The sweet, hot, unctuous red paste of Tunisia known as ‘harissa’ is one of my secret weapons in the ‘what’s for dinner’ daily combat that challenges even me, who loves to cook as much as to eat, to think about food as much as to listen to music. Harissa: it sounds like the tender speech of lovers…..it could mean ‘my darling’ for all we know.* And what a beautiful baby name it would make. Babies, lovers, hot sauce, all have a high risk factor for pain and are not to be messed with. Proceed with caution in any case. Commercial harissa is available at any Middle Eastern grocery (in Toronto head for Kensington Market). But it’s really worth the effort to make your own and doing so will give you some control over the amount of heat it packs. I freely admit that my recipe for harissa in last week’s post is but a cheap knock-off, given that the heat is outsourced from another commercial product, namely, La Bomba. (I prefer to dispense with the preparation of hot peppers and save myself the aggravation of singeing my eyes inadvertently in the process, which seems to happen despite my best efforts.) So the recipe simply calls for ‘some hot stuff’ to be thrown in. I’m leaving you on your own to wade into that hotspring. One woman’s inferno is another man’s sauna, or something like that.
*Actually, it means to pound.
Having either acquired or concocted your harissa, you have already won half the battle. Try it on pizza with goat cheese and eggplant. Mix it into yogurt, add more garlic, and voila! You have a zesty dip for crudités. To put some swagger in your next pasta dish, try the recipe below, and solve yet again that age-old conundrum. This is what’s for dinner.
Recipe: Pasta Harissa
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium sized yellow summer squash, ½ in. slices
1 sweet pepper, yellow, red, or green, cut into strips
2 or 3 tomatoes, chopped
1 batch harissa (see post of March 18, 2012) or some unknown quantity of commercial harissa: sorry, I can’t say how much as I haven’t worked with it and the strength of its heat is likely different from my own; you’ll just have to wing it.
2/3 cup olives, slivered
½ cup hard cheese (pecorino or manchego) or dry feta, grated
fresh coriander, parsley, and/or basil, washed and chopped
¾ to 1 lb. pasta
Put a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta.
Heat olive oil in a large heavy skillet on med-high heat. Add the squash and peppers and cook only to ‘al dente’ stage. Remove from heat.
Cook the pasta. Drain and return to the pot. Stir in the harissa and tomatoes. Then add the olives, squash, peppers, and herbs. Garnish with cheese.
ADVANCE OF THE AMARYLLIS
We have an Amaryllis that is currently in the midst of its annual performance. Here is a peek at the show so far…..