Summer vacation is almost over — without the vacation part this year. In light of, well, everything, that’s not such a big deal, but it’s still disappointing. I can’t say I definitely was going to travel this summer, but I wish I had had the option.
To experience places I want to visit when I can’t, I armchair travel by reading cookbooks, and I make the dishes that transport me to … anywhere else.
A tropical beach would’ve been nice, especially one on any of Hawaii’s islands. I love that state and applaud its strict quarantine measures, so I’m fine with re-creating chicken katsu at home. To capture the spirit of the last rendition I enjoyed at Ted’s Bakery on the North Shore of Oahu, I tinkered with the tangy katsu sauce until I got the right balance of savory umami and ketchup sweetness. Both the sauce and chicken get a hit of garlic powder, which lends its distinctive aroma. And while I don’t drop my breaded chicken cutlets in a deep fryer as they do at Ted’s, I get a satisfying crunch from shallow-frying in a skillet. To complete the Ted’s effect, I serve the chicken over shredded cabbage with a side of steamed rice and eat it at a picnic table outside.
For years, my daughters and I have dreamed of going to Rome to see the Colosseum and art and, of course, to eat. The cookbook “Tasting Rome” by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill shares the city’s defining dishes and glimpses into Roman life through photography. Gill, a Nashville native who moved to Rome for the foreign service 20 years ago, still lives there with her Italian husband, whom she met rom-com style.
In a telephone interview from the COVID-empty ancient city, Gill offered amatriciana as the sort of classic Roman dish that a visitor would enjoy in a trattoria or at home. The summery version from the book swaps the classic tomato sauce for fresh cherry tomatoes because Rome’s markets are bursting with them this time of year. Plus, they’re great in this dish. Gill explains, “You cook the cherry tomatoes just enough to break them down a little bit to get good flavor out of them and still have little pieces coating the pasta.”
To experience the dish as you might if you were cooking in a rental apartment in Rome, Gill emphasizes the importance of shopping for the best tomatoes, guanciale and pasta. She also suggests cooking it with a glass of red wine in hand and finishing the bottle while eating. I’ll take that Roman holiday anytime.
As quarantine wears on, I want to travel even further in the kitchen, translating real miles into what I prepare for dinner. Flipping through one of my most spattered and worn cookbooks, “At Home With Madhur Jaffrey,” I stumbled across Jaffrey’s take on kurma, a curry from the Tamil Nadu region of southeastern India. (The northern Indian version is known as korma.)
Jaffrey, a culinary icon, keeps the essential formula of combining par-cooked seasonal vegetables with a spiced coconut-yogurt sauce but serves it as a salad in the summer. I’ve adapted her version by following her recommendation for using whatever looks good at the market, swapping her stovetop technique for heatwave-friendly microwaving and turning it into a larger portion. It keeps well in the fridge, so preparing extra means you can eat a nice, chilled bowl anytime to take you all the way across the Pacific.