Whenever I see some handmade wonder light years beyond my budget, I don’t sweat it. Instead of “Dang, I wish I could afford that,” I think, “I can make that better and cheaper.” It may take awhile, culling instructions and patterns from multiple sources, experiencing minor and major disasters, but the end product will be awesome, because it will be uniquely mine. Or at least I’ll have had fun trying.
Part of my urge to craft is genetic. My southern grandmother was famous for her tole painting, French knot needlework, and Easter egg dioramas. The other part of my crafty tendency is a combination of frugality and the aforementioned hubris.
I apply this same ethos to cooking. Following a recipe often means buying new stuff when I have a plenty to work with in my cabinet or fridge, or going back out once I’ve gotten home from work. And I am, above all things, a lazy gal.
In true DIY-style, I improvise most dishes I make. Recipes are like a jumping off point, the suggestion from the audience at the beginning of a comedy show.
Tuesday night, I knew a few things: I absolutely had to have for dinner this pasta and potato dish that I vaguely remembered reading about; I had about 4 cups of amaranth greens from the CSA that must be used or else; I really wanted this fantasy pasta dish to have a lemon sauce; and I couldn’t bear to be on the computer another second.
Scouring my cookbooks for a recipe that probably didn’t exist within the four walls of my apartment, I came upon one that at least answered the essential question in my mind. How do you cook potatoes you plan to put with pasta? Do you boil them first? Do you cook them in the sauce? Moosewood to the rescue!
Every vegetarian has at least one Moosewood cookbook. They’re given out when you recruit other vegetarians, kind like how Ellen’s “friend” got her toaster oven. Smack in the middle of the pasta section of Moosewood Restaurant New Classics, hiding under the nonpotatoey name of Trenette al Pesto, was my savior.
The recipe itself was nothing like I wanted or had ingredients for—it was after 8 p.m., the All-Star Game was starting, and my tummy was rumbling—though it sounded great for another time. It did have, however the instructions for preparing and cooking the taters.
Peel the potatoes. (Okay, I didn’t. I like my taters with the skins on.) Cut them lengthwise into quarters and then crosswise into 1/4”slices to make about 2 cups. (I didn’t measure. I had four potatoes; I used four potatoes) … When the water is boiling vigorously, add the potatoes and then the pasta. Stir well and cover. (That’s it?) … When the pasta is al dente, drain. (That’s it.).
The rest was DIY magic. With the game on in the background, I chopped and stirred and sautéed until viola! It was exactly the dish I wanted it to be. I’ve been experimenting with a lemon pasta dish, and it’s never been this good. Last time, it wasn’t saucy enough. Somehow it was oily and dry at the same time. This time, it was flawless.
The pasta and potatoes cooked perfectly together. I was so surprised they were done at the same time. The Moosewood Collective knows its stuff. For the sauce, I cut back the oil and added stock, which I didn’t do last time. It was the missing piece to the puzzle.
If you’re hesitant to stray from recipes, I hereby release you from your fear. Ruining one batch of pasta is no reason not to experiment a little. That too-dry pasta…I threw some tomato sauce on it and ate it anyway. Unless something is burnt beyond recognition, it’s probably salvageable.
Take this recipe and change whatever you want: the basil to thyme, the lemon to tomato, the penne to …well that’s too easy. But be creative, do it yourself, and have a blast.
Penne with Lemon, Potatoes, and Cannellini
Yields 8 servings
Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics.
1 1/2 vegetable bullion cubes
16 oz whole wheat pasta
4 small caribe (or any potatoes (about 1 lb)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp dried basil
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup vegetable broth/stock
1 lemon juiced
4 cups amaranth or fresh spinach, washed and chopped if leaves are large
1 15 oz can cannellini beans
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp fresh basil (optional)
2 tbsp fresh chives (optional)
1) Add water to a large pot. Bring to a boil.
2) Slice potatoes a lá Moosewood instructions: quarter, then slice lengthwise, 1/4”.
3) Once water is boiling, add bullion cubes. Stir until they're dissolved. Add potatoes and pasta (in that order). Cover. Cook until pasta is al dente and potatoes are tender/cooked all the way through. Drain and return to pot.
In the meantime...
4) In a small bowl, combine dried basil and olive oil. Mix. Set aside
5) In large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add basil and warm through. Add garlic. Cook for 1 or 2 minutes, until fragrant and it just starts to brown.
6) Add vegetable broth and lemon juice, scraping bottom of pan with your spoon to get all the good stuff mixed in.
7) Add greens. Stir until just wilted. Add beans with just a bit of the bean water. Stir and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.
Somewhere in here you will have remembered to check the pasta/potatoes and miraculously not let them overcook. (Did I say “you”? I meant “I”.)
8) In the large pasta pot (assuming it will leave room for you to stir), add sauce to the pasta/potatoes and mix it all together.
9) Garnish with fresh basil and chives if you have them lying around. I had just a few leaves of basil and barely an ounce of chives I needed to use. That’s why they’re in there.
10) Chow down and cry with love.
Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
316 calories, 4g fat, $0.66
1 1/2 vegetable bullion cubes: 30 calories, 2g fat, $.45
16 oz whole wheat pasta: 1440 calories, 12g fat, $1.99
4 small potatoes: 524 calories, .6g fat, $.40
1 tbsp olive oil: 120 calories, 14g fat, $.08
2 tbsp dried basil: 10 calories, 0g fat, $.10
5 cloves garlic, minced: 21 calories, 0g fat, $.06
1 cup vegetable broth/stock: 15 calories, 0g fat, $.25
1 lemon juiced: 12 calories, 0g fat, $0.25
4 cups amaranth: 24 calories, 0g fat, $.75 (fresh spinach: 28 calories, 0g fat, $0.75)
1 15 oz can cannellini beans: 330 calories, 3g fat, $.79
salt and pepper: negligible calories and fat, $.04
1 tsp fresh basil: .5 calories, 0g fat, $.05
1 tbsp fresh chives: 1 calories, 0g fat, $.07
TOTALS: 2528 calories, 32g fat, $5.28
PER SERVING: 316 calories, 4g fat, $.66