I have a writer's crush.
Her name is Besha and she likes Pizzeria Mozza and walnuts; is deliciously, subtly snarky; and she can perfectly capture a moment, a bite, a dish in a way that makes me wish we were BFFs and slugging back glasses of Sancerre while discussing Jung at an overcrowded restaurant bar right now. Besha and Diana. Diana and Besha.
This isn't the first time I've had a writer's crush, and incidentally, isn't the only writer's crush I even currently possess. I'm equal parts in love with Sarah Gim from "The Delicious Life" (who is actually one of my dearest friends), Molly Wizenberg from "Orangette," Ruth Reichl (who needs no introduction), and Amanda Hesser, whose sentiments about sharing food in her book Cooking for Mr. Latte made me pump my fist into the air in solidarity when I read the memoir two years ago.
She wrote, "When I go out to a restaurant, I do not like feeling as if I'm at a buffet. I like to construct my meal thoughtfully and then eat it. I don't want to pass plates and don't want someone plopping a slab of his skate in my lamb jus."
It was like she'd dug her fork into my brain and dug out the very words that were threatening to escape my mouth every time I was propositioned to order the entire menu and share it amongst seven different people.
This was, of course, before Amanda introduced me to my favorite be-all end-all brownie recipe. Though, in the interests of full disclosure, that likely sealed the deal on my lifelong affection for her and her sharp, yet accessible wordsmithing.
Like Ms. Hesser, at some point all these femme fatale food writers -- Sarah, Molly, Ruth, and, most recently, Besha -- authored something so relatable, so like something that I would write (or, more accurately, aspire to write if I possessed the words to do so), that I was overcome with the sense that we should be best friends. Or at the very least, I wanted to "grow up" to be just like them, a food writer with the ability to elucidate the exact way a restaurant would make a diner feel, or effortlessly draw a parallel between a slice-of-life anecdote and a recipe.
These ladies are my version of "celebrities" -- people I would have a freakout/Instagram moment over if I happened to cross paths with them. Just like when I met Molly Wizenberg at a book signing for A Homemade Life and awkwardly geeked out about a lentil soup recipe. Because I'm totally cool like that.
What it really drizzles down to is my admiration for how they can turn something that is entirely dependent on individual taste, personal preference and circumstance and make it wholly, completely recognizable through a string of words. An adjective. An analogy that seems wrong, yet is somehow so spot-on it clarifies exactly what it is they are trying to convey. The ever elusive show not tell -- the thing that every writer aspires to achieve.
Whether it's a single walnut, or a (seemingly) monochromatic plate of cauliflower, tempeh, garlic, shallots, and farro.
Black Pepper Tempeh with Cauliflower and Farro
Adapted from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day
Notes: Don't be put off by the seemingly bland appearance of this dish. It's anything but. The ginger, red pepper flakes, freshly ground pepper, and garlic add a sharpness that is barely curtailed by the sweetness of the lightly caramelized shallots and brown sugar, and salty lick of soy sauce. The earthy cauliflower, nutty farro and tempeh are the ideal templates for absorbing the bold flavors. My adjustments to the original recipe are mostly procedural in nature, aside from the addition of farro and the amplified amount of soy sauce.
2/3 cups farro, rinsed well
2 cups cauliflower, coarsely chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
2 teaspoons coconut oil
5 ounces tempeh, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 shallots, minced
4-6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1-inch piece ginger, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes
Freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup cashew pieces, toasted (optional)
In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, brown sugar and water. Set aside.
Bring 1 1/3 cups water to boil in a medium saucepan. Add the farro, reduce heat, and cover. Simmer for 20-30 minutes or until water is absorbed and farro is tender, but still toothsome.
Place baking sheet in the oven. Preheat to 400 degrees. Spread cauliflower bits in a single layer on hot baking sheet. Season with pepper and roast, stirring once, for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.
Meanwhile, heat large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the coconut oil, swirling to coat the base of the pan. Add the shallots, garlic, ginger, tempeh, and a pinch of red pepper flakes to taste, and saute over medium-low heat until garlic and shallots are tender and the tempeh is lightly browned, approximately 15 minutes.
Add the soy sauce mixture and roasted cauliflower to the pan, stirring until well-incorporated. Serve immediately over farro. If using, sprinkle with toasted cashews.