As I tucked into my quickly-thrown-together past earlier tonight, the thought occurred that it was perhaps a bit late to be digging into such a rich dish. 10:30pm? Yikes.
“Have to hit the gym tomorrow,” I thought, with more than a hint of anxiety.
While I am a big promoter (and lover) of physical activity, I can’t deny that a larger thought overtook the guilt-tinged one: damn it, I’m hungry. I had a long, stressful day, it’s cold out, and damn, I was really hungry. Women are often, I feel, given the nth degree of guilt when it comes to our relationship with food. It’s as if we’re only meant to eat salad, fruit, and tuna, and never revel in the hugely enjoyable delight that comes with gastronomy. “Stay thin!” every media image shouts, “body fat is disgusting!” It’s as if I have choose: a great body, or fulfilling my appetite. How unfair.
Thus, it follows that a large part of my attraction to Nigella Lawson is her turning away from this guilt over all things food-related, and freely, sensuously celebrating indulgence in the acts of cooking and eating. I still sometimes think that, despite my truly admiring her bringing in a decidedly European approach, we’re too far too youth-and-skinny obsessed (especially in North America) to truly heed her message. She isn’t arguing for gluttony -but nor is she arguing for poe-faced self-denial. She’s arguing for rich, luscious womanhood, something I’m still not sure North America can wrap its size-0-youth-obsessed heads around.
And so it was that I found myself greedily spooning in mouthfuls of gorgeous, creamy, vegetable-laden pasta lastnight, amidst watching documentaries, writing future blogs, and organizing a myriad of projects. It hit the spot. I offer this handy stir-together recipe for all busy, harried women -and men -who want a good, nourishing meal after a long day. Pour yourself a glass of wine while you’re at it. Eat, and enjoy.
roughly a handful of pasta (or two, if you want leftovers)
Noilly Prat (or other good white vermouth)
1/2 cup broccoli (baby is best)
1/2 red pepper
1/2 tomato (or 1 plum tomato)
1/4 red chili
a handful of spinach leaves
1/2 cup tomato sauce (passata, jarred, or creamy are all fine)
roughly 4 tbsp fresh-grated parmesan
Salt and boil water. Add pasta, stir, add more salt (I use coarse-cut sea salt, but use whatever you like).
As the pasta cooks, prep the vegetables. I’ve listed broccoli, red pepper, spinach, and chili, but you can also use carrot, zuccini, onion -whatever you have on-hand, but keep it varied, colourful, and flavourful.
Peel broccoli stems and discard the peels. Cut peeled stems on the diagonal in medium strips; judge florets accordingly. You want them to be bite-sized. Set aside. Roughly chop red pepper (again, keep pieces bite-sized -medium-ish, in other words). Set aside. Chop tomato and set aside. Wash and roughly dry spinach leaves. Remove stems. Chop roughly and set aside. Carefully slice chili pepper (it’s a good idea to wear gloves); if you don’t like things too spicy, discard the seeds. Set aside, making sure the chopped chilis don’t touch anything else.
Drain pasta once it’s cooked; 8-10 minutes should do the trick, depending on what type you use -I like penne or large shells for things involving sauces, but if you only have spaghetti or some other ribbon-like pasta, then leave out the tomato-based sauce (and indeed, chopped tomato) and go with butter and garlic instead.
Using the same pot you cooked the pasta in, heat up the olive oil. You’ll need just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Turn down the heat to medium. Add chopped broccoli, and stir around to coat. Add a splash of Noilly Prat and clamp the lid on to steam lightly for 3-5 minutes. When broccoli is a bright green, add the red pepper and stir. The mixture might still be liquid -that’s okay. Add the chopped tomato and stir around. Clamp on the lid and allow to bubble merrily for about 2-3 minutes. Add the chilies and stir; let cook for about a minute.
Shake off excess water from the pasta and throw in, along with any tomato-based sauce you may be using. Stir. Add chopped spinach. Stir stir stir. The spinach might seem overwhelming for the pasta, but as it is heated with the rest of the mixture, it will quickly wilt down, leaving gorgeous green ribbons winding their way through the pot.
Gently grate the parmesan straight in. Stir gently and turn off the heat. I’ve given a measurement of 4 tbsp, but certainly, use as much (or as little) as you wish. You want the cheese essentially to draw things together. Grate more on top (if you wish) once it’s in your plate, in a mound of gorgeous tomato-y lusciousness.
Spoon in. Drink wine. Repeat.
And most of all: no guilt. You’re hungry. Period.