Dorm-room cooking is a feat achieved by the union of chip and dip. Cheese and cracker. Nutella and spoon. Each makes a fine amuse bouche to the entree: meal plan and ID.
Consider then the student who attends that rarified institution: the urban campus, sans cafeteria. No plastic tray, no long line, no steam table. She is expected to work her way through seminar, lecture, treadmill and pint under her own steam.
She has assistance: a kitchen and a stipend, one slim enough to nix nightly takeout. In other words: She is obliged to cook.
She studies classics that call for three (or fewer) ingredients and 10 (or fewer) minutes: Poached egg. Steamed broccoli. Peach smoothie. It’s a short reading list.
Though sidelined, I send a recipe. It calls for three ingredients and no skills, save halving an onion. It breaks the time budget, but the 45-minute simmer can be put to use with a textbook or — better yet — a phone call home.
The simple technique produces a sublime sauce; surely that’s a worthy lesson.
Simple tomato sauce
Makes: Enough sauce for 1 pound of pasta
1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes in juice*
5 tablespoons butter
1 onion, peeled and halved
Heap: Empty tomatoes and their juice into a medium saucepan. Drop in the butter and onion halves. Also a pinch of salt.
Simmer: Cook, uncovered, stirring now and then and breaking up tomatoes with a wooden spoon, until sauce turns thick and shiny, about 45 minutes. Discard onion.
Serve: Perfect over a pound of linguine with a good grating of Parmesan.
*If you feel compelled to complicate things, substitute 2 pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes. Drop them into boiling water for 1 minute, drain, slip off and discard skins, then coarsely chop tomatoes.
— Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking,” by way of my friend Annie.