I once overheard a conversation between two of my coworkers. This was back when I had a job in a bonafide office that employed actual grown-up human beings with whom I could interact. We were all at the printer.
“What’d you do this weekend?” said one as she jammed a ream of paper into the drawer.
“Oh, our friends came over for dinner,” said the other.
“That’s fun. What’d you make?”
“We all cooked that lasagna that was on the cover of Gourmet.”
“Oooo….I saw that. The Emilia-Romagna one, right?”
Did you make it with the bechamel?”
“And the homemade noodles?”
“Yup, everything. That was the evening’s entertainment. The kids watched Nemo, then we all relaxed and made dinner.”
At the time my girls were 2 and 3 and that kind of night with friends was both unthinkable and enviable. I absolutely fell in love with the concept of Dinner Party cum Personal Challenge and vowed I would do exactly the same thing when our kids were old enough to entertain themselves. And then I vowed to learn how to make homemade pasta. And then I asked myself, How is it that your mother is Italian and three of your daughters’ great-grandparents are 100% Italian, and it took a chance encounter over the Epson to inspire you to make homemade pasta?
Anyway. The girls got older, and as anyone who has read my book knows, we’ve cranked out many batches of homemade pasta with our friends on many memorable nights. (No lasagna yet.) But when I think back to the printer conversation, a different thread of the story jumps out at me: My coworker’s commitment to following an authentic recipe to the letter. And now I’m always on the lookout for dishes that will fit the bill.
As soon as I saw a recipe for Andy Ricker’s Pad Thai last year (described in the headnote as “this is not the dish from the neighborhood takeout joint”), I knew that it qualified. Ricker spent twenty years studying authentic Northern Thai cuisine before he became the James Beard Award-Winning chef-owner behind the Pok Pok empire in Portland (and now New York). The ingredient list for his pad thai was long and the recipe called for things like sweet preserved shredded radishes, tamarind paste, rice noodles that had to be soaked in hot water before frying, and simple syrup, “preferably made from palm sugar.” Oh, my simple syrup would be made from palm sugar all right. I would track down garlic chives (not the same thing as regular chives apparently); I would do whatever I needed to do in order to secure the exact ingredients called for. No shortcutting. No skipping an ingredient and saying It’s just one thing. How crucial can it be? like I tend to do …just about every night. And other than those sweet pickled radishes (I could only find spicy), I managed to do it. We are lucky to have an Asian supermarket superstore nearby (FYI locals: Golden Village on Central Ave), so we hit that, then laid everything on a cutting board (below) and got to work.
Can I just say: Oh My Freaking Lord. This recipe was insane. Every bite a revelation of sour, fishy, sweet and crunchy. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it was as good as the one I ate in Thailand while my toes were wriggling in the powdery sand of Maenam Beach. Maybe even as awesome as the sand and the beach combined. And we made it in our own kitchen, a half a world away.
A few of the ingredients called for: pad thai rice noodles, fish sauce, palm sugar, lime, thai chiles, bean sprouts, tofu. Check out the recipe here.