Although it should be against the law to start classes before Labor Day, summer is over for most families here in the Free State. While the lunar calendar affords us a few more weeks until the autumnal equinox, the school calendar forces us to get back to some sort of mealtime routine.
And that usually means supper in a hurry to fit our more regimented schedules. Indeed, even those of us without brilliant little students at home tend to adopt a slightly more regular schedule when school starts up again.
The culinary challenge this time of year is to fix something that's quick and nutritious, and since, thermally, summer's still here, something that doesn't heat up the kitchen too much. Oh yeah. And something comforting.
Our choice is obvious. Pasta, a.k.a. spaghetti. Our exercise du jour, then, is some fast-fixing dishes that can serve as main courses or side lights for storebought roasted meats: chicken, turkey, beef, etc. We've done what we could to ease the calorie count without sacrificing flavor. And they'll get you out of the kitchen fast — some of the sauces don't even require cooking — so you can drag everyone outside after dinner for a power walk around the neighborhood.
Called "tonnato" sauce in Italian, this sauce becomes quite colorful and just a smidge peppery with the addition of baby arugula and baby spinach. If you can't find arugula, use all baby spinach.
Our no-cook (you'll still have to cook the pasta) tonnato sauce can serve as a main dish. Offer some Italian bread on the side. Maybe let them have some gelato for dessert.
When you cook the pasta, remember to reserve a cup or so of cooking water for the sauce.
2 (6-ounce) cans chunk light tuna in water, well drained, tuna squeezed as dry as possible
2/3 cup lite mayonnaise
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained well, divided
6 flat anchovy fillets, drained well on paper towels
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
3 ounces each baby arugula and baby spinach (trimmed if need be), for a total of about 14 cups
1 small head radicchio, finely sliced
1 pound spaghetti (No. 8), cooked al dente according to package directions (saving 1 cup cooking liquid for the sauce)
In a blender, puree tuna, mayonnaise, olive oil, water and 3 tablespoons of the capers until smooth. Taste for pepper, and salt if using.
Place arugula, spinach and radicchio in a large bowl. Add hot spaghetti and remaining capers. Toss. Add some of the hot spaghetti cooking water to thin, if you wish.
Makes 6 servings.
Sorry, you'll have to do a little cooking for this one. Pecorino (romano) is an aged parmesan-type cheese with a heartier flavor (and slightly more salt). We like to use portobello mushrooms to mellow the dish and add a bit of earthy color. Simple grilled chicken (or supermarket roasted) takes care of any protein source you feel you need.
A green salad using up some late-season veggies is a plus with this pasta; if you add some chick peas, you'll add some protein. Hold the bread.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound portobello mushrooms, wiped clean, sliced
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
Coarsely ground black pepper
2/3 to 3/4 cup dry vermouth
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
2/3 cup chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup finely diced roasted red pepper
About 1 1/4 cups freshly grated pecorino cheese, divided
1 pound pappardelle (very wide short noodles), cooked al dente (some cooking water reserved)
In a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high, heat olive oil. Add mushrooms and cook about 6 minutes, until somewhat brown and tender. Add garlic and saute 1 more minute, until fragrant. Add plenty of pepper, and the dry vermouth. Bring mixture to a simmer. When simmering, add cold butter a couple of tablespoons at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon so butter thickens (emulsifies) the sauce. Continue cooking until sauce is reduced by about half.
To serve, in a large, heated bowl, toss pappardelle with mushroom mixture, adding some of the pasta cooking water if sauce seems too thick. Add parsley, red pepper and 1 cup of the pecorino cheese. Toss. Sprinkle remaining pecorino on top. Makes 6 servings.
Rotini and zucchini
Here's a way to incorporate veggies into dinner. Maybe they'll go for it, maybe not. But since we also use bacon — and who doesn't like bacon? — I suspect they will.
This sauce requires a bit of cooking, too.
12 ounces thick-sliced bacon (preferably applewood-smoked), cut 1/4 inch wide (crosswise) and one-inch long (e.g. matchsticks)
1 large Vidalia (sweet) onion, in half-inch dice (about 2 cups)
1 pound zucchini, washed, dried, in half-inch dice
1 pound small yellow summer squash, washed, dried, in half-inch dice
Coarsely ground black pepper
1/3 cup finely diced cherry tomatoes, garnish
Shredded parmesan cheese, for serving
1 pound rotini pasta, cooked al dente according to package direction, save 1 cup of the cooking liquid to moisten sauce if need be
In a large, non-stick skillet, over medium, cook bacon for about 4 minutes, until pieces begin to render their fat, but have not browned. Drain off about half the fat and discard. Add onion and cook 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion has softened.
Add zucchini and yellow squash and cook for about 10 minutes, until squashes are crisp-tender, stirring occasionally. Add pepper. Taste for salt, and add if you must.
To serve, place cooked rotini in a large heated bowl. Add bacon/squash mixture and toss. Add some of the rotini cooking water if mixture seems too dry. Sprinkle on the diced tomatoes and some shredded parmesan. Pass additional parmesan on the side. Makes 6 servings.
Spicy cheese sauce
Called "arrabbiata" (meaning spicy) in Italian, this sauce relies on mozzarella cheese to mellow the hot red pepper (somewhat). If you are leery of spice, cut the amount(s), when first putting this together, taste, then add more spice if you think it would be nice.
We use capellini noodles (pretty much like angel hair), but you can opt for something more substantial.
There's plenty of cheese in this dish, plus a bit of prosciutto, so it can serve as a main course. Make a salad. Serve shredded parmesan on the side. Bread's up to you. Hold the butter, though.
2 pounds perfectly ripe tomatoes, divided
1/2 of a fresh, hot cherry pepper, stemmed, seeds and pith removed, chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
1/3 cup olive oil
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 pound fresh mozzarella, chopped
1/3 cup diced prosciutto (ham)
3 tablespoons chopped celery leaves, divided
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano, divided
1 pound capellini noodles (or thin spaghetti), cooked according to package directions, 1 cup cooking water reserved
Shredded parmesan cheese, for serving, optional
Cut 1 pound of the tomatoes in half. In a blender, puree these tomatoes with the cherry pepper, red pepper flakes and olive oil.
Finely chop the remaining 1 pound of tomatoes. In a large bowl, combine the chopped tomatoes, with chopped celery and tomato/pepper puree. Add mozzarella, half the chopped celery leaves and half the chopped oregano. Add hot pasta and toss vigorously to melt some of the mozzarella. Add cooking water if sauces seems too thick. Garnish with remaining celery leaves and oregano. Pass the parmesan, if using. Makes 6 servings.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun