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Entries in pasta (5)


At home Italian; a review of Giada's Kitchen by Giada De Laurentiis

Made for lazy afternoons; Spiced Americanos with Cinnamon Whipped Cream. From the book Giada's Kitchen: New Italian Favorites.

As the parents of two children under the age of three, I will admit that my husband and I do not frequent restaurants as often as we'd used to. We do still enjoy a meal out now and again, but I have to say that we do not mind the change from eating out to eating in. In fact, we're all too happy to entertain at home.

Lucky for us, this shift in our lifestyle looks to be on trend with cookbooks as well. Case in point, Giada De Laurentiis, Food Network's resident expert in all things Italian, recently released Giada's Kitchen: New Italian Favorites (Clarkson Potter, 2008), focusing on a fresh, modern versions of classics from the Italian home kitchen. The famed-chef's fourth book, Giada's Kitchen promises 100 recipes which offer "the pleasures of Italian food without feeling weighed down ...[and] inspiration for delicious, hearty yet healthy weekday meals."

Chapter headings are fairly standard, but with some particularly thoughtful additions that help tailor this book to not only weekday family fare, but also to casual entertaining. An entire section on first courses and appetizers include elegant little bites such as Crispy Smoked Mozzarella with Honey and Figs - perfectly crisp phyllo parcels of melting cheese are served alongside succulent honey-warmed figs. Cheese is a popular theme for her first courses, appearing in a goat cheese and tomato strata, a savory cheesecake, crispy crackers and in a decadent Gorgonzola and apple crostata. In this, and a few other chapters, De Laurentiis ends with a drink; this time an Apple and Thyme martini that is both unexpected and delicious.

The next two sections, Soups, Paninis and Snacks and Salads and Vegetables are far and away the stars of the book. Here you will find fantastic lunch and light supper ideas like a Tuscan White Bean and Garlic soup that is buttery and rich, perfect for a cold afternoon. A sandwich that pairs warmly-spiced chicken salad with sharp radicchio and crisp pancetta is brilliant; the saltiness of the pork playing well against the aromatic chicken and brightened by the bitter chicory. Of particular success were the Spiced Armericanos (pictured) - a simple preparation that has now become our drink of choice this autumn.

From the Salad and Vegetables chapter, the Spicy Parmesan Green Beans and Kale are said to be a Thanksgiving tradition in the De Laurentiis' household; after tasting them, I understand why. The perfect amount of heat, along with the richness of the cheese, compliment the vegetables wonderfully. A great way to get your greens. Fregola, those fine beads of semolina pasta similar to couscous, are dressed up in a salad with a tangy-tart orange oil, grapefruit and a generous amount of herbs. Although the Broiled Zucchini and Potatoes with Parmesan Crust were flavoursome, I do question the technique here. As written, the recipe requires boiling, sautéeing and finally broiling the vegetables; three cooking methods for one dish seems a bit much, even if tasty. I tried the recipe a second time, this time roasting then broiling the vegetables, for a similarly-delicious result.

Surprisingly, even though solid, the remaining chapters were almost a letdown after the standouts of the first three. Orzo-Stuffed Peppers boast good textural contrast, while the Linguine with Shrimp and Lemon oil is fairly standard.

Meats, poultry and fish are dressed with herbaceous and acidic accouterments like the Spicy Parsley Tomato Sauce paired with roasted beef sirloin, chicken grilled with a mouth-puckering Balsamic Barbecue Sauce, halibut adorned with a grapefruit and fennel salsa, and turkey treated to an Osso Bucco-style preparation, complete with a rough-chopped gremolata to finish. A self-proclaimed fan of butternut squash, De Laurentiis uses the vegetable-like fruit in a Marsala-soused beef stew, a vanilla-flecked risotto and a golden-hued rigatoni with prawns.

Those familiar with De Laurentiis' many television programs and previous books will know her for her sweet tooth. Her chapter on desserts must surely tempt that weakness; the Ricotta Cappuccino was dangerously quick to come together, but luxurious in its finish. Creamy, sharp and with a touch of spice, it was a perfect end to a casual meal. The Berry Strata is a brighter version of the classic bread pudding; I especially appreciate the way the juices of the fruit stain the custard in tie-dyed patterns. Gorgeous for breakfast or dessert.

A chapter on cooking for children rounds out the book, and as much as I understand the desire to please fussy palates, many of these dishes fell flat in testing - but were not without merit. The Proscuitto Mozzarella Pinwheels were easy to assemble, and a fun recipe to try with children. Sadly, a filling of slick, chewy meat can be difficult for little ones to chew. The Orecchiette with Mini Chicken Meatballs was great, after I tweaked things a bit. The recipe itself calls for minimal seasoning, and in my mind it verged on bland. However, once tailored to our tastes by concentrating the sauce, a touch of salt and a hefty sprinkling of red pepper flakes, it is a recipe I would make again.

This section does include a gem of a recipe for Chocolate Chip Pound Cake. Dense without being heavy, with easy preparation that can all be done by hand, the deeply-flavoured treat will definitely be making its way into my gift-giving this holiday season.

The book is well designed, with an open and easy-to-read page layout. With one recipe per page, there is a generous amount of space devoted to backstory and specific notes in preparation and methodology. The majority of dishes feature accompanying full-colour photographs by Tina Rupp, shot simply and beautifully. Now and again, double page spreads of step-by-step photos complement specific dishes, and work well as a subtle showcase the photogenic author. The styling is homey and welcoming, with a touch of a feminine prettiness fitting De Laurentiis' established aesthetic.

Well-suited to the types of foods that many of us are looking to serve in our homes; dishes are fresher, with a strong emphasis on vegetables and creative uses of healthier lean proteins. The book Giada's Kitchen is a timely addition to a cook's library, with satisfying meals that would make almost anyone feel right at home.

Reminiscent of the cascade in a well-drawn pint of Guinness, softy-whipped cream slumps, swirls, and finally melts into aromatic espresso.

Recipes from Giada's Kitchen

Crispy Smoked Mozzarella with Honey and Figs
Artichoke Gratinata
Fregola Salad with Fresh Citrus
Beef and Butternut Squash Stew
Orecchiette with Mini Chicken Meatballs
Giada's Carbonara
Apple and Thyme Martini
Berry Strata
Hazelnut Crunch Cake with Mascarpone and Chocolate
Spiced Americano with Cinnamon Whipped Cream

Cover image courtesy Clarkson Potter.

Note: In addition to the book, De Laurentiis ended her five seasons of the show that made her famous, Everyday Italian, to begin a new program, Giada at home. The new series premiered in the United States on October 18, 2008.


Quick fixes; reviewing Delia's How to Cheat at Cooking and Everyone Can Cook Midweek Meals

Eric Akis' Skillet Mac and Cheese (yes, I know, I used penne and I served it in ramekins; I am quirky like that).

It is interesting how the world works sometimes. Just before our household grew from three to four, I was offered the opportunity to review not one, but two books on the subject of quick meals for busy cooks.

Everyone seems to be talking about how hard it is to find the time to cook. Sandra Lee has become a household name thanks to her "semi-homemade" mantra, Donna Hay has two books devoted to "instant" cooking and entertaining, and almost every magazine on the shelf is emblazoned with promises of "10 meals in under 10 minutes" or "faster takes on family favourites." Of course, there is also the juggernaut that is Rachel Ray, promoting under-30 minute cooking through her multi-media empire.

What is even more interesting is that, as it happens with any campaign, there are factions in the quick-cooking industry. Some believe it best to simplify the ingredients and methods while others make use of prepared foods to do some of the work for you.

As luck would have it, the two titles that came across my desk, Everyone Can Cook Midweek Meals (Whitecap, 2008) by Eric Akis and Delia's How to Cheat at Cooking (Ebury Press, 2008) by Delia Smith, each represent a side to these seemingly divergent approaches.

Because I received these books pretty much simultaneously, and because of their similar subject matter, I could not help but compare and contrast their styles as I looked over their content. And so, I thought it might be interesting to review these books side-by-side, as this really is such a huge market in the food world right now and this was an opportunity to study the two camps of this "fast" food movement.

I have chosen to break my analysis down into categories, for ease of quick comparison.

The authors and their philosophies
Eric Akis, food writer for the Victoria Times Colonist, seeks to inspire the home cook to tackle cooking after work or preparing meals ahead of time. His is straightforward and simple cooking, with (mostly) short ingredient lists and quick-to-prepare instructions. While there are a few intermediate recipes in terms of procedure and cuisine, Everyone Can Cook Midweek Meals focuses on giving the reader a repertoire of basic meals that allow for personal variation and are most likely appealing to a larger audience.

Akis positions himself staunchly against packaged and/or processed convenience foods. His introduction spells out his feelings quite specifically, mentioning his concern that too much sodium and preservatives in packaged foods can compromise the palate, and that the frequent use of what he calls "instant" meals colour children's perception of what food is supposed to taste like. His aim is to take the stress and worry out of midweek meal preparation, believing that with a well-stocked pantry and shortcut recipes even the busiest person can find scratch cooking a pleasure instead of a chore.

Six years after retiring from the cookery world, famed British cookbook author and television personality Delia Smith returns with the reworking of her 1971 debut How to Cheat at Cooking. In contrast to Akis' manifesto, Smith features recipes that promote grocery store shortcuts (specifically in the form of prepackaged foods and already-prepped ingredients) that are then used in the assembly of other dishes.

She considers the ability to produce meals, with minimal effort and time invested, a liberating experience. Smith encourages the use of the storecupboard and the freezer, seeing these to be invaluable resources to the hurried cook. Why stir slowly-caramelizing sugar, when someone else will make it into toffee and jar it for you? The same goes for slicing onions, grating cheeses and making tomato sauce. But this is only the beginning; Smith proudly dons the currently-unfashionable mantle of one who takes premade a step further, introducing the reader to tinned minced lamb, purchased pancakes, sachets of risotto and, what looks to be Smith's favourite ingredient - frozen mashed potatoes. She not only uses these ingredients, but she is also exceedingly particular about them; indicating the exact product, by brand name, that should be used in the recipe. Substitutions are frowned upon.

The books
Everyone Can Cook Midweek Meals seems to follow the style of the predecessors in the Everyone Can Cook series (it should be noted that I am not very familiar with the other titles). Vibrant colours and casual settings reinforce Akis' comforting home-cooking style. The photos, shot by Michael Tourigny and styled by the author himself, are cropped closely with the food usually filling most of the frame. Clearly laid out and easy to read, each recipe header includes the preparation time, cooking time and number of servings - a helpful tool for the truly time-starved.

Even though the book's sections can be a bit kitch in their titles ("Splendid Sides" and "Nifty Noodles", for example), they do cover a good deal of subject matter. Chapters on pantry staples, types of meals, various cuisines and cooking methods, offer the reader a well-rounded course in quick-cooking basics. That said, the more experienced cook may find this book to be too limited in its offerings. While it is not explicitly aimed as a book for beginners, notes on subjects such as what makes a vinaigrette and how to purchase fish might be redundant to some. Furthermore, dishes like breakfast parfaits are simple enough that they hardly require a recipe.

Delia's How to Cheat at Cooking is a very pretty book; the typeface, the layout and styling all work together beautifully to create a very modern, slightly spare aesthetic. It is beautifully designed by Vanessa Holden, and John Kernick's evocative photography accompanies almost every recipe. The result is a cookbook that looks pared down, refined, and very much in keeping with prevailing trends in cookbook and food publications.

After a lengthy section of introductions that outline in detail Smith's thoughts on shopping and cooking, the chapters are arranged in a loose interpretation of seasonal divisions and food for specific moods. For example, "Cool!" is the chapter containing recipes for the balmy days of summer, while "Capers in the Larder" explores the possibilities of the pantry. As to be expected, "Asian Express" and "Pronto Italiano" cover dishes from their respective cuisines. The book finishes with an extensive list of suggested ingredients to always keep on hand, and there is a repeated notation throughout the book that this list is kept up-to-date on Delia Smith's own website.

The recipes
Eric Akis has filled this book with dishes that would appeal to a wide audience. These are comfort-food basics, with few exotic ingredients or complicated techniques. Pastas, soups, stews and sweets are all well represented. Casual and satisfying, Akis' food is the sort you would want to eat curled up on the couch after a long day.

The chicken-fried steak with pan gravy is rich and hearty, with a simple white sauce as the decadent counterpoint to crispy double-dredged steaks (dried sage is a particularly nice addition to the coating mix). Chickpea Burgers are kept moist thanks to tahini and grated vegetables, and are well-seasoned with cilantro and curry. The fish tacos are family-friendly, especially when topped with the optional homemade guacamole. Fresh and bright with lime, the creamy spread goes beautifully with Akis' marinated baked fish. Tangy and creamy, the Easy-Peasy Lemon Pie would be far from daunting to the novice baker, and the results match up well against more complicated versions.

Of particular interest was the roux-less Skillet Mac and Cheese (pictured, above). Promising a cook time close to that of most boxed macaroni and cheese dinners, it comes together first on the stovetop and is then quickly blitzed under the broiler for a crust similar to long-baked recipes. While the dish did not offer the same creamy, savoury depth as more labour- and time-intensive versions, it was a reasonably good stand-in for a midweek meal.

While far from ground breaking, Akis' has compiled a solid set of recipes that can be prepared by a novice cook.

In Delia's How to Cheat at Cooking the recipes are far-reaching in their scope. Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Chickpeas appears alongside Caribbean Chicken with Salsa and Chicken and Leek Pot Pie. Asparagus with No-Panic Hollandaise turns the original on its head, opting out of the time consuming vinegar reduction and then emulsification for a tangy mix of crème fraîche, lemon, egg yolks, softened butter and cornflour. With less fat and no risk of splitting, the sauce did provide the unctuous mouthfeel of Hollondaise without the stress of its preparation. Sprightly Vietnamese Spring Rolls are stuffed with prawns, crunchy vegetables and herbs, and studded with peanuts; these are perfect for a light lunch or snack. Chocolate mousse is not out of Smith's reach; hers is made with ricotta cheese blended with crème fraîche for its base and is delicious but light. I had hoped to try the recipe for chocolate cake that called for 6 discs of mashed potatoes as an ingredient, but I could not find the kind required.

Herein lies the problem that comes up over and over again in Delia's How to Cheat at Cooking; as the author has been so adamant in her instruction to use brand name products, those in areas where these are unavailable are seriously disadvantaged. A worldwide audience may be unable to source products from the UK and Europe easily, rendering many recipes useless. Substitution is at times impossible as trademarked spice blends are used as the primary seasoning or the measurements are based on the portion size of specific products. If similar-sounding items can be found to swap in, it is uncertain how close result would be to the dish that Smith had intended.

This reliance on prepared foods sometimes seems unnecessary and almost creates as many problems as it solves. Although time is saved in the kitchen, even Smith herself admits that shopping takes longer as trips to multiple shops is necessary to find the particular brands.

Finally, the brand-particular favouritism inspires a new type of food snobbery (something Smith admonishes in her introduction); Italian packets of risotto are assumed to superior to a domestic product and onions sliced and softened in Spain are essential. But how can one with good conscience, in a world where concerns of carbon footprints and the support of regional agriculture are paramount, actively choose imported ingredients when local might be available and possibly taste better than those from abroad?

The conclusion
As much as I am tempted to consider these books mutually exclusive, neither truly are; there is a large middle ground. Though Eric Akis rallies against packaged foods, his stance is not without exception. He uses canned beans, pestos, curry sauces, bought stocks and tinned fish. While we may not think of these as convenience items, they do technically fall into that category and are likely to be staples in most homes. At the same time, Delia Smith includes recipes that are completely homemade and that simply employ tricks to expedite the preparation process. And in an ironic coincidence, these two books include recipes for the same dishes.

Everyone Can Cook Midweek Meals is a good beginner's guide to easy meals that can be prepared in a short time. Akis' approach is friendly and easy to follow, making it an accessible resource for those looking for healthy home-cooked meals. His tips are relevant and those packaged ingredients used are readily available.

Smith gives the readers time-saving reworking of well-known recipes, even as she expands the uses of prepared foods with the book Delia's How to Cheat at Cooking. Poshly presented, the book appeals to the foodie at heart, but one without the time, the desire or possibly the skill to prepare meals from scratch. She positions herself in a field outside of television cookery or vaulted art; Smith calls this an opportunity to "revolutionize your life" - with canned bisque firmly in hand.

Either way, it is evident that there is a desire to make food preparation faster, it is up to the reader (or the cook) to decide their speed limit.

Skillet Mac and Cheese
Excerpted with permission from Everyone Can Cook Midweek Meals by Eric Akis (Whitecap, 2008).

Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 9-12 minutes
Makes: 4 servings

Here's a quick stovetop way to make macaroni and cheese and still have the heavenly crust of an oven-baked version. I serve it with whole wheat dinner rolls and a platter filled with raw fresh vegetables, such as celery, carrot and cucumber sticks, broccoli and cauliflower florets and cherry tomatoes.

2 cups (500 ml) macaroni
2 cups (500 ml) milk
3 tablespoons (45 ml) all-purpose flour
1/4 (1 ml) teaspoon paprika
2 cups (500 ml) grated cheddar cheese
salt and white pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook until just tender, about 6-8 minutes. Meanwhile place the milk, flour and paprika in a bowl and whisk until lump-free, Pour into a 10-to-12 inch (25 to 30 cm) nonstick ovenproof skillet and set over medium heat. Cook the mixture, whisking frequently, until it gently simmers and begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Mix in 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) of the cheese; season with salt and white pepper. Cook and stir until the cheese melts; reduce to low heat. Place an oven rack 6 inches (15 cm) beneath the broiler; preheat the broiler.

Drain the cooked macaroni well and mix into the cheese sauce. Stir in a little extra milk if you find the consistency too thick. Remove from the heat. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup (125 ml) of the cheese overtop and place under the broiler until it's nicely browned, about 3-4 minutes.

Eric's Options
• To add some protein to this dish, mix in a can (6 oz/170 g) of chunk tuna, drained well and coarsely flaked, or 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) of cubed ham or cooked chicken.

Recipes from Delia's How to Cheat at Cooking

A selection of recipes from the book can be found here.

Cover art courtesy of Whitecap Books and Ebury Press, respectively.


Early influences

Growing up, my best friend was right next door. It was one of those friendships where sleepovers were weekly, staying over for dinner was almost daily, and company was constant. We were lucky enough to live on a street where everyone knew everybody, where children ran freely from yard to yard wreaking havoc and laughter. It was a great place to live, with pool parties and backyard barbecues crowned with sparklers at the end.

Beyond the fun we had, my most vivid memory of these childhood friendships was the food. I think of those barbecues and I can taste the juice of sticky sweet watermelons, I think of strawberries picked from the bushes in the backyard, and of fingers stained a myriad of rainbow colours from Fun Dip.

But most of all I think about the kitchens - ours and the one next door. While our house was filled with the flavours of India and England, theirs was bursting with those of Italy. So as much as my Grandmother's shepherd's pie and my Mother's chicken curry figure largely in my remembrance of childhood, so do jars and jars of pickled red peppers, tender veal cutlets, and handmade breads for the holidays. The alchemy of homemade wine was a mystery to us. I was fascinated by the yearly ritual, and the enormous glass carafes that would take up residence in the basement. Oh goodness, and Nutella - that wonderful dark chocolate and hazelnut spread that is nothing short of ambrosia to a 6 year old.

As kids, we ate all meals at home, walking home from school at lunchtime. As far as I can recall, the business of meals was simply part of the daily ritual. I never had the impression that it was a bother, or that it was a chore (though it must have been, sometimes).

I cannot help but think that it was this assumption of good, fresh food that has shaped how I cook today. Even when tired or frustrated, it is not often that I am too tired to cook. I may be vexed about my day, but I am not vexed about the food. Sure, it may sometimes be simple, but the process of preparing food is integral to the routine of my day; I feel I have forgotten something without it.

I am thankful for those early influences, and that food and philosophy are remembered fondly - and often. As with most of us, I am sure, pasta has endured as a comfort food in our household. In its preparation, I sometimes stop to remember those meals from years ago, hoping I can come close to those tastes.

While this vegetable bolognese is far from traditional, and nothing I had as a child, it still brings me that sense of comforting nostalgia. Slowly stirred aromatic vegetables cooked until deeply flavoured and tender, then served with hot pasta and a snowfall of Paremsan - how memorable is that?

Vegetarian bolognese
My version was a combination of recipes; as I did not write down quantities as I cooked, I thought it best to simply provide the same guides I used. If anyone would like specifics, please feel free to contact me.


Pappardelle with vegetable bolognese from Epicurious
Rigatoni with vegetable bolognese from Giada de Laurentiis

Specific changes and notes:

• Added 1/2 a large eggplant and 1 medium zucchini to the vegetables called for. As I prefer my mushrooms and eggplant to be well caramelized and golden, I cooked them separately from the rest first, then added them to the soffritto as per the recipe.
• 6 oil packed sundried tomatoes were puréed and added along with the tomato paste.
• The wine was replaced with vegetable broth and a splash of red wine vinegar.
• The photograph featured does not include marscarpone, as I intended to freeze a portion; the dairy is added just before serving, and I do believe the sauce needs a bit of richness at the finish. Full fat cream cheese can be used if mascarpone is unavailable.
• This sauce is particularly nice when thinned with a bit of pasta cooking water, then tossed through with your favourite medium tube pasta and chunks of fresh mozzarella.


Persistent memory meets opportunity

While my husband does not share my love of cooking, I take great pleasure in the fact that he does share my love of food. With is combination of enthusiasm and appetite, he is a rewarding audience to cook for - appreciative and just a bit greedy.

While I was thrilled at recent gifts of cookbooks and foodie magazines, a part of me does think that my dear Sean was even more excited. After far too many days featuring the customary menus of the season, it was he that flipped through my new books, taking note of any particularly tempting ideas. Feeling a bit burnt out after the aforementioned feasts, I was all too happy to hand over the responsibility of culinary creativity (and the associated shopping trip) to my willing partner.

It is a strategy we have been known to employ, one that prevents me from falling into a routine of recipes and challenges me a bit to boot. I will admit to exercising executive privilege now and again, balancing Sean’s often-carnivorous tendencies with lighter fare or substituting ingredients I know are more suited to our tastes. The exercise keeps us both involved in the decision of what we eat, with Sean frequently, and pleasantly, surprising me with his choices.

Most recently, it was a recipe by Tyler Florence that piqued interest - fat noodles with buttered artichokes and crab. Looking at the requisite glossy photo presented alongside, the unctuous tangle of pasta and seafood immediately recalled Nigella Lawson's chili crab with linguine. Featured in the book Forever Summer and on the television series of the same name, hers is a recipe I have carried around in my mind for years. I vividly recall salivating over the sauce alone - luscious bits of pink crab meat specked fiery orange with chili. It was one that I have always intended to make, but have never found the occasion.

Not wanting to pass up the chance now, I combined the two recipes to best appease my (nagging) curiosity and to meet Sean’s request. The result was a triumph; rich enough to feel a bit special and celebratory, still fresh with bright lemon and peppery ribbons of green.

A harmonious beginning to a new year.

Linguine with crab and artichokes
My interpretation of recipes from Nigella Lawson and Tyler Florence. I had not intended to share this recipe, but after tasting it I decided it was worthy of a feature. My sincere apologies; some of the ingredient quantities are estimates as I did not weigh and measure as I cooked, as I usually do.

500 g linguine
1 large clove peeled garlic, or two if you are so inclined
2 teaspoons kosher salt
A good pinch, about a scant 1/4 teaspoon, dried chili flakes
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
275 ml jar of artichokes, drained and rinsed well, halved if large
250 g crab meat, preferably lump
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
A handful of fresh parsley, chopped
A couple of handfuls of baby arugula (rocket), or other greens
Pepper, to taste

Put a large pot of well-salted water to boil. Cook the pasta, according to package directions or to taste. As the pasta will continue to cook when you toss it with the warm sauce, I would advise cooking until just under al dente.

Meanwhile, in a small food processor or pestle and mortar, crush the garlic, salt and chili flakes into a smooth purée. Set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and olive oil. When just melted, add about 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta cooking liquid, along with the garlic purée. Continue to cook, stirring, until reduced by about 1/3. When thickened, add the artichokes and gently toss to coat.

With the heat on low, add the crab meat, lemon zest and juice and stir to combine. Tip in the cooked, drained pasta, turning so that the noodles are well-slicked with the buttery juices. Add the parsley and arugula, continuing to turn until the greens are slightly wilted. Check for seasoning, garnish with additional chili and fresh greens if desired, serve.

Serves 4 as a main course, 6-8 as a light lunch or entrée.


How we eat

I am a person who spends far too much time thinking about food.

Though this tendency could most likely be attributed to my simple greed, which I will not deny, I am also intrigued by the way that we relate to our food. I know I have said it before, and admired those who have said it more eloquently, but I am still fascinated by the way food can not only be a source of nutrition but also such a part of the way we live our lives.

Our meals can be a creative expression, a link to the past or an exploration of possibility. Or, we can eat to satiate the need to fuel the body.

I have been eavesdropping on an ongoing conversation regarding the place for shortcuts, take out and convenience food in the kitchen. The discussion touches upon the ever-increasing popularity of certain network television personalities and their accompanying “semi-homemade” philosophies.

Without taking a particular side of the table so to speak, I did stop to consider the food my family eats on a daily basis; outside of the grand food holidays and events, simply Monday to Friday sort of fare.

I have always eaten reasonably well. Lucky to have the luxury of a childhood in a family of cooks, convenience food and take out was the exception rather than the rule. In my early adulthood, I tried to get my 8-10 servings of vegetables per day, even if they were sometimes interspersed with a pint and burger at the local pub.

It was when I became pregnant that I really felt the impact of the food choices I made. I was suddenly responsible for more than just me and my waistline. With each bite, I realized what I was eating was what would sustain my child. What would help him develop, help him grow strong and nurture him before I could even hold him in my arms.

As you may well imagine, heavily-processed foods, caffeine, additives, nitrates and the like where not on the menu.

With Benjamin’s birth, a part of my Mummyhood has come to include the role of family nutritionist and meal provider. I know that I am the one that is, in large part, shaping the way he views food. The way he views how food is made. The way he views food as part of his life - as energy or as something more.

It is that something more that I think about most. I think about how somewhere along the way society developed this love-hate relationship with food. We love indulgence, yet hate the consequences; we move from extremes of decadence to extremes of denial.

In our day-to-day food is frequently regarded as an inconvenience; something that takes time from all the more important things that we have scheduled for ourselves.

I can only speak for myself. I can only say what works for me. I have chosen to make good food a priority. Not simply the act of eating, though I do believe in taking the time to eat as a family whenever possible, but also the act of shopping, preparing and discussing food. Nutrition, tradition, why we eat what we eat when we eat it - all of these are topics I hope to share with my son as I share them with my dear Sean now.

I want Benjamin to realize that sometimes things are worth effort or time, and that the proof is truly in the pudding. I hope he sees the beauty in a balanced life.

I will admit that there are frozen pizzas in my freezer. I will also admit that there are a stack of take out menus in a drawer somewhere. But I will also point out the recipe books, pots and pans and utensils that fill our cupboards.

I do not scorn convenience. Cooking may not be for everyone. But I will rally against the notion that cooking is nothing more than a chore. There is beauty in the process of making food, even when at its most basic. There is a poetry in it that tells you “this is worthwhile.”

I made this pasta as a quick dinner when my dear Sean was working late. Inspired by a love for spaghettti alla carbonara, all the elements of the original are here. Salty pork punctuating a tangle of creamy, egg-blanketed pasta. I have added chicken stock to the sauce for a fresher version suited for early spring. The mix of asaparagus and mushrooms also seem fitting for the season, and the crisped prosciutto is tender, yet still toothsome, among the pappardelle.

It should have taken about 10 minutes to come together, but again, priorities came into play. I stopped prepping once because of a potential altercation between Benjamin and Miss Billie the Cat (priority). I continued when Benjamin chose to dump his toys across the floor (not a priority). I paused again to kiss my husband hello (priority). Then I finished making dinner.

Far from Rockwellian, but we did manage for the three of us to end up around the dinner table; all eating the same meal, at the same time.

I, for one, felt truly nourished.

Creamy mushroom and asparagus pappardelle
Lighter than a traditional carbonara, but still retaining its charm, this pasta is a quick and satisfying weeknight meal.


4 slices prosciutto
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
150 g trimmed and cut asparagus spears
250 g cremini or brown mushrooms, cut into halves or quarters depending on size
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
175 g pappardelle
30 g grated parmesan cheese
Generous teaspoon thyme leaves
2 large eggs
1/3 cup mixture of chicken stock and cream, whatever ratio suits your taste

Cook the prosciutto under a preheated broiler for about 3 minutes, until crisp and lightly golden. Set aside.

In a frying pan over medium high heat, sauté shallots in the olive oil for about a minute, or until beginning to turn translucent. Add mushrooms and asparagus, season sparingly with salt and pepper and cook for 6 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Reduce the heat to low.

Meanwhile, cook pappardelle in a large pot of salted boiling water until just under al dente, or slightly less than package instructions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Add the pappardelle to the vegetable mixture, turning to combine. The pasta will darken as it absorbs the olive oil and juices from the vegetables. Crumble in prosciutto. Turn off heat.

Whisk together parmesan cheese, eggs, thyme leaves, cream and chicken stock in a small bowl.

Working quickly, add the egg mixture to the pappardelle and toss to coat. Continue to stir until the eggs are cooked and slightly thickened; the sauce will thoroughly cling to the noodles. Add the reserved pasta water as necessary until the desired consistency is achieved. Season with additional pepper.

Best eaten immediately. Serves 2 rather generously, or 3 when feeding one adult male with a hearty appetite, one adult female with a medium appetite and one greedy little toddler.

• I used a ratio of about 3 parts stock to 1 part 10% cream. Use whatever amounts, and butterfat content cream, that suits you.
• Baby spinach can also be substituted for the asparagus. If you are lucky enough to come across fresh morels, they would be fantastic here.