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The exquisite normalcy of chopping an onion

Heather Hopp-Bruce

Welcome to the apocalypse. It’s going to be delicious.

I don't mean to be flip. Coronavirus is devastating on every level, and things are going to get harder before they get better. But a little dark humor can help at a time like this.

So can cooking. I won't romanticize the act of getting food on the table. It is labor, albeit often enjoyable labor. But I have been surprised, since we entered this era of anxiety and unknowns, at just how much of a true and genuine comfort the act of cooking is right now. I pull my heavy orange Dutch oven down from its shelf, peel and chop an onion, listen to the click-click-click of the burner as it whooshes on. Soon the house will fill with the good smell of aromatics sautéing in olive oil. These are the small moments and actions of everyday life. They help things feel normal for a minute. They help me focus on something tangible, useful, and nourishing.Maybe you’re on the same page. Maybe you haven’t turned on your stove in a decade. No matter. We are sheltering apart, but we can all still cook together. This newsletter is for you, whoever you may be. And it is for me, because I need someone to talk to. We all do. I’ll be sharing recipes, ideas, and thoughts about cooking during the coronavirus pandemic, but I hope this will be a conversation. Got questions about something I wrote? I hope you’ll ask them. Got a bunch of random ingredients you’re not sure how to use? Send me a list, better yet with a picture, and I’ll suggest some ideas. If you’re on social media, post these things with the hashtag #cookingfromhome and maybe we can create some feeling of community at a time when we can all use it as much as possible.The name Cooking From Home plays on a phrase newly relevant in our lexicon: working from home, as many now are doing. I want to acknowledge that’s a luxury not everyone has, and express gratitude toward those who continue to show up at their places of work out of necessity and/or duty. Many people are losing jobs and businesses, and the closure of restaurants — which sends us into the kitchen whether we like it or not — is an economic and cultural blow. More than ever, we are multitasking and worrying about finances, two great American sports. At least some of the content here will be geared toward dishes that are inexpensive and quick to prepare. And some of the content will ignore those things altogether. It's a pandemic: Treat yo self.

Enough preamble. How about a recipe?


.Mara Zemgaliete - (custom credit)/Mara Zemgaliete -

This one, for spaghetti with tuna sauce, comes from one of the best cooks I know, former Globe Food editor Sheryl Julian. She got it from chef Daniele Baliani, who cooked in Italian restaurants all over town, from Pignoli back in the day to Il Casale. And he got it from his Aunt Adriana. Talk about recipe testing. It’s been almost 20 years since I first made the dish, but it was one of the first I thought of when my mind turned to pantry recipes. Except for the parsley, everything in it comes from the cupboard. And it incorporates some of that tinned fish you might have stocked up on, both tuna and anchovies. (If you didn’t, try to pick up some anchovies the next time you venture out. They lend a depth of flavor to all kinds of sauces, braises, and sautés, and in the mix with other ingredients they don’t come across as intensely fishy, just salty and delicious.)A note about ingredients: It’s OK to play a little fast and loose, using what you’ve got. That’s always true, but particularly now. I’ll try to talk a lot about possible substitutions as we go. Although this recipe calls for Italian tuna in olive oil, if you only have good old Chicken of the Sea in water, go for it (but drain it well). The pine nuts and golden raisins are key when you can run to the grocery without a second thought. But right now, if you don’t have them, you might try substituting something like chopped walnuts or currants. Leave out what you have to leave out. It won’t be the same, but it will be good.


Sheryl Julian

Spaghetti with tuna sauce


Serves 4

1 tablespoon coarse salt

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons pine nuts

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

3-4 anchovy fillets

1 teaspoon capers, coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 can (28 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes, crushed in a bowl with their juices

1 can or jar (6-8 ounces) Italian tuna in olive oil, partially drained

1/4 cup golden raisins

1 pound spaghetti


Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 chopped fresh parsley

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the salt to the water.

2. Meanwhile, in a large flameproof casserole, heat the oil and cook the pine nuts over medium heat, stirring often, for 2 minutes or until they begin to turn lightly golden.

3. Add the garlic, anchovies, capers, and crushed red pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes, breaking up the anchovies as you stir.

4. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until the sauce thickens.

5. Stir in the tuna and the raisins, breaking up the tuna into small pieces as you stir. Return the sauce to a simmer, then remove it from the heat and set aside.

6. When the pasta water is boiling, add the spaghetti and cook for 11-12 minutes or until it is done.

7. Drain the pasta into a colander and immediately transfer it to the sauce. Add the black pepper and parsley and toss well to coat the spaghetti. Set aside to cool and serve at room temperature.

Adapted from “The Way We Cook: Recipes From the New American Kitchen,” by Sheryl Julian and Julie Riven (photo by Sheryl Julian for The Boston Globe)

Other things to try

- When the cupboard is really bare, make Marcella Hazan’s classic and utterly simple tomato sauce with onion and butter (scroll down after you click the link; there are other sauces in there you might like too). Speaking of Hazan, if you’re looking for a good cookbook deep-dive right now, her “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” would lend itself nicely.


- Here’s a recipe for puttanesca, for those who hate raisins, you weirdos.

- This combination of sweet-salty ingredients plays well with a lot of ingredients — white fish, for example. A head of cauliflower is a good bet right now, because it can keep for a while in the refrigerator. Toss the florets with olive oil to coat and coarse salt to taste, then roast on a foil-lined sheet at 450 degrees until browned and tender. Toast pine nuts (or walnuts, or slivered almonds, or pistachios) in a toaster or skillet until browned. (Don’t forget about them! They’ll burn the second you do.) Put the cauliflower in a bowl with the nuts, raisins, chopped capers, and parsley, however much of each looks tasty to you (you can always add more). Drizzle over more olive oil, sherry vinegar (or lemon juice, or another acidic element you think would taste good), and another sprinkle of coarse salt, and toss. Taste and adjust each element to your liking. (I like not-recipes like this, because I think they get us accustomed to cooking for our own tastes, and learning better what those tastes are, rather than adhering to the notion that there’s one perfect way. If it’s too loosey-goosey or you have follow-up questions, let me know.)

Question of the day: What have you been snacking on?

Devra First can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst or Instagram @devra_first.

Devra First can be reached at Follow her @devrafirst.