Sometimes, I like to eat alone. It's nothing against all-out dinner parties or quiet pasta nights with my husband, but I find real pleasure in cooking for one, especially when that one is me.
When I was single and living in the Big City, eating alone was my habit. I didn't mind it, and it wasn't all the time. A night or two each week my then-boyfriend would come by and we'd go out or stay in, sometimes just for pizza and other times for a crabcake at Clyde's. Back then, eating alone was something I didn't think much of, and therein lies the problem.
I suppose much of it had to do with money, or lack thereof. Solitary dining in my tiny apartment usually consisted of a bowl of cereal, perhaps some toast, leftover pasta or a few boiled eggs. It wasn't that I wasn't hungry [I am always hungry], but cooking for one seemed like a waste of time. Why bother pulling out the pots and pans for just me? Why fill the sink with dishes when there aren't any guests to hmmm and haw over their plates?
But to eat alone is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. Now, I don't do it out in public quite often, mostly because I don't feel truly alone with a small crowd of people glancing my way, wondering if I feel very pathetic sitting there by my lonesome. What I mean is to cook at home, to take the time to prepare a meal for yourself, one that will likely have no leftovers and no complaints. Now, I don't mean you should prepare a full course meal each night you find yourself staring into the cupboard without a friend, but do put some thought into it. It's not unlike treating yourself to a new pair of jeans, or an iced coffee after a long meeting mid-day - it's a little bit of you time.
Now that I'm married, the opportunity for dining alone doesn't come quite as often as it used to. This past week, I was feeling particularly greedy and especially grateful that my husband wasn't home because I had a wicked craving for, and this is a little embarrassing, the bruschetta from Julie & Julia. I'd never had it before, and I think I am in the minority when it comes to being grossed out by Chris Messina shoving great gulps of it into his mouth [how can anyone find that sort of gluttony endearing?], but I've been thinking about it a lot. Mostly about the close-up angle of fat slices of bread crisping in a hot frying pan, the rainbow of juicy tomatoes tumbling off each piece and onto the plate. That's what I've been thinking about.
So on Wednesday evening, sans husband [and sans complaints about the missing meat], I made my version of that bruschetta. Let me stop there - I don't want to lead you down the wrong path by letting you believe this is a small wedge of toasted bread with a delicate tomato topping. It is anything but. This is a much more rustic, hearty version of traditional bruschetta, so I've changed the title accordingly: fried bread with a tomato salad. Really, that's all it is.
You drizzle a good glug of olive oil into a hot pan, slice up a few farmhouse-thick pieces of seeded bread and fry them until they turn a handsome shade of golden brown. While the bread is frying, you cut up a few juicy heirloom tomatoes, toss them a bit of oil and sea salt, and maybe some basil if you're feeling fancy on a lonely night. When the bread is good and crisp, you rub a bit of garlic all over the top, taking care not to punch your finger right through the toasty of it all, then heap piles of tomato salad on top the bread, juices and all.
Now, I'm not a savage, and I don't wish to eat like one, so I used a knife and fork. You could go without it, and if you do, I certainly hope you are eating alone as there will undoubtedly be streams of tomato juice dribbling down your chin. The next time I'm alone, staring into the pantry, I think I'll make this. And perhaps I'll do the same for every other lonely night this summer.