We’ve been in Casablanca for over 2 weeks now, which just doesn’t seem right. In some ways it seems as though we’ve been here for far, far longer; on the other hand, we did leave leave San Francisco just 3 weeks ago, which is not so terribly long ago. Time has taken on strange qualities. Given that two weeks from today — if all goes according to plan — I will be in Sebastopol, California, for a week, I hardly know what month it is. Perhaps it doesn’t much matter.
In good news, our small, initial air shipment was delivered this past Saturday. I promptly made a peach-plum cobbler to take to a barbecue (using the baking powder I’d sent myself) as well as a peach-plum crisp (also with baking powder!) to give to a new friend who very graciously treated us to a delicious break-the-Ramadan-fast vegetarian couscous he’d cooked for us (we are not observing Ramadan but he and his family are, and he was so kind to share some of their dinner with us). Today we went up to Rabat for a meeting (oh, the traffic … it is awful) and visited the embassy commissary there which yielded (kraft, but still) cheddar cheese, vegetarian baked beans, scent-free laundry detergent, parchment paper, English muffins, and, most important, an assortment of faux-meat products including veggie (boca) burgers. There’s a rumor I can get quinoa and tofu here if I visit a certain store in a certain area but there are no veggie burgers anywhere (nor is there cheddar cheese. I already miss my Clover locally-produced goodies — but no. It does no good to think like that.). It was a good day for this displaced Californian.
The veggie burgers will be particularly welcome on Fridays when I come home from working a half day starving and not feeling much inclination to cook. We do now have an enormous jar of marmite that’s perfect for cheese-and-marmite sandwiches, but you can only eat so many of those. And some days you are just too tired to think about cooking something for lunch from scratch. Sure I could make a pot of soup and eat it all week, and I have done this many times, but I’m still figuring things out here. I don’t really have a ton of cooking utensils, not to mention pots. So meals are quite vegetable-heavy but also a bit time-consuming (for example, if I want to use white beans in a simple dish of roasted tomatoes and white beans I need to remember to soak and boil the beans in advance as I have yet to see canned beans available in the supermarket). It’s harder to dash off to the store for one missing ingredient; I’m trying to make do with what I have on hand (and sometimes this is not a lot). It’s also Ramadan, which means that there is a dearth of daylight options for a quick, spontaneous bite. Or maybe it’s not so much that I mind taking the time, but it’s the mental energy that goes into creating something interesting and healthy that can get exhausting.
Case in point: last week. I arrived home around 1:30 Friday afternoon desperately needing lunch. My cookbook edits have come back, and they are due in to my editor a week from this Wednesday (this gives me about 16 days, total, to work on them; yikes), and I had scheduled myself to work on them until it was time to go out to a dinner later on. But I knew there was no way I could wade through the sea of track changes without decent sustenance, and the thought of a cheese sandwich was incredibly unappealing.
Now, I will mention that I didn’t have the little pasta Luisa’s recipe calls for, nor am I particularly wee (she writes that she serves this dish to her young son). And yet it just called to me anyway, mostly because of the ease of preparation but also because it sounded deliciously comforting. I decided to make it and doctor it up to appeal to a more grown-up palate.
Basically, you boil pasta with a few grape tomatoes until the two ingredients (plus the boiling salted water) come together in a soupy stew into which you then, if you like, stir a fresh egg. Add a bit of Parmesan cheese and olive oil and I would imagine even the pickiest kid would gobble it up in a heartbeat. For an adult like me it was just what I needed, too.
I made a few tweaks, which I will detail below, the main one being that I used pasta shells rather than the tiny pasta variations called for and this was because I had either shells or spaghetti from which to choose and shells seemed as though they’d most closely approximate the original recipe. I also added more cheese (natch) plus changed around a few other minor details. It came together in a flash — just the time it takes to boil and then cook your pasta is all you will need to spend on this — and I inhaled it rather quickly in front of an episode of ‘Arrested Development’ available to me thanks to the power of the Internet, a U.S. VPN subscription, and Netlix. Have I mentioned before that it’s the little things that make life worthwhile? This has become ever more clear to me now that I am living abroad. Then I dived into editing mode.
The thing is, though, that while I have a few boxes of veggie burgers now stashed in my (normal-sized! as opposed to my mini San Francisco) freezer, I have a feeling I will still make pastina, possibly even later this week for dinner. After all, who am I to argue with a good thing? Friday will come again and we’ll be hungry and in need of simple comfort. I can think of little better than this.
Luisa’s recipe is simple and perfect; click on the link above to see it in its entirety and as a guideline to feed your own hungry bebe. My version, skewed more toward grown-ups, is a riff on hers and is detailed below. I think the main point here is that you can experiment with quantities of ingredients — for one? for two? — but don’t make it too complicated. This recipe’s beauty is in its quickness and its simplicity of ingredients. I like an egg added at the end for the extra protein, but you can just as easily leave it out with equally delicious results.
1 cup pasta: shells or macaroni
1 large tomato, roughly chopped
Grated Parmesan cheese
Salt + pepper
Dried basil and/or oregano
In a medium saucepan, bring an inch of water to a boil with a small pinch of salt. When the water is boiling, add the pasta and the tomato and cook until the pasta is done.
When the pasta is finished cooking, turn off the heat under the pot and crack the egg into the pasta. Stir the egg until it is cooked and transformed into custardy shreds. Note from Luisa: Make sure to really only use the amount of water that you want to serve, if using the egg. Once the egg is stirred into the pot, you can’t reduce the amount of liquid in the pot. Note from me: I drained out most of the pasta water using that very culinarily-adept method of holding the lid of the pot so that the water could spill out but not the pasta. I did reserve a bit of water, though, in the pan.
Pour the contents of the pot into a bowl. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Add salt and pepper generously to taste, and sprinkle in the dried herbs. Add the grated cheese and gently stir in the bowl to lightly combine. Serve with a bit more pepper on top if you like, as well as a little more cheese. Serve.
An additional note re the egg: Luisa reccommends using a very fresh egg; the heat of the boiling water will cook the egg almost instantly as you stir it into the pot. If you have any concerns re salmonella, stir the egg into the pot before taking it off the flame and cook it briefly until the egg is cooked (I cooked my egg this way as I was a bit paranoid about how old my Moroccan eggs were).