It used to be called spaghetti, rigatoni, macaroni, lasagna or whatever noodle it happened to be. I don’t remember calling it pasta. Tonight while I was preparing it, I had a food memory from childhood. It’s a twirling spaghetti technique I don’t see my parents do any more. But, they used to. With a fork, they would spear a clump of pas-ghetti and using a large tablespoon, twirl the spaghetti in the bowl of the spoon, using their fork as a sort of baton, before eating it. It was so grown-up to me and something I didn’t think I could ever master then. I tried it tonight and smiled at the memory.
For Christmas, my daughter and her boyfriend gave me some pastalicious gifts — a pasta making class, and pasta club. The pasta class has me on the hunt for a manual pasta maker, preferably unused, in the box, sitting in one of our local thrift shops. (I gave mine away years ago thinking I’d never use it! Wrong!) Fresh pasta is now like fresh local grapes were for me when I first had them…nothing but fresh and local (my own kitchen if possible!) will do now.
But, in the meantime, I have pasta club and this past Saturday was my first day of it. Major yum and so simple! I picked up fresh tagliatelle, grated butternut squash, fresh thyme and basil, a plug of butter and olive oil, and salty toasted pistachios in several little containers. Included was a take and bake baguette, also!
To make the entree: get your pot of salted water boiling for the pasta. In a cast iron pan, heat the butter and olive oil on medium heat until hot, then add your shredded squash, stirring occasionally as it cooks. When the water’s boiling, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain most of the water out, leaving a wee bit. Dump this in with your squash, lowering the heat and giving it a good stir. Add grated Romano or Parmesan if you’d like, toss well and serve with pistachios and crumbled herbs (I used the thyme…so delicious!). Mangia!
If Alice validated my love of simple, Heidi encouraged me to experiment. To be adventurous with ingredients I have or don’t have. To seek a foundation for the ingredients I have on hand and adapt a recipe to them. And I’ve been successful! When I was much younger (although it doesn’t seem as much!), I used to think exotic spices, herbs and other ingredients created a great dish. I could not have been more wrong.
I have since learned that good old salt and pepper can be the best seasoning, maybe butter, garlic and olive oil, too.
Heidi does create recipes with ingredients that I would not necessarily consider combining though and her Sweet Potato Spoon Bread recipe is one of them. But, like I said, she taught me to take more risks in the kitchen. After all, if I’m going to live on the edge, the kitchen’s a fairly safe place to do it. So, I gave the spoon bread a try. And it was delish! So good that I have since repeated it and also discovered another blogger’s recipe that is a sweet potato soup with goat cheese biscuits. In the interest of simple and ease though, I use Heidi’s from her cookbook Super Natural Cooking, leaving out the shallots. So it’s basically just the mashed sweet potatoes with some whole wheat pastry flour and eggs stirred in, layered in a casserole with dollops of creamy goat cheese and baked. Even Marty likes it! Super Natural Cooking was the first cookbook I’d bought new in decades. I highly recommend it with the caveat that one way I’ve figured out I must buy a certain book is when I’ve checked it out from the library several times, keeping it on my shelf longer than the library’s probably had it on theirs!
Hmmm, what to make for dinner? Truth be told, I love to bake but am not crazy about cooking. Or perhaps I should clarify…involved cooking. I like simple food. Straightforward ingredients. Seasonal and as local as I can get is good, too. This makes me a huge fan of Alice Waters. If I ever needed someone to validate my need to cook (and bake) this way, it is Alice. Why validate? Because Alice elevates simple cooking to the sublime. It doesn’t have to be complicated to be divine. So thank you, Alice, for helping me realize that I am a great cook sometimes and an even better baker most times.
And here is one of Alice’s recipes from The Art of Simple Food: Potato Gratin. For the details, I encourage you to get her book…if you can’t buy it, borrow it from your local library system.
What I use: several potatoes, thinly sliced and layered in a buttered casserole pan. Salted and peppered on each layer. Overlap the layers and if you’d like, layer in some thinly sliced onions or other veggie you may love (even kale!). Marty, me matey, doesn’t like onions so I sprinkle a light layer of smoked Gouda or other cheese we like. When I’ve used up the potatoes, or filled my casserole, I pour a mixture of milk and heavy cream over it to cover the potatoes. Sprinkle on some paprika, maybe some bread crumbs, and bake at 350 degrees, uncovered, for about an hour. Serve with greens and/or whatever accompaniments feed your soul at that moment. Breathe deeply and enjoy!