Articles / Food as Comic Relief, with Calvin Trillin

Food as Comic Relief, with Calvin Trillin

Published August 16, 2023

Plus: Tofu impromptu, zucchini “junk food,” and the first cookbook I ever bought


This Week’s Marksisms

Food with Mark Bittman: Calvin Trillin

I think I originally had the idea of having the brilliant Calvin Trillin — known to some as Bud — on the podcast because I was thinking about an article he wrote in which he talked about how Thanksgiving turkey should be replaced with carbonara. (I agree.) I love him, I love his writing. He said yes when I asked, and a couple days before the interview, Kate said to me, “oh my god, you’re so excited, you should just do this one yourself so you can shower him with your fandom.”

After the interview she was sad to have missed it, and you’ll see why. This interview, so you know, does not have a ton of food content: It definitely has some, but it’s more about Bud’s very rich history with writing — he’s been at the New Yorker for sixty years now, and has written about basically everything, from civil rights to food to killings to his late wife to his strategy for picking restaurants, all extremely well. He’s also a humorist and a poet, as you’ll see. I’m … starstruck.

My recipe for applesauce, featured on today’s episode, can be found here.

Follow Food with Mark Bittman on: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Overcast | Pocket Casts | Amazon Music


Want Meatless Burgers? Here Ya Go.

This is the thing: A guy said to me “I went to Yankee Stadium and they’ve invented a giant soda that has a cup of chicken wings on top; the straw goes through the chicken wings.” This does not even appeal to me, and we have discussed at some length my weakness for junk food.

But then the guy said, “Well, if they had decent food at Yankee Stadium no one would eat it, anyway.” That I cannot accept. That I’m calling bullshit on. You think people won’t eat hummus? Guacamole? Eggplant hamburgers? Do you want me to go on?

This isn’t even about that. But that thought made me want eggplant “polpetti” – meatballs – more than I’ve ever wanted any food. I had to have them. And so, needless to say, I made them, and they reinforced the notion that fake meat hamburgers are among the biggest frauds ever perpetrated on the American people: Eggplant hamburgers are a hundred times better, not hard to make, and actual real food.

Here’s what I did, loosely based on my own recipe:

Grilled eggplants until they collapsed.

Chopped them up, discarded the hard bits, and drained them. (Some people discard the skin; that’s a mistake, and I don’t care who they are. The skin is the best part.)

Put into a food processor: bread crumbs, garlic (more than you think), parsley (also), Parmesan (I have to say: optional; it’s not that important). Walnuts would be good, not processed as finely. Also, many people add an egg, but you don’t need it if you get the breadcrumb-eggplant ratio right. And “right” means you can easily form a patty. So now make a patty.

Then you sauté, in olive or peanut (or whatever) oil. Leftover, the next day, on good bread with Dijon mustard? As good as a Yankee Stadium hot dog.


Zucchini Doritos?

The fuss is usually about tomatoes, but for me this is the year of the eggplant and the zucchini. I experimented a little bit with these zucchini jerky ribbons a little bit and am sure that with a little work I can turn them into the equivalent of Doritos; when you get them right, they are leathery, sweet, garlicky, a tad oily (you gotta use some olive oil), and of course salty.

The content below was originally paywalled.

Start with thin-sliced zucchini, add that other stuff, keep the oven heat below 300°F and be patient. That’s not a recipe – that’s the start of a recipe. Any and all input welcome.


Tofu Impromptu

I made some baked tofu – dusted the tofu with five spice powder (well, probably seven: cinnamon, star anise, allspice, black pepper, cloves, ginger – ok, six plus salt), put it in a nonstick pan slicked with a very little bit of peanut oil, baked at low heat (under 275°F) for a long time. This was probably 2 hours. The cool thing — aside from the tofu being good — was there were tofu “drippings” in the pan: spicy oil mixed with some of the moisture from the tofu. I tossed some rice in there, not a bad little addition to a stir-fry.


My First Cookbook

This is the first cookbook I bought, either in 1970 or ’71; it was published in ’66. I bought it at a little bookstore in downtown Worcester, MA, and my notes are scrawled all over the place. Still good. I looked at it when making chicken biriyani last night and wished I had rose water, which it calls for as a garnish—I haven’t done that in forever.

See ya next week!