Pietro Gangemi's Torta di Carciofi
April in Paris

Francis Lam's Baked Rice

It may have to do with the fact that in just over 24 hours I'll be on an airplane to Paris with my girlfriends, for my first trip there since my mother and I met up in the Marais for a weekend four years ago, but I can't seem to focus on any kind of proper recipe at all right now. Instead, I'm thinking about being in Paris.

It's funny, how each time there gets sorted under a different rubric. For a long time, I associated Paris with my father, who took me there a few times in college, and who has his own ongoing love affair with the city. I lived there for a year myself, working and struggling, because despite the glorious city around me and the interesting work I had, it felt like a struggle to this then-21 year old, to be seen, to feel connected, to find a way - any way - to feel a little less alone there. I had to take a break from Paris when I left, had to banish it from my thoughts, because my experience had turned into something quite painful, a lost love haunting every memory I had of the place. But I've slowly been finding my way back, through blogs and stories and the soft passage of time. And now I'm so excited I can't sit still, can't wait to be back for a new experience this time: Paris with my girls. It's a whole new thing.

I'll be back next week with photos and stories for you, but before I go, I have to tell you about something that seriously made my week (already): Francis Lam's method for cooking rice. Embedded deep within an article he wrote for Gourmet.com were just a few short sentences that me both smile and sit up straight:

"Warm up a heavy saucepan with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Give it a few nice glugs of olive oil. Don’t be stingy. Now throw in your rice and stir it around...until...maybe half the rice has turned opaque. Pour in your water; it will probably boil immediately. If not, make it boil. Then cover it and drop it in the oven. Pull it out 13 minutes later. If you’re one of those freaky people who can cook rice perfectly on the stove, do whatever it is that you do. Weirdo."

Freaky, indeed! Who, exactly, can cook rice perfectly on the stove? Not even my 12-grade boyfriend's Iranian mother and she had, like, 5,000 years of culinary perfection in her DNA. I use Martha Stewart's method and not even that is foolproof. So, clutching my computer and feeling determined, I marched straight into the kitchen and turned the oven on.

I had an inkling about those lines of Francis's, you know, that they would somehow change my life. Some of you might scoff, but the others know what I mean, right? Yeasted doughs, homemade pasta, soufflés, caramel, the supposedly difficult achievements in the kitchen that make you feel so proud when you master them, those achievements all fall away after being confronted by yet another pot of overcooked or undercooked, slightly chewy or frustratingly soft rice. So simple in theory, yet so difficult to master.

But my inkling was right, my life changed: perfect rice, suddenly within reach. Plus, so easy, so stress-free. The oven did all the work and all I had to do was show up when the timer screeched. It was quite the mid-week surprise. We scooped out our nice grains of rice, cooked with just the right amount of moisture, and munched happily away, with plenty left over for fried rice the next night.

(The fried rice, you ask: I used Mark Bittman's recipe, which was okay, but next time I'll try something that looks more like this, or like this. Or maybe one of you has a fried rice recipe that you think I can't live without? Pretty please!)


Life-Changing Baked Rice
Serves at least 4

1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
2 cups basmati or long-grain white rice
3 cups (or 2 3/4 cups, if you like dryer grains) water
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour the olive oil or place the butter in a heavy saucepan with a tight-fitting lid (I used my Le Creuset soup pot) and set the pan over medium-high heat. Throw in the rice and stir it until the oil or butter coats all the grain. Cook, stirring, for a few minutes. The rice will look glassy and smell toasty.

2. Pour in the water, add the salt, and bring to a boil. Stir the rice once, then cover the pot and place in the oven. Set the timer for 13 minutes.

3. After 13 minutes, remove the pot from the oven. Do not remove the lid from the pot and let the rice rest for five minutes. After resting, fork through the rice to fluff it and serve.