Charlie has taught me a lot about Lao food. In conversations he’s distilled his experience as a first-gen Lao-Canadian. His memories of his childhood in Vanastra – surrounded by recent refugee arrivals from Laos, and the ways that the food culture helped integrate new-comers and experience community – have been critical to the narrative of this blog.
What you don’t know about Charlie is the other cook. With the same attention I pay to Lao food, Charlie is the inquisitive student and obsessive researcher into Caribbean Creole cuisines, Soul Food, and Italian.
The stereotype is the young Italian cook gets their food pedigree from some Italian grandparent that showed them the ropes. Charlie is my Italian Grandfather.
Although these times are rare, as Charlie is the world’s busiest man, when in his cups his execution of massive batches of comfort pasta are legendary. A party has hit its stride only once a carbonara or puttanesca gets fired up at the range.
Once I threw a dinner party at Laohaus with 15 of my closest friends. We invited Chris and Charlie to come over to my place when they were done putting the restaurant to bed. At 12:15am I started receiving texts from Charlie: “Yo, do you have a lot of garlic? Do you have olives? Anchovies?” And then, a minute later: “Nvm. I’ll just bring the stuff.”
Lo, by 1:30am, 15 of my drunkest friends were being fed a super puttanesca by Nonno Sananikone – the second time he’d cooked for us in a six hour span. The only difference being that he’d showered and was wearing fly clothes. We mostly stood around the kitchen, holding plates in our hands, devouring mega portions of the salty, funky noodles. Given the sheer volume of the Laohaus meal, it was incredible that we were able to deck a second helping of comfort carbs within such a short time frame.
Charlie taught me how to make his puttanesca. For all its potency, it’s wicked simple: anchovies, olive oil, black pepper, oregano, chili flakes, cloves of hipster garlic, black olives in oil (the oil cured kind), handful of capers, canned san marzanos, parlsey.
When I made it for some friends, Joe commented about the similarity between puttanesca and papaya salad. There’s something to it for sure. In fact, sub out the papaya for vermicelli noodles and make a thum khao poon and compare: garlic, salty funky fish paste, tomatoes, chilies… It reminds me of Alan Davidson’s comment on padaek in the The Traditional Recipes of Laos. He relays the story of a Lao woman married to a British guy, and the she finds salted canned anchovies to be the closest thing to padaek – except more Orientalist in that old British way.
As is fondly noted, Puttanesca means “pasta in the style of a whore.” Deliberate what you will about what that means: it smells like a whore, it has a whore’s temper, it’s strong like a whore – I prefer to think that it’s a noodle dish that takes only as long as a John.
PREP AND EXECUTION
Start by bringing a pot of salty water to a boil.
Measure out enough dry spaghetti for two people.
Rough chop 4 anchovy fillets (or measure out half a tbsp of anchovy paste).
Smash 4 cloves of hispter garlic (whatever is local to you) and chop it up.
Take a handful of oil-cured kalamata olives, pit them, and give them a chop.
Hey guys. Happy Thursday! It’s time again for my #foodstylisttipoftheweek Do you love olives as much as I do? Well if you do, this tip is for you. If you want to cook with olives but want to get rid of the pits here is a trick to get em out while keeping your olives looking pretty. Lay your olive on a cutting board, and place the flat side of your knife over top of it. Press gently until you flatten the olive. Remove the knife and the pit will come right out. It’s that easy! You can do this for cherries too ;-)🍒 . . . #olives #cherry #cherrypie #foodtips #tipoftheday #tastyfood #cookingtime #cookslife #kitchenlife #foodstylist #foodaholic #food4thought #foodielife #foodphotos #foodpictures #goodeating #instafoods #mediterraneo #igfoodie #eatme #torontofood #devourpower #tryitordiet #gloobyfood #yougottaeatthis #foodblogfeed #infatuation
Take a tsp of capers, give ’em a chop.
Open a can of good San Marzano tomatoes from Italy. I prefer them diced, but you can chop them yourself.
Add your spaghetti to the boiling water and set a timer for 8 minutes. Heat a couple tbsps of olive oil in a pan. Add a pinch of chili flakes and crack some black pepper into it. It should sizzle.
Add your anchovies to the hot oil, break them up a bit with a wooden spoon. Next add your garlic, olives, and capers. Stir them while they cook for a minute. Add your tomatoes and let simmer. While it’s doing this throw in a binch of oregano, and grate some pecorino cheese and roughly chop some parsley.
Once your timer goes off, drain your pasta. Next, add it directly to the pan of sauce. Here you can add some cheese to it, or add cheese on top once its on your plate, or not add cheese at all. Plate, garnish with green, and eat.
When your friends ask you how you learned to make this dish, tell them that you were taught it by your Italian grandfather, Charlie.