pasta


My mom’s vegetable lasagna—a classic red-sauce version with spinach mixed into the ricotta layer—used to be my favorite treat when I came home from college. I haven’t had to request it from her in ages, though, ever since I started making it for myself on a regular basis.

In hindsight, given my well-documented dislike of tomatoes (although, perhaps thanks to Mom’s lasagna, I am more tolerant of them in their sauce form), I’m amazed it took me this long to figure out that lasagna can be made without tomato sauce, but instead with a creamy béchamel between the layers of pasta and vegetables.

Apologies for the extra goop. I couldn't help myself.

I’m particularly amazed because another standby, growing up, was my mom’s mac and cheese with a cheesy béchamel and spinach, and I distinctly remember the night she taught me to make the sauce. I guess I was just too stuck on tradition—Mom’s lasagna has red sauce, Mom’s mac and cheese has a béchamel—to figure out how to put the pieces together.

So, Mom, in honor of Mother’s Day, I bastardized two of your recipes. It’s Smitten Kitchen‘s fault—and since you love her as much as I do, I know you’ll understand. And even though her recipe didn’t call for spinach, I had to add some—because of you, I just can’t imagine a vegetable lasagna, or a béchamel sauce, without spinach. Especially because this recipe calls for way more butter than you’d probably ever use.

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As I have related previously, I am a succher for gnocchi. I love them with pesto; I love them with gorgonzola. I love them in a box and with a fox.

Until recently, I believed that the only way to cook them, though, was boiled.  I was wrong. You can also toast them in a skillet until they are as browned and crispy on the outside as they are creamy and pillowy on the inside. In other words, they can be even better than I thought possible.

In a house, with a mouse.

This recipe even purports to be healthy! I think it reaches that result, though, only by claiming that it serves six—which is, frankly, ridiculous. But these gnocchi—nestled in a creamy sauce—are so good that I can see how they might have induced delusions.

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For a basic pasta dish using mostly pantry staples, this is just about as good as it gets.

I do like some pasta with my vegetables.

Technically, I suppose mushrooms aren’t a pantry staple, but ever since I learned (from Cook’s Illustrated, I believe) that plain white button mushrooms actually get deeper, more mushroomy flavor from a longer stay in the fridge, I tend to keep them around.

Also, this recipe highlights one of my favorite ways to cook mushrooms: roasting them. They get browned and shriveled and intensified in a way that sauteeing just can’t match. Plus, various wild mushrooms cooked this way can get an almost smoked, bacony flavor. I highly recommend them.

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According to the internet, which is always right, the Italian word for “autumn” is autunno.  But then why isn’t the internet overflowing with references to “pasta autunno,” the fall version of pasta primavera? “Pasta autunno” gets 139 hits on Google. “Pasta primavera” gets 272,000. I mean, I understand that the bounty of spring produce is far more inspiring than that of the fall, but this still seems to me to be a serious omission. Especially since creamy, carby (yet healthy!) pasta like this is most enticing in the fall and winter. The only thing I can conclude is that people have not yet realized how amazing a pasta dish with Brussels sprouts and mushrooms can be.

autunno!

I have very few aspirations with this blog, but how awesome would it be if I got to be the top Google hit for “pasta autunno”? I mean, I only have to get past 139 other pages. It’s totally doable, right?

UPDATE: about three minutes after publishing this post, I am already the top hit for “pasta autunno.” It’s much less exciting than I thought it would be.

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It’s probably clear by now that I really enjoy eating vegetables. I feel no need to sneak them into foods, à la Jessica Seinfeld—I’m plenty happy to have them front and center in all their vegetal glory.

That said, it turns out that boiled and pulverized kale makes a mighty fine pesto when spread surreptitiously onto pasta. It just tastes bright, and garlicky, and lemony, without a hint that it’s a dreaded healthy green substance. It also whips up beautifully quickly—dinner can be on the table in just a minute or so more than it takes the pasta to cook.

Vegetables? Where?

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Another snowy day, another rummaging through my refrigerator in search of something with which to feed myself. This time, I ended up with one of most warm, comforting, and flavorful dishes I can imagine coming from just three basic ingredients, maybe three minutes of prep time, and what may be the three cardinal rules of vegetables.

As has been well-documented, a wise rule for vegetables is: roast first and ask questions later. Another wise rule is: add bacon. Another rule, beloved by carbophiles like me: serve them over pasta, especially when there’s delicious bacon juice to mix the noodles with. [Is “bacon juice” is a better phrase than “bacon grease”? Or does it just make you think of squeezing raw bacon?]

Before.

After.

I was actually pretty sure that I didn’t much like regular green cabbage, but this dish proved me very wrong.

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Dear readers,

I am sorry it has been so long since I have written to tell you about my adventures in the kitchen. I’ve been cooking away, I promise. The thing is, everything I’ve made has recently has pretty much sucked. There was only one outright disaster, but everything else was just mediocre—not even bad enough to merit a disaster post.

Short disgression, though, about the disaster: Nigella Lawson has this glorious clementine cake, which everyone should make immediately, and which I was so looking forward to adapting with Meyer lemons. It includes the odd step of boiling the citrus for two hours. Dear readers, when you do this, make sure not to let the water boil off entirely. If that happens, you will have a citrusy, smoky mess, especially if you’d disabled the smoke alarm and were dozing on the couch and therefore failed to notice the early signs of burning. Like, uh, smoke.

Anyway. Nothing else was that bad. Just meh. Until I made this pasta, which made me feel that maybe I was getting my cooking mojo back. Or maybe that was the mascarpone sweet-talking me with its cool, creamy ways.

Hey, baby. It's the mascarpone talking

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