If youre a food nerd like me, you cant watch Top Chef without screaming obscenities at the contestants while peacefully pondering what youd whip up for Transcendently Beautiful Padma each Quickfire. If a case of backseat cooking is what ails ya, dig this fresh weekly column featuring recipes based on each TCQF.
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I liked this column a lot better when I was making food on toothpicks.
Organizing a four-person Quickfire relay race identical to the one on Top Chef D.C.'s Restaurant Wars episode
proved more difficult that youd think, but I forced against their will
graciously invited three different kinds of cooks to participate cousin Melissa
, she of epic porchetta
and opulent pavlova
; bro Andrew
, whos just learning to cook without recipes; and mom Francine
, whos been making mom food like meatloaf and macaroni "for 99 years," as she will happily tell you, and missed the Assumptions blessing of the ocean ceremony to be here today and is not happy about it. I asked each of these unwitting cohorts to describe their cooking style in one word.
"I dont know. You should have told me this earlier. I didnt know there was going to be a pop quiz." Melissa
"Old-school. Is that two words? Old-school, but not old-fashioned. How about Italian? Can I say that?" Mom
Logistics: Ma Dukes would kick off, followed by Andrew and Melissa, cooking for 10 minutes each, while I chilled in a soundproof booth like a Miss America contestant. Id come in like Lidge, bottom-ninth to (hopefully) close. Any foods in the kitchen and garden would be fair game. Hostess with the Mostess Padma Penelope
, what do you think of this plan?
|"This bone is ... pungent."
Ready ... set ... let the relay race begin.
The three 10-minute shifts flew by, punctuated intermittently by clattering pans, banging cabinets and lots of "Shitshitshit!" When it was my turn, I bounded into the kitchen to find dirty dishes, knives, colanders piled into the sink with moms contributions, sliced frozen carrots and a partially defrosted breaded chicken breast, discarded (smartly) by Andrew. On the stove, one burner had a pot of boiling water filled with fusilli; a saute of broccoli, onions, garlic, bell pepper and button mushrooms sizzled on another. I tested a strand of pasta, al dente, drained it off and set it aside, then dashed out to the yard, where I pinched off a few springs of globe basil and Mexican tarragon. I washed the herbs and set them on a paper towel to dry.
I tasted the saute, checking for salt so as not to pull an Alex,
added sel and black pepper and cranked the heat. From the fridge, I pulled out heavy cream and a jar of roasted peppers, added a little of each to the blender and zipped up a sauce that I added to the veggies. I separated the basils tiny leaves from stems and roughly chopped the tarragon, adding them both to the rust-colored sauce, bubbling and thickening like a magma.
On a saucer off to the side, I found a "sandwich" of breaded sliced Jersey tomatoes filled with basil-flecked ricotta Melissas contribution, I guessed. The crumbs were damp, so I added more from the open can of Progresso on the kitchen table. I put the drained pasta pan back on the stove, added olive oil, blasted the heat and threw in the "sandwich" to crisp.
I added the fusilli back to the pan of sauteed vegetables and roasted red pepper cream and tossed them together with tongs as the tomato-ricotta-napoleon started to sizzle. I wielded a spatula and flipped the tomatoes.
Plate down, pasta in. I pulled the tomato-ricotta sandwich, now golden brown and balanced it atop the curly noodles. To finish: grated Manchego, the nearest hard cheese I could find, dried chilies and the leaves of fresh basil. Considering the recipe came together blindly, it tasted pretty damn good and without any pea puree-related incidents.