shorten. The languid kisses become pecks on the cheek, followed by a quick pat on the back. I know that routine: time to go.
And so, I’m more than happy to not discuss food until noon.
Damn you, Jamie Oliver. You’ve interrupted our morning.
Really, I should blame the Food Network. I’m not sure why they would relegate the brilliant Mr. Oliver to 9:30 in the morning on Saturdays. Especially because this new series of his, Jamie at Home, is the most mature and compelling series he has ever done. Older and even more sure of himself, Jamie has calmed down his frenzied hand gestures and incomprehensible sound effects. Instead, he’s simply cooking, in a rustic kitchen somewhere in the country.
(He still makes extravagant faces and joyful noises when he loves a bite of food. And frankly, half the time I watch him now, I feel like I’m watching the Chef.)
For me, half the appeal of this show is watching the life I can imagine for ourselves someday. A spacious kitchen filled with light, and an enormous garden just outside the door. Look at Jamie’s kitchen — or at least the one on television. It’s not that luxurious; it’s not outfitted with the latest in gleaming kitchen equipment. But the wooden cutting boards are scarred from so much use. And in that garden are vegetables so enormous and gorgeous that people shopping at grocery stores can only dream of something that good.
Watching Jamie together makes us both laugh with delight at his excitement about fat white leeks. For long moments, there is silence, as we both sit staring at his hands chopping in the kitchen, both our mouths open. And then our minds start racing.
Sometimes, the Chef sends himself a text message with an idea, a squiggle of an idea that will develop through the day into meals for the people who come in that evening.
And so, on Saturday mornings now, we have given up our morning routine. We still read the paper and drink our coffee. We still kiss and giggle. But at 9:30 in the morning, I look over at the clock and jump up for the remote. “Time for Jamie!” I shout. And we settle into bed, cuddling with each other, the remote control clutched in the Chef’s hands. (You know that cliché that men need to control the remote? It’s really true.) Television in the morning, a show about food. The Chef may start dancing earlier in the day than he does on every other day. We leave earlier on Saturdays than any day of the week.
But with Jamie in our ears, and visions of fat white leeks simmering with prosciutto in our minds? The interruption of our morning routine is more than worth it.
Thank you, Jamie Oliver. You always make us happy.
PASTA WITH SLOW-SIMMERED LEEKS AND PROSCIUTTO, adapted from Jamie Oliver
If you saw the Jamie at Home episode shown last week, you may have run out to buy the ingredients and made this pasta with slow-simmered leeks for dinner that night. I certainly did. Easy-peasy to make and filled with flavor, this pasta dish made us both sigh with happiness, in bed, at midnight.
If you didn’t see the episode, you want to make this for dinner tonight.
One of the tricks we have learned with gluten-free pasta? Undercook it. Italians cook their pasta al dente — a solid surface with a slight bite. It seems that most Americans cook their pasta to death, to the point of flubbiness. Let’s change our ways. With gluten-free pasta, it’s especially important to undercook, just a bit. And until we have created handmade gluten-free pasta we love, we’re using Tinkyada penne for this dish. It works.
When I asked the Chef to make this again, at the restaurant in the afternoon, so I could take photographs, he added a few of his own touches. Sautéed hedgehog and yellowfeet chanterelles mushrooms. Fresh mozzarella. Drizzles of aged balsamic vinegar. Oh lord, I wanted to take those photographs fast.
We shared the bowl of pasta afterward. His face told it all — wide open and rubbery with excitement. “It just melts, all of it together. My mouth is just filled with melty goodness.” And then he made this the pasta special for the night at the restaurant.
So, you know, it works.
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, fine diced
3 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
3 fat white leeks, root and green parts removed, washed and sliced thin (if the leeks are slender, use 5)
7 slices of the best prosciutto you can find
½ pound wild mushrooms (whatever is within reach for you)
½ teaspoon each kosher salt and cracked black pepper
2 cups cooked pasta
1 large ball fresh mozzarella
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (as aged as you can afford)
Simmering the leeks. Bring 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add the garlic cloves to the oil and sauté until you can smell the garlic perfume. (Be sure not to burn the garlic.) Add the thyme and cook until the herb releases its smell. Toss in the sliced leeks and stir for a few moments, until all of the slices are coated with the garlicky, herby fat. Turn down the heat to simmer. Cover the leeks entirely with all the slices of prosciutto, making sure that no steam is evaporating by the end of the process. Cover the skillet with a lid and allow the leeks to simmer for 30 minutes.
Sautéing the mushrooms. In a different pan, bring the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to heat. Add the mushrooms to the pan. Stir and cook them until they have shrunk and released their juices. Set the mushrooms aside.
Preparing the pasta. Take the pan with the leeks off the heat. Remove the prosciutto from the top of the leeks. Set those pieces aside and slice them into slivers. Put the cooked pasta into a bowl. Add the sautéed mushrooms and the caramelized leeks. Season with salt and pepper (remember that the prosciutto is salty, so you might want to go light on this one).
Divide the pasta into two plates. Top with slices of fresh mozzarella. Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar. Settle slivers of prosciutto on top of the pasta. Serve immediately.