Oh, this one was fun. And sweet in a slightly melancholy way. (What's that you say? Too damn many recipes? What can I say? These days, I cook.)
Again, if you’re “following along,” you’ll notice the repetition. Which is the point. (See the Back Story below.)
The Magic-of-Experience-And-Common-Sense Pasta
- fistful of frozen spinach. Or whatever.
- a few chopped brine olives
- a bunch of dinky tomatoes (I use Cherubs), halved
- olive oil, garlic, butter
- grated parmesan or romano or some other hard but salty cheese
No, dear friend, there are no amounts. I don't know how hungry you are or the number of people for whom you cook. That's part of the joy: To accumulate the knowledge to make those judgements. And you can! It's not hard. (If you need a "method," think: trial-and-error.)
Boil water for your pasta. How much? You decide. At the appropriate moment, add the pasta.
Meanwhile: Heat another pan. I used a 12” cast iron skillet. I wanted plenty of room for mixing the pasta.
Add some olive oil. When it’s warm or hot or whatever, add the tomatoes and cook a minute or so. Add the olives. The garlic. The spinach. Cook.
Take care with the heat. My pan was hot, so I pulled it off the heat and let the pan itself gently cook my few ingredients.
Pasta ready? Using whatever tool is convenient, transfer it from water to vegetables. Add some of the pasta water. You want to scoop to the bottom of the pasta pan and grab the starchiest water. But no need to get carried away. You don’t want to drown the pasta. All you're doing is using the starchy water to add a bit of bulk to the "sauce." (You didn't even know you were making a sauce, did you?)
Add some butter. However much you feel good about and however much is necessary. Gently toss the mixture. Gently. Gently. Gently.
Tong it into the bowl or bowls. Sprinkle the grated cheese over the top.
So good, people. So good. And let common sense prevail.
You know what’s wrong with almost everything related to “cooking”? The idea that a recipe is part of the deal. Or that you gotta do something “special.”
Don’t get me wrong: No one likes an interesting recipe more than me. And I adore “special” food. But out here in the real world, a) we gotta eat; and b) we don't always have the time or the inclination to follow a recipe.
So I cook with the food I have. No recipe needed. Do I have years of experience in the kitchen? Yes. BUT: when I look back, I realize that those years consisted of me learning to think on my feet and feed myself, too.
You can do the same. All you need is . . . common sense.
For example: The recipe above. There’s nothing complicated, special, or difficult about it. If you’re capable to turning on the burners on your cooktop, you can dish up something equally delicious.
Or, put another way: If you have common sense — even a modicum — you can “cook.”
In this case:
Tonight I stood in my kitchen for a minute, maybe two, figuring out What To Do For Dinner.
I knew that my frig contained the remains of what had begun life as a ten-ounce box of frozen spinach. I’d used most of the box several days earlier, making two other meals. But: why waste that remnant?
Thus my starting point: Don’t waste the spinach!
And then I asked myself: How do I want that spinach to taste? What sounds good to eat? And, hmm, what else do I have on hand?
Which is where the rest of the ingredients came into the picture: Staples. I had staples on hand. Brined olives. Pasta. Hard cheese. Butter and olive oil.
And, yes, those little tomatoes. That’s, cough, why they’re on hand: yeah, they taste good. But they’re so handy for in-the-moment cooking. But, geez, you don’t need that exact thing. Use canned tomatoes instead.
So that's what I dished up.
But here’s a tip based on many years of cooking:
When the ingredients are few and simple, a teensy bit of Something Special works magic. In this case the Something Special --- but staple! --- was butter. A bit of butter bound the bounty into beauty.
Or something like that.
I’m not one to boast about my food. I’ll never be a Top Chef. But — this was fucking delicious. Again, had I eaten this in a restaurant, I’dve gladly paid six-sixty or eight-eighty.
And I drank a rich, dark-brown beer with it. Cheers!