Could Not Have Been Easier

January 10th, 2013 · 21 Comments · Pasta, Picky Eating

I guess it’s not breaking news that pasta dinners are faster than most, but because I tend to plan around the pasta-hater in my house, I don’t get to make these kinds of dishes as often as I’d like. And when I do, and they turn out as deliciously as this Orecchiette with Peas and Country Ham (Meal #2 of 7 in my Seven Days, Seven Dinners challenge), I am reminded why I keep trying to fight the good pasta fight. I love Orecchiette here because it scoops up the peas and ham without requiring too much concentrating. (Have you ever tried to have spaghetti with peas? By the time I’m done with dinner and all that twirling and scooping and balancing, my brain hurts.) We used some crazy mail-order country ham (more on that later), but any old ham or pancetta would be fine. Whatever works nicely on sandwich bread for lunch the next day — or in our case, whatever works nicely on sandwich bread for the diner not enjoying the real dinner at the table.

Orecchiette with Peas and Country Ham

1 pound of orecchiette
handful frozen peas to taste
salt and pepper
shake or two of red pepper flakes
olive oil
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 or 3 slices of Country Ham (or ham or a handful of pancetta pieces)
1/2 cup Parmsean, plus extra for serving
2 pats butter
handful freshly chopped mint or parsley

Cook pasta according to package directions.  When it has one more minute of cooking, toss frozen peas into the water with the pasta. Reserve about 1/4 cup of pasta water then drain in a colander, drizzling a little olive oil into pasta to prevent sticking. Return pot to the stove and over medium heat, add a few glugs of olive oil, onions, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Cook about a minute, stirring. Add ham and cook until slightly crisp. Add pasta and peas to the pot and stir everything to combine. Add cheese and butter and a drizzle of reserved pasta water to make the cheese distribute evenly. Serve in bowls with more cheese and herbs.

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Shrimp, Meet Angel Hair

October 26th, 2010 · 10 Comments · Dinner, Pasta, Picky Eating, Quick, Seafood

My daughters are 20 months apart in age. When they were babies, people would take one look at the hollowed-out shells that once housed our functioning selves and say It’s tough now, but you’ll be so grateful later when they play together. I thought these people were lying just to make me feel better. We were so in the thicket of “now” that we couldn’t imagine a “later.” I could not fathom these helpless little things entertaining each other, or a time when we would trade in defensive parenting — hovering, watching, reacting — for active parenting. Nor could I imagine a time when they’d actually sit down to a real meal with us. The sitting part stymied me, as did the “real meal” part. Their plates held not so much dinner as a poor man’s tapas selection: cubes of raw red peppers, microscopic pieces of chicken or shrimp, a little bowl of noodles. But I turned a corner the day I decided to marry two of those foods to make one: Angel Hair with Shrimp. It’s so simple it seems almost stupid, but it worked as a perfect inaugural family dinner because the shrimp and pasta mix together without fully integrating. So if it flops, you can always send the ingredients back to their separate corners. And if it works, the kids get a real meal, and you get a glimpse of your future.

Angel Hair with Shrimp

In a medium pot, cook angel hair as directed on package. Drain and toss with olive oil in the colander to prevent noodles from sticking. Return the pot to the stovetop and turn heat to medium. Add more olive oil, one chopped shallot (or 1/2 onion), one clove of garlic (minced), a few red pepper flakes (optional), salt and pepper, and cook about one minute, nestling garlic amidst the onions to prevent it from burning. Push to the side, turn up heat slightly, and add 3/4 pound of cleaned shrimp. Cook about 1 1/2 minutes on one side, then when you flip them over, pull in the onions and toss until everything is cooked through. Squeeze a little lemon on the shrimp, then add the angel hair, tossing to combine. Add a handful of chopped parsley, unless you think it will render prospects of consumption null and void.

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Cure for the Common Thursday

October 7th, 2010 · 13 Comments · Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Quick, Vegetarian

Do you guys suffer from Thursday Syndrome like I do? Symptoms include dry refrigerator, a shriveled vegetable supply, and feelings of guilt-fueled resistance to ordering in or going out. (That’s what Friday is for, you weakling!) Lucky for all of us there is a cure, and it involves a combination of the six magical grocery items below, all of which you have in your pantry already since I told you to shop for them a few days ago. (Right?)

1. Whole Wheat Pasta
2. Quinoa
3. Frozen Spinach
4. Canned or Frozen Artichokes
5. Eggs
6. Onions

I find if I have nothing else but these long-lasting pantry friends in the kitchen (plus a few basics like olive oil, soy sauce, and Parm) I can almost always churn out a fast, healthy meal that will bridge me to the weekend. Here are five of those meals below. Please feel free to recommend any combinations I’m forgetting. I can always use more meds…I mean ideas. (more…)

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As Promised…Simple Family Dinner

April 26th, 2010 · 9 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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Fettucini with Brussels

March 23rd, 2010 · 15 Comments · Dinner, Pasta, Picky Eating, Quick, Vegetarian

When I was growing up brussels sprouts were a “punchline” food — like liverwurst and mushrooms, turning up in cartoons and sitcoms as dinner table fare kids classically hated. Things are different now — I literally can’t go a week without eating them and the girls don’t seem to know (or care) about its reputation as grown-up-only food. This recipe is a perfect weeknight dish — it takes only a few minutes. If you have a food processor on the counter, try shredding the sprouts before sauteeing. It makes them cook faster and also gives them a consistency that integrates well with ribbon pasta. (If integration is exactly what turns off the kids, of course, be sure to set aside some plain pasta before combining.)

Of course, my problem is not the brussels but the pasta — Phoebe will eat pounds of the “little lettuce leaves,” but won’t go anywhere near a noodle, so she’s allowed to have a piece of toasted baguette instead. Can’t win.

Fettucini with Shallots and Brussels Sprouts

2 to 3 large handfuls (2 cups) of Brussels sprouts, trimmed (buy the bag of pre-shredded kinds in Trader Joe’s)
1 pound fettuccini (or whole wheat spaghetti or any ribbon pasta)
red pepper flakes
1 small shallot, chopped (or a handful of chopped regular onion)
some generous glugs of olive oil
Parmesan to taste

Slice sprouts in a food processor fitted with slicing disk or chop thinly (or open your Trader Joe’s bag!) Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add red pepper flakes and onion and saute about 2 minutes until shallots have softened. Add Brussels sprouts, a little salt and a twist of pepper, then cook over medium-high heat until tender and lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water, then drain fettucini. Add pasta to brussels and toss to combine, adding pasta water as needed to loosen. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan.

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