I learned how to cook as a teenager. My brother and sister were elementary-age, my dad was a long-haul truck driver and was out of town during the week, and my mom didn’t get home till 6:30 or so. I would start dinner many nights, often spaghetti, tacos, a roast, or chicken taken from a bag of frozen tenders or breasts. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it necessarily, but I did enjoy the (at that age) rare knowledge of how to actually prepare a meal that didn’t involve a drive-thru.
My college roommates loved it too. Our freshman year I taught them how to make breaded and fried chicken tenders from scratch, dipping the chicken in seasoned bread crumbs (storebought, of course) and frying them, dipping them in insane amounts of Naturally Fresh honey mustard. I don’t remember what we ate with them, but I do remember the chicken tenders. I’d probably still love them now, though I haven’t made chicken tenders in so long. I can’t remember the last time, actually.
It seems so odd, so foreign, to me now that when Philip and I were dating we really did not cook very much at all. I recall the first meal I cooked with him with a guffaw, if you will. It was a gigantic pan of lasagna, Caesar salad from a bag, frozen garlic bread, and an attempt at apple crisp that did not, in fact, crisp on top. Philip referred to it as “apple sog”. Thank God I knew him well enough to understand his sarcastic sense of humor, because we had only been dating for about a month and making fun of my cooking could have been a deal breaker.
So….getting married and moving in together presented some interesting challenges. WHAT would we eat? I owned three cookbooks, my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook and two really crappy “cooking for two” books that I had picked up at McKay. They were not much help, although I do remember an elaborate New Year’s Eve dinner in that first apartment that consisted of homemade tomato-basil sauce and homemade French baguettes (all from the Better Homes and Gardens book, which is a good cookbook-I still own it-but I wasn’t very skilled in the kitchen or very good at using the leftovers from all the meals that “served 4”). Suffice it to say, we ate a lot of Hamburger Helper and Homestyle Bakes. Do Homestyle Bakes still exist? They were these meals that consisted of opening a can of some meat & gravy combo, dumping it into a baking dish, scooping some bready mixture on top, and baking. Gross. I shudder just thinking about it.
Then came Nigella Lawson. Oh, Nigella. I had attempted to watch some Food Network, but 30 Minute Meals with Rachael Ray was the only thing that really appealed to me at the time (this was 2001 and there just. wasn’t. much. on. Food Network. though apparently I just missed Good Eats?). However, Style Network had this beautiful British woman that cooked all kinds of interesting foods like, you know, it was just no bigs. Oh, Nigella. I watched her show, Nigella Bites, constantly, every time it was on, watching the same episode over and over, eventually watching every episode. I still miss that show. She’s had others and, while some of them have been pretty good, none of them have been Nigella Bites.
Before Nigella, I had never heard of risotto. Now, it’s an easy weeknight staple for us. This risotto is really not even a recipe. It’s just something I threw together. The pasta is adapted from Nigella’s book Nigella Kitchen, in which she details the real foods that she cooks for her family. This struck me as a true quick meal….truly “no bigs”.
- 1/2 Small onion (chopped)
- 4oz mushrooms (wiped clean & sliced)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 1/4 cup arborio rice ((though I used the much-less-expensive Arroz con Rico from the Mexican section of my grocery store, which is very similar to arborio!))
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 cups chicken stock
- salt & pepper (to taste)
- Parmesan or Romano cheese (to taste)
- chopped fresh parsley for garnish (optional)
|Melt half of the butter with half of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Set the wine and chicken stock over low heat to warm (I added half a teaspoon of saffron to mine but this is definitely optional). Dice the onion and sauté until it is soft and translucent, then add the mushrooms and sauté them until soft. Add the rest of the butter and olive oil. When the butter has melted, add the rice and cook for about a minute.|
|Using a ladle, pour half a cup of the wine/chicken stock mixture into the rice mixture. Cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid has completely absorbed. Continue adding liquid and stirring until you have used all of the liquid. I turned my burner down to medium-low to do this because I did not want it to absorb too quickly…that way the starch in the rice really gets pulled out.|
|Salt and pepper the risotto to taste then add a copious amount of grated cheese. Serve garnished with chopped parsley and more grated cheese.|
Rotini with Spinach, Pine Nuts, and Feta
|Cook time||20 minutes|
|Allergy||Milk, Tree Nuts, Wheat|
|Meal type||Lunch, Main Dish|
|From book||adapted from Nigella Kitchen by Nigella Lawson|
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 clove garlic (minced)
- 1/2 Small onion (peeled & sliced)
- 5oz whole wheat rotini
- 1 bag baby spinach ((5 ounces))
- 2oz crumbled feta
- Parmesan and/or Romano cheese
|Heat a dry skillet over medium heat and toast the pine nuts, tossing frequently, until they begin to brown, then remove them to a small bowl and set aside. Slice the onions.|
|Bring a large pot of water to a boil (I use a 4-quart Dutch oven for this amount of pasta). Salt liberally and add the pasta to cook (whole wheat rotini usually needs to cook for 7-8 minutes). |
|Heat the olive oil in a medium to large (mine is 10-inch) skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onions until they are softened and lightly caramelized, then add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds or so.|
|Drain the pasta, reserving about half a cup of the cooking water. Return to the the hot pan. Add in the cooked onions and garlic, the spinach, the feta, and desired amount of grated parmesan and/or Romano cheese and stir to completely combine and wilt the spinach. Add reserved pasta cooking water as needed to loosen the pasta. Divide between two bowls and garnish with toasted pine nuts. Serve with additional cheese to pass at table.|