Monday, June 24, 2013

Method: Pasta with Herbs and Optional Vegetables

Since produce has been pretty slow this year, and grocery shopping is less of an art form for me than it used to be (shifting to working full time outside the home will do that), I was facing some potentially boring or even potentially empty plates just because I didn’t feel like I had anything interesting to work with. One day I just decided to go with the fresh herbs I had on hand (actually, I’m not sure I had more than parsley in the refrigerator), garlic cooked in a mixture of butter and olive oil, and some heavy gratings of Parmesan cheese tossed with hot pasta. Supper. End of story.


This is an even simpler twist on pasta with cream and vegetables that I seemed to be making a lot over the last few years. For 8 ounces of pasta, which can be any shape, I get out my biggest skillet and melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter with 2 tablespoons of decent extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. I then chop up a few cloves of garlic and cook them in the butter-oil mixture with a heavy pinch of kosher salt for a minute or so, just until the garlic barely begins to suggest that it might be thinking of turning brown soon. But, hey, a little slightly browned garlic isn’t so bad, so I don’t get too uptight over it.

Once the garlic is a little cooked, I add 1-3 cups fresh herbs and/or greens, whatever I happen to have. I cook and stir this until the green things are well-wilted, then just toss in the cooked pasta. It helps to have things coordinated so that the pasta is done cooking at about the time the herbs and greens are ready so it can be scooped right from the cooking pot into the herby skillet. If the pasta is not yet ready when the herbs are, you can set the pan aside until the pasta is done and re-heat it when ready.

I toss the pasta in the herbs and oil, adding a splash or two of the pasta cooking water if I feel that everything is a little too dry. I then turn off the heat, add a half cup or so of freshly grated Parmesan (once I even used some provolone), mix that in, taste for seasoning (particularly salt and/or pepper) and adjust, and serve with additional Parmesan. Easy, right?

My most recent rendition of this little ditty was made of some parsley from the refrigerator and chives, a few leaves of baby kale, and some radish greens from the garden. I tossed that with a four-cheese tortellini and garnished it with chive flowers (quite edible; they taste like mild chives). The simplest version, which I mentioned above, consisted of simply flat-leaf parsley, garlic and Parmesan on spaghetti.

This basic method can also be a base for other seasonal vegetables. I would cook those vegetables in the garlicky butter-oil, then toss in the herbs. You could, of course, add meats or seafood, and I think this would be a good way to use up leftover portions of such things. You can’t go wrong as long as you like it, although I’d argue that if you made it overly complicated, you might be missing the point of such a simple, fresh, seasonal (easy, easy, easy) dish.

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