Pantry Pasta with Celery and Parmesan

pasta with celery and parmesan

Sometimes the washing machine breaks and floods the basement with sudsy water. Sometimes the heel of your favorite black leather ankle boot breaks off as you’re walking up the stairs to your office. Sometimes a jagged pebble on the interstate bounces up and cracks your windshield. Sometimes, all of these things happen on the same day.

And at the end of a day like this, simple, unfussy food can feel so, so good.

There was a time when the more exotic ingredients a recipe had, the more desperately I wanted to rush out and buy every single one. I would lock myself in the kitchen for hours, emerging triumphant, elaborate concoction in hand, anxiously awaiting oohs and ahhs. And every so often I still get the urge to flex some culinary muscle.

But these days, I fully appreciate the basic beauty of a quick, easy, tasty and healthy recipe.

Quick. Easy. Heathy. It’s the holy grail of weeknight cooking. I used to think that simple was boring – a cop out. But the truth is that simple is elegant, sophisticated. Kind of like my favorite black leather ankle boots were before that six-inch heel bit the dust.

But back to the food.

whole wheat pasta with celery and parmesan

The thing with simple food is that each ingredient matters. Good pasta, fresh celery, and the very best cheese you can find turn some simple pantry staples into a pretty delicious dinner. Assuming that, like me, you have a thing for cheese, you might even have all of the ingredients for this deceptively basic dish in your kitchen right now. And if you don’t, well, make this pasta once and I promise you’ll start keeping anchovy paste and wedges of parmesan on hand at all times.

This pasta takes all of 10 minutes to make, is full of flavor, and is ultimately comforting. If you think you aren’t a fan of anchovies, I don’t blame you. Neither was I. Until I tried melting down anchovy paste in plenty of fruity olive oil. When cooked, the anchovy paste imparts a deep, rich, salty flavor to the pasta that is frankly addictive. And if Jeff, the consummate fish hater, asks for this pasta on a weekly basis, then there really has to be something to this anchovy business. As for the celery, well, I use it because it’s always in my fridge. Why do I buy celery every week? I honestly have no idea. But I do it. And I’m always looking for ways to use it up. Go figure. I suppose that you could elevate this dish by using a bit of sliced fennel and some fennel fronds instead. But the humble celery works just fine. It’s lovely, actually, and pretty underrated.

The real star here, though, is the cheese. Which means you should spring for good cheese. And no, good cheese does not come in a shaky can. I’m not actually sure that stuff is cheese at all. What you want is a nice wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano. And a good grater.

pantry pasta up close

Pantry Pasta with Celery and Parmesan
Serves 4

1 13.25 ounce box of whole grain linguine
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons anchovy paste
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 cup thinly sliced celery
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 cup chopped celery leaves

In a large pot of boiling, well salted water, cook the pasta until just al dente. Be careful not to overcook. Meanwhile, in a very large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Saute the anchovy paste and garlic in the oil, stirring often, until the garlic starts to brown slightly. Add the celery, oregano and red pepper and continue to cook until the celery is soft, about 5 more minutes, and then reduce the heat to low. When the pasta is done, drain and reserve 2 cups of the pasta cooking liquid. Add the pasta to the skillet with the celery mixture, along with one cup of the pasta cooking liquid. Toss the pasta with the sauce, along with half of the cheese. Cook, stirring, for a couple more minutes, adding additional cooking water to loosen the sauce if needed. Serve the pasta in bowls, topped with the celery leaves and the remaining cheese.

Published in: on March 3, 2013 at 2:20 pm  Comments (9)  
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Picnic Perfect Pressed Sandwich

salami and cheese gourmet pressed sandwich

I have fantasies of a perfectly romantic picnic; sipping wine while lounging on the grass, sampling a harmonious array of French cheeses, nibbling on perfectly ripe sun-warmed strawberries.

Other times I dream of an old-fashioned family fun picnic; crisp and flavorful fried chicken, cool, creamy macaroni salad, stacks of  checkered napkins and mason jars filled with lemonade.

I’ve even imagined a chic, luxurious picnic; caviar-topped blini, baby lamb chops, sparkling glasses of champagne, Belgian chocolates and real silverware.

But in reality, my picnics have usually been full of messy spills, dirt-coated cheese knives, squished fruit, hungry ants, warm beer and threatening thunder storms.

And you know what?  I’m ok with that. Picnics aren’t meant to be perfect, they are meant to be fun – insects and all.  I may have pretty picnic dreams of brie and champagne, but most times, we’re just as happy with sandwiches and chips.

But not just any sandwiches, of course.  It’s still a picnic after all.  Any excuse to lounge in the open air, munching away in the sunshine, is cause for a little bit of special treatment.

picnic basket sandwich wineThis pressed sandwich is so simple, and yet somehow more than the sum of its parts. Plus, it travels so well!  As always with simple food, quality ingredients count here.  Good, crusty bread, pungent cheese, aromatic basil, and rich salami come together in a perfect bite.  The secret lies in the squish.  You have to really press the heck out of this sandwich.  The idea is to remove the majority of the soft insides of the bread, layer in the fillings, and then smush down the sandwich so that the flavors and textures marry overnight.

You could certainly change up the fillings here.  Adding some pesto might be nice, or switching out the salami for prosciutto.  You could layer in some thin slices of grilled eggplant, or go crazy and add a bit of sriracha.  The ingredients are merely a suggestion, but the squish is necessary.  You do want to take care to keep moist ingredients, such as roasted peppers or sliced tomato, from having direct contact with the bread, in order to avoid a soggy sandwich.  But by removing much of the soft crumb of the bread, you will delay soggy bread syndrome pretty effectively.  However, this sandwich is best eaten the next day, if you leave it longer than a day, the bread will probably get soggy.

Pressed Sandwich

Serves 8

1 1-pound round loaf peasant bread or French boule

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

6 oz thinly sliced Genoa salami

1 cup thinly sliced roasted red peppers

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1 cup fresh baby arugula

3 ounces shaved parmesan cheese

Slice the bread in half horizontally.  Remove the majority of the soft crumb from both the top and the bottom, leaving about an inch of crust all around. (Keep the bread-insides for another use, like breadcrumbs). Spread the mustard into the bottom of the bread.  Top with an even layer of salami, then roasted peppers, basil, arugula, and finally the cheese. Place the top of the bread over the fillings and wrap the whole loaf tightly in foil.  Place the foil-wrapped loaf on a large plate and top with another large plate.  Weigh down the top plate with a heavy brick, or, in a pinch, a six-pack of beer works too.  Place the weighted sandwich in the fridge overnight.  To serve, remove the sandwich from the fridge and slice into eight even wedges.  Wrap each wedge individually to transport to a picnic.

Published in: on July 7, 2012 at 2:54 pm  Comments (6)  
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Roasted Cauliflower with Truffled Farro

healthy farro recipe

I love brownies, ice cream and potato chips as much as the next girl, but my absolute favorite dishes are both indulgent and healthy. Of course, for me healthy is a fuzzy category, less about calories and more about how they feel in my body. But foods that taste good and feel good are double winners. Creamy Greek yogurt with sweet, fragrant, local honey is high on the list of my most desired breakfast items.  And there is nothing like pulling apart a steamed artichoke, enjoying each succulent leaf. 

cauliflower cooking

Roasted Cauliflower with Truffled Farro certainly falls into both the indulgent and the healthy categories.  I adore roasted cauliflower, simply browned with just a bit of salt and pepper, the nutty flavor of the little florets is addictive.  And who can argue with the unique, heady flavor of truffle oil?  It does wonders for the simplicity of farro. If you haven’t experimented with farro, I highly recommend it.  The bite of the nutty grain is lovely in warm, hearty dishes like this, but also works well tossed in salads and soups. 

cauliflower and farro

Roasted Cauliflower with Truffled Farro

Serves 4

1 head cauliflower

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt and pepper

1 cup pearled farro

1 celery rib

1/2 a medium onion

1 carrot

1/4 cup thinly sliced endive

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon black truffle oil

2 tablespoons shaved parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Chop the cauliflower into florets. Toss the cauliflower with the olive oil, salt and pepper.  Spread the florets on a greased baking sheet and roast for about 20-25 minutes until edges are brown.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the farro, onion, celery and carrot and cook about 25 minutes, until the farro is tender but firm. Drain the water and discard the onion, celery and carrot. 

Toss the farro with the lemon juice and the truffle oil.  Add in the cauliflower and salt and pepper to taste.  Serve topped with the cheese.

Published in: on February 17, 2011 at 8:08 pm  Comments (14)  
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