The Gravy: In the Kitchen with Ingrid Lucia

dec 09 gravy ingrid“I’m not the best cook in the family. My husband Dwight is. The dishes that I do know how to make were kind of out of necessity from all of our years in Mexico, so I’m more of a Mexican dish maker. But I love making pasta, too. It’s a neutral. With pasta, you can pretty much put anything in it and give it different flavors and variety, so I like to mess around. Just take what we have in the house and make new recipe ideas, which sometimes can be great and sometimes can be horrible. It’s a big adventure every time, but the family is pretty open-minded to at least try a couple of bites.

When Dwight and I first got together, I made him an authentic, Mexican tortilla soup, which had boiled eggs in it. It’s pretty hearty and hardcore, with homemade tortillas. He took that idea and improved on it and now he makes this incredible tortilla soup with chips. It’s an award-winning soup.

We spent pretty much every winter from the time I was 9 until I was 18 traveling around Mexico playing music with our family band. One of the times that we went down there, we ended up taking a chef and her family on the road with us. They were from this Mexican circus, and she taught us a lot of her recipes and dishes—anything from scrambling eggs with green beans to her tortilla soup. She made these potato burritos that were amazing. She took very simple foods and only had two burners, and she would make a huge pot of soup for the whole circus. It would have nopales, which is cactus—you can peel it, it’s really yummy. Basically, she took staples and very little meat or fish to flavor them, but it wasn’t a high protein thing and it didn’t cost a lot of money. When we were being musicians and not doing so great, I would remember all those recipes and try to mess around with her ideas and make dinner for everyone

We had to cook growing up because we were very, very poor. Our staples were beans, rice, eggs. Part of the survival thing was, at a young age—from like 10 on up to our teenage years, we had to all take turns making dishes. But there were no rules or boundaries put on us, so we were exploring and experimenting. Brown rice was our staple. That was supposed to be the healthiest thing we could eat, so every meal had to have a brown rice base and we could add any kind of fruit, vegetable or protein that we wanted to. Grated carrots with peanuts and raisins, all kinds of combinations, until we found some that worked and were really good. And we’re all healthy. Nobody got sick, so it worked. Some of the dishes weren’t so great, but we stayed healthy.

New Orleans is pretty similar to Mexico, I think, in that there are many poor people who make poor man’s dishes. A lot of our foods are based around beans and rice. We like spicy food; both cultures are very spice-oriented. And it’s a very communal, family-oriented culture. Families get together on certain days of the week and do their cooking and their grilling. People love barbequed meats—that’s similar as well. Really, there’s a lot of Latin influence in New Orleans culture, so it’s kind of strange that it’s having a comeback now with all the Latinos coming to work on the houses. People are bouncing off each other again. People might be able to connect with their roots some more. We’ll see.

I’m really trying to open my mind, going into the grocery store and looking around for new items to experiment with. Instead of bringing home an apple, I’ll bring home a pear or a mango and try to use that. Having a seven-year-old makes it tough because she doesn’t even like mashed potatoes. I try to keep the food simple for Ava, but then I mess around and make Dwight miserable.”

Ingrid Lucia’s Lemon Garlic Pasta

This is a simple dish that is quick and easy to make. “It’s a good winter dish because when you’re coming down with a cold, all the garlic just knocks it out right away. It makes you feel better immediately. Make it for your honey!”

1 box rigatoni pasta
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 lemons
6 or more garlic cloves
1 cup freshly grated parmesan
½ cup olive oil

Boil pasta according to directions on box. Toast pine nuts in a dry frying pan over low to medium heat, stirring constantly. Finely grate zest of 1 lemon into a large bowl. Add juice from one-and-a-half lemons. Press garlic cloves and add to zest/juice, as well as parmesan and olive oil. Stir as to make an emulsion. When pasta is al dente, drain and mix with lemon garlic dressing. Serve hot, with toasted pine nuts on top.