Pasta with Fresh Tomato-Avocado Sauce
I've long held this crazy theory that people who really love food lead ever-so-slightly happier lives than those who don't. This theory comes from my own experience, mostly, and the observation that however bad I might feel, all I usually need is a bite or two of something tasty to feel myself again. I don't mean to suggest that I don't regularly get as down in the dumps as the next person, but when I do, it's rare that these sentiments survive beyond mealtime; even the very worst of cases are nothing a freezer full of ice cream can't resolve. By contrast, I can't even imagine what it would be like to have my one true passion be something like, say, glacier climbing or comet watching, or for that matter any activity that is next to impossible to do on a regular basis; maybe I'm missing something here, but those poor folks must spend an awfully large percentage of their time miserable, don't you think?
That said, however, sometimes a food-focused life can seem pretty frustrating too. There is, for example, the agony that comes from striking up love affairs with foods I can only get ahold of once in a blue moon, or the endless battles against a metabolism that lags far behind the speed at which I can chew, or even the more abstract discontent that comes with having to earn a living rather than, well, dabbling in food all day. And then there's the particular bane of all us food lovers who love to cook as well as eat: the fact that there are simply too many recipes out there to ever make in one lifetime. Honestly, between the tens of thousands of recipes I have in cookbooks, bookmarked online, clipped from magazines and newspapers over the years, scribbled on the backs of envelopes while daydreaming, and received with great fanfare from friends and relatives, I feel like even if I were able to spend every single minute of every day of my life cooking, I still wouldn't manage to make a dent in the pile.
While this is plenty frustrating in itself, of course, the icing on the proverbial cake is that even when I find a truly wonderful recipe - which is ostensibly the point of all this collecting, isn't it? - it rarely stays in the rotation for long. I honestly don't know how cookbook authors do it; you know how they're always saying in recipe headnotes how this is one of their favorite things to eat and they've been making it religiously for thirty years and blah blah blah? Well I know I'm lucky if I can manage to make something twice before retiring the recipe to the graveyard better known as the "to make again" pile. In fact, if I manage to make something twice that already means it's beaten the odds; some of my favorite things in the world (many things that appear on this site, even!), I've only managed to make once. It's not that there's anything less than perfect about them - it's just that there are too many other undiscovered masterpieces waiting in the wings to waste time on what I've already tasted.
That said, when I tell you that today I'm giving you a recipe I've made at least a dozen times, I hope you understand how unusual that is. Admittedly, most of those occured in the first three or four weeks after discovering it, but please don't think that reflects at all on the quality of the recipe itself. It dates to about five years ago, if my memory serves me correctly, to a summer I spent in Germany which defined itself (in retrospect, as these things always do) as our 'farmer's market summer'. You see, that was the summer I discovered Manuel had been keeping this very big secret from me, namely that his town was blessed with the most wonderful weekly market offering every variety of ripe, farm-grown product under the sun at ridiculously cheap prices, and all we had to do to partake was drag ourselves out of bed at a reasonable hour on Saturday mornings (well, I called the hour reasonable; he called it some things I can't repeat on a family-friendly website). In any case, that was the summer I suddenly understood why everyone was always harping on about cooking seasonally, that it wasn't just about supporting local farmers or reducing carbon footprints or anything like that, it was about how much better everything tastes when it's in season. In fact, I think I had an epiphany to that very effect the first time I made this pasta, which I ran across one day in one of the few cookbooks then in my possession. It's quite a simple dish, just some hot spaghetti tossed with mashed avocados, a couple of diced tomatoes and a sprinkle of crispy bacon; yet made with the ripest, candy-sweet tomatoes, buttery avocados and generous handfuls of spicy summer basil, its perfection defies description.
Although we gorged ourselves on this pasta like it was going out of style, eventually the summer passed, the recipe was filed and, like every other once-favorite dish, it was forgotten, relegated to a text file on my computer in one of many overstuffed recipe folders. When I ran across it last week - I was looking for something else, mind you - at first all the memories from that farmer's market summer came flooding back, but just as quickly my delight at having found it was replaced by frustration, and then a surge of self-deprecation for having being so fickle as to have not even thought about it in half a decade. Why is it, I asked myself disparagingly, that I am so driven to find the next great recipe that I can so easily forget about the ones I've already discovered? Is this how the rest of my life is going to unfold, in the senseless pursuit of things I will discard as soon as I possess them?
But then I went into the kitchen, mashed up a bowl of avocados, put on a package of pasta to boil and chopped up some fat, dripping tomatoes. And after scraping my plate clean, I couldn't quite remember what it was I'd been so worked up about. Who knows, maybe that theory of mine is not as crazy as it seems?
Pasta with Fresh Tomato-Avocado Sauce
This is one of those recipes that works best if you follow your instincts. Find the raw onions too overpowering? Leave them out. Have more tomatoes in your garden than you know what to do with? Stick a couple more in. You get the picture - just make sure, whatever you do, that you use only perfectly ripe, in-season ingredients. If you can't (and I realize it's not summer for everyone reading!), do as James says in the recipe headnotes and "please choose another recipe".
Source: inspired by a recipe in James McNair's Favorites
Yield: 4 generous servings
3 large ripe Haas avocados
3-4 large ripe tomatoes, diced
1 small red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, or to taste
large handful fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped or torn
salt and pepper
about 1 lb (500g) spaghetti or fettuccine, cooked al dente
cooked, crumbled bacon (I usually cook 2 strips per person; you can easily leave this out to make it vegetarian)
freshly-grated parmesan cheese (this time I actually used crumbled feta and it was excellent as well)
In a large serving bowl, mash the avocados, leaving a few chunks. Stir in the tomatoes, onion, garlic, vinegar and basil. Add salt and pepper to taste, being mindful of the fact that you'll be topping it with salty bacon and cheese later.
Boil the pasta in salted water until al dente, drain and then immediately combine with the cold sauce, tossing to combine. Sprinkle with the bacon and cheese (or you can pass these separately if you wish) and serve immediately.