Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dinner: a discourse.

Who shops for dinner, and how is that shopping done? That is the question. I still have in my possession a small red clothbound book from two decades or more ago, in which I wrote my shopping lists on the left-hand page, and my menus on the right. I was a veritable wizard of using stuff up. I shopped once every two weeks, and that meant--as you have probably surmised--that by the end there was damned little out of which to conjure comestibles. As I am sure I have wheezed on about in the past, I was a scholar of my cookbooks, and knew what kind of cookie or cake I could make, if we needed cookies or cake, when I had but one egg, or when I had oil but no butter (often), and so forth. I knew how to substitute this for that. I could make homemade yogurt and I stretched fresh milk with powdered.

I knew that we were heading out of the woods once I started to work, when we could afford cold cereal on a regular basis. I am not defending cold cereal, but it made life easier by far when I did not have to arise from my slumber in the gray of the morning to cook a hot breakfast each and every day, as I did for quite some time. With the development of slightly more money clinking around in our pockets and coin purses, my shopping became less straitened. I still planned, I still listed, but I could go to the store if I needed another gallon of milk or a lemon or, you know, popsicles or a watermelon. It got better.

These days, when I consider dinner at my house and I draw from my vast stores of cooking experience a fresh and unspoiled blank, I make a list of things that I could cook, things that I almost always have the ingredients or. Risotto, I might write on the list. Plate of vegetables. One of the things I can almost always rustle up is a bowl of pasta, with something saucy to go on it or something vegetable-y. Or both. Pasta, in my book, makes a satisfying supper. You don't have to eat a lot of it--i.e., you don't have to go into a carbohydrate coma--but it is filling and warm and can be quite elegant. That's if you don't look in your refrigerator and think, ugh. Or what the hell. Which, to be honest, is how I feel sometimes when I look into the drawers and find some sad looking carrots and half a sheaf of now decidedly unfresh celery. When, exactly, were those depressing vegetables purchased? What is there to be done?

Luckily, the people, there is in these modern times a thing called The Internet, where people who write there occasionally surprise you with a recipe. And even luckier, sometimes the recipe kind of matches what you have in your refrigerator, in which case: WIN.

I ran across a pasta recipe today (it was an adaptation of this recipe from Mario Batali) that called for sundry vegetables and blistered tomatoes--charred in a hot pan so that the skin blistered. I read the list of ingredients: orecchiette, asparagus, spinach, tomatoes, burrata (that fancy fresh mozz with cream in it, whoa). I thought: Me, me, me, me also... I'm really close on this one. As in: I had the right pasta. I had some gorgeous fat purple asparagus. I also had broccoli that I could cut into very skinny stems, and I had some cherry tomatoes that needed a purpose in life. Also: baby kale, which would stand in for spinach. And a ball of mozz. Not burrata, but close enough.

Thus inspired-stroke-guided, I did the following:

  1. I heated the oven to 400 degrees. I filmed a roasting pan with olive oil. 
  2. I used a peeler to peel the bottom half of those asparagus stems. Then I cut them in uneven diagonally angled pieces of about 3/4". 
  3. I peeled the stems of the broccoli and cut it into skinny long pieces.
  4. I cut half a purple onion into thin half moons.
  5. I took some coarse salt from Slovenia (thanks, Natasha!) and crushed, along with some crushed red pepper, with the flat of my big knife and strewed it all over the vegetables. 
  6. I tossed the pan around until things were a little bit oiled up and put it in the oven.
  7. I began to heat my heavy skillet. Concurrently, I began to heat a pan of water for the pasta.
  8. When the pan was hot, I put in a little oil and the baby kale. I let it wilt, then tossed it around till it was still green but very docile. I put that on a plate. 
  9. Into the still hot pan, I threw my slightly-the-worse-for-wear cherry tomatoes. Grape tomatoes, really. I let them hang out there and char. I tossed them around a little so they could char on other spots. Then I turned off the heat and just let them blister away.
  10. When the water boiled, I put my third of a pound, approximately, of pasta in and let 'er cook. Orecchiette is a hefty pasta, so it takes twelve minutes or more.
  11. While that was happening, I tore apart my mozzarella into shreds. Nothing too fine.
  12. As the pasta was getting close, I checked my roasting vegetables--they were perfect. I took them out. I checked the pasta every couple of minutes. 
  13. When it was done, I drained it, put it back in the pan, and threw in a couple of tablespoonsful of butter, then all the vegetables, and then the mozz. I tossed it and tossed it until the butter was melted and the cheese was melting and everything looked fantastic.
And then we ate it. And let me tell you: it was so good.


  1. I want this. But I would have to go shopping. Which seems to defeat the whole spirit of the thing

  2. May I come eat at your house? Often? Please?



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