Broccolini Meets Its Match in a Three-Round Date

8 May

One of my favorite commercials on TV is the one about the Olive Garden cooking school in Tuscany. I don’t have anything against Olive Garden and lest I come off like a foodie snob, I understand the appeal of chain restaurants like the Olive Garden and know that many towns are not as blessed with cheap, delicious dining options as is Oakland. There are also many expensive, delicious options but the point is that you can eat well, in a place where someone else serves you and cleans up, without selling all of your worldly possessions. So I get it: if you want to go out for a decent and reasonable meal, especially if you want to take your kids out and find a place that will both satisfy them and allow them to behave as children often do, than a place like the Olive Garden is likely high on your list. But really–a cooking school in Tuscany? One reason that the Olive Garden doesn’t break the bank is likely because the chefs are not trained at an exclusive villa by the finest Italian chefs. Not to mention the atmosphere. After having seen enough cooking reality shows to rot my brain for the next 50 years, I highly doubt that cooking school involves smiling white-hatted chefs stirring a vast pot of what appears to be glue and lifting it to their noses for ecstatic whiffs. My guess? Cooking school involves yelling, bloody thumbs, heaps of onions and tears. This is why I write a cooking blog instead of going to cooking school and let my husband deal with the onion chopping. But I digress. My point is not really to pound on poor Olive Garden but rather to point out that Italian food can be quick, easy, delicious and even economical when made inside your own Olive Garden cooking school. To save money, I suggest that you ask your cooking partner to fashion their own chef’s toque out of a pillowcase rather than buying your own. It won’t quite be like the commercial but you’ll get the general atmosphere.

In today’s installment, we’ll focus on pasta.  Pasta can certainly be elegant but on Friday night, after a long week at work and recovering from vacation over-spending, we wanted cheap and easy. I promised Ben a date night dinner so pasta was not the only thing on the menu. A date night calls for appetizers and dessert. Sadly for him, he was the waiter doing the serving and the dishwasher cleaning up. But in return, he got plenty of free wine.

To Start: Salmon Goes Swimming on a Baguette
I will admit that smoked salmon and watercress don’t necessarily fall into the “cheap” category but with both ingredients, a little goes a long way and the leftovers are great mixed into your morning eggs.

Smoked salmon, cut into bite-sized pieces

Watercress, roughly chopped (just enough to use as a garnish)

A bit of lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to dress the watercress

Softened butter

Baguette, cut into small slivers (depending on how many people you’re serving, you may have leftover baguette to have alongside your eggs the next day)

This couldn’t be easier. Dress your watercress and set aside. Spread a bit of butter on each baguette slice, top with a piece of salmon and pile a bit of watercress on top of that.  If you have some Prosecco, this is even better.

To Continue: Broccolini Meets Its Match

Broccoli and anchovies are a match made in culinary heaven. Try this, even if you don’t like anchovies. I promise that it’s good. It doesn’t taste fishy–the anchovies just amp up the flavors of all of their friends in the pan. Also, if you don’t have broccolini, regular broccoli works just fine.

Bunch broccolini (for two people as a main course, I used three small bunches), chopped in one-inch pieces

Few baby cipollini onions (or shallots or one small regular onion), chopped

3-4 garlic cloves (or less if you don’t love garlic as much as I do), minced

2-3 dried red chilies, crumbled (or use a few good shakes of chili flakes)

1/3 cup+ (enough to keep the veggies saucy) veggie stock

1 tin anchovies

Olive oil, as much or little as you want, as long as you have enough to saute your veggies

Salt & pepper to taste

Dried long pasta of your choice, such as spaghetti, linguine, buccatini, etc

Reserved pasta water

To garnish:

Fresh grated parmesan

Bread crumbs, preferably Panko, toasted with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and dried chili

1) Boil water in a large stock pot (do not skimp on water!) and when it comes to a boil, salt it generously

2) Depending on how long your pasta needs to cook, put it in immediately or while your veggies are cooking. You’ll want to pull it out about two minutes early with your reserved pasta cooking water to add to your veggies.

3) Get your sauce started by heating your olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.

4) Add your garlic, onions and dried chilies and saute until the garlic and onions are golden but not brown.

5) Add your anchovies and mash with a spoon until they melt into the onions and garlic

6) Add the broccolini and toss to combine with the other ingredients. Once the broccolini is coated, add the veggie stock and cook until the broccolini is tender but not mushy and still nice and green. If the mixture gets dry, add more stock.

7) Two minutes before the pasta is done, drain it, reserving a cup or so of the cooking water, and add the pasta to the pan with your broccolini mix. Pour in enough pasta water to create a sauce and cook for two minutes, until the sauce has thickened and the pasta is coated. Season to taste, remembering that both the anchovies and cooking water have contributed salt. Top with cheese and toasted breadcrumbs.

A Cheesy Side of Strawberries

This ridiculously easy dessert is inspired (practically stolen, really) from a Naked Chef cookbook. I only make it in the spring, when strawberries are at their best.

About 1/2-2/3 cup of ricotta cheese (more if you’re serving more people)

About 1/3-1/2 cup of soft goat cheese

Splash vanilla

Zest of one lemon

2 tablespoons or so of sugar, to taste

1 basket strawberries, quartered

Splash of balsamic vinegar

Few grinds of black pepper

1) Mix the cheeses, lemon zest, 1 tbsp sugar and vanilla in a bowl. Set aside.

2) Mix the strawberries, remaining sugar, balsamic and pepper in another bowl. Set aside for at least one hour.

3) For each serving, take a big dollop of the cheese mixture and top with the strawberries. Throw some fresh mint on top if you’re so inclined.

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