Thursday, October 30, 2008

Macaroni with cauliflower and spinach

What to have for dinner? There was a good deal of cauliflower left from the curry from a few days ago – actually ¾ of a head. I don’t know where the idea that jumped out at me came from. I think it’s from memories I have of my childhood when, with 5 children in the house and a step-father who always had a job but never made a lot of money, my mother shopped and cooked very frugally. That wasn’t a bad thing much of the time, but cheap beef liver made it onto our menu more often than I would have wished.

As an adult I learned to love liver, primarily by discovering calf liver in a restaurant in, of all places, Portugal. Now I will eat beef liver occasionally, chicken liver occasionally, and calf liver whenever I see it on a restaurant menu. However, liver is not today’s topic.

A concoction we also had often (really inexpensive) was macaroni with tomatoes and ground beef. I think of it often and have put together various improvisations on that theme over the years. Off I went to Safeway.

After checking the manager’s specials (the meats that are within a day of their “best if used by” date) and not finding anything, I had a look at the various smoked sausages and kielbasa. I settled on a turkey kielbasa. For some reason adding a few handfuls of baby spinach sounded like a good idea. I would have bought an onion if I’d thought of it, but I had scallions at home.

Most of us are aware that food manufacturers are manipulating us by keeping the price of their canned or boxed products the same but making the containers smaller. Do you still assume that a box of pasta is going to be a full pound? Many are, but Barilla makes a “plus” pasta in several shapes that is whole grain and very satisfying. It does, however, come in a 14.5 ounce package.

The good news is that Peter and I eat so much less than we did some years ago, that box, once a single meal for the two of us, now yielded leftovers using only half of it!

Anyhow, this is a homely recipe, but a very good one. The prep work isn’t over the top and you can have this on the table in half an hour if you’re in a hurry; or an hour if you start early, make a Cosmo and watch an episode of “Millionaire” while you sip it – pasta water warming on the stove and your mise en place in place.

Macaroni with kielbasa, cauliflower and spinach
1/2 box pasta in any shape you like
1/2 piece kielbasa, about 7 oz.
¼ head of cauliflower, cut into ½” floweret’s
¼ lb baby spinach
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
4 tsp olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
¾ cup chicken stock
juice of 1/2 a small lemon
¼ cup scallions, white and green parts
¼ tsp celery seeds
¼ cup heavy cream
salt and pepper (use white pepper if you have it)
Grated romano cheese to taste

In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter. Add 1 pressed garlic clove and stir briefly. Add the baby spinach and cook just until barely wilted. Remove and set aside.

Add 1 tbsp olive oil and another clove of garlic. After 30 seconds add the cauliflower and scallion. Toss to coat with the oil. Add chicken stock, celery seeds, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. You could use celery salt in place of the seeds and salt, but be judicious; that stuff is fiendishly salty. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the cauliflower is tender but still a tad al dente.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil, season generously with kosher salt, and cook the pasta according to package directions. When it’s done, use a spider to transfer it to the sauté pan. This is so that you add a bit of pasta water to the mix. Alternatively, reserve 1/8 cup pasta water, drain the pasta in a colander, and then add it and the reserved water to the sauté pan. Add the cream and the wilted spinach to the pan and toss everything together. Taste and adjust for seasonings, top with some cheese, and serve in heated bowls.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

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