I admit that I foolishly began preparing myself for a return to a certain level of normalcy after getting vaccinated this spring. During the pandemic, my cooking habits became a mechanism of pure comfort and survival. I baked lots of bread, ordered trendy pasta shapes online and prepared carbohydrate-heavy plates — all just to feel something.
For quite a while, my diet existed on a spectrum of beige to slightly darker beige colors that mimicked what I ate when I was heartsick or ill. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I didn't feel particularly vibrant after consuming so much beige.
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To break out of the rut, I did what a lot of people do. I went to the grocery store and bought a basket full of gorgeous produce. There were some luscious plums, which I ate in the style of William Carlos Williams (chilled from the refrigerator, drizzled with hot honey and a spoonful or two of ricotta). I also bought peppery radishes in kaleidoscopic pinks and purples, and sugar snap peas, which I snacked on while muted on Zoom calls. The small changes did my mental state a world of good — until I opened the crisper drawer.
Languishing there was an untouched head of broccoli and a couple of droopy carrots that had lost their snap. These vegetables were on their last legs, and I needed to make use of them sooner rather than later. I went through my mental catalogue of options. Curry, stir-fry or perhaps vegetable soup? I was either missing ingredients, or I simply wasn't in the mood.
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But then I spotted a box of unopened orecchiette — and inspiration struck.
I lugged the blender down from the top shelf (I promise, it's worth it!) and blitzed the vegetables with some salt and olive oil until they took on the consistency of a thick pesto. Through the culinary alchemy that emerges from the combination of garlic, parmesan and a splash of pasta water, the blended vegetables became a velvety-thick sauce.
It was delicious, filling and a great way to use my crisper drawer rejects. In the months since, this pasta has become a canvas for a variety of additions, such as crumbled Italian sausage, a handful of wilting spinach, a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts and the zest of a stray lemon. All are very good options, but the original version is equally satisfying — satisfying enough to have kept me from slipping back into my beige rut.
Recipe: Crisper Drawer Pasta
- 1/2 head of broccoli (about 1 3/4 cups), including stems and florets
- 3-4 large carrots, roughly chopped
- 1/2 an onion (white or yellow) or 1 shallot, roughly chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 4 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- 4 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
- 16 ounces of dry pasta (I prefer orecchiette or penne.)
- Salt and pepper — or red pepper flakes — to taste
- Optional: 1 to 2 tablespoons of cream or half-and-half
1. In a large blender, add the broccoli, carrots, onion, garlic and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Pulse until the texture of a thick pesto. Add salt to taste.
2. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a large pan; if you're using red pepper flakes, add to the pan over medium-low heat for a few moments to allow the flavor to bloom. Add the vegetable mixture to the pan, cooking slowly until the vegetables have softened and become fragrant, about 12 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, cook the dry pasta according to the directions on the box. Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water and drain.
4. Add the pasta to the pan, along with the pasta water, the remaining tablespoon of oil and the parmesan cheese. Stir until fully combined, and simmer until the vegetable mixture forms a slick sauce over the pasta. If desired, add cream or half-and-half for creaminess.
5. Remove from heat and serve immediately, dusted with additional parmesan cheese.
More recipes for pasta night: