Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Series of Fortunate Food: Bad Beginning, Good Pasta

Our kids are big fans of the Lemony Snicket stories, A Series of Unfortunate Events.  Joe read all of the books to them when they were small, and now we're making our way through the audiobooks.  We thought it would be fun to take a break from Nicholas Sparks and cook something from a story the whole family enjoys.  (And truthfully, with only three Nicholas Sparks books left on my shelf, I'll take any excuse to postpone the end of this blogging project...)

A Series of Unfortunate Events is made up of thirteen books, all tales of the three Baudelaire orphans and their never-ending quest to escape the clutches of the evil Count Olaf, who is their legal guardian but whose ultimate goal is to kill them and steal the enormous fortune the children's parents left when they died.  The first book in the saga, The Bad Beginning, tells of the fire in the Baudelaire mansion that killed Mr. and Mrs. B while their children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, were relaxing on a beach.  They are immediately taken to Count Olaf, their closest relative, and there the orphans' troubles get much worse.  Olaf is a lazy, self-centered, greedy villain who puts the children to work doing endless chores.  One day he orders them to cook a meal for him and ten or so of his cronies.  Olaf's neighbor, Justice Strauss, is a kind and gentle soul who helps them choose something to prepare and shop for the ingredients.  (If only Justice Strauss were their guardian, things would be oh so much better for the children...)  After browsing through Ms. Strauss's cookbooks, they choose Pasta Puttanesca.

From a street vendor, they purchased olives after tasting several varieties and choosing their favorites.  At a pasta store they selected interestingly shaped noodles...Then, at the supermarket, they purchased garlic, which is a sharp-tasting bulbous plant; anchovies, which are small salty fish; capers, which are flower buds from a small shrub and taste marvelous; and tomatoes, which are actually fruits and not vegetables as most people believe.  They thought it would be proper to serve dessert, and bought several envelopes of pudding mix.  Perhaps, the orphans thought, if they made a delicious meal, Count Olaf might be a bit kinder to them.  (The Bad Beginning, p.41-42)

(Side note:  I had planned to try to make pudding--from scratch, of course; but, just didn't happen.  Another day, another blog post.)

I found this recipe from Rachael Ray:



·         2 tablespoons (2 turns around the pan) extra-virgin olive oil
·         4 to 6 cloves garlic, chopped
·         1 tin flat anchovy filets, drained
·         1 /2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
·         20 oil-cured black olives, cracked away from pit and coarsely chopped
·         3 tablespoons capers
·         1 (32-ounce) can chunky style crushed tomatoes
·         1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
·         A few grinds black pepper
·         1/4 cup (a couple of handfuls) flat leaf parsley,, chopped
·         1 pound spaghetti, cooked to al dente (with a bite)
·         Crusty bread, for mopping
·         Grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Romano, for passing, optional


Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add oil, garlic, anchovies, and crushed pepper. Saute mixture until anchovies melt into oil and completely dissolve and garlic is tender, about 3 minutes: your kitchen never smelled so good! Add olives, capers, tomatoes, black pepper, and parsley. Bring sauce to a bubble, reduce heat, and simmer 8 to 10 minutes.  Toss sauce with cooked pasta.

I was a little bit hesitant to make this, for two reasons:  1.  I'm afraid of anchovies.  Whenever we get an anchovy pizza (for Curly and Joe, definitely not for me) I can't stand to sit near whoever is eating it because of the smell.  But I made Caesar's Salad recently I couldn't taste them so I was willing to try.  2.  I don't like capers.  At all.  But I wanted to stay true to the recipe, so I used them anyway.

I varied Rachael's recipe slightly;  I used a can of diced tomatoes as well as some fresh ones instead of a big can of crushed.  I had curly parsley on hand, which tastes almost the same as flat-leaf.  And I decided to use Kalmata olives instead of plain old black ones.  And fresh pepper.  It just didn't seem right not to use it.

For the pasta, since the Baudelaire's selected "interestingly shaped noodles," I found some bowtie and spiral-shaped pasta to use instead of spaghetti.

That sure looks like an awful lot of anchovies...

I was afraid the anchovies and garlic would stink up the kitchen, but to my surprise it had a nice savory, nutty, garlicky aroma.

After putting the tomatoes, olives, capers, and crushed red pepper in the food processor, I transferred it all to the skillet with the anchovies and garlic.  It smelled delicious.

Curly wanted an Aqueous Martini with his Pasta Puttanesca.  That's just plain water and an olive served in a martini glass.  That beverage is featured in a later Lemony Snicket book, The Ersatz Elevator.

The verdict?  I didn't care for it much.  It must have been the capers.  Joe and the boys liked it, though; so I would say it was a success!

I got my camera back this week!  Soon (I hope) I'll be making some special sandwiches on homemade bread, and custard-style ice cream for dessert.  Stay tuned for my next post, the wonderful short ribs my family made for me on Mother's Day.  Without my camera, I couldn't help taking some photos with my phone.  (I haven't really looked at them, to tell you the truth, so I have no idea if they'll be any good.)

Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend, and Happy Pentecost Sunday!