I've lived in a lot of places and what separates New York City from all other cities and towns are two constant opposing forces -- one that pulls you out of your small apartment and toward an Eden of restaurants, theatre, work events and all manner of cocktail parties, and another intense magnetic pull that makes you want to nest, bake your own bread and generally shield yourself from the aggression outside your windows. The former is the temptation, the latter is the control.
To get yourself to choose control, one of three things has to happen: you bear children and babysitting costs make nesting at home seem incredibly urgent and appealing. Two, you get a nice assignment from HuffPost to write about eating in. Or three, you're Cathy Erway and you make cooking at home a thoughtful challenge and write a great book about it.
Luckily, I have the first two excuses. This doesn't mean I don't go out -- I've been out twice this week, but it does mean that I tend not to stay out for dinner after the work event/panel/cocktail party. Take-out places have created an industry by preying on this group of tired and occasionally tipsy people who are vulnerable to easy solutions.
On Monday night, after a few hours at a gathering of start-up founders -- where, to be honest, I did cheat a little and have a Perrier and a bag of pretzels -- I came home to a quiet apartment. My kids were asleep and my husband was in California for work. Takeout was tempting. But having made a one-week pledge to cook at home, I turned to one of my favorite meals, a dish I learned when I was cooking at a restaurant in Italy.
It's called rice salad, which sounds unbearably boring, but is not. The recipe I learned to make was simply boiled Arborio rice tossed with capers, olives, herbs and a river of oil. The version I made on Monday was more of a hybrid of rice salad and tuna salad. Into the boiled Arborio (which you want to retain a little bite), I folded good oil-packed jarred tuna from Italy, capers, chopped green olives, piquillo peppers, lemon zest, lemon juice and olive oil. The oil should round out the sharp flavors and there should be enough of it to pool a little in the bottom of the bowl. You can mix in more tuna or less pepper. You can add herbs or use vinegar rather than lemon juice. It's the kind of salad that's impossible not to make your own. It's bright yet soothing, the ideal made-at-home dinner after a long day on the mean streets of Eden.
Italian Rice Salad
Serves 2 to 3
1 cup Arborio rice
¼ cup chopped piquillo peppers (from a jar)
¼ cup chopped green olives
1 tablespoon capers
4 ounces oil-packed tuna
Pinch of red pepper flakes, to taste
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
Lemon juice, to taste
3 to 4 tablespoons best quality extra virgin olive oil
Coarsely ground black pepper
1. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add the rice and cook until al dente. Drain.
2. Add the rice to a large bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Toss until the rice is thoroughly coated. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.