Posts filed under 'Pasta'
On the cusp of a new season, I’m usually pushing ahead to the next one, eager to flip the page, like Avery zipping through her board books. Spring has its obvious lure out of winter, ushering in light and warmth and new growth and asparagus (!). But autumn normally has an equally compelling pull for me, all fresh, new, and crisp, not to mention its gourds and apples.
But this year, as Labor Day has come and gone, and as August has slid into September, I don’t feel that same pull. Maybe it’s that this was our first full summer with Avery. Maybe it’s that this summer has been so good. Maybe it’s that I’m fearful of the unknown—I haven’t lived an autumn or a rainy winter in Seattle yet, and I don’t know what to expect. Whatever it is, I’m just not ready to move on.
I walked to the dry cleaners yesterday, which was a hot, sunny day in Seattle, a city that people say rarely sees the sun and never gets hot, so I may be breaking some kind of let’s-keep-this-our-little-secret Seattle code by even mentioning these pleasant conditions, but I’m new here, and I haven’t totally learned the code just yet. Anyway, a few stray, puffy clouds floated in the broad, blue sky and as I climbed the steep, narrow stairway that cuts a path out of our little neighborhood and out onto the main drag, I turned around to take it all in.
From those stairs, I can see all the way down the hill into Ballard, and, behind it, slices of the sparkling ship canal and the blue and red hulls of the big boats anchored there. I can see the slope up to Queen Anne on the other side of the water, and way off in the distance, I can see the jagged, still-snow-draped Olympics. The latest-blooming flowers (poppies and peonies and roses, at the moment!) edge the sidewalks, and succulents crawl up mossy rock walls. I can hear the bellow of shipping horns and the whisper of the tall, swaying pines, and power lines criss-cross overhead.
Last Friday night, I returned to Chicago after a three-week work trip. To say that I was glad to be home would be an extreme understatement. I missed my husband, my city, my kitchen, my food, my easy routines. I spent the weekend reacquainting myself with all of these things, reveling in them and appreciating them all as though they were brand new. The weather was pretty uncooperative, but that didn’t stop us from walking miles and visiting the farmers’ market (opening day in Lincoln Park!) and churning ice cream and sliding a bouquet of peonies into a mason jar.
It was a spring weekend to make up for the several that I had missed while I was away.
It’s been quiet here, for too long. Christmas and Hanukkah slipped by without a hello, or a recipe. The new year rang in without a word. We’re a ways into January, now, and the site has remained dormant. Still and silent, like an early winter morning—one that’s been blanketed in a fresh coat of sparkling snow. The same cannot be said about my real life, the offline one, which had been consumed by work. I emerged on Sunday after a major deadline, and I’m slowly readjusting to a more normal pace of life.
It’s been nice.
The best recipes are born in an instant. Or, at least that’s how they emerge in my world—in a split second, when hunger and inspiration collide, a product of the exact moment, the day, my mood, the weather, the season. It’s what happened with this one, and this one, and this one, and this one, and this one. And it’s what happened with this very satisfying, very quick, very of-the-season recipe: bucatini with cherry tomatoes, pancetta and basil. This one was the result of a grey day—one that followed a brilliant string of blindingly sunny days; a long work day; a few nights of less-than-stellar sleep. I wanted a warm bowl of something hearty and nourishing, but something that would not waste the precious, waning days of summer.
A basket of tiny tomatoes, red and gold alike, sat on the counter. A package of bucatini was stashed in the pantry. A few basil leaves threatened to wilt in the fridge. And two thick rounds of pancetta were a mere trip to the corner market away—nothing a sweet call to Kevin, a quick bat of my eye lashes, and a promise of pasta! with pancetta! and plenty of parm! couldn’t solve.
And then, after all that fun in Austin, 2011 got down to business. You know, the business of work, and the gym, and taking out the trash, and loads of laundry, and rides on the El. The business, in other words, of life. Throw in a woolen sweater, some heavy boots and a set of chapped lips and the picture is more accurate, or timely at least—the business of life in January. And, while I know it’s customary to complain these heart-of-winter days away—wishing fervently for longer days and stronger sunshine and delicate, un-knobbly, in-season produce that grew above ground—I can’t help but appreciate the return of normalcy.
There’s a delicious comfort in it.
Fall went easy on us here in Chicago. It was long and sun-drenched and fringed in rust-colored leaves. And, best of all, it faded gently, slowly, nearly imperceptibly—almost as though it were melting away. So I’m having an easier time coming to terms with winter than I usually do. Dare I say I’m even liking it a little bit? December, I must say that this is a first.
It’s just that there’s something wonderful about the flat, hard edge of winter’s sunlight that glints off everything, making it look clean and new. There’s a magic in the little puffs of air that can suddenly be seen at your mouth, or the tufts of steam rising from street grates or building tops. There’s the smoke of logs burning in a fireplace, a sign that someone, somewhere, is having a cozy afternoon. There are the twinkling lights that belong to this portion of the winter—the first part, the holiday part. There is the chunky sweater, the one that threatens to swallow you whole. There is the thick scarf, wound tight around the throat. There was that first dusting of snow—so white, like someone tipped a bag of sugar high above us, letting its glittering contents float down to the ground.
There is something so wonderful about an all-day recipe. It’s automatically special. It instantly fills your day up with purpose. It tethers you to your kitchen and, if you’re like me, that’s just fine by you. It promises to fill your home with delicious fragrances and gentle warmth. Best of all, it screams weekend—because, in my world at least, dinner and its preparation simply is not an hours-long affair on a weeknight. In the fall, such a recipe screams Sunday afternoon, in particular, when golden sunshine filters into the kitchen and the whistles and cracks and cheers of a football game on TV waft out of the living room. And, because it is fall, with the first hints of chill in the air, your all-day-Sunday recipe might as well be good and hearty.
Last Sunday, in accordance with all of the above, I committed myself to a baked pasta with pork sugo. This project had me break down a hunk of pork shoulder into chunks, which were first browned and then braised in a concoction of wine, soffritto, tomatoes and fresh herbs that smelled just as lovely as you might expect. Like any good braise, this one was low and slow. Hours later, the pork had become fall-apart tender.
I made this pasta by accident, after standing in front of the open refrigerator for a long while staring, slightly slack-jawed, at its contents, waiting, I think, for divine intervention. After a long day at work, it was late and I was hungry. As you might imagine, divine intervention did not strike. Instead, I started withdrawing items from the fridge, without much thought. Before I knew it, I had amassed a pile of asparagus, French radishes, a dwindling nub of feta and a box of baby arugula. Surveying the pile, salad was the obvious choice. But I wanted something more substantial. Pasta!, I thought. It was my culinary cure-all in college, after all. Surely it could work on this desparate evening!
So I set a pot of water on the stove to boil and set to work washing and slicing and mincing, mellowing out imperceptibly along the way. While some whole-wheat spaghetti boiled in salted water, I heated a puddle of olive oil in another skillet, to which I added a couple cloves of thinly sliced garlic and a liberal pinch of red pepper flakes. (Apparently, I didn’t want myself to fall asleep, head first, in my dinner. ) When the pasta was nearly done, I slid the asparagus, sliced on the bias, into the bubbling water. Meanwhile, I transferred the garlic-chile oil to a large bowl, whisked in the juice of a lemon and a bit more olive oil. On top of that, I piled up some arugula and crumbled the feta. By then, the asaparagus was tender and the pasta was al dente. Both were drained and added to the bowl, which I tossed until the argula had wilted and the feta had nearly melted, creating a rich, salty sauce. The finishing touch was a shower of radish coins and some more red pepper flakes. I can’t tell you how good it was—beautiful, nourishing, comforting. Exactly what I needed.
I have to confess that there’s a big upshot to my camera-flash-less existence, which I bemoaned less than 48 hours ago right here on this site. I was whining (who, me?!!) about the fact that the practically Alaskan length of daylight going on right now in Chicago, combined with my need to photograph the food that I cook (it’s important!) and my desire to avoid my camera’s less-than-stellar built-in flash, has forced me to cram all my cooking into the hours between sunrise and sunset on Saturday and Sunday. (Or to take photos in my office, which I’d like to avoid moving forward.)
While this leads to quite a weekend kitchen frenzy, it’s not all bad. For one thing, I’ve been spending a lot of weekend time doing something that I love (and also, lest you worry, making time for other weekend things I love, like going to dinner with Kevin, wandering around the city on foot, and melting into my favorite nook of the couch). But, even better, it’s meant that I make a lot of things in advance. Soup is a natural here: eat on Sunday night and pack into tupperware for lunches throughout the week. And, last weekend, lasagna fit the bill. So, on Sunday, I assembled a pan and stuck it in the fridge, so we could bake it off during the week.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)