So you know those times you get home late from work to a dark house and you’re absolutely ravenous? Except you don’t have a microwave, so you can’t just heat up a frozen thing? No? Yeah, I figured. I think chez secret menu is the only chez in the northern hemisphere without a microwave. The truth is, we don’t have the space. As it stands, I’m writing to you from a linen closet. I’m not even kidding! My desk is actually in a converted linen closet.
The benefit of not having a microwave is that, two or three times out of ten, you actually end up making something tasty out of the odds and ends in the crisper and cupboard. Last night was one of those times. We had some gluten-free pasta leftover from dinner with friends last week — I didn’t tell them it was gluten-free, but no one asked so I let it go — and some okra from the farmer’s market that I had completely forgotten about. JM makes a habit of keeping cherry tomatoes around, too, so they seemed like a natural addition. But the curry powder? The inspiration there was a bit more far-fetched.
When I was growing up in New Jersey, we had a small Indian grocery store in my town that I frequented as a teenager. I bought henna there, to make my hair bright red like my granny’s, as well as those spicy snack mixes that come in clear bags and are salty as all get-out but still have things like raisins in them. But the absolute best thing you could get there was the okra cooked by the owner of the shop, which came frozen in little plastic containers in the back. Every time we went in, my family would ask if there was any okra, and she would always dig some up. It was spicy, smooth, and flavorful. Not even all that slimy (as okra tends to be).
As a result, I have come to associate okra with spiciness, and when it’s not spicy I feel like something’s missing. And, look, I realize that mixing pasta and okra is bizarre enough, but adding curry powder didn’t seem like sacrilege so much as exploring the final frontiers of cooking. When you’re that hungry, it really doesn’t matter. It’s like being five at an ice cream sundae party: take everything that looks good, and just pile it on there. It doesn’t matter if anyone’s judging you — your pile of multicolored food is delicious.
Rigatoni with Curried Okra and Tomatoes
-2 servings rigatoni or penne (any tube-shaped pasta will do)
-2 cups okra, rinsed and sliced into rings
-1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
-1 clove garlic, minced
-1 shallot, diced
-a heaping 1/2 tsp of curry powder
-1 generous shaking of salt
-2 tbs olive oil
First things first: get your water boiling and toss in your pasta. If all your ingredients are chopped, this will take almost no time at all, so you need that pasta at the ready. While it boils, heat your oil over a high-medium flame in a large pan and then fry up the garlic and shallot until slightly browned (but not too much). Toss in your okra and fry for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently enough to prevent burning. Now toss in your tomatoes and curry powder, along with those generous shakes of salt. Sauté for another 5-7 minutes, lowering the heat to medium.
Your pasta should be done by now, so drain it and toss it into the pan with the okra and tomatoes. It will turn a gorgeous yellow hue and remind you of…New Jersey. But don’t worry too much about that. I promise, it’s delicious.