Separate but Unequal

I knew what I wanted for dinner yesterday before I had even taken a sip of my morning coffee. It was going to be that beautiful fusilli with chard and crunchy breadcrumbs that accompanied Melissa Clark’s story in the Times about whole wheat pasta. I didn’t have any fusilli — but I had some whole wheat rigatoni, and chard, and onions and…hey look at that!…I had some thyme and goat cheese and mushrooms, too! With the addition of each new ingredient to the pot, though, I was not only getting further away from Melissa’s recipe, I was getting further away a meal I could expect my children to eat no-questions-asked*. So just before I dolloped a hunk of very un-extractable goat cheese into the hot pasta, a point-of-no-return move if there ever was one, I made a decision: The kids are eating something else tonight. Tonight, I just need to cook my dinner the way I want to cook my dinner, and I want to eat my dinner the way I want to eat my dinner. The family has sat down to roughly the same meal for, what, about four straight nights now? Plus, I volunteered at school today and sent out Abby’s birthday invitations! Surely these noble deeds qualified me for some kind of kickback? So Andy and I had our special earthy, herby pasta and the kids had their Trader Joe’s chicken taquitos from the freezer. And the sun still rose from the east in the morning.

*in my house, mushrooms + goat cheese is asking a lot

Whole Wheat Rigatoni with Mushrooms, Chard, and Goat Cheese
You know what’s so funny? Writing out this recipe makes it sound so complicated, but in fact it only took about 25 minutes from start to finish. So maybe before introducing the meal to your weeknight rotation, try it on a weekend first to get yourself familiar with the rhythm. (I don’t want anyone cursing my name in between grating nutmeg and zesting lemon.)

In pasta pot, boil 1 pound whole wheat rigatoni (the photo shows some regular rigatoni mixed in, too because I didn’t have enough whole wheat.) Reserve about 1/4 cup of hot pasta water, then drain pasta and return to pot on the stove, tossing with olive oil to prevent sticking.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, over medium-low heat, cook 1/2 chopped onion, 1 garlic clove (minced) and a dash of red pepper flakes, fresh thyme leaves if you have them, salt and pepper in olive oil about 3 minutes. Push to the side, add 2 handfuls of mushrooms (chopped or sliced, I used baby bellas), a dash of freshly grated nutmeg and cook until mushrooms release their liquid, about 3 minutes. (Add more olive oil if they seem too dry.) Mix everything together, then add to pasta and toss. (Keep the skillet on the stove.)

Turn the pasta pot heat to low, add a handful of chard (chopped finely) crumble about 2 tablespoons of goat cheese (feta would probably work, too) into the rigatoni, the zest from half a lemon, and toss. Carefully pour in pasta water a drizzle at a time, until cheese has melted and it is evenly coating the pasta. Cook until chard has wilted and pasta is heated through.

Breadcrumbs: In the skillet, over medium-high heat, add about 1/2 plain breadcrumbs and enough olive oil to just moisten each crumb. (You don’t want them soggy.) Toast for a minute or two and add to the pasta before serving.

Chicken Taquitos

Heat Trader Joe’s taquitos in a 350°F oven for 12-15 minutes.

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This is weird, but seeing your battle-scarred sheet pan makes me like you so much more. I think Pioneer Ree and Smitten Deb get not-for-cooking stand-ins for their photos, because there is no dang way to keep them clean. I refuse to believe that it just takes a little elbow-grease. Very nice post. Thanks.


Thank you for the nod and the okay to just go ahead and have separate dinners. It’s only recently that I came around to realizing that eating together & at the same time doesn’t have to mean eating the same thing. And to keep it simple and doable eating together sometimes means two or three different frozen Trader Joes options.


do you think spinach could stand in for the chard? just thinking of what i have in my fridge right now?


Ahhh! I die. I was coveting that recipe when I read about it, and the addition of mushrooms and goat cheese sounds like a winner in my book. I was SO hoping that you would include the instructions for TJ’s Taquitos as well so when I scrolled down and it was there, I just about keeled over laughing. Happy Friday!


I actually managed to sneak goat cheese to my kids the other night… Orrechiette, goat cheese, arugula & sun dried tomatoes for me (hubby was out of town…although he’d probably have goat cheese issues of his own) Orrechiette, little less goat cheese, peas and lots of parm (to hide any goaty-ness) for the kids. They loved it…you just never know sometimes.


Love the pragmatism that you offer in wanting to enjoy your meal the way you want to enjoy it. I think it sounds great and I might even try to scoot it under their noses. And the taquitos always work.

Jan @ Famly Bites

We started something called “Date-Night Dinners” many years ago. We choose one night each week and we make a nice adult dinner for us, which we eat when the kids go to bed. We feed them something different earlier in the evening and everyone is happy.


Yum! and it is something I haven’t been eating every week for the past year! My son no longer eats mushrooms or goat cheese. and chard only on it own slathered in salad dressing. Whenever we have pasta it is separated into adult and then simpler kid portions (olive oil cheese, veg on the side) for sure.

Abigail @ Good to Think and Eat

I LOVE breadcrumbs in pasta. There is something so deliciously perverse about carb on carb action.

Also when I saw what your kids ate for dinner, for a second I thought it was spaghetti tacos! Guess I got the New York Times on the brain.


I was eyeing the NYT recipe, too, and decided your variation looked more appealing. I used feta b/c it’s what I had on hand, and the cheese kind of disappeared. Next time I’ll use goat cheese for a creamier result. Also I used a lot more garlic and it could have used even more. As it was, the 2-year-old was the diner most enthusiastic about the dish. For that reason alone, I’ll make it again (we’ll see if she likes it as well with goat cheese . . . .)