Sumptuous single servings


October 22, 2003|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,SUN STAFF

Joyce Goldstein has written Solo Suppers for a genuine, if small, demographic -- childless, unmarried adults who are experienced cooks, and for whom cooking dinner for themselves on a weeknight is a form of entertainment.

Granted, several of the more than 150 recipes in Solo Suppers (Chronicle Books, 2003, $19.95) can be prepared in advance by even a beginning cook and finished at dinnertime in a manner of minutes. Several marinades fit this category, as do pantry sauces that can turn simple fish or meat into a restaurant-quality meal.

But other recipes (such as a cheese souffle or risotto) require some dexterity around the kitchen. Goldstein assumes her readers know how to obtain the zest of a lemon or lime and how to pound veal cutlets. Some recipes (black bean salad, Latin American style) take two hours or more from start to finish (a long time on the average work night), while still others use ingredients that may not be readily available at the local mega-mart. Pomegranate molasses?

To be fair, Goldstein, who has been a cooking teacher for 35 years and a restaurant chef for 16, is upfront about the kind of readers that she envisions buying Solo Suppers: people like herself, who don't believe in takeout and can't stand the thought of one more broiled chicken breast.

"Some people believe that the obvious solution to cooking for one is a book of only fast and easy recipes," she writes in the introduction. "But for those of us who love good food and good cooking, there are also many nights when we enjoy spending a bit of time in the kitchen."

That said, even the fast-and-simple recipes are so delicious -- and the colored pictures spread readily throughout the cookbook so appealing -- that they may tempt even a timid cook into trying one of Goldstein's more demanding concoctions.

The book is divided into chapters on pantry sauces, main-dish salads, pasta, fish and seafood entrees, etc. There also is a short chapter on sweets, but be warned: This is the only cookbook I've ever read in which chocolate is not listed even once as a dessert ingredient.

One final caveat: Goldstein defines the serving sizes in this book as "average-sized portions for one." But for many eaters, they will seem large. For instance, a 14-to-16 ounce pork tenderloin seems about the right amount for three dinner servings, and not, as Goldstein suggests, "one sizable supper ... and enough [leftover] to serve alongside a rice salad."

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Serves 1

4 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/4 -inch-thick slices

1 whole egg or 2 egg yolks

about 3 tablespoons parmesan cheese, or part pecorino and part parmesan, plus more if desired

about 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more if desired

1 tablespoon salt

4 ounces spaghetti

2 teaspoons unsalted butter

2 teaspoons olive oil

Unroll the pancetta slices and cut them crosswise into 1/4 -inch strips. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, cheese and pepper. If possible, keep the bowl near the stove or atop a warming shelf.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop in the salt and then the spaghetti. Stir well.

While the pasta is cooking, in a saute pan, melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until bubbles appear in the pan, 5 to 7 minutes. The pancetta will be cooked but not crisp.

When the pasta is al dente, drain and add to the bowl with the egg mixture. Immediately add the pancetta and most of the drippings, and toss very quickly to combine. The sauce should be a thick, creamy liquid. Add additional cheese and pepper if desired. Eat while hot. This pasta does not reheat, so make just enough.

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