Tag Archives: Sausage

No-fault Pasta

Painted in Waterlogue

A friend of ours got married on Sunday.

Another friend didn’t.

You get the idea, I think: those two friends once expected to be married to each other, and that marriage did not come to pass. Their relationship is not the point of this story; what is the point is that the friend who wasn’t putting on a tux this weekend wanted to have other things to think about than the friend who was putting on a pretty dress. We picked him up near relatives we were visiting and brought him home with us.

It was a perfect Sunday for a road trip: not too hot, not too humid, and lots of traffic. That might not seem like a good thing, but it gave my navigator an excuse to show her skills. We spent most of the day on back roads and small state routes that avoided the blockages and gave us much prettier scenery.

We stopped for lunch at a terrific—and uncrowded—place in a town I didn’t know anything about, and enjoyed grinders, salads, fish and chips and clam chowder, with a little Food Network in the background on the bar TV. We stopped at an outlet mall and did a little shopping, amusing ourselves greatly at the gender-stereotype-busting of the girl buying far less than the guys. Unfortunately, the stereo speakers I’d been looking for were out of stock. (Side note: Honey, I just ordered them from Amazon.)

By the time we got home and met the hungry cats, we were hungry, too, but not for anything big and heavy. And, remember, it was Sunday night—a veg box will arrive Tuesday morning, and there were still plenty of things in the crisper. While she made up the guest room, I chatted with our guest and made dinner. I wasn’t sure what it would be, but there was no question that it would contain plenty of vegetables. Sometimes you just have to start cooking and figure it out along the way.

No-Fault Pasta

Clearing out the crisper, discover:
1/2 lb. green beans
1/3 lb. asparagus
4 small cucumbers
half a bag of baby carrots brought home from someone’s lunch
4 oz. Baby Bella mushrooms
half a bunch of celery
1 celtuce
1 or 2 garlic scapes (Note that there are more, but that common decency suggests their judicious use–and that they still look plenty sturdy. Plan to regret this decision if next week’s box contains more.)

Elsewhere in the fridge, find:
A jar of chive vinegar
4 oz. chive-and-spinach pesto
a big hunk of parmesan cheese
a container of bite-sized mozzarella balls.

From the freezer, retrieve
4 oz. bulk Italian sausage

On the counter, catch sight of:
half a tub of week-old grape tomatoes, their skin just starting to wrinkle
the bottle of rosemary simple syrup used to sweeten the iced tea you took upstairs to the room-straightener.

From the pantry, retrieve:
A box of fettuccini

Note also the bounty of dill and oregano in the herb-garden-basket hung by the kitchen window.

Set a pot of salted water to boil.

Slice the cucumbers into a bowl, tossing with a couple teaspoons of the vinegar, a splash of rosemary simple syrup, and a couple of sprigs of dill from the kitchen garden.

Open a bottle of red wine; pour each of you a glass. Toast to friends, and to happiness. 

Rinse and trim the asparagus and green beans; cut them into bite-size pieces and toss in a big bowl. Don’t bother to dry them; instead, put a paper towel over the bowl; microwave 90 seconds to just-barely-steam the vegetables. Drain and set aside.

In a skillet over medium heat, brown the sausage; drain and remove.

Peel the celtuce as you would a broccoli stem; slice into coins about 1/4 inch thick. Taste raw, noting that it really does have a little celery flavor, but is much denser–almost like a water chestnut. Set aside.

When the water boils, add the fettuccini, stirring occasionally. (The clock is now ticking: finish everything else by the time the pasta cooks).

Dice an onion, which you’ve dispatched your guest to retrieve from the pantry-in-the-garage. Sauté it and a couple stalks of celery in a little olive oil until the onion is barely translucent. Finely slice the garlic scape and add it, along with the beans and asparagus; since they’re mostly cooked, the point is just to get everything combined without browning too much. Slice the baby carrots and add them; they’ll still be mostly crunchy when you’re done. Deglaze the pan with a splash of the wine. Clean and slice the mushrooms, but if your guest isn’t a fan of them, sauté them alone in a small skillet. (This is why stoves have several heating elements.)

Hand a hunk of cheese, the grater, and a collecting bowl to your guest.

Halve the grape tomatoes. When the sautéed vegetables are almost tender, add them to the skillet, along with the celtuce coins and the sausage. Toss to combine, then reduce the heat to low. Add 3 or 4 tbsp of the pesto to the center of the pan, but just let it sit on top to warm gently.

Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water, and divide into serving bowls.

Add a splash of the pasta water to the skillet; give everything a gentle toss to combine; taste and adjust seasoning, then spoon the seriously veggie sauce over the pasta. Add mushrooms or not. Sprinkle some fresh oregano on top, then let each diner add cheese to taste. Serve with the quick-pickled cucumbers.

Serves 3, who will be happy enough that everyone will forget about dessert.

If you’ve read more than one Dinner at the Country House post, you know perfectly well that this is not so much a recipe as a story about an adventure shared with others. If there had been chicken instead of sausage, I would have happily used that; if there had been no pesto, I might have used soy sauce and made rice instead of noodles. If any of a great many things had been different, I might have written about a wedding feast a couple years ago, rather than a not-wedding dinner last night, or served four instead of three, or gone to the movies by myself. It’s nobody’s fault. This is what happened. This is how we made the best of it. This is how we spent the day. This is how life goes on.

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A Few Good Picnics

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Our first date, long ago, was a picnic in Central Park. Cheese, olives, baguette, grapes, and white wine sipped from plastic cups, while we sat on a bench under a pretty tree and talked for hours.

* * *

When I was commissioned to write a short musical based on the story of a couple who met in a specialty food shop, the first step in my research was a field trip to the shop. It was mid-October and cool, so a Friday-night park visit wasn’t appropriate, but we brought the feast we purchased back to the City House and had a floor picnic.

I took slight poetic license to give the story’s couple a first date similar to ours. In the last song, they bemoan their ability to find a suitable place to go:

You take an old pal to your favorite haunt.
It’s hard knowing what someone new would want,
But if we can’t agree on a restaurant,
Where do we go from here?

Then he gets an idea and proposes they take the baguette and duck rillettes he’s just bought, pick up a nice pinot noir at the wine shop around the corner, and find a bench in the park. She’s skeptical about the idea of a picnic. It seems like all is lost when she gets up and starts to walk back into the store. Then she turns and says she’ll bring dessert. One last F-major chord plays as lights dim on their happy ending-that’s-really-a-beginning.

* * *

On Saturday, we went to see the new show at the theatre where I’d just finished working–a play by one of our favorite authors, Aaron Sorkin. It’s a cabaret-style theatre, meaning the audience is seated at tables rather than in rows of seats facing the stage. Patrons are invited to bring their own snacks or meals. Deciding what to bring for A Few Good Men wasn’t quite as daunting a task as the characters in Blue Apron faced, but it was a challenge. “Should I order Thai?” she said. “Well,” I admitted, “we can’t pick up burgers from the Awesome Burger Place.” (She likes hers Well Done, and they can’t seem to get that right.)

“Wait,” I said, joking. “I’ve got duck rillettes and a nice loaf of bread. I’ll go to Oak Barrel for a nice pinot noir and we’ll find a bench.”

“A picnic,” she said. She knows the script, maybe better than I do. She has that kind of memory.

“A picnic.”

She didn’t have to think about it as long as Laura did. “I’ll bring the macaroons.”

As it turned out, she brought everything; I’d been working all day. Juicy andouille sausages, paté, an assortment of cheeses, sliced baguette, grapes, and Mason jars full of ice from which we drank sparkling cider. No macaroons, but  strawberries, which I like even better.

The Saint Andre cheese was a little too funky for either of us. The Lemon Stilton–a semi-firm cheese studded with bits of candied lemon peel–was fun and bright. We both liked the goat’s-milk cheddar. Our picnic supper was wonderful, and if every aspect of the production wasn’t quite perfect it was still enormously enjoyable.

At intermission I got up to stretch my legs a bit. I hoped to find our friend the director and tell him how much I was enjoying the show, but he wasn’t to be seen. I returned to our table. She looked up from her iPhone.

“So,” she said. “We’re sitting in a theatre we both like, seeing a wonderful play. It’s two minutes until the second act. Wanna get married sometime?”

* * *

We’ve been to a lot of plays. We’ve had more than a few picnics. It will be awfully hard to top this one.

I said yes.

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