March 23 – March 29, 2020
Monday: Grilled Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Endive with Pan Catalan
Tuesday: Pasta with Mushrooms and Black Olive Sauce
Wednesday: Braised Sausage and Fennel with Toasted Spices
Thursday: Tagliatelle with Prosciutto and Asparagus
Friday: Soy and Ginger Steamed Bass
Saturday: Spring Chicken Salad
Sunday: Habanero-Marinated Grilled Chops with Jicama-Kale Slaw
I’ve been wrestling with the insignificance of writing about food in this new reality – during a time of such great danger when so many people are directly involved in helping others. Clearly, our cooking is not on the same plane. But it occurred to me that the alternative – keeping quiet for the next several months would do no good at all.
It is a cliché, but nonetheless true, that in a time of crisis, we all should help to the extent of our individual capacities. We have friends who run large businesses and who are working day and night to hang on to employees and operations. And there are the doctors and nurses and paramedics who are, literally, putting their lives on the line for the rest of us. Food store clerks, truck drivers and delivery folks – without whom the rest of us would starve in place – are also playing a large role.
As for the rest of us, we can shelter in place, contribute to local or national charities or just help people we know, pray and, above all, stay in touch with family and friends. Which is, when all is said and done, the whole purpose of this blog. I mean, there is no crowd of folks waiting breathlessly for my recipes each week. I have achieved, perhaps, mediocrity in cooking. But I feel that I have achieved an A in hospitality – for sharing what we cook with friends and family.
As for SWMBO and Me: There are now three of us for dinner each day with Andrew working from home here in Pittsburgh. And that has given a special twist to this crisis at Chez Stuarti. Andrew is helping us with electronics and making us laugh, and cooking for him seems more significant than merely cooking for ourselves. Even the drudgery of chopping onions and cleaning pots and pans has taken on some luster. Everything seems to taste better – maybe because we’re so happy to have Andy home from Brooklyn. And the idea of sharing some of this joy with the rest of you seems a good enough excuse for carrying on.
I pray that all of you stay safe and in touch with family and friends and cautious but not fearful. And here’s something you can cook for yourself or your family to soak up some of your, appropriately, nervous energy and time and to have a fine meal with just some button mushrooms and a few ingredients from the pantry.
PASTA WITH MUSHROOMS AND BLACK OLIVE SAUCE
(adapted from the WSJ, March 14-15, 2020)
Timing: About 35 minutes – cooking the sauce and then cooking the pasta
Ingredients: Serves 6
1 pound button mushrooms (we used baby bellas) coarsely chopped into 1/2 -inch pieces
1 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted (if you can’t get these, try pitted Kalamata)
1 pound spaghetti alla chitarra or penne
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
1 ½ cups of heavy cream
4 tablespoons butter
Juice of ½ lemon
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced (we used 1)
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (we used not quite a full teaspoon)
½ cup Italian parsley leaves
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Chop mushrooms, mince garlic, grate cheese, measure out other ingredients.
Heat water in large pot to cook spaghetti.
Heat oil on medium-high in a heavy 12-inch (large) skillet with straight sides.
Add mushrooms and salt and toss to coat with the oil. Cook for about 8 minutes – or until the mushrooms have released their liquid and that liquid begins to evaporate and the mushrooms begin to color. (You’ll still have liquid in the skillet.)
Now reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic, stirring so that it doesn’t burn, and cook until fragrant – 30 seconds to one minute.
Transfer mushrooms to a food processor, add the olives and pulse until the mixture has a pesto-like consistency.
Wipe out the skillet, add the butter over medium heat and, when it bubbles, add the mushroom olive mixture and the red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring, until butter is absorbed and the mixture starts to thicken – maybe 5 minutes.
Now add the cream and heat it through and remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, bring that large pot of water to a boil, salt it heavily and add the spaghetti and cook until al dente. When the pasta is a few minutes from al dente, reheat the sauce in the skillet.
Reserve a ladle of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and add to the skillet with the sauce. Toss with sauce, the lemon juice, and about 2/3 of the grated cheese. If it seems too thick, thin with a bit of the reserved pasta water.
Serve on warmed plates, garnish with parsley and serve with more cheese on the side.