Corona Collabs (A Series With My Best Cooking Friend) Spicy Pasta Edition

We're having a global pandemic right now, are mostly relegated to our individual homes, and it just felt like an appropriate time to start blogging again. Just before the crazy began, my sister Sarah and I moved into a long-awaited apartment in Norfolk's Ghent area and I've got to say: if we're going to be socially distanced (a glum enough assignment to dampen anyone's ardor), I'd rather be stuck here than anywhere. There are enough remaining projects to keep us busy - it's amazing how organized one's home can be when you're actually in it long enough to realize how out at the elbows it was looking. I feel like we have an excuse (we just moved in), but I still can't stand living out of a suitcase and cardboard boxes. In that respect I've been quite productive. The one task remaining that still scares me is the hanging of my gallery wall. I've always been The Worst at hanging things because I don't have the patience to measure things properly and the wall always ends up looking as if a caffeinated woodpecker had got hold of it before anything is hung in the right place. It's not a good look, especially in a rental home. I'm excited to have the wall up - that isn't the problem - but I'm procrastibaking about it, and going for walks instead, and oversharing on social media, and doing basically anything except hang up my gallery.

Right as the virus intensity settled upon our shoulders, Sarah found a dandelion chandelier from IKEA on FB marketplace for a mere $20. When we got it home we realized it bore a striking resemblance to the COVID-19 molecule, which we now cannot unsee. Then there's the small problem of not having a ladder tall enough to reach the entryway ceiling and hang the darn thing. Don't mind us - we just have a pandemic molecule hanging out in the corner of the foyer for the time being. It's not all bad - we are walking distance from some of my favorite restaurants (now closed), my favorite coffee shop (now closed), and several grocery stores (all open and crowded with other dodgy-looking people who likewise feel guilty for being outside of their houses with the invisible threat). We've cut off all social gatherings, church meetings, goings-out-to-eatings, and everything interesting possible and here we are: people who get to discover for the first time in their adult lives how it feels to be grounded. C'est la vie. The greater good is worth the temporary shackles.

Most of you will remember my best cooking friend, Shannon. You know her, I promise you do: the kitchen wizard with the green bike and the wonderful apartment? In a funny twist of fate, Shannon and her husband had to swiftly move to Richmond, leaving behind a marvelous vacancy which Sarah and I immediately took up, as well as the prettiest couch with a fried egg-shaped hole in the seat, some key pieces of furniture, all of her porch pots (here comes a garden), and the self-same green bicycle. Basically Shannon is our patron-saint and we honor her memory. Being separated from my good buddy by distance alone was bad enough, but here came corona and now we are quarantined away from each other and unable to cook together. What a to-do. Shannon asked me if I planned to dip back into blogging during the interim. It was one of those questions that assumes an answer; more like a polite directive: you should get back into blogging. And she's right. Maybe it's too soon to joke about it, but we're all stuck in our homes and you are a literally captive audience. Boredom will soon drive you to read anything - even a blog post about a chandelier that looks like an incubus of viral plague (Devil Wears Prada reference, anyone?). So I thought, what better way to make use of the time than to do a series of recipe collaborations with one of the best cooks I know?

 Over the course of the next few weeks (we do not speak of months), I plan to share simple-format recipes inspired by the things we've cooked together, the pantry staples you probably bought in a panic, and the sheer love of cooking. It's sad and hard to be disconnected from the beloved snack-share program Shannon and I had firmly established. I mean, who is supposed to finish the other half of the things I bake and the things she cooks? How the heck am I supposed to eat the phenomenally-spicy egg and okra curry if Shannon isn't there to make it for me? And excuse me but is there anyone else in Norfolk who routinely stocks fresh kefir lime leaves in her crisper? I don't think so. We can't all be Shannon, but we can all cook her recipes. So here we go. The illustrations are by me, the recipes by Shannon, the other words, a blend of us both. I think it's good to go on in a new vein if the old one is crunched up. Maybe we'll be able to return to the old paths sooner than we fear. Or maybe it will be a while yet. Nobody knows, and that's what is difficult. But food will always comfort, and friends are still only a phone-call away. I talked with Shannon for an hour today and we covered nearly everything - from the stiffness of new jeans to the prognosis of the pandemic. We solved approximately nothing, but you know what? Somehow it felt better to share even at a distance.

Today I give to you Shannon's famous "spicy pasta." It's delicious, quick, and strangely perfect. Like, you look at the list of ingredients and you think it surely has to be more complicated. But does it? Nah. Even though I'm a self-proclaimed maximalist, I still think there's magic in simplicity in a lot of cases, and most assuredly when it comes to this dinner. I like to replace the pasta with spaghetti squash (I know, I disappoint myself) but otherwise follow her instructions completely. From Shannon:

Here's a little gem I threw together after getting off a very long baking shift at Toast. Memorial Day weekend had Biscuit slammed the previous two days, and baking always leaves me pretty drained. This was something I chose to make with groceries I knew I had at home instead of stopping for the illusive siren call of Mr Schwarma. But man was I glad I went straight home instead. This was even faster than I anticipated , and so flavor-packed. At my first bite I thought it wasn't as spicy as I wanted, but the Fresno chilis gave a really nice heat that built on itself. This is a dish you could serve to friends, and they would probably think it had simmered all day. On the other hand, it's the perfect way to treat yo'self on a busy weeknight when you think you don't have the will to cook. Chances are it's better than the takeout you were going to stop for anyway. So try this spicy pasta! The only special tools you need for this recipe is a food processor. That makes quick work of your sauce, but you can certainly get your fine dice on with a good ole knife.

Spicy Pasta
serves four

1 onion
3 Fresno chilis
3 cloves garlic
1 lb. hot Italian sausage (ground)
4 oz. tomato paste
32 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 lb. thick cut tagliatelle pasta, or pasta alternative
goat cheese for serving
parsley for serving
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Put some salted water on to boil, and cook pasta according to package directions. Remove peel from onion and garlic. Remove top from peppers but do not discard the ribs or seeds - you want this spicy! Give a rough chop to your onion and peppers so that it fits well into your food processor. Throw the roughly chopped onions, peppers and garlic into your food processor and give it a few pulses until you have a very thinly diced base for your sauce.
  2. Saute the aromatics until fragrant and slightly translucent. Throw on some salt to help bring out the flavors. Add sausage to the pan and brown ( remove casings if you bought links).
  3. Add the tomato paste to the pan, stir well, and cook for about three minutes to awaken the paste. Then turn the heat down and add your crushed tomatoes and season with salt and pepper to taste. Let it simmer until your pasta is done cooking. Then combine the al dente noodles in your sauce skillet to coat well and let the flavors start to meld together.
  4. To serve, plate the pasta and top with chopped fresh parsley and crumbled goat cheese.


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