Do you have a go-to food? Something that you can whip up with your eyes closed when you need to get some food on the table and don't have the time or resources to experiment?
I sure do. It's not the most exotic or impressive thing, but it's tasty as hell and satisfying and cheap and I can make it while also concentrating on other stuff, which is a not-inconsiderable virtue in the orbit of two small and energetic children. It's kind of a stripped-down, sped-up version of the anchovy pasta we did for a Foodspin a while back; I've made it so many times, it's like an old friend by now.
I start with a big pinch of chili flakes cooking in a glug of olive oil over low heat in a pan, next to a big covered pot of salted water over medium heat so it'll get close to boiling but not quite there. When the oil turns orange and smells capsaicin-y, I pitch in a dozen or so anchovy fillets and kinda mash them around with a wooden spoon for a few seconds. When they've dissolved into the oil, I chuck in a few cloves of minced garlic; literally as soon as I can smell the garlic cooking, I dump in a can of whole tomatoes and smash them with the spoon. I bring the heat up until the liquid starts to boil, then lower it to a simmer and leave it alone for a while so the flavors can simmer into each other.
When it's just about time to eat, I turn the heat up under the water so it comes to a boil, then drop in a pound of angel hair pasta and set a timer for two minutes. As soon as the angel hair goes into the water, I dump a (drained) can of cannellini beans into the pan of tomatoes. When the timer goes off, I stir a ladleful of pasta water into the pan with the sauce, then toss it with the angel hair, then portion it onto plates, then sprinkle each plate with some grated pecorino cheese, and serve it up.
It's super tomato-y and vibrant and hot and everybody likes it, way out of proportion to how ludicrously easy and cheap it is to produce. It's what I turn to when I'm not looking for style points or degree-of-difficulty or novelty (or, well, nutritional virtue, for that matter), but rather food that I know will fill and satisfy damn near anybody, every time I make it. It's my go-to move. What's yours?
Art by Sam Woolley