One Meal, Three Ways

June 4th, 2012 · 15 Comments · Deconstructing Dinner, Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Pasta, Picky Eating, Quick, Vegetarian

If you asked 8-year-old Abby to list her favorite foods, I have a feeling the following would show up in the top ten: penne, fettucini, rigatoni, farfalle, gnocchi, orechiette, and (as of last week), cavatelli. I don’t know how much of this love affair is because she’s defining herself in opposition to her sister, a world class pasta hater,  but I do know that because of Phoebe’s refusal to touch the stuff, Abby doesn’t get a nice bowl of spaghetti and meatballs nearly as often as she’d like to. I also know that eliminating pasta from our dinner repertoire is not an option given how much Andy and I love it, and given how much the girls’ Great Grandmothers are named Turano and Catrino. So while the rest of us might get a nice bowl of cavatelli with spring asparagus, tomatoes, ricotta, and lemon, Phoebe would get something that looks like this:

Not bad, right? I might call this ricotta and tomatoes on baguette a first cousin of the real dinner.

And maybe I’d call this one a second cousin, which I might serve a toddler (or a pincer-grasping baby) who prefers his food equal but separate.

Pasta with Asparagus, Tomatoes, Ricotta & Lemon
This recipe has you tossing the aspargus in with the boiling pasta water which saves you a pot to clean. (You’re welcome!) For Version 2 dinner: toast a baguette, top with ricotta and tomatoes as shown. Drizzle with olive oil and some good sea salt. Serve asparagus on the side. For Version 3: I think you got that one.

Cook 1 pound pasta according to package directions. (We used cavatelli, but any kind will do.) While pasta is cooking, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Swirl a halved garlic clove in the oil just for a quick flavor hit, then remove. Add 1 1/2 cups chopped grape tomatoes (yellow or red), salt, pepper and cook until tomatoes are wilted.

During last three minutes that the pasta is cooking, toss in 1 bunch asparagus spears (chopped) to the pot. Drain pasta and asparagus together and immediately toss in with tomatoes, cooking until pasta is coated with tomato juice.

Remove from heat and toss in 2 to 3 heaping tablespoons of ricotta (or to taste), 2 teaspoons lemon zest, salt, and pepper. (If it’s too hard to toss in the skillet, you can do  this in a large bowl.)

Serve with chopped fresh basil.

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Optional

May 2nd, 2012 · 2 Comments · Dinner, Quick, Vegetarian

When I first typed out the recipe for this very forgiving flatbread pizza, I added the word “optional” after “freshly grated nutmeg” and “fresh thyme” and then thought long and hard about why. For as long as I’ve been editing recipes I’ve been using “optional” as a way to say “I realize this is an ingredient you might not have on hand” or “I realize this is an extra step you might not want to take on a night that allows for not a single extra step” or “If this is the ingredient that makes dinner a deal-breaker with your kid, by all means omit!”  Have you noticed that you don’t ever come across “optional” in a serious recipe collection? (A quick flip through The Essential New York Times Cookbook, The Babbo Cookbook, and The Classic Italian Cookbook just confirmed this.) I’m guessing their philosophy is: If you’re going to do it, DO it. I love and embrace this philosophy. But I love and embrace it mostly on the weekend.

Here’s what you need to know about any of the Quick recipes on this site: Within reason, almost all the ingredients in any recipe are optional — or at the very least replaceable. This is especially true if not having the ingredient in question derails your plans for what was going to be a home-cooked dinner. (more…)

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They’ll Hold You To It

November 9th, 2011 · 20 Comments · Dinner, Quick, Vegetarian

I’ve learned the hard way that when it comes to kids, don’t make a promise you won’t be able to keep. Don’t promise a trip to Barnes and Noble this weekend if you know it’s going to take some logistical heroics to squeeze it between all the games and practices and trips to the mall to buy new boots. (Again! Why am I always buying boots?) Don’t promise you will kick the soccer ball around after work if you know it’s going to be dark outside when you get home. (They will blame you no matter how convincingly you try to explain Daylight Savings, the meeting that ran late, the train that chugged along at a snail’s pace.) Don’t promise you’ll make a cereal box village on Sunday afternoon, if you know there’s a good chance you’ll have to wrap up some last-minute work on a project due Monday and will likely respond “in a minute…in five minutes…in ten minutes…in about an hour” to the little voice that keeps asking you “Now Mom? Now Mom? Now?” and then eventually with resigned, puppy-dog disappointment, “Oh forget it.” Does anything make me feel lousier? I don’t think so.

Whatever you do, don’t promise them you’ll take part in Meatless Monday! Don’t get me wrong — it’s not that I don’t love the idea of a weekly vegetarian meal and the hugely popular initiative to get families to cut back on meat once a week  – I more than love it. I embrace it! We like to do our part for the planet with plant-based dinners at least two times a week. It’s just that those dinners somehow don’t ever seem to fall on a Monday. And for my two little literalists, this is not acceptable. They don’t ever seem to give me props when we have salad pizza on Thursday or Minestrone on Sunday or Bean Cakes on Wednesday. It’s the Pomegranate-braised Pork Loin I dared to make on Monday that they remember. “Mooooom,” said one of my eco-policewomen last week, setting her fork down, leaning back, and crossing her arms. “It’s Monday! Why are we eating pork?”

So next Monday we’re having veggie Quesadillas. Because they are fast, because they are good, and because I promised.

Black Bean and Goat Cheese Quesadillas
The girls aren’t goat cheese lovers, so for their quesadillas, I usually replace it with shredded cheddar or Jack.

vegetable oil
1 to 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup water
3 scallions (white and green parts only) chopped
6 8-inch whole wheat tortillas
4 ounces goat cheese

Heat about 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, until garlic is golden, about 1 minute. Stir in beans and mash them with a large fork. Add water and scallions and cook, stirring until most of water is absorbed, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Set a separate skillet over medium-high heat and add a little more vegetable oil. Place one tortilla in skillet, spreading about a sixth of bean filling on one side. Sprinkle a little goat cheese on top of beans and fold other half over to seal. Flip around a few times until tortillas are golden and cheese is melted, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove to a dinner plate and tent with foil to keep warm. Repeat with remaining tortillas.

I served these with crispy kale, which is another way of saying I sauteed the kale in olive oil over medium-high heat, added salt, and then completely forgot about it as I was summoned to explain a bar model math problem. But you know what? The leaves turned crispy and with a little more salt, they became delicious, easy-to-eat (and easy-to-sell) kale chips.

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