Where I Come From follows the chef from his childhood with Zarela Martinez, his single mother who was a renowned restaurateur, cookbook author, and authority on Mexican cuisine. He floundered a bit in his teenage years, causing his mother to send him to an Outward Bound-style camp one summer and to apprentice with celebrity Chef Paul Prudhomme. His twin brother was more the scholar and ended up a lawyer but Aarón knew he belonged in the kitchen. The book goes through his early years, his time working in and eventually owning his own restaurants, his personal life and battles with depression, and his celebrity and Food Network years. I liked listening to him tell his story, as his passion for food and family shine through--although the man does like an F-bomb a little too much.
I found myself more interested in his account of the early Food Network and the early "chefs as celebrities" days and his restaurant experiences than I did his personal life--especially his teenage machismo stories, but he does spin a good story and isn't afraid to give all of the dirty details. He also describes food so well that I spent the book craving really good Mexican food which I wish was closer to where I live. There are about a dozen recipes in the book and they all sounded very good and seemed accessible to the home cook. Overall, I enjoyed the book and it reaffirmed my feeling that Aarón Sánchez is a talented chef and a good guy.
On to the food. As mentioned, there is plenty in the book. From the included recipes, I was most interested in making the Sautéed Hominy with Pico de Gallo and Oregano, which I will make someday soon with the cans of hominy I like to keep around for soups and such. I decided to move away from the book and find a recipe online that might be quick to make. The recipe that popped up most frequently when I was Googling was a pasta dish called Sopa Seca which translates to "dry soup" and involves toasting pasta and cooking it with salsa and broth on the stove. In the Food Network recipe, Aarón makes a Roasted Tomato-Chile de Arbol Salsa but since I was under the gun for time and cooking after work, I chose a good medium-heat jarred salsa instead, making this dish ready in under 30 minutes.
Aaron Sánchez says, "Pasta? That's not Mexican, right? Think again. You see it in homes throughout Mexico, one of the many foreign foods that we have welcomed into our cuisine and something I ate growing up. We call this Mexican comfort food, funnily enough, sopa seca, which means "dry soup."
Slightly Adapted from Aarón Sánchez via FoodNetwork.com
(Makes 2 Servings)
1 cup small shaped pasta such as melon seeds, orzo, or alphabets
Notes/Results: I was pleasantly surprised at how good this simple dish is--rich, comforting, satisfying and flavorful. And to think it came from just spending a few minutes toasting the pasta and then stirring in salsa and letter it simmer away. I had no trouble devouring my bowl and plan on eating the leftovers for lunch today and then making it again. I am sure it's even better with the chef's freshly-made salsa, but if you have small pasta and a jar of salsa in the pantry as I usually do, this is a quick and tasty weeknight dish. The fresh cilantro, crumbly (feta in my case) cheese, and the tiny "tomato sprinkles" I added gild the lily, but it is delicious on its own. Sometimes last minute, low effort is a big win.