From the category archives:

Pasta

This week, I make perhaps my most standard standby pasta, a mix of onions, tomatoes and bacon–great year-round, and totally doable with just pantry items. On the side, I boil a bit of kale and dress it up with chili flakes and vinegar.

 

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Shopping list

    Bacon
    Pasta: spaghetti, bucatini, linguine
    Tomatoes: best-quality canned or fresh (grape tomatoes for best flavor)
    Onions
    Kale
    Red-wine vinegar
    Olive oil
    Chili pepper flakes
    Pecorino romano or good-quality parmesan

Sorta-Pasta all’Amatriciana

amatriciana 018This is a great dish to cook any time of year, as well as an excellent emergency pantry-only kind of dish–as long as you start considering bacon a pantry ingredient (it does keep in your fridge for a couple of weeks, or in your freezer forever). But as I say in the podcast, this is hardly an “authentic” recipe for many reasons, so maybe it’s more honest just to call it pasta with onions, tomatoes and bacon. Some recipes also call for chili pepper and/or garlic, but I don’t find this is necessary–and then you have some room to make your side dish spicy and/or garlicky.

I use canned Muir Glen or San Marzano tomatoes, or good ripe grape tomatoes, and thick-cut bacon yields chunks with a little bit more texture (Niman Ranch, for instance–I don’t like it just to eat straight, but it has a good flavor for cooking). As for pasta, bucatini–like thick spaghetti, but hollow–is traditional, but hard to find, and also hard to eat because you can’t slurp it up. Standard spaghetti works fine, as does linguine.

Serves 2
Salt
4 thick slices bacon
2 medium onions
Glug olive oil
5 or 6 canned tomatoes, or the better part of a pint of grape tomatoes
1/2 lb. bucatini, spaghetti or linguine
1/2-inch wedge or so pecorino romano or good-quality parmesan cheese

Put on a pot of water to boil, and salt it generously.

amatriciana 007Slice raw bacon into 1/2- or 1/4-inch pieces, then cook in a heavy skillet on low heat, stirring occasionally. Some pieces will be crispy, and some will be chewier–this is fine. Remove from the skillet and drain on a paper towel. Pour off all but about 1 tbsp of the bacon grease.

Slice onions in 1/4-inch slices. Cook on medium heat in the pan with the bacon grease and an extra glug or so of olive oil. (If you’re in a hurry, as I am in the podcast, you can get the onions going in a separate pan, with just olive oil, then move them over to the bacon-greased pan when the bacon is out.) Sprinkle on some salt–this helps the onions soften up. Moderate the heat so the onions get soft, but don’t get crispy brown spots. (See Episode #2 for tips–no need to caramelize the onions so extremely for this, though.)

When the onions are thoroughly soft, add the tomatoes and crush them up with the back of your spoon. Let this mixture simmer 10-15 minutes–the tomato juices should thicken up but not cook away entirely. During this time, you can get your pasta boiling, according to the package directions (although check it early, because sometimes those directions are wrong–in the podcast, my so-called 11-minute pasta was done in about 7 minutes). Also grate your cheese–you want a couple of big handfuls.

Add the bacon back to the tomato-onion mixture and stir well. When the pasta is al dente, drain it, reserving a mugful of pasta water. Toss the pasta in with the tomato sauce, adding a bit of pasta water if necessary to make a more liquid sauce. Toss in a handful of the cheese and stir to combine. Serve the pasta in bowls, topped with the remaining cheese.

Quickest Kale

amatriciana 012Kale is one of those workhorses of winter, sturdy and good for you. The easiest way to prepare it is simply to boil it briefly, then sprinkle it with vinegar and chili. As I say in the podcast, you could also wilt it in a pan–see Episode #15’s Wilted Arugula with Pine Nuts, but cook it for several minutes longer, until the stems are tender. Curly kale tends to have smaller stems and cook a little faster–and looks nicer on the plate–but regular kale is fine too. Beet greens will also work nicely.

Serves 2
Salt
Medium bunch kale, curly or otherwise
Red-wine vinegar
Crushed red chili (Aleppo pepper is nice)
Salt

Set a large pot of salted water to boil (as in the podcast, you can use the same water you’re boiling for pasta). Rinse kale well and trim off any parts of the stem that look ragged or split.

Drop the kale in the boiling water, in a steamer basket, if you have one. Poke the kale a bit to make sure it’s all submerged. Boil until the stems are tender–this could be as little as 3 minutes, or quite a bit longer. In any case, you want to try to get the kale out of the water before it loses its bright-green color and turns a duller olive green.

Drain the kale well and spread the leaves out on a serving plate. Sprinkle with vinegar, salt and red chili flakes. You can serve it hot, but it’s also satisfying closer to room temperature.

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This week, I make an easy, summery pasta dish, plus arugula that’s a nice variation from the usual salad. It all comes together very quickly, and doesn’t heat up the kitchen much–great when the weather is hot.

 

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Shopping list

    1 lemon
    Bunch fresh basil
    Bunch fresh arugula
    Spaghetti (at least 1/2 lb.)
    Pine nuts (about 1/4 cup)
    Butter (about 4 tablespoons)
    Parmesan cheese (a half-inch chunk)
    Olive oil (a drizzle)
    Fish sauce (a few drops)
    Red pepper flakes

Spaghetti with Lemon and Basil

lemonspag-026I cook this all the time in the summer–there’s something about the flavor combination that’s so refreshing, and in the summer, I don’t really feel like I need a big meaty main dish. I learned the recipe from a surprisingly good free promotional cookbook I got from the Parmigiano-Reggiano people a good ten years ago, and to be fair, the quality of the grating cheese does make a difference. So use Parmigiano-Reggiano, ideally, or, in a budgetary pinch, Grana Padano, though you’re not using so much that genuine Parm will break the bank.

For 2 servings
1 lemon
Large handful fresh basil leaves
Half-inch chunk of Parmesan
3-4 tablespoons butter
1/2 pound spaghetti
Salt, to taste

lemonspag-001Set a pot with heavily salted water on to boil. Then get all the pasta ingredients ready (as in the photo): grate the zest from the lemon into a small bowl, then squeeze the lemon juice into another small bowl–you’ll want about 1 tablespoon total, maybe a dash more. Rinse the basil well, then slice into thin strips. Grate the Parmesan cheese–you should have about 1/3 cup. Measure out your butter.

In a heavy skillet (the same one you will have prepared the arugula in is fine) on medium heat, melt the butter, then add the lemon zest and juice and let simmer for a minute or so. (You can do this part in advance and let it sit until the pasta is cooked.)

lemonspag-005Cook the pasta according to the package directions–usually 6-8 minutes. When it’s just al dente (err toward less done), set aside a bit of the pasta water in a mug, then drain the rest of the pasta. Toss it into the skillet with the butter (turn the heat back on to medium, if it has been sitting), and stir the pasta to coat evenly (tongs are good here). Gradually shake in all but about 1 tablespoon of the cheese, stirring the pasta constantly. If the mixture gets a bit dry or too sticky (as in the photo), add a tablespoon or two of the reserved pasta water. Finally, toss in the basil and turn off the heat. Taste for salt (you may not need any if you’ve salted your pasta water well, and used salted butter). Serve with the reserved cheese sprinkled on top.

Wilted Arugula with Pine Nuts

lemonspag-013This preparation takes a little of the intense peppery bite out of arugula, so give it a try even if you’re not ordinarily an arugula fan. And the basic technique–wilting greens with a little bit of liquid in a hot, covered pan–is one you can apply to all kinds of greens. Pine nuts add a little crunch and additional protein, to make the dish just a tad more substantial. Fish sauce is optional (a shortcut to melting anchovies in the hot olive oil before adding the greens), but it adds just a touch of extra richness. To save on cleanup, you can make it in the same pan you’ll later finish the pasta in.

For 2 servings
1 medium bunch fresh arugula
Olive oil
2 small handfuls pine nuts
Fish sauce (or salt)
Pinch red pepper flakes (Aleppo pepper is ideal; Italian pepper flakes will do too)

Rinse your arugula very well, but no need to dry. Set a heavy skillet over medium heat and drizzle in a glug of olive oil. When the pan is hot, toss in the pine nuts and stir occasionally till nicely browned, usually less than a minute. Remove the nuts and set aside.

lemonspag-012Throw the wet arugula in the pan, and stand back a bit to avoid any spattering oil. (If you’re starting with dry greens, toss them in, then add a tablespoon or two of water.) They won’t look like it’s all going to fit (as in the photo), but as you stir quickly (tongs can be useful here) to coat the leaves with oil, they will start to wilt immediately. Then put the lid on the pan and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook, covered, for just 20-30 seconds, until the arugula is completely wilted, but still bright green.

Remove the greens from the pan immediately to stop the cooking, then drizzle on a few drops of fish sauce (if you have it) and stir. If you want to stay veggie, or you don’t have fish sauce, just sprinkle on a bit of salt. Top with red pepper flakes and serve. (This can sit and cool a little–it doesn’t need to be served piping hot.)

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This week: a simple dinner of pasta and salad, but with an interesting, Greek-inspired combination of flavors (plus bacon!) in the pasta, and a fresh green salad with easy homemade dressing.

 
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