When she has the kitchen all to herself, Phyllis Grant of Dash and Bella cooks beautiful iterations of what solo meals were always meant to be: exactly what you want, when and where you want them.
I always cook what I want. But I don’t mean that in a snarky or selfish or overbearing way: the bottom line is that I don’t let my kids’ whims run the kitchen. Often their enthusiastic desire to help me plan, shop, and cook results in a dreamy, perfect dinner hour. But more often than I’d like to admit, at the end of a long day, my kids arrive at the table all crabby and tired and desperately wanting a cheeseburger and instead of that, an enormous cruciferous mash-up slaw made from every single vegetable in the CSA box sits right in front of their faces. That’s when the griping and gagging and pushing away of their plates begins, often escalating into an outburst or two: "that’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen!"
I channel that stand-your-ground eerily calm mama who says things like "Sweeties, this is dinner, I’m not making anything else -- if you’re not eating it then please brush your teeth and go to bed." And more often than not, they will start to eat. And then (with a little nudging) they will admit that dinner is not nearly as disgusting as they had initially imagined. And I’ll smile to myself, knowing that the next day I’ll get my kids off to camp, sit down to write, and listen for that moment when my belly says feed me, Phyllis, feed me some anchovies.
From the initial gathering of ingredients to the assembly on my cutting board to the last salty bit I scoop up and lick off my fingers, my solo meals are quite meditative. In those twenty minutes, I’m not responsible for any child’s future. I can put my elbows on the table, use the dishtowel as a napkin, and fill my sandwich with as many little fishies as I like. It’s all about listening to my hunger, my cravings, my hormones. It's about cooking and eating exactly what I want, interference-free.
I’m still not quite sure why, but last week, my quiet introspective lunch produced the best sandwich I’ve ever had. Maybe it was the way the anchovies lost themselves in the creamy Havarti, merging into an umami fat bomb. Or how the freshly-bashed, garlic-heavy herbaceous pesto jumped around my mouth. Or how I was suddenly aware -- as my teeth plunged loudly into the crispy bread -- of my very quiet house. Or maybe it was just that I was eating exactly when, what, and where I wanted.
To make this sandwich: Heat up your panini press, grill, or pan. Halve your bread (a bit stale is fine). Spread pesto (see quick recipe below) all over both halves. Layer one half with slices of creamy Havarti (cheddar, Monterey Jack, or mozzarella work as well). Drape as many anchovy fillets as you like -- I prefer those packed in oil -- over the cheese. There is plenty of oil on the inside of this sandwich, so no need to oil the outside. Grill. If you’re using a pan or a grill, you can mimic a panini press by placing something heavy like the bottom of a cast iron pan or a brick wrapped in tin foil on the sandwich as it cooks. It’s done when the bread is browned and the cheese just starts to ooze out the sides. Eat right away.
To make a quick pesto: I use my mortar and pestle, but you could use a food processor, blender, or the kitchen counter and a chef's knife. Make a paste out of one clove of garlic and one anchovy. Add a handful of toasted warm nuts (almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, or a combination). Blend vigorously until it’s almost creamy (a little remaining crunch is fine). Add a handful of herbs (try a combination of basil, parsley, and arugula). Blend until you have a thick green paste (again, some chunks are fine). Add a pinch or two of lemon zest, a splash of lemon juice, a drizzle of sherry wine vinegar, a glug of olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Mix. Taste. Adjust seasoning. If you have a slice of avocado lying about you can add that as well for some additional creaminess. If you want, loosen it up with some more olive oil. Taste again. Adjust seasoning.
Photos by Phyllis Grant