Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pride and Pesto

When the summer residents in my dorm were asked to prepare for the potluck last week, I was rightfully scared. It's a little-known fact that I have cooked very few things -- and by myself, to boot. (Green bean casserole for Thanksgiving is the one consistent exception.)

And so I began planning like we had done for our Harvard house Iron Chef, except I realized something: absolutely none of the food was going to be pre-cooked. I had no fallback, not even chopped chicken tossed with spicy peanut dressing (oh look, satay!) This, this required different plans.

I quickly laid down some ground rules:
- No baking. Too many desserts and baked pastries in Geneva.
- No meat. I haven't cooked meat before, with the exception of overcooking my hot pot at Shabu-Zen. Inadvertently causing a salmonella outbreak = not good.
- Has to be easily made in small batches. My cooking equipment here consists of a 10" frying pan and a pot that barely fits a rectangle patch of ramen.
- Preferably something I won't botch on the first try. This eliminated a good deal of the ideas I had.
- No sandwiches. Most people in the dorm make sandwiches for all three meals (breakfast: Nutella, lunch: salami and Gruyere, dinner: prosciutto mozzarella and tomato), so that would be cop-out central. I briefly considered smoked salmon wraps (which happened to be a potential entry for last month's Iron Chef), then realized that was a little too close to a sandwich for my comfort.

Then, I tried to recall what I had made before. That left one thing, besides casseroles, cakes and stirfry (I'm not counting boiling frozen dumplings here): pesto. This was the closest foolproof recipe I would get; I quickly ran to the grocery a few hours before and grabbed all of the ingredients: basil, garlic, etc.

Of course, I forgot a few details: last time, I had someone boil the pasta for me...whoops. Also, I had neither blender nor sharp knife for mixing/cutting - which meant I coarsely chopped everything with a butter knife. And then equipment issues:

- It took fifteen minutes for the water to finally boil...since I didn't have salt, either.
- My pot really truly only cooks for one. This means half a package of pasta will not fit inside.
- If your water takes a long time to boil and you're cutting everything with a butter knife, cooking pasta for twenty will probably take more than the twenty minutes I alloted myself.

With all of this in mind, I didn't take photos of my experiment. I also showed up fifteen minutes later, which was fine because so did everyone else (whew, being on Harvard time is not a dealbreaker). The potluck was excellent - and surprisingly enough, I was one of three people to cook (couscous and potato-dill stuffed phyllo were the other dishes). I quickly discovered an addiction to chocolate covered almond wafers, and that in Switzerland, it's common to put Smarties on your fruit salad.

And! My ego won't let me forget -- I got two compliments on my past, including: "I'm Italian and I can say that this tastes authentic." I wish there was a pasta badge I could iron onto my backpack...

although one of the housemates did have to get a extra glass of water after she bit into a unchopped clove of garlic.

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