Professor X got his ten minute warning five weeks ago when a GP hypothesized early COPD or emphysema based on spirometric test results. She gave him a choice; quit smoking or cart around an oxygen tank in the next five years. That amount of time doesn’t even put him at 40, so we both quit right there to her great surprise. A few weeks later – still sans cigarettes – the pulmonologist decreed a less dire prognosis of asthma. Professor X is now on a cortico-steroid inhaler and seeing great results.

I won’t regale you all with the infinite complexities of quitting. Nor will I effuse inspirational about the myriad benefits. Additionally, I do not have any advice for the best method to quit. And finally, please reserve your congratulatory statements and well-meaning platitudes. Those especially make me want to smoke, even more than a cold glass of white wine on a warm night or numismatics.

Instead, I will simply state this: everything is really salty. Whether it’s home cooking, restaurant food, or microwaved frozen from TJ’s, most things strike us as burn-your-tongue salty since we’ve quit. With this in mind, if I have ever given a precise measurement for salt in a recipe of my own, you should probably adjust it to your liking. In fact, I hope you have already. Similarly, I present this recipe for perfected puttanesca with some trepidation. Puttanesca has many salty items in it: olives, capers, anchovies. Just when I thought I had replicated the jar of manna from Carfagna’s, it is likely that the variables will need to be tweaked again.

Get Thee:

1/2 box of spaghetti or bucatini

1 tbsp olive oil

5 cloves of garlic, peeled and diced

2 oil-packed anchovy filets, chopped

24 oz can of plain whole plum tomatoes, roughly diced in hand*

1 tsp oregano, dried

1/2 tsp basil, dried

14 pitted kalamata olives, chopped

1 tbsp. capers

pinch of red chile flakes

1/2 tbsp butter

salt to taste

Assemble:

  1. Start your water for the pasta. Add 1/2 tbsp of salt to 6 cups of water, and set to boil over high heat. When the water is at a rolling boil, add 1/2 box of preferred pasta. I’m a Barilla girl, despite the company’s issues.
  2. While the pasta cooks, heat olive oil in a separate pan. Add garlic and anchovy. For the anchovy averse, please don’t leave it out. Just put on some fuckin’ pants and trust me on this. It will dissolve, leaving only an umami je ne sais quois.
  3. Add the whole plum tomatoes diced in hand*. (That does not mean that you should go using the palm of your hand as a cutting board.) Take a tomato and roughly cut off small pieces over the saute pan, minding your fingers. The juice and flesh will collect in the pan. Repeat with the rest of the tomatoes in the can. Reserve remaining liquid. Bring to a boil, and turn down heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Smash the tomato chunks with a spoon while stirring. If it’s too dry, add some of the liquid in the can. Also note: Refrain from buying diced tomatoes to save time. Due to added calcium chloride, they won’t dissolve at all. Whole tomatoes do not have this additive, and thus behave as you expect. Who knew?
  4. Add dried oregano and basil. Stir for another minute or two.
  5. Add olives, capers, and red chile flakes. Turn off heat. Stir to combine.
  6. Once pasta is done, separate 1/2 cup of cooking liquid from pot and drain the rest in a colander.
  7. Add pasta to sauce in pan. Stir. Turn heat to medium, and add 1/4 cup of cooking liquid. Stir. You’ll notice the sauce thin out a bit, then contract again. If it isn’t too thin, add a little more cooking liquid and stir. Add the bit of butter and stir until the mix bubbles a bit. I smugly avoided this step for decades despite reading about it in reliable cooking sources. Mea culpa. As fussy as it seems, it creates a nice shiny, supple sauce that covers all the pasta.
  8. Taste the pasta, and, finally, add salt as needed.
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