Drop the Fancy Names: Macaroni Dishes to Warm Up Your Winter

In Italy, macaroni means a type of short, tubular pasta; in Israel it means long noodles. But in cholent or with smoked fish, it doesn’t matter what you call it.

Dan Peretz

The Italians have dozens of names for pasta, just like the Eskimos have myriad names for snow and the French for love. But around here we keep it simple: If they float in soup, they’re called lokshen, and if they’re in a dish with sauce they’re called macaroni. And that’s just fine. Let’s not complicate things: Just give me some of what’s cooking there in the pot, without any fancy names or long stories, and I’ll tell you if it’s tasty.

Titles and traditions are for recorders of recipes and writers of cookbooks. In most kitchens worldwide, real food usually had very few names, and these were essentially synonyms for “Give me a little something to go with the arak” or “I’m really hungry” or “I need something sweet.”

But when real food and real people had almost disappeared, the chroniclers of gastronomy began to document and reconstruct that world, and the cooks followed suit and before long were not just cooks, but chefs who came up with all sorts of their own creations that had little in common with their surroundings, and often required special names and explanations.

So I’ve been learning the names of all the different pastas, and the spices and the cheeses and the meat, and mixing and matching until I’m not sure what’s what anymore. And sometimes, when I’m really confused, I just ask for a salad and olives, or chicken with macaroni – which is another way of saying: I’m really hungry.

Macaroni hamin

In Italy, macaroni is short, hollow pasta, like the kind Americans have adopted for the famous “mac and cheese.” In Israel, the word has come to refer to long spaghetti, or even more so to the long, hollow bucatini, which are particularly well-suited to this cholent recipe.

Macaroni hamin is the Kurdish-Iraqi-Jerusalemite version of Ashkenazi kugel. It comes with the addition of chicken and spices, and some people even like to make it in summer, since it’s not as heavy as the traditional cholent. I find it perfect for our winter here, when a warm sunbeam is just behind every rain cloud. It’s very easy to make, and the flavor falls somewhere between jahnoun and roast chicken.

1 whole medium-size chicken

3/4 cup (180 ml) vegetable oil

3 onions

6 garlic cloves

750 gr bucatini (hollow

spaghetti)

fine sea salt

coarsely ground black pepper

4-5 small potatoes

Use a kitchen scissors to cut the chicken along the back; remove the backbone and tailbone. Heat a little oil in a heavy, oven-proof pot over a high flame and brown the chicken well on all sides. Slice the onion thin, remove the chicken from the pot, lower the flame a bit and fry the onion until golden. Slice the garlic and add it to the pot. Continue frying for a minute or two, then turn off the heat.

Meanwhile, cook the bucatini in a large pot of salted boiling water until just al dente. Drain it and transfer to a bowl with the onion and fried garlic. Add the rest of the oil, season with salt and pepper and toss.

Slice the potatoes and place on the bottom of the pot. Spread some of the pasta on top to make a uniform layer. Place the chicken on top of this, on its side, and arrange the rest of the pasta in and around it. Cover tightly with baking paper or aluminum foil. Put on the lid, place over medium heat and cook until you hear the sound of frying. Take the pot off the heat and place in the oven, preheated to 100 degrees Celsius. Leave in the oven overnight, or for at least 10 hours.

To serve, either bring the pot to the table or turn it upside down to empty the contents onto a wide platter. Serve with fresh vegetable salad and spicy harissa.

Spaghetti with smoked fish and black olives

The fish sauce is rich and thick, making this a perfect winter dish, best followed up with a good grappa. I use smoked Israeli trout, but you can also use mackerel or other smoked fish that’s a little fatty and won’t fall apart when cooked. The tangy onion that’s sprinkled over the dish at the end is meant to counteract the creamy, fatty consistency of the sauce. You could easily substitute fresh chopped tomatoes, green onion or a little lemon zest.

Make the sauce mostly from jarred or tinned foods you still have in the pantry since the summer – smoked fish, salted olives, wine. You don’t need to go the market, you don’t have to see anyone. Just stay home and cook.

1 red onion

1/2 cup (120 ml) good red wine vinegar

50 gr butter

250 gr smoked fish filets

20 pitted Kalamata olives

1/2 cup (120 ml) dry white wine

180 ml sour cream

sea salt

coarsely ground black pepper

250 gr spaghetti or bucatini

Chop the onion and soak it in the vinegar for half an hour. In a deep skillet, melt the butter over a medium flame. Remove the skin from the smoked fish, cut into thin slices and place in the skillet. Add the olives, shake the skillet a bit and let the fish and olives get a little seared. Add the white wine and cook until all the wine evaporates. Lower the heat, add the sour cream, salt and pepper and stir until the sauce becomes a little thinner. Be careful not to let the sauce come to a boil.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and add it to the sauce. Combine well and divide among individual serving plates. Sprinkle on some of the chopped onion that was soaked in vinegar and serve immediately, accompanied by a glass of chilled white wine.