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Weeknight dinner

Sunday Night Pasta

After a weekend road trip to visit friends in the nation’s capitol (little did we know the intrigue that was afoot as we strolled past 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on Saturday afternoon), which included the consumption of mussels in a cilantro and coconut milk sauce at Bertha’s; baseball-size crab cakes from Faidleys Seafood; home-roasted salmon followed by berries with a brown sugar, amaretto sour cream sauce; fried artichoke hearts, NY strip steak, and Belgian beer;  and finally Sunday-morning eggs Benedict, by our return home on Sunday evening, we were ready for the easy comfort of a big bowl of pasta.

I suggested a recipe my trusty traveling companion had found in The NY Times a few years back – Fettucine with Butter, Peas, and Sage Sauce.  Agreement.  After a quick stop at the grocery store, dinner was soon in the making.  My beau has himself a lovely little herb garden, and the sage is already a good 8″ high, so I had no trouble procuring the requisite 12 leaves, though it was so much fun to pluck them that we went this evening with 20. 

When I returned to the kitchen, wine had been poured, water had been put up to boil, and a stick of butter was melting on the stove.  The sage was tossed in with the butter to stew a little bit, and I leaned back against the counter to enjoy my wine, while my host measured parmesan, toasted some pine nuts and prepared a salad dressing.

I love cooking.  And I love cooking for and with Dr. S.  But there is something so very delightful about watching Dr. S. cook for me, for us.  I don’t know that I will ever tire of it!  (Remind me to tell you about the recent breakfast he prepared out of dinner leftovers. . .)  So my contribution to this meal preparation was minimal.  Other than picking the aforementioned sage leaves, I tossed the butter sauce onto the pasta, popped it in the oven, and lighted the dining room candles.  Here’s what dinner looked like as it went into the oven . . .

And here’s what it looked like on the table . . .

And in case you’d like your own dish of this comforting pasta next Sunday night, here’s the recipe, courtesy of The NY Times, but with our own secret ingredient added at the end!

Fresh Fettucine with Butter, Peas, and Sage Sauce

1/2 c. butter

12 fresh sage leaves (but you can’t go wrong with more)

1 c. frozen petite peas

salt & freshly ground black pepper

1 lb. fresh fettucine

1/4 lb. Parmesan, grated (about 1 1/2 c.)

Optional:  J’s secret ingredient – Truffle Salt!!!

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and put the pasta water on.  Melt 1/4 c. of the butter in a small saucepan, and add the sage leaves.  Cook until they’re crisp – but not burnt!  When the butter begins to brown, add the peas and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.  Add 1/4 c. water, cover the saucepan and reduce the heat to low.  Cook for 10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the fettucine, drain well and, in an ovenproof dish, toss with the remaining 1/4 c. of butter, 1 c. of the grated Parmesan and the pea and sage mixture.  Place in the oven for 5 minutes.  Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan, and, if the idea does not offend you and you are so fortunate as to have it in your pantry, serve with truffle salt on the side!

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Cooking for One

My daughters are spending the April vacation with their father, and the needs of family and work are taking a big part of Dr. S’s time at the moment.  Thus I have found myself somewhat at loose ends recently when it comes to my evening meals.  One night was cheddar, crackers, and wine, while Skyping with my dad, but last night I spent a few minutes in the kitchen, determined to make dinner for one from my almost-empty fridge.  (With the girls gone, why grocery shop?)  I found a red pepper and a nice bunch of basil.  I channeled that most fabulous former Gourmet writer and novelist Laurie Colwin (don’t tell me you don’t own Home Cooking), and slowly sauteed that red pepper in olive oil and garlic, while I brought water to a boil and julienned the basil.  Into the water went some penne, and when it was almost done I threw a huge handful of basil in with the now quite softened red pepper and garlic.  A big grinding of pepper, little salt to taste, and the sauce was done.  I tossed the cooked pasta into the red pepper pan, poured it into a bowl, added a very generous grating of parmesan, poured a glass of wine, and sat myself down in front of “The Black Swan”.

If poor “White Swan/Black Swan” Nina could only have contented herself in the same fashion, I think things may have turned out quite differently for her.

Toasted Barley and Sweet Potatoes

In addition to avoiding raisins, best friend Kathleen tries to keep her home leaning toward vegetarianism, something encouraged by her husband since he began reading books such as Eating Animals, Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  Bacon, beef, and eggs do still make an occasional appearance, but overall there’s a great deal of healthy eating going on in their Westchester home.  And so I found myself flipping through Jesse Ziff Cool’s Simply Organic, as I sat at Kathleen’s kitchen table some months ago.  It was a chilly November day, and I was looking for some inspiration for the coming week’s dinners.  What I happened upon was Toasted Barley and Sweet Potatoes.

My daughters both LOVE sweet potatoes, and this looked like a pretty good way to include a whole grain.  The author suggested that it could be turned into a more substantial meal by adding an egg, or leftover chicken or shrimp.  We like it with an egg, as the runny yolk contributes an additional layer of taste to the whole event.

Toasted Barley and Sweet Potatoes

1/2 c. pearl barley

2 Tbs. vegetable oil

1 small onion

2 sweet potatoes, cut into 1/4″ pieces

2 c. vegetable broth

salt & pepper to taste

One egg per diner

Toast the barley in a skillet over low heat until just lightly brown.  Set aside.  Saute the onion in oil until softened.  Add the sweet potato and barley and stir to coat with oil and onion.  Add the vegetable broth, salt and pepper, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover.  Cook until the sweet potato is just tender (you don’t want it too mushy), somewhere in the 20 – 35 minute vicinity, depending on the size of your sweet potato cubes, and the strength of your flame.  Prepare the eggs (“over easy” is usually the way I go, but poached would be lovely, too).  Enjoy!

Lentils for Luck

In Italy, lentils are believed to bring good luck, particularly if eaten as the first meal of the New Year.  And Signora Salvadore, with whom I lived during my semester in Florence, reminded me each time she served lentils for dinner, that when I someday had children, I must feed them lentils to keep them healthy – “piena di ferro!” – “full of iron!”, she would tell me.

I have followed her advice, and my daughters are huge lentil fans, as am I.  We eat a big bowl for lunch with bread and butter on a cold day, or over pasta for a quick dinner.  But I think I like them best with salmon.

Desirous of a little more luck in 2011 than I had in 2010, and in need of a menu for a special evening last week, I turned to Dorie Greenspan‘s roasted salmon and lentils, from her new book Around My French Table.  It being a work night, and there having been a little space of time since my guest and I had an evening together, this was the perfect recipe.  I could prepare the lentils on Wednesday night – toss them in a pot with some vegetables and chicken broth – and merely reheat them while the salmon roasted on Thursday night.  An arugula salad with a little blue cheese would round out the meal.

Dorie’s recipe worked like a charm! (As a member of her French Fridays with Dorie cooking group, I cannot give the recipe here, but I strongly recommend taking a trip to your local bookstore to pick up a copy.)  Dorie is certainly not the first person to offer a salmon and lentil recipe, but this one is terrifically basic while sacrificing nothing in flavor.   The moral of this little story?  I did my part to fortify us with luck and good health AND there was still plenty of evening left for catching up.

Fast Food Dinner

Arriving home later than usual tonight, due to last-minute meeting with my boss, which resulted in a missed train, and with only moments to spare before the opening bars of “Glee” (my daughters’ favorite program, for which I must be seated beside them from start to finish else their enjoyment be apparently diminished), I made the rapid and happy decision that it would be a cheese, bread, and wine dinner for me this evening.  (Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that my daughters had already dined at their father’s home this night.)

Thanks to a cheese, bread, and salad dinner suggested by my beau a week ago, my refrigerator was the protector of a lovely wedge of Piave, a small piece of Pere Joseph, and rounding things off, a chunk of Bayley Hazen Blue (he knows his cheese, I’ve discovered…)  My vegetable, carrots dipped in Moroccan-spiced yellow pepper hummus I picked up at the Sunday farmer’s market.

With a dinner as pleasing and companionable as that, it barely mattered that “Glee” was a repeat.

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