Pasta, Naked and Dressed

steak salad

Monday:          Steak Salad with Michael Psilakis’s Bitter Greens with Grilled Onions,  Roasted Peppers, Artichokes and Pecorino Romano.  And Grilled Bread

shrimp

Tuesday:          Chipotle Shrimp Tacos

squash pasta

Wednesday:    Summer Squash and Basil Pasta

Dutch Baby

Thursday:        Dutch Baby with Bacon, Mushroom and Tomato and Greens – better the next day

tahini dip

Tahini and Yogurt Dip

Friday:             Salad and Warm Bread with Tahini and Yogurt Dip

Roast lamb

Saturday:         Yogurt and Tahini Dip with Warm Bread
Michael Psilakis’ Grilled Leg of Lamb with roasted potatoes and Green Salad
Blueberries with Lime Sugar

lamb salad

Sunday:           Lamb Salad with Bitter Greens and Soda Bread

We had a dish so simple and so good last week that it was difficult to wait until today to share it with you.  But it occurred to me that not everyone understands our take on pasta.  Which I will now explain while trying to avoid being didactic or fussy.

There is nothing like a long-simmered Bolognese sauce – nor is a righteous meatball to be looked at askance.  But for those who truly love pasta and for those cooking on a busy weekday, a simpler, less wet sauce that lets the pasta shine through is a thing not just of convenience (though there is that) but of beauty.  Let me explain . . .

My son, Andrew’s dish-washing days at the Cross Keys Inn were interesting.  He worked long hours and when I picked him, late in the evening, had to be treated like a leper, sitting on strategically draped towels and reeking of discarded food and dishwater.  But he progressed to salad prep and learned more than a few things about life, work and cooking.  One of the things he learned was to create a great dry sort of pasta sauce with a few vegetables and some seasoning – a dish that became and has remained a favorite in our family.

Now, before sharing a new favorite and simple way to cook a great pasta meal in under 30 minutes, let me suggest a few rules which will help you achieve a tasty, nutritious and quick pasta dinner with any ingredients you have on hand:

  1. Before or while cooking the pasta, build a nice sauce. Like any kind of cooking, other than meat or vegetables on a grill, you want to build layers of flavor.  Mix and match aromatics and vegetables as you wish, but at a minimum:  Cook some chopped shallots or onions in olive oil until softened (you can also go for slightly charred and caramelized here).  Alternatively, if you’re going to use peppers or carrots or celery in your sauce, cook these before cooking the onions, since they take longer.  Season with salt, pepper and at least a bit of crushed red pepper flakes (I use two good pinches).  Also, (if you like it)  add dried oregano.  Now add quarter moons of zucchini or summer squash or diced cherry tomatoes (sun-dried tomatoes for a deeper flavor), or kale, or cannelinni beans or what-have-you.  When they are warm, adjust the seasoning.
  2. Undercook your pasta. The idea is to finish the pasta for a few minutes or more in the sauce you have created.  For liquid, in addition to the olive oil you cook the sauce in and any liquid the vegetables give up, always use some of the starchy, salted water in which the pasta has been cooked.  The starch is perfect for binding the sauce together.  If you can’t fish your pasta out with a basket scoop or slotted spoon, reserve 1 or 2 ladles of the pasta water into a bowl before you drain the pasta.
  3. Finally, add your undercooked pasta to the skillet with the sauce,* add some splashes (or more) of the reserved pasta water, and toss the pasta with the sauce until well coated and cooked to al dente or however you like the pasta. Add some grated parmigiano or pecorino or grana padano or some other cheese, basil or parsley, check the seasonings and serve.  You will be surprised at the intense flavor of these dishes and how satisfying and filling they are.

*If you’re uncomfortable coordinating the pasta cooking with the sauce, just undercook the sauce and heat it up later before you finish the pasta

Variations:

You can mix and match vegetables (broccolini or broccoli rabe work well), add bits of bacon or meat, substitute grated smoked cheeses for a little funk, add chopped walnuts or pecans or bread crumbs, or even dried fruits.  You cannot mess this up, trust me.  Have fun.

What type of Pasta?  It’s up to you.  I like tubular pasta in the dishes with lots of vegetables (rigatoni, or pacheri, if you can get it, are great – penne also works).  Barbara prefers a noodle like linguine or fettucine (thick spaghetti will work, but not thin spaghetti or angel hair).  But bowties and elbows work – try your own combinations.

Note:  There are some minimal, wonderful dishes like cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) or carbonara (egg and bacon) where you’ll want to consult a specific recipe to get them right.

squash pasta

SUMMER SQUASH AND BASIL PASTA

(Adapted from bon appétit. June 2017) 

Timing                                   Including chopping – no more than 30 minutes

Ingredients:                       Feeds 4

12 oz. of pasta (Paccheri, ziti or rigatoni are perfect, but you can do this with a wide noodle like fettucine or even linguini or a thick spaghetti)
1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, thinly sliced (the b.a. recipe calls for 8 cloves – go for it, if you like that)
2 lb. of zucchini and summer squash, quartered lengthwise and sliced into quarter-moons
½ cup of loosely packed basil leaves
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and ground pepper
Red pepper flakes
½ cup grated parmesan or pecorino or grana padano
Tablespoon of lemon juice

Cook

Sauce:

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and cook the garlic until very lightly browned – this can happen quickly so keep an eye on it or, if you are heating very gently, take some minutes.

Add the squash and season with salt.  Now comes the work – you’ll need to toss this, occasionally for 12-15 minutes until the squash begins to break down and become almost a jam.  If some starts sticking to the skillet, you’ve made it.  Add the crushed red pepper flakes and toss.

Pasta:

Get a large pot of aggressively salted water on the boil, add the pasta and cook a few minutes shy of how you like your pasta – usually 2 or 3 minutes short of what the box or pasta package recommends.

Finish:

Transfer the pasta to the skillet with a slotted spoon or basket scoop, add a half ladle or more of the pasta water and toss the pasta, adding in the grated cheese in stages, until the pasta is cooked how you like it.  Adjust seasoning, if necessary, add the lemon juice and 3/4 of the basil leaves.

Serve

Dish out the pasta and top with more grated cheese and some basil leaves.

Central American Guacamole

Central American Guacamole

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