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.
Today: A savory-sweet, satisfying meal that will calm a hectic day, feed a hungry family, or freeze well for later.
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Peel and thinly slice an onion. Throw it in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add a knob of butter, a generous splash of olive oil, and a pinch of kosher salt. Stir until the onion softens a bit over medium heat. Don’t listen to that voice telling you you shouldn’t caramelize one onion because if you’re doing one you might as well do eight. Drop in a sprig of thyme, cover. Feel extravagant. Turn the heat down as low as it will go.
Water your plants. Scrub some paint off of the kitchen wall that you’ve been staring at since your son was three years old. Sort the socks. Start re-reading the Molly Bloom chapter from “Ulysses.” Smell something sweet and beautiful. Remember the onion. Run for the onion.
Don’t stress when you take off the lid and see that the onion has stuck and started to brown in the middle of the pot. Ignore the voice that says they’re not supposed to get brown because that’s wrong. Use a little chicken stock to dislodge the crusty bits and stir them into the soft onion jam.
Bring your daughter some warm chicken stock in bed. Place your hands on her belly and tell her you’re sending in some magic healing. Watch her drift back to sleep. Take some scraps of puff pastry out of the freezer to soften. Find some wrinkled black olives at the back of your fridge. Open a jar of anchovies; smile at them and say I’m coming back for you soon.
Pick up your son from school and set him up at the kitchen table to do his homework. Feel him watching you as you assemble the mini pissaladières. Invite him over. Notice that he now asks before touching the mise en place, that he observes first to pick up on your rhythm, that he no longer tornadoes his way in.
Step back. Watch him lovingly spiral an anchovy around each olive. Keep your hands behind your back as he sloppily folds each corner up and over the filling. Slide the tarts into the oven. Show your son through the oven window how the caramelized onions sink down into the rising puff pastry. Whisper in his ear do you want some pissaladière for an after school snack, do you want some, you know you do, you know you do.
Laugh when he grimaces and sticks out his tongue and says that anchovies are disgusting and that now his tummy hurts, too.
Feed your kids bland white food for their ailing tummies. Tuck them in. Pray that the virus stays out of your body. Pour some red wine. Reheat two of your precious little tarts. From up high, swirl a winding, gooey balsamic path all over everything.
Drag your cozy chair very close to the television. Prepare to enter another world. But first, savor your dinner. Savor the silence. Press play. Watch three episodes of Scandal. Fall for the president. Wake up at 3 AM all contorted in a ball in your chair. Freeze the remaining two tarts in the dark kitchen. Kiss your daughter and look for your son. Find him in your bed wrapped around a stuffed shark. Drift off holding his hand. Oversleep.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).