Where do I even begin with her?
If I showed you her Official Resume, you’d probably just be intimidated. Trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, Victoria collaborated with the legendary photographer Irving Penn at Vogue and beyond. She’s been behind some of the more iconic food images in both recent history (New York magazine’s cover girl cow, anyone?) and at my dinner table (hello, dreamy little lettuce hand rolls). Chances are, you’ve cooked something in your kitchen because she was the genius who made it look so freaking delicious in the photo. Of this I’m sure.
But that doesn’t really say what I want to say about her.
When she signed on to help me produce my next book (details forthcoming), I was so pumped. For starters, it felt sorta like I landed LeBron James to coach my kids’ basketball team. When you write books, you never really expect someone to care about your project as much as you do, but before I knew it, Victoria was calling me from the dishware department of Ikea, ordering Paul McCobb pasta bowls to be shipped to my house via etsy (I’d never heard of him either), and sending me recipes she thought might help with inspiration. (“You can’t handle the truth,” she texted me about her mom’s brisket. It included Lipton Onion Soup Mix and Grape Jelly.)
The woman cares.
The best part about her signing on, though, was that it gave me week-long access to her and her weird brain. The stuff she stores in there…you just don’t ask questions. You listen. When I worked with her in my magazine days, I always used to tell her I want to follow her around with a reporter’s notebook. And so one day, during the shoot, I actually did it. Here is what I downloaded from her in the course of, oh, about an hour:
A dollar bill is exactly six inches long if you ever need a ruler; 1/2 ounce equals a tablespoon; you can use heated dried beans for a heat compress if you don’t have an actual heat compress; pound cake is called pound cake because way back when it called for a pound of butter, a pound of flour, and a pound of sugar; a nonstick skillet is the way to go for meatballs; stir latke mix with a silver spoon to prevent the potatoes from graying, Zocdoc is the way to go for organizing doctor’s appointments; an origami-envelope is the way to go for mailing cash…And (perhaps my favorite) Don’t bother with a from-scratch cake for your kid’s classroom party, just frost a store-bought pound cake, cover it with assorted candies, all in the same color (key), and watch the kids lose their minds.
What makes her so good, of course, is that she finds inspiration anywhere. On the first day of the shoot, I caught her staring at a strainer that was lying on my kitchen counter. “What?” I asked her. I’ve had this strainer for probably 20 years — so long I don’t even see it anymore — it’s all misshapen and the plastic handle has been accidentally melted at least thirteen times. She says, “I think this strainer has an amazing story.” She was, of course, right.
The good news is that you can find out what I’m talking about for yourself. That’s because the smart people over at Short Stacks signed her up to contribute a book in their single-ingredient series, and it’s a treasure trove of Victoria-isms. For her ingredient, she chose chickpeas and allow me to stop your brain before it goes hurtling towards the hummus direction. (Le Cordon Bleu, remember?) We’re talking Roasted Salt & Vinegar Chickpeas, Red Curry Vegetable Fritters with Sweet Coconut Chutney, A baked chickpea-flour flatbread called Socca, Turkish Rice with Chickpeas and Cinnamon, and, Pasta Con Ceci, which is her 11-year-old’s favorite, and now my 12-year-old’s favorite. It’s up there in the photo and it’s just about the easiest thing in the world to put together for a fast dinner.
Pasta con Ceci
Two things to remember here: First, do not skimp on the olive oil; it’s what’ll make you think you’re on a balcony in Naples when you eat this. Second, don’t wimp out and undercook the garlic. It needs to be toasted to give this dish the right flavor. You’ll get what I mean when you taste it. This is my son’s favorite meal, and one that I make for him once a week. I used to give him Parmesan rinds to teethe on, and when he no longer needed to teethe, I started throwing them in this pasta. -VG
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
3 tablespoons good tomato paste
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (or one 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed)
1/2 cup uncooked ditalini pasta
2 cups boiling water
crushed red pepper flakes, for serving
In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the garlic and cook, stirring until it becomes lightly browned and fragrant. Stir in the tomato paste and salt and fry for 30 seconds or so. Add the chickpeas, pasta, and boiling water. Stir to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot, lower the heat, and simmer until the pasta is cooked and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes. To serve, ladle the pasta into shallow bowls, sprinkle with crushed red pepper flakes, and drizzle a bit of extra-virgin olive oil on top.