Any cook worth their salt will tell you apartment cooking has its limitations. Specifically, there’s a space issue, and ventilation, and yes, the inevitable volume control inside your tiny home fridge. This week, I made a simple meal for my vegetarian girlfriend and myself, using inexpensive ingredients with minimum smoke, counter space, and fridge space. This is a great one to whip up in a short time, using any leftover fresh ingredients in place of the veggies, and the presentation is fantastic. You will need:
1 box spaghetti
1 plum tomato, in small pieces
½ box of mushrooms, or 1 whole if you like, cut into slices
2 scallions, minced
Approx ½ cup pesto, or 1 pouch dry pesto mix
1 cup milk
Salt, to taste
1 large bunch basil
1 bulb garlic
Parmesean cheese, grated, to taste
½ cup olive oil
1 tiny knob butter, approx. 1 T
Pine Nuts, toasted, if you can get them, to taste
This is a great recipe, because everybody loves pesto, and it can keep in your fridge for a long time due to the oil and garlic. Simply blend everything in a blender or processor, adding a little bit of water if it doesn’t go well. Store in an airtight container and use in two weeks. Fair warning, New York City has a law against stored garlic products in oil for public sale, but in small amounts you can use it up before it goes bad. If you’re really scared, and to save money, just get the powdered stuff, but fresh basil has an amazing flavor you can’t get anywhere else.
For the pasta, of course, get a large pot of water with plenty of salt going before you do anything else. When it comes to a rolling boil, that is, the surface looks like that scene from Pirates of the Carribean 3, go ahead and add the pasta. Taste your pasta, ignore your box, if you like al dente!
While you’re waiting, get a sauté pan ready with a little bit of butter and a little bit of canola oil, making sure to heat the pan before adding the oil. This improves the conductivity of the pan, adding caramelized goodness to anything you sauté. You’ll be able to tell if the oil is ready by rolling it in the pan a bit, to check the viscosity, or putting something in to see if it complains. Saute the mushrooms. My old chef instructor always told us to cook mushrooms until they were dry, but I like them just browned. Turn off the heat, and add scallions to get that lovely just-cooked smell. Add the rest of the ingredients, seasoning to taste. Again, any of the vegetables are interchangeable, but fresh tomatoes in a cream sauce just tickles me.
Just before the pasta is done, bring the mixture to a boil, and you should see a good thickening. If not, a dab of butter will bring it up to speed. Strain and add the pasta to the pan. If you set out two empty plates at the table, you can bring the whole pan out and give a professional, artisanal presentation, layering the creamy sauce atop firm, al dente pasta, and preserving all the wonderful, stove-top aromas. Bon Apetit!