Entries from April 2010

Spicy Shrimp with Lime

April 30th, 2010 · 16 Comments · Dinner, Quick, Seafood

Here is the very definition of a Nice Problem: A healthy dinner that cooks too quickly, allowing for no time to savor a glass of wine while one prepares it. I’m not kidding. This spicy shrimp (adapted over the years from an old Cooking Light recipe) takes about 10 minutes from start to finish — and closer to five if you have the spices mixed already. Phoebe requests the dish often, so we periodically prepare a stash of the smokey paprika rub to have it ready to go — the spice mixture even gets its own special jar painted with her name. Of course, in the eyes of the little sister, there is no more flagrant example of condiment injustice, so we painted a jar for her, too and filled it with McCormick’s California Garlic Powder.

I only had regular Nan toasts to serve with the shrimp, but you can find whole wheat at most supermarkets.

Spicy Shrimp with Cilantro and Lime

Below are the spice amounts to sprinkle over one shrimp dinner for four. Triple or quadruple if you want to make a stash to have on hand for the next time.

Phoebe’s Spice
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
pinch cinnamon

1. Mix together the above spices. Sprinkle over 1  1/4 pounds of peeled shrimp.

2. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp to pan — try to get the spiced side down — and saute 5 minutes until done, adding more spice as they flip around and cook.

3. Toast a few pieces of Nan (such as Kontos brand) and serve with cooked shrimp, a spoonful of plain yogurt, chopped cilantro, sliced almonds and a squeeze of lime.

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Venn Diagram Dinner

April 29th, 2010 · 5 Comments · Deconstructing Dinner, Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Pasta, Pork and Beef

OK, so remember that dinner I wanted us all to make together this week? This is it above: Orechiette with Sausage and Broccoli. You’ll notice that no plate looks the same. Abby had the pasta and broccoli, Phoebe had the broccoli and sausage. Mom and Dad had it all mixed together. (Cool that broccoli was the common thread, no?) Anyway, when I put the bowls up against each other, it reminded me so much of living, breathing Venn Diagram that I couldn’t resist the urge to sketch up an actual one:

What does this teach us exactly? (Besides the fact that I have serious problems?) Hopefully it reminds us that family dinner is a constantly evolving algorithm of taste and logistics. That the overlapping rings will spin around and reposition based on factors that are beyond our control. All you can do is put the same delicious meal in front of them and assume that somehow everyone will still get exactly what they want.

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Fried Fish with Ramps

April 28th, 2010 · 3 Comments · Dinner, Seafood

I laid down a few rules for myself before I started this website. No using that word that starts with “food” and ends in “i-e.” No going into detail about things like the interplay between quince paste and aged gouda. No fetishizing. No buying into the whole two-week ramp frenzy that takes over farmers markets and f–dies this time of year. (Aren’t there more important things to get excited about, like, for instance my daughter’s 15-second solo in the 2nd Grade Songfest last week? I’m sorry. I’m sorry. No bragging should probably also be a rule. I’m sorry! I’m sorry!)

But the thing is, I do happen to love those wild, earthy, oniony ramps — mostly because, like daffodils and magnolia trees, they are one of those first fleeting signifiers of spring. And probably also because I don’t actually have to personally partake in the frenzy. The frenzy — how’s this for lucky? — comes to me! Every year, my friend Yolanda (that’s her kick-ass family travel blog, Travels with Clara, over there in my blogroll) shows up on my doorstep or in my office carrying a bouquet of them like a prom date with a corsage. This year, she met me on a busy corner of Soho just to hand me my share of the ramp bounty that is her Catskills backyard. So what am I supposed to do…not get excited? I didn’t. Honest. I just sauteed the things in olive oil, fried some fish, and played it cool.


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The Morning Routine

April 27th, 2010 · 8 Comments · Drinks, Posts by Andy, Rituals

Every morning for pretty much the last ten years, I’ve made a smoothie for breakfast. I first started making them because they seemed like a relatively painless way to get my daily allowance of fruit — fruit which, for whatever reason, I never seemed to get around to eating. But then I started to notice (imagine?) something: they made me feel good — or, at least, better than a big bagel or a plate of bacon and eggs. Jenny gradually became addicted, too, and the smoothie became our morning routine. The first thing she would do, upon wandering into the kitchen in her slippers on Saturday morning, was walk over to the blender on the counter and pour herself a big glass. Even when Phoebe was newly born, and Jenny was in the throes of maternity leave, the tradition marched on. Before leaving for work in the morning, I’d put a smoothie in the refrigerator, so she could have it when she woke up. As soon as Phoebe was old enough to try one, we got her hooked, too. Both our kids love smoothies now. They call them “fruit shakes” — as in, “Daddy! WHERE’S MY FRUIT SHAKE???” — and they have one almost every morning (along with their pancakes… or french toast… or challah with jam… or whatever other starchfest is is on the menu that day).  They, unlike me, prefer theirs in a tiny cup. No, not the blue one, the pink one. With a bendy straw in it. The pink straw. Pink! No, light pink, not dark! Yes, daddy. Good. –Andy

Once you get into smoothie habit, you’ll want to keep it going, too. They also make good after school snacks.


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As Promised…Simple Family Dinner

April 26th, 2010 · 10 Comments · Dinner, Rituals

Ok, so you haven’t forgotten about this week’s family dinner, have you? Since you are following my every word, you remembered to pick a night this week when everyone was home, right? And since I am following your every word, I know that you want something easy. Like under 20 minutes easy. Here we go. Let me know how you do.

Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook 1 pound of orecchiette (or other small pasta) according to package directions. Drain and reserve about 1/4 cup of the pasta water.

Meanwhile, while the pasta cooks, heat a little olive oil in a large skillet. Cook a 1/2 pound of sweet pork sausage (about two links or approximately the amount pictured above) whose casings have been removed. Break up the meat. After meat has lost its pink color, add 2 teaspoons of white vinegar, and a handful of something green such as frozen peas or chopped broccoli florets (or broccolini) and cook about 7 to 10 minutes.

Transfer sausage mixture to a bowl; add the pasta, a little butter, reserved pasta water, and 1/3 cup grated Parmesan. Add salt & pepper. Toss to combine.

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Thanks for Coming

April 26th, 2010 · 14 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Rituals

Quickest way to get your kid to write a thank-you card after the birthday party? Turn a group shot of the guests into postcards (we do it at cafepress) and watch her bang them out before breakfast. I save one for a keepsake, but the birthday girl gets to keep any extras for pretend play.

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Family Dinner: Book It!

April 23rd, 2010 · 1 Comment · Dinner, Kitchenlightenment, Rituals

Short of actually feeding you and your family a meal at my kitchen table, I can’t imagine there is anything more satisfying than hearing about the successes you’ve all had using recipes and advice from DALS. Last night my neighbor Bonnie left a message for me — there was unmistakable triumph in her voice as she described the dredging stations she had set up for Homemade Chicken Fingers that she planned on serving her kids. (“No chicken nuggets for us tonight!”) At an event honoring my mother-in-law in Virginia last week, I sat next to the nicest woman named Courtney who told me her husband was at home making Buttermilk Oven-Fried Chicken for her daughters. Kiera, a friend from high school who I haven’t seen or talked to in two decades let me know via facebook that Todd’s Minty Peas were a huge hit at her house. (Btw, based on the traffic report from that post, I’m thinking the keywords “minty peas” might be more poplular than “tiger woods affair.” Thanks Todd!!!)

The other thing I’m hearing a lot these days is this: Do you actually, truly, for real sit down with your family every night for dinner?

The answer is yes — for the most part. But… Do I sit down to a fresh-from-the-farmer’s market meal every night? No. Do my kids eat the same things that we do every night? No. Are both you and Andy home from work in time for dinner every night? No.

You may remember my “two out of three” rule for family dinner. It’s incredibly rare for everything to work out perfectly — and the way around this, I’ve found, is to: 1) lower your standards and 2) plow ahead anyway. Sometimes, it even means deciding on the night a few days ahead of time and then actually writing it in the calendar (or the chalkboard in my case) to give it as much weight as the soccer practice or the 6:00 (more…)

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The Almost Vegetarian

April 22nd, 2010 · 4 Comments · Dinner, Vegetarian

About 15 years ago, I was chatting with two women at a cocktail party when one of them mentioned she was a vegetarian. Other than feeling a flash of pity — poor thing can’t eat a steak — I didn’t think much about it until she wandered away to get a Pinot refill.

At that point, the other woman whispered, “Well, that’s a pretty good sign that she’s not a lot of fun!” We snickered and shoved a few more pigs in blankets down the hatch.

I’ve thought about this conversation a lot in the past few years. When I replay it and think of my glib response, it feels like watching a pregnant Betty Draper in “Mad Men” throwing back a martini: How could she not know? How could I have dismissed this woman when it was likely that some major soul-searching had gone into her decision to stop eating meat? How could I not have known?

Maybe it was because that cocktail party was about eight years before Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation” described the disturbing conditions of the slaughterhouses and meat-packing plants feeding the country’s fast-food system. And before Michael Pollan asked us in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” to question everything on our plates and how it got there. It was way before investment bankers were leaving Wall Street to start organic chicken farms and before new dad and literary darling Jonathan Safran Foer proclaimed in his 2009 vegetarian manifesto, “Eating Animals”: “We are equally responsible for what we don’t do. In the case of animal slaughter, to throw your hands in the air is to wrap your fingers around a knife handle.”

Click over to Body + Soul to read the rest of the story and to get the recipe for this stunningly good vegetarian main: Spinach, Mushroom, and Scallion Tart.

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Shrimp with Feta

April 21st, 2010 · 16 Comments · Dinner, Quick, Seafood

I realize there is a whole segment of the American population that is going to be instantly turned off by the title of this post. Seafood and cheese — that’s just…wrong. But this recipe might just change your mind, as it did for me the first time my friend Melissa made it for us about a decade ago. Melissa, co-author of  The New Brooklyn Cookbook, was one of my first kitchen heroes — one of those friends who would serve me something that I would then pass off as my own to the next dozen dinner guests I cooked it for. (Oh, this? Just something I came across…hmm where was it???) We’ve served it to bosses and in-laws, neighbors and siblings. And, of course, to our children — even when it meant cleaning the sauce off a few pieces of shrimp before serving.

Greek-Style Scampi

To make: Preheat oven to 425°F. Saute two minced garlic clove in olive oil in an ovenproof skillet set over medium heat. Add one 28-ounce can of tomatoes (drained, very important), and stir, breaking up tomatoes. Cook for about 10 minutes. Nestle in a pound of shrimp and cook until shrimp starts to turn pink all over, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle two-ish handfuls of feta on top and bake in your preheated oven for about five minutes until cheese is melty. Remove from oven, add chopped parsley and the juice of  half a lemon. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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How I Buy Meat, by Doug Powell

April 20th, 2010 · 4 Comments · Pork and Beef

I’ve been writing about food for a decade now and I would say that the second most frequently asked question I get from parents (after How do you roast a chicken?) is:

How do you buy meat for your family?

My personal approach is in constant evolution and usually has something to do with how bad the cholesterol readings are in the house (last spring, not so good) as well as how close-to-home the most recent E.Coli outbreak is. (Say it ain’t so, Trader Joe!)  To address this, I’ve decided to launch a series on DALS called “How I buy meat” and have reporters, public health officials, farmers, environmentalists, and food safety experts weigh in with their personal strategies. I don’t want this to be “How I Should Buy Meat” or “How I Wish I Could Buy Meat.”  I have no grand plans to shut down Tyson. All I want is an expert’s distillation of the massive amount of scary-sounding information ambushing parents daily. I’m not endorsing any of these opinions — yet. I’m merely interested in showcasing a variety of perspectives. I want to know exactly where meat-industry insiders buy their meat and what exactly they buy when they decide Hey! I’m going to roast a chicken for my kids tonight!

My first guest is Doug Powell, associate professor, food safety, Dept. Diagnostic Medicine/Pathobiology, Kansas State University and the father of five girls. His entertainingly combative barfblog.com regularly takes Whole Foods and (no!!!) Michael Pollan to task.

So Doug Powell, how do you buy meat?

“I go to the biggest supermarket I can find — Dillons, Walmart, Krogers. I’ll buy a whole chicken at Dillons for some ridiculously low price, like 99 cents a pound. Because I know they have quality control measures in place to reduce microbial loads before they get in the store. I would never shop at any of those places like Whole Foods. What they are peddling is complete nonsense from a safety point (more…)

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My 8-year-old Made This Chili

April 19th, 2010 · 18 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Pork and Beef, Rituals

Well, almost. Both Andy and I directed her (and hovered over her) as she wielded a real knife and stirred chili powder into hot browning turkey meat, but she actually did everything — except open the can of tomatoes. Abby was at a sleepover so we told Phoebe she was allowed to pick her favorite dish and help us make it.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m usually wary of the whole cooking-with-kids thing. It tends to make me anxious, and even though all those parenting magazines promise that my kids will be more likely to eat food that they are involved in making, that never seems to be the case in my house. But I guess context is everything — this time, it was a Saturday night and we started early enough so no one was starving or feeling the pressure of the clock. And I think Phoebe enjoyed a rare stretch of being the exclusive focus of her parents.

But what I’m really trying to say is this: If this turkey chili is easy enough for an eight-year-old to make, it’s easy enough for you. We’ve been perfecting this recipe over the course of a decade. It’s a good one.

Turkey Chili

Saute one large onion (chopped) and a clove of garlic (minced) in olive oil. Add a pound of ground turkey (preferably dark) and brown until it loses its pink color. Add 4 tablespoons of chili powder, get it sizzly so spices get cooking, add 1 large (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, a dash of oregano, thyme, cayenne, 1 bay leaf, and 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon (crucial). Turn down the heat, simmer for 15 minutes add black beans, cook another 5 or 10. Serve with toppings such as avocado chunks, shredded cheddar, sour cream, chopped cilantro.

Other ground-turkey dinners that rock tha house: In-N-Out Turkey Burgers, Lettuce Hand Rolls

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Pick a Country, Any Country

April 16th, 2010 · 9 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Rituals

A couple of years ago, we started a birthday tradition in our house (and it only applies to kids). When it’s your birthday, you get to go to any restaurant you want. There’s only one rule — the restaurant you pick has to be specific to a certain country. For instance, on her sixth birthday, Phoebe chose Sweden. It’s not as random as it sounds: Abby’s best friend at the time was from Stockholm, and our kids also happened to be in the midst of a powerful Muppets obsession. (Remember the Swedish Chef?) Then, Abby chose Japan. Then, Phoebe picked… Morocco. (We gave her “Middle Eastern;” she never knew the difference.) Some of these adventures (Sweden, with its creamy meatballs…jammy lingonberries…whipped potatoes) were more successful than others (Japan, with its salmon roe…daikon radishes…fancy SoHo address…$200 price tag…what were we thinking?) but the meal is only half the point. The point is that this is one of those rare, special nights the kids get to orchestrate themselves. It’s a night that involves pulling out old world maps and our book of flags and thinking about where on earth they want to go, what they want to show us. It involves tasting something completely new, even if it’s only something as hard-to-hate as a falafel platter. And it involves dressing up and going out, getting on a train, and riding all 32 minutes to Grand Central Station in a window seat, watching Yonkers roll by. Which, to them, is about as exciting as riding a pink unicorn through an enchanted forest. –Andy

Head over to Bon Appetit, where we were able to convince the chef from Smorgas to hand over his Swedish Meatballs recipe.

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Gap Clothes, Prada Accessories

April 15th, 2010 · 5 Comments · Dinner, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

My old boss Carrie had a formula for the way she approached fashion. It went like this: Gap Clothes, Prada Accessories. It’s still a favorite expression in our house — not because we are regularly buying Italian handbags, but because the philosophy is remarkably applicable to home design (Ikea cabinets, Waterworks hardware), summer plans (town camp, vacation rental with pool and ocean view) and — you guessed it — to Family Dinner. My feeling is: If you have extra fresh vegetables or extra special side dishes like these accessorizing your main, you can go super basic with that main – Lemony Potato Smash, Grilled Chicken! — and still feel like you’re pretty stylin’.

Roast Spring Asparagus. Preheat oven to 425°F. Toss asparagus in a few glugs of olive oil, add salt, and roast for about 10  minutes. This dish is unbelievably superior to regular old steamed asparagus.

Lemony Potato Smash. Toss your potatoes (red, fingerling, or yukon) in olive oil and salt and roast at 425°F for about 35 minutes. Remove from oven, smash with a whisk or a fork. Drizzle with olive oil, squeeze a lemon over it, add sour cream, and snipped chives.

Broccoli Slaw. In a medium bowl whisk together 1/3 cup mayo, 1 tablespoon cider vinegar, a squeeze of lemon, and 1/2 teaspoon celery seed (crucial). Toss with a bag of the shredded broccoli from, of course, Trader Joe’s.

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Todd’s Minty Peas

April 14th, 2010 · 11 Comments · Dinner, Vegetarian

When we have families over for dinner, we like to have the usual spread of above-average cheeses — La Tur, Humboldt Fog, Trader Joe’s twisted bi-color cheddar sticks. But the starter that inevitably manages to stop guests mid-bite is a relatively recent discovery: Todd’s Minty Pea Dip. It’s technically a Jamie Oliver recipe, but the first place we ever had it was at our friends Todd & Anne’s house and have not been able to refer to it as anything else since. Todd, a master trawler of farmer’s markets whipped up the dip for us during peak produce months, and I was shocked to discover that it was made from frozen peas. Served with some crusty bread slices, the humble little dip can easily hold its own alongside market behemoths like corn and tomatoes. It also happens to be versatile (we’ve had it as a dip, spread on a sandwich for dinner, mixed with ricotta and sealed inside ravioli) and, unlike corn and tomatoes, can be enjoyed year round.

Todd’s Minty Pea Dip

In a food processor, whirl the following until it is the consistency of guacamole.

-1 cup frozen peas, thawed
-handful fresh mint leaves
-2 tablespoons-ish fresh Parm
-juice from 1/2 lemon
-1/3 cup olive oil

Garnish with some more shredded Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with baguette slices or spread across a piece of crusty bread.

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Taco Soup

April 11th, 2010 · 9 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup

“Chips and salsa?”

This is the way we are greeted by Abby as we walk in the door after a day at work. (To which a grown-up inevitably replies: “Thanks for asking! My day was great!”)

In theory we will be sitting down to dinner in 30 minutes, and in theory the girls should not be filling up on chips and salsa when it means broccoli consumption will surely suffer. But in practice, we — the starving grown-ups — can’t say no ourselves. So the four of us stand around (or sit on) the counter and wolf down a bowl of chips like wild animals. We’ve tried to leverage this weakness into something positive. There’s our “Chips-for-Details” deal which requires the girls to share one detail about their days (who they sat next to at lunch, what they chose at “free choice,” who was a cop at recess and who was a robber) before they are allowed to start dipping. And more recently there is our effort to capitalize on their love affair with the snack and roll it right into a healthy dinner. This entails assembling a spread like the one shown above (chips, salsa, shredded cheese, limes, avocado, cilantro) which will serve as the toppings to what they now call “taco soup.” The girls are allowed to grab one or two chips while I get the dinner ready.

For the recipe, please see chapter 2 of Dinner: A Love Story.

One dinner, two ways

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Dinner and a Movie

April 9th, 2010 · 3 Comments · Dinner, Rituals

Every night, just after cleaning up dinner and just before the bath-tooth brush-get dressed-hair brush-story time-back tickle-I’m not tired yet-a-palooza, we take a few minutes to let the girls watch a movie. Or, if we’re gonna get all technical about it, it’s not really a movie. We huddle around the computer, turn out the lights, and watch one youtube video before going upstairs. A Pixar short, for example (Boundin’ is a favorite). Billie Jean. The classic Ladybug Picnic. Patti Labelle absolutley crushing her ABCs. Billie Jean. A young Ella Fitzgerald singing “A Tisket, A Tasket.” Anything directed by Spike Jonze. Billie Jean. An old Tex Avery cartoon. Uptown Girl, I’m ashamed to say. Lang Lang doing some piano craziness. “Make ‘Em Laugh” from Singin’ in the Rain. A live version of Hotel Yorba, which seems to touch some deep pleasure center in children’s brains. But the one we’ve been wearing out lately is “This Too Shall Pass” by OK Go, which my friend Joel sent to me a couple of weeks ago. There are two versions of it, here and above. I’m partial to the Rube Goldberg version, but they’re both so good, and so creative, that I feel bad even saying that. I can’t tell you how much joy they have brought me. Our kids might even like them, too. – Andy

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Lettuce Hand Rolls

April 8th, 2010 · 4 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Quick, Time for Dinner: The Cookbook

I find it almost impossible to think creatively about ground meat. When it’s in the fridge staring back at my weeknight-at-six-o-clock face (not a pretty sight I can imagine) my brain only goes in two directions: chili or burgers. Yaaawwwn. So when my former colleague, the genius food stylist Victoria Granof developed this recipe for Cookie (look for it in the Time for Dinner Cookbook, too) it was huge. The recipe calls for ground pork, but it’s honestly just as delicious with ground turkey, and makes good use of sweet, kid-friendly Chinese five-spice, which every family kitchen should stock in its arsenal. It’s also a very forgiving meal: last time I served the rolls (above) I was working with a picked-over pantry (no peanuts, no carrots) and — can you believe? — we all lived to tell. Click to the jump for the recipe.

The spread: sturdy romaine leaves, chopped peanuts, cukes, shredded carrots


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Pasta with Yogurt, Spinach, and Sweet Onions

April 7th, 2010 · 8 Comments · Dinner, Pasta, Vegetarian

This recipe used to be our go-to for entertaining vegetarians — back when vegetarians were, you know, a rare breed. Now, thankfully, the dish has moved into our regular dinner rotation. The hardest part about it is securing the sheep’s milk yogurt — but not really, you can find it at Whole Foods or even a slightly-gourmet supermarket — then it’s just a matter of remembering to cook more onions than you think feels right. The contrast between their caramel-ly sweetness and the tangy yogurt……I don’t want to get overly precious here, but: Oh. Boy.  It’s so good that I don’t mind cooking two completely separate meals for the grown-ups and the kids, who, sadly, won’t touch it no matter how many chocolate-covered raisins and Michael Jackson youtube videos I promise them as a reward.

Can't win 'em all. Our dinner (left); the kids' dinner (right)

Pasta with Yogurt, Spinach and Sweet Onions
Adapted from Amanda Hesser, The New York Times.
3 glugs olive oil
4 yellow onions sliced
1 pound whole wheat fettucini
2 6-ounce containers sheep’s-milk yogurt, drained through a coffee filter set in a strainer for at least 20 minutes
2 cups-ish fresh spinach
1 cup grated Parmesan

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the onions. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are golden brown, 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook your pasta in a large pot, adding spinach during the last 30 seconds. Strain, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water. In the same pot, whisk together the drained yogurt with the pasta water. Toss pasta with the yogurt mixture. Divide the pasta among 4 bowls. Sprinkle generously with cheese and top with onions.

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