What the heck? I have been willing spring to get here for what feels like an eternity. The magnolia trees are blooming, the forsythia is peaking, and I am, well, burned out. Don’t get me wrong, I am so thankful to have at least my first vaccine dose under my belt, and the hope that is now coursing through my system. But, I kind of feel like we have been running a marathon for over a year, and the finish line keeps getting pushed back. Or maybe there is no finish line? If I hear “new normal” one more time I may just explode.
I took a pause the other day after we cleared the breakfast table. I was clutching my iPhone and sitting next to my computer while the news was on the TV. I had DMs from clients, Messenger notes from old friends, an Instagram post I needed to finish for work, Derek Chauvin’s mean mug was on the screen, my inbox was full of Earth Day promotions that were in some way tied to rising ocean temperatures, and I had the overwhelming desire to climb back into bed and hide under the covers.
Then James came and gave me a sweet kiss before skipping off to the school bus. I realized I need to let go of some stuff. Let go of the noise. Simplicity is my happy place, and I need to go visit there more often.
I think it’s in my kitchen where the malaise is most evident. I am still cooking daily, but the excitement and new recipes have waned. Last spring I started a cooking journal where I recorded every supper I made for almost the whole year. So, I have been referring back to what I made this time last year to help concoct my weekly grocery lists. Even the kids over at Bon Appétit and Food and Wine seem a little aimless in the idea department. I usually feel so inspired when my subscriptions (yes, I still take print magazines) arrive in my mailbox. Not so much lately… it’s probably me.
But you know who you can always count on? Pasta. If carbs and their influence on impending swimsuit season were not a thing, I would eat pasta with reckless abandon. I love a simple sauce and good noodle and the fact that you need little else. Here are two sauces you can pull together in less than half an hour.
Pea and Mint Pesto
This is like spring in a bowl.
1 cup of green peas (I use frozen peas with great success. Just quickly defrost in warm water before using.)
1/4 cup of pine nuts, lightly toasted in a skillet or oven (they burn fast, so watch them!)
zest of half a lemon
mint leaves from 2 sprigs of mint
1 clove of garlic
1/4 cup of freshly grated parm
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
a few turns of ground pepper
a pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
1/4 cup of olive oil
12 oz fusilli (any pasta will do, but the nooks in fusilli work great to catch the sauce)
fresh ricotta cheese, room temperature
*be sure to reserve 1 cup of pasta water
Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. In the meantime, place the green peas, pine nuts, lemon zest, mint leaves, garlic, grated parm, salt and pepper in the bowl of a good processor. Give it several pulses until the ingredients are all chopped and combined, but not totally pureed. Texture is good here. Turn the machine on and drizzle in the olive oil until pesto is combined.
Boil your pasta according to the package directions. Be sure to reserve one cup of pasta cooking water.
Drain the pasta and return back to the pot, add all of the pesto, and add pasta water a little at a time to loosen the sauce while stirring to combine. Keep stirring and adding pasta water until the pesto is smooth, but not watery. I used just over a half a cup of the reserved water. Serve with a dollop of fresh ricotta in each bowl and garnish with mint if you like.
Spicy Tomato Sauce with Rigatoni
slightly adapted from a recipe by Missy Robbins
1 lb. rigatoni pasta (I will splurge here for the fancy dye-cut, longer rigatoni as they seem to break less when they boil and feel more luxurious with a simple sauce.)
1/4 cup olive oil
8 garlic cloves, divided
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 (28 oz.) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano, plus whole leaves for serving
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (modify amount based on your heat tolerance)
1 teaspoon crushed Calabrian chiles, optional
Grated Pecorino Romano cheese for serving
Heat oil in a Dutch oven over low. Add 4 garlic cloves, and increase the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally until soft and slightly caramelized, about 5 minutes. Thinly slice remaining garlic cloves, and add to oil. Cook, stirring occasionally until just fragrant, less than 1 minute. Add tomato paste, and cook, stirring often until a deep rich color develops and some oil has absorbed into the sauce, 3-5 minutes. Add tomatoes, fennel, oregano, crushed red pepper, and calabrian chiles (if using). Cook stirring often about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, boil a large pot of salted water and cook the rigatoni slightly less than the recommended cooking time. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta, and add to the sauce with the reserved cooking water. Toss and stir until combined and all of the rigatoni are coated with the sauce and heated through, about 1 more minute. Serve sprinkled with cheese and oregano leaves.
I obviously needed a kick in the bum. There is no one in my life more readily willing to call me out than my dear friend, Todd. Just around the time I felt like I was moving through my days with lead legs, this book arrived on my doorstep with a little note from Todd saying I needed to read this.
Like most parents of young children, I have a stack of books I am dying to find time to read, but rarely find a moment to steal. But once I started reading these pages, I could not help but to keep going until I was finished in four days, and so despairing to part with the last sentence.
There are so many things I could say about Erin French, the author of this heartfelt and often heart wrenching memoir, but nothing seems sufficient. She epitomizes the power of the human spirit. She has spunk and grace, and is one of the most hard working women I have read about in the food world or otherwise. Upon finishing this book, I immediately wanted to drive to Maine to hug her, and then enjoy a long supper at her intimate restaurant, The Lost Kitchen, which seems to perfectly capture the art of simplicity. She has an adorable postcard reservation lottery system for the restaurant, and I will certainly be crossing my fingers for a coveted spot.
I haven’t been a complete slug. We are promoting a beautiful new Castel fabric collection that is launching imminently (US Customs agents, I’m looking at you). It is called the Montmartre Collection which is a love letter to Paris in the form of luxe cotton velvets and exquisite embroidery. If you would like to take a peak…Voilá.
Lastly, just when I was wondering if I was nuts, I read this article in The Times, and realized it’s not just me.
So, if you too need a little something that is inherently cheerful, make this sprinkle cake found in a sunnier corner of New York Times Cooking. We recently celebrated James’s 7th birthday, and this was a big, sugary slice of fun enjoyed by kids and kids at heart.
Wishing you all more sprinkles this spring,
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