Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bright Lights Big City Pasta

Over last weekend, I found an old copy of "Bright Lights Big City," by Jay McInerney at the Montauk book fair and spent a long, sun-soaked afternoon reading it from cover to cover. There's a reason it's such a classic--between the nighttime adventures in 80s Manhattan, the rampant drug use, the comedic/tragic hangovers at the desk of an illustrious magazine (one which seemed as though it had to have been based on The New Yorker), and the sordid, twisted romance of it all, it was a tough one to put down.

At one point in the tale, when our young hero is just about at his lowest point (fired from his venerable magazine job, left by his model wife, addicted to cocaine), an old co-worker named Megan takes him out and instead of choosing to eat at a restaurant, she takes his hand and says, "I'm going to teach you how to purchase and make a meal."And she does. They go to the deli and the bakery and the vegetable stand, and then she leads him to her cozy little studio apartment and teaches him how to make "the world's easiest meal." She teaches him how to make a pasta with homemade sauce from scratch. It was my favorite part of the book. That night was a starting point to turning it all around for him.

Being able to make a meal--just one meal without referring to a recipe--when the occasion rises, is a skill that everyone should have. There's something reassuring about knowing that you can do this, that you can produce a delicious, simple, restorative dinner with just a little memory and your own two hands. Because, really, we all get a little lost sometimes, especially in a city as intense and all-encompassing as NYC--I know I definitely do. We stumble around in the dark, trying not to fall, to do the right thing, make time for everything, meet all of the demands we put on ourselves, and that others put upon us. And sometimes, we fail. Those are the times when a quiet night in with a few key ingredients, a good friend and a couple of glasses of wine may be just the thing you need.

Here's my own version of Bright Lights Big City Pasta.

The World's Easiest Meal for Two

1 28-ounce can San Marzano whole unpeeled tomatoes
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 big basil leaves
3 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
8-10 large pieces wild shrimp
Box of pasta (linguine or rigatoni will both work, depending on your preference)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Handful of grated parmesan (optional)

In a large saucepan, slowly cook six cloves of thinly sliced garlic in a couple tablespoons of olive oil for five minutes over low heat.  Add two large, fresh basil leaves and stir for a minute.  Add the 28-ounce can of whole, peeled tomatoes along with their juice and two more whole basil leaves.  Bring the sauce to a boil, turn down the heat, season with salt and pepper and let it bubble away on low heat for 30 minutes. Add in the shrimp. Cook for 15 minutes longer.

In the meantime, set a large pot of water on to boil and season with a few big pinches of salt. Boil the pasta for two minutes less than the package tells you to or until perfectly al dente. Drain the pasta. Stir the pasta and sauce together and let it cook on low heat for two minutes, adding a bit of the reserved pasta water if necessary. You want the pasta to be just coated by the sauce, not swimming in it.

Serve with a dusting of freshly grated parmesan if desired.