Posted on February 17, 2014
I think it’s safe to say that we’re officially in the thick of a true Boston winter. There’s snow on the ground. Snow on the rooftops. Snow in piles. Snow on the way. It’s icy and slushy and downright cold. But you know what? It’s pretty glorious. Sure, native Bostonians and more experienced East Coast residents are still meeting our winter enthusiasm with mild shock and a lot of, “Just wait until mid-March, and you won’t love it so much,” but for now our family is definitely enjoying this long-lasting winter wonderland. If it’s going to be cold, it might as well be snowy. And we have plenty of both.
Cold weather does call for comfort food though, the kind that warms you up from the inside out and makes you feel good and cozy on a truly blustery day. You can certainly go the soups and stews route, but for me, nothing says comfort like pasta. So pasta we shall have! And this pasta we have had, in fact — weekly at least — for a solid month. Maybe that’s why we’re still loving all this snow.
Fettuccine with Garlic Cream Sauce and Sautéed Tomatoes
Adapted from The Kitchy Kitchen
• 16 ounces fettuccine
• ¼ cup olive oil
• 4 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 pint cherry tomatoes
• ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
• kosher salt
• freshly ground black pepper
• ½ cup cream
• 2 teaspoon lemon zest
• 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, finely chopped
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, and sauté just until golden, about 30 seconds to a minute. Add the tomatoes, crushed red pepper, salt and black pepper. Lower heat, and sauté, tossing occasionally, until tomatoes are soft, another 7 to 10 minutes, depending on how hot you keep the pan.
In the meantime, cook the fettuccine to al dente, according to package instructions. When the pasta is nearly finished cooking (and the tomatoes are soft), add the cream to the pan with the tomatoes, give everything a good stir and heat the sauce until it’s almost simmering. Add the lemon zest and thyme, and stir to combine.
Pour the hot garlic cream sauce over the pasta, and toss to coat. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
How are you staying warm and cozy this winter season? Good food? Good friends? A good vacation void of snow and ice? Do tell!
Posted on June 26, 2013
I’m pretty sure that cookies are one of life’s great triumphs — at least in the world of dessert. Where else are you going to find a sweet that’s so universally loved? A treat that can be baked quickly, travel easily and please grandparents and toddlers alike? They’re like the stuff of fairy tales, really. There are humble beginnings (we’re talking dough balls, y’all), followed by courageous middles (baking is not for the lighthearted) and, finally, the beautiful, delicious endings. Yes, cookies are pure magic. No two are the same, and yet they all have tales worth telling.
This cookie’s story is none too fancy, though sprinkles and nuts and chocolate chips do not a hero make. Sometimes it’s simplicity and earnestness that win out in the end.
Chocolate sugar cookies are exactly as they sound. They are simple sweets that pack a lovely chocolate punch by way of Dutch-process cocoa powder, with enough butter to remind you they’re a sometimes food.
They need very little else, besides a source for dunking. Coffee is always a good friend to chocolate, but I dare say these taste best when paired with an ice cold glass of milk.
And this recipe makes a mountain, so be sure to share with friends. Or with strangers, who will quickly become your friends.
Chocolate Sugar Cookies
Adapted slightly from Martha Stewart’s Cookies
• 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch process)
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, ½ cup at room temperature and ½ cup melted
• 1 ½ cups sugar
• 1 egg
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the ½ cup room-temperature butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the (cooled) melted butter, and mix until well blended. Add the egg and vanilla, and mix until creamy. With the mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients, and mix until just combined.
Use a 1-inch cookie scoop to drop dough in rounded tablespoons on a parchment- or Silpat-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 10-14 minutes, until edges are firm. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for minute, then move them to a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes about 4 dozen
Posted on June 20, 2013
Like anything worth its while, blogging is one of those adventures that takes time, work and tinkering to really find your groove and get things exactly how you like them. Of course, then another few months go by, and you’ve changed your mind entirely. It’s the mark of any creative endeavor I suppose. Switcheroos and tinkering are just part of the territory.
This recipe is a remake of one that I posted when Splash of Something first began, back in the olden days of 2010, when I was but a wee lass typing away from our happy two-bedroom abode in Columbia, Mo. Oh, how life changes in two and a half years. But that’s another story. This is the story of a salad.
A few weeks back, during one of my periodic tinkering-with-the-blog-design sessions, I added the dandy little widget at the right that features photos of the most popular posts of the day. For the most part, the widget is populated by more recent posts, which means the photos tend to blend nicely style-wise. The exception, however, has been the image of the original posting of this recipe, taken way back before we learned the merits of natural lighting, the importance of planning shots beforehand or the there-is-a-such-thing-as-too-close phenomenon of food photography. To be honest, it didn’t bother me when the old photo showed up. I like to think of the older images as just part of the progression. But poor Jared, who took the original photo, was haunted by it every time it showed up on the sidebar. “There it is again,” he’d say quietly, shaking his head in self-defeat. Then he’d walk sullenly into the distance.
No, no, it was never quite so dire. But I made a promise to make the salad again, and here I am making good on it.
The really wonderful thing about revisiting these old recipes is the chance to eat them again and dabble a bit until they’re even yummier than you left them. This is a summertime favorite that I’d all but forgotten about, and I’m so happy that Jared’s photo aversion could lead us back to something so delicious. If you’re looking for a simple summer salad, I hope you’ll give this one a try. I shall never let it fall out of rotation again!
Roasted Red Pepper and Chickpea Salad
Adapted slightly from Avoca Salads
• 4 red peppers, cut in thick strips
• 6 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 14-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
• 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
• 2 teaspoons ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• juice of 1 lemon
• ¼ to ½ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
• 1 bunch scallions, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Toss red pepper strips in 2 tablespoons olive oil, and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, turning occasionally. Transfer peppers to a bowl, and cover.
Heat remaining olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat, and add chickpeas. Toss in the oil, and heat through for 5 minutes. Add garlic and spices, and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until spices lose their raw aroma. Season with salt and pepper as you go, and taste along the way.
Transfer chickpeas to a bowl, add pepper strips, and season with lemon juice. Add parsley and scallions, and toss.
How has your cooking/baking/blogging changed over the years? Are you apt to revisit old favorites, or are you all new, all the time? I’d love to hear about it!
Posted on May 9, 2013
I could talk on and on about the value of simplicity — simple ingredients, simple work, simple living — but sometimes, I can honestly say you just have to make a royal mess of things to appreciate a job well done. Last night, while I scrubbed a few dishes and Jared helped tend to a bubbling pot of fruit and sugar, I thought to myself how lovely and simple the evening felt compared to the past few weeks. The thought barely escaped my mind when, quite suddenly, that bubbling pot turned into a red hot spring of craziness, spewing very boiling and very staining liquid from one end of the kitchen to the other.
Now I don’t know if it’s because I was watching 19 Kids and Counting at the time (the Duggars have a strangely calming effect on me) or because I slept a full eight hours the night before, but rather then send me into the typical stress-filled cleaning frenzy, this volcano of sticky preserves only fueled my satisfaction in the entire jam-making process. What is jam without the mess anyway? A sugary fruit mash at best. The real secret is in the chaos.
Oh, and good croissants. The other secret is good croissants. Few things are more delicious than homemade jam on bakery-made pastry, and we’re fortunate to have an awesome German bakery nearby. Next time you’re cruising around Durham, be sure to check out Guglhupf. And order a few extra cherry Danish to take home because, well, you need no excuse.
So back to the jam. This super simple recipe, which I happened upon while browsing one of my sister’s Pinterest boards (hey, gurl!), is a mere three ingredients long and takes little more than a bit of active stirring to get the job done. Yes, it might leave an impressive mess in its wake, but as noted earlier, that’s part of the process. It’s all worth it. Of course, it’s entirely possible that I was cooking with some exceptionally fervent strawberries, and perhaps the tamer varieties are less likely to bubble so enthusiastically. But I’m no scientist. Just a girl who’s a few splatters short of a clean kitchen.
Simple Strawberry Jam
From Martha Stewart
• 1 ½ pounds hulled strawberries
• ½ cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Place the strawberries in a food processor, and pulse until they’re coarsely chopped. Transfer the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice to a large skillet, and stir until combined.
Cook the strawberries over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the jam is thickened and bubbles cover the surface, about 10 minutes.
Transfer the jam to a jar (or two small jars), and allow it to cool to room temperature. Jam may be kept sealed in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.
In case it helps put the flavor or texture into perspective, my mom says this strawberry goodness sounds a lot like the freezer jam my grandma used to make all the time. It’s sweet but not overly sweet like the store-bought stuff, and there’s plenty of zing from the generous bit of lemon juice. And we’re just jumping into strawberry season, so now’s the time to jam away! Just don’t forget those croissants!
Posted on May 5, 2013
Happy Cinco de Mayo! Not that anyone ever needs an excuse to eat Mexican food (it’s a mega favorite among the people in this house, Beany included), but today’s an especially great day for it, don’t you think? We’ve been traveling a bit lately and are happy to have landed back in North Carolina, so instead of heading out to eat, we’re whipping up some festive eats at home.
Enchiladas are always a crowd-pleaser, and these are especially great because they can be made ahead of time and refrigerated until you’re ready to bake (or frozen if you make them days in advance). I love that they’re vegetarian, but to tell you the truth, they’re so packed with flavor, I bet even the most carnivorous eaters won’t miss the meat.
And like lots of the best Mexican fare, the recipe has plenty of wiggle room. Add more of this and a little of that to suit your tastes. It all gets wrapped up in a delicious corn tortilla and topped with cheese, so it really is hard to go wrong. ¡Buen provecho!
Adapted from Martha Stewart
• 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for baking dishes
• 2 rounded teaspoons ground cumin
• 2 rounded teaspoons chili powder
• ¼ cup all-purpose flour
• ¼ cup tomato paste
• 14 ½ ounces low-sodium vegetable broth
• coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
• 1 ½ cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
• 1 ½ cups grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
• 1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
• 3-4 ounces (about half a bag) fresh baby spinach, chopped
• 1 ½ cups frozen corn
• 1 bunch of scallions, white and green parts separated
• 14-16 corn tortillas
To make the sauce, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Add 1 rounded teaspoon cumin, 1 rounded teaspoon chili powder, flour and tomato paste, and cook while whisking for 1 minute. Whisk in the broth and ¾ cup water, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cook until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 5 to 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
To make the filling, combine 1 cup of Monterey Jack, 1 cup of cheddar, the beans, spinach, corn, scallion whites, ¼ cup scallion greens and the remaining cumin and chili powder in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, and lightly oil two 8-inch square baking dishes. Set aside. Stack the tortillas in aluminum foil, wrap them up and heat them in the oven or 5 to 10 minutes.
Top each warmed tortilla with 1/3 heaping cup of filling. Roll the tortillas tightly, and arrange them, seam side down, in the oiled baking dishes. [Note: If you’re baking the enchiladas later the same day, make them up to this point, cover the enchiladas in foil and the sauce with a lid, and place them in the refrigerator until you’re ready to move on to the next step. You can also make them up to this point, cover the baking dishes with plastic wrap and aluminum foil and the sauce with a tight-fitting lid and freeze them both for up to 2 months. To bake frozen enchiladas, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, remove the foil and plastic wrap, pour the sauce over the enchiladas, top with the sauce and sprinkle on the remaining 1 cup of cheese. Cover with the foil again, and bake for 30 minutes. Then remove the foil, and bake for an additional 15 minutes, until the enchiladas are hot and bubbly.]
Top the enchiladas with the sauce, and sprinkle on the remaining ½ cup of each kind of cheese, divided evenly between the baking dishes. Bake, uncovered, until the enchiladas are hot and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes, and then serve garnished with the remaining scallion greens.
Posted on April 17, 2013
I love balsamic vinegar. Like, really love it. I add it to pasta, salad, rice, almost any savory dish that seems a little lacking in flavor. And I add it in quantities that would probably make most people shudder. Jared certainly likes it well enough, too, but any time I’m cooking and he sees me reaching for the balsamic vinegar bottle, I can tell he’s getting nervous. A little goes a long way, he likes to remind me.
So yes, I have a reputation for excessive balsamic vinegar usage, which is probably why Jared reacted the way he did as he watched me measure out a full two-thirds cup of it into a saucepan while putting together this recipe. Whether you use a lot or a little, balsamic vinegar likes to show you that it’s there. The second it hits the heat, it lets out a wonderful sizzle and a swoosh of steam that fills your nose if you’re standing too close. I lean in a smidge. Jared jumps back.
In most cases, two-thirds of a cup is definitely a lot of vinegar, and you might feel as if you’re basting yourself in it when you first begin this recipe. But by the end, once it’s simmered down into a beautiful, syrupy sauce, and it’s tossed in with the pasta, butter and roasted asparagus, that pungent zing is replaced by a smooth, rich glaze that coats the penne perfectly and makes you happy with every bite.
Jared was skeptical, but now he’s a believer. Balsamic vinegar knows no limits.
Balsamic-Glazed Penne with Roasted Asparagus
Adapted slightly from Food and Wine
• 1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and then cut into 1-inch pieces
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
• ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
• ½ teaspoon brown sugar
• 1 pound whole-wheat penne
• 6 tablespoons salted butter, cut into ¼-inch cubes
• ½ cup Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the cut asparagus on a large, rimmed baking sheet (lined with foil for easy cleanup). Drizzle the olive oil over top, and sprinkle on ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Toss until the asparagus is evenly coated, then spread it back out in an even layer. Roast until the asparagus is tender and its ends begin to get slightly brown and crisp, 15 to 20 minutes, tossing partway through.
In the meantime, put the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan and simmer until 3 tablespoons remain (you’ll know it’s reduced enough when the vinegar coats the back of a spoon). Stir in the brown sugar and remaining ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Remove from the heat.
While the vinegar is reducing, cook the penne according to package instructions. Drain the pasta, and toss it with the butter and vinegar until it’s well coated. Add the asparagus, Parmesan and the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and toss gently to combine. Serve with the extra Parmesan.
Funnily enough, this was actually the very first recipe I pinned on Pinterest at least two years ago, and I finally got around to making it last week. We all love it, and I can’t believe it was just sitting on that board for so long, waiting to be tried. Now, it’s officially added to the rotation. Woot!
Have you tried any great new recipes lately? Are there any fellow balsamic vinegar lovers out there with delicious dishes to share? What are your favorite flavors that you could eat by the cupful (even if you know you shouldn’t)? Do tell!
Posted on April 5, 2013
New baked goods are a regular occurrence in our house, but when it comes to dinner, I get stuck in a rut so fast. Try as I might, I just don’t get as excited about savory dishes as I do about sugar. Or butter. Or whipped cream. You get the idea.
I know, I know. A family cannot subsist on dessert alone, and I promise we’re fairly moderated in our consumption even when the oven triumphantly produces four new cookies in a week. Despite my fallback habits for the evening meal, we still eat fun things. We just tend to eat the same fun things over and over again, assuming that they’re relatively quick and easy. Weeknights are bananas sometimes.
Which brings us to this meal. Risotto is a favorite across the board for us (this spinach and mushroom risotto is our favorite among favorites!), but it takes so long. And it’s not just that it takes so long; it takes a lot of hands-on time — hands that are in high demand for puppy feeding and baby chasing and other miscellaneous hullaballoo come 6 p.m.
But this one is so easy! With barley instead of Arborio rice, this dish is not only handily finished off in the oven (woo hoo!), but it’s also healthy. I dare say it’s pretty foolproof, too, and tastes just as creamy and satisfying as the stuff that takes an hour over the stovetop to prepare. Now just think of all the cookie dough you can whip up with your hands free for those 40 minutes of baking!
Barley Risotto with Spinach and Sweet Potatoes
Adapted from Real Simple
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
• 1 onion, chopped
• kosher salt
• freshly ground black pepper
• 1 cup pearl barley
• ½ cup dry white wine
• 3 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth (I used vegetable broth, but either works.)
• ¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
• 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
• 6 ounces fresh baby spinach
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a Dutch oven or large oven-proof saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, sweet potatoes, salt and pepper, and sauté for 5 to 7 minutes, until the onion begins to soften. Stir often to keep things from burning.
Add the barley, and cook for another minute, this time stirring constantly. Add the wine, and continue cooking until the liquid has evaporated, about 1 minute. Add the broth, and bring it to a boil. Cover the pot, and transfer it to the oven to bake until the barley is tender, about 35 to 40 minutes (Note: The first time I made this, I used quick-cooking barley instead of pearl barley. It was good but definitely already a little past done after only 25 minutes. If you’d prefer to use quick-cooking barley for a faster meal, make sure you give your sweet potatoes a little more time in the sautéing stage so they’ll be tender after about 10 to 15 minutes in the oven.)
Stir in the butter and Parmesan, then stir in the spinach. Serve with an extra happy sprinkling of Parmesan.
I’m planning to try out a spinach and mushroom version of the barley risotto over the weekend to see how it compares to our beloved favorite. I’ll let you know how it turns out!
Happy weekend to you!
Posted on March 15, 2013
Except for a few sporadic drizzles, it’s been absolutely gorgeous here the past few weeks. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and our puppy and toddler are both filled with more energy than usual. Hooray for spring around the corner! I’m a winter girl through and through, but being a mom makes me appreciate the warmer days at a whole new level. Our Beany needs to run. And run and run.
We’ve been taking full advantage of the longer days and loads of sunshine lately. I’ve been itching to get springy photos of Beany for weeks now in hopes of capturing an Easter card-worthy shot, and we turned it into an impromptu family photo shoot. I suppose I shouldn’t say impromptu because we actually had the forethought to buy a $15 tripod from Target before heading to our photo destination. Why we waited so long to get such a handy tool, I have no idea.
The process for getting the family shots was actually pretty hilarious. I’d stand in the designated spot with Beany sitting a few feet to the side and playing in the grass, Jared would focus the camera on me and set the timer, then he’d run over to Beany, making monster noises along the way, pick up our laughing girl and throw her into the air before settling in the frame next to me, just in time for the light to flash and photo to take.
Beany was amazingly cooperative. And boy oh boy, is she getting aware of that camera. I laugh every time I look at some of these. What a silly girl.
To go with our sunny weather and outdoor shenanigans, we noshed on some springtime salad for lunch that day. My salad-making seems to rise exponentially when the weather gets warmer, and this zucchini orzo salad is a zippy, filling, pretty-in-the-bowl recipe that’s super simple to throw together and incredibly forgiving if you change the ingredients here and there. Perfect for a picnic or barbecue or I-need-to-feel-springy afternoon.
Zucchini Orzo Salad
Adapted from Real Simple, June 2010
• 10 ounces orzo pasta
• 2 tablespoon olive oil
• 4 tablespoons rice vinegar
• ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
• ½ teaspoon sea salt
• ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 3 small zucchinis, cut into thin half moons (cucumber could easily be substituted)
• a handful of grape tomatoes, cut in half
• 8 ounces Feta cheese, crumbled
• ¼ cup chopped fresh dill
Cook the orzo according to package instructions to al dente. Drain and run the pasta under cold water to cool it down.
In the meantime, whisk together the oil, vinegar, red pepper, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the zucchini and tomatoes, and toss to combine. Let that marinate for 20-30 minutes.
Add the cooked orzo to the zucchini along with the Feta and dill, and toss to combine.
Note: This salad could be easily switched up depending on what you have on hand. Kalamata olives, green onions, roasted corn or grated carrots would be yummy additions as well. Also, I tend to prefer zingy dressing over oily, which is why my oil-to-vinegar ration is 1:2. Feel free to adjust it to suit your taste.
How are you enjoying the springtime weather? Any fun new recipes? Fun outdoors? I’d love to hear about it!
Posted on March 5, 2013
I love recipes that take a bit of work to put together, the kind that use a ridiculous amount of kitchenware, loads of ingredients and a fair amount of time before they even reach the oven. There’s something so satisfying about all that work, both in the finished dishes you’ve created and the chaos they leave behind. In cooking and baking, you take the good with the bad. And fantastic flavor is almost always worth a fantastic mess.
Although it’d be great to have the time and energy to cook in a mess-filled fury on a daily basis, life is a busy thing, and sometimes I’m just too exhausted to battle the flying flour and grease spots a remarkable meal might bring. For those days, I’m thankful for recipes that strive for awesomeness despite their simplicity. And if one of said recipes only takes a bowl and a foil-covered baking sheet to get the job done, then, whew. You had me at foil-covered baking sheet.
I promise I’m not exaggerating when I say these potatoes are amazing, and I love that it takes so little work to get them there. We’ve had them three times in the past two weeks, and though the first time I made them I went sans foil and was left with a miserably messy baking sheet afterward (it was a long day, so my mess appreciation was probably lacking its usual gusto), I’ve since gone the foil route with no sacrifice to the wonderfully crisp texture that only screaming hot roasting can achieve. Jared suggested we try them again with spicy Cajun seasoning in lieu of the thyme and rosemary, so that’s going on the docket soon.
Salt and Vinegar Potatoes with Rosemary and Thyme
Adapted slightly from Savoring the Thyme
• 1 pound baby Yukon potatoes, washed, dried and cut in half
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1/3 cup rice vinegar
• ¾ to 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
• ¾ to 1 teaspoon dried thyme
• ½ teaspoon kosher salt
• ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil and vinegar. Add the potatoes and stir until the potatoes are well coated. Let the potatoes marinade in the olive oil and vinegar for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, and line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil.
Add the rosemary, thyme, salt and olive oil to the potatoes and toss to combine. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes to the baking sheet, and arrange them in a single layer (more breathing space makes for crispier potatoes, so if you’re doubling the recipe, be careful not to overcrowd your pan). It’s fine if some of the extra marinade makes it onto the baking sheet when you’re transferring the potatoes, but don’t add more than what comes through the spoon.
Roast the potatoes for 20 minutes, then give them a quick toss on the baking sheet. Continue roasting for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until potatoes are tender on the inside and crispy on the outside.
What are your favorite no-nonsense, low-mess, whip-them-up-in-a-snap recipes? Have you had any truly amazing messes to contend with recently that brought along even more amazing meals? I’d love to hear about them!
Posted on September 4, 2012
This probably sounds silly coming from a food blogger, but the more I write about food, the more I realize that recipes are not the be all and end all of cooking. In fact, some of my most successful kitchen moments as of late were born from my pantry rather than a cookbook. Slowly but surely, I’m learning to follow flavors instead of just directions, and I can say with confidence that the process has made me feel a touch more chef-y. Still, I know I have a long way to go. I’d love to be one of those cooks who can rebel against my need for order and dance between ingredients and gadgets like a carefree kid on a bicycle, but it’s hard. And slow. And sometimes I burn things.
While working late nights at Vox magazine during college, I discovered a love for the pasta fresca at Noodles and Co. a block away from the office, and it’s one of the few fast food-ish dishes that I still regularly crave (that and those gigantic Chipotle burritos. Mmm. And ooph). I decided to try my own version based on the flavors and ingredients I remembered — red onion, spinach and balsamic vinegar — and after a bit of trial and error, I’m happy with how it turned out. It’s the perfect pasta for a weeknight meal because it’s quick to throw together, takes relatively little prep work, and you can easily bend the recipe to match your tastes or whatever you have in the kitchen. Or if you’re feeling really adventurous, toss the recipe altogether and take to it Chopped style. The secret ingredients are — red onion, spinach and balsamic vinegar. Go!
• 13.5 ounces of whole-wheat spaghetti
• 1 sweet red onion, cut into ½-inch slices
• ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for pasta water
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 8 ounces fresh baby spinach
• 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
• 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
• ¼ to ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
• ¼ teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
• freshly grated Parmesan
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat; when the oil is hot, add the onion and ½ teaspoon salt, and sauté until the onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes.
In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a few healthy pinches of salt and the pasta, and then cook to al dente according to package instructions. Drain pasta, and return it to the pot. (Ideally, the recipe should be timed so the pasta finishes cooking just as the spinach is added to the onions.)
Now back to the onions: Once the onions have started softening and becoming translucent, add the garlic, crushed red pepper and black pepper. Sauté for another minute, until the garlic turns golden. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the balsamic vinegar. Give everything a good toss so the onions get coated with the olive oil/vinegar mixture. Turn off the heat, and begin adding the spinach little by little, and toss with the onions. Continue tossing until the spinach just begins to cook down, about 1 minute.
Add the spinach, onions and dressing to the pasta, and gently mix everything together. Top with freshly grated Parmesan.
Serves 4 (3 if you’re super hungry)
Have you ever tried recreating restaurant favorites at home? What did you make? And how did it go? I’d love to hear about it!