cold comfort

penne arrabiata

The cupboards are bare of vegetables. Not even a bunch of wilty kale to be found – only a sad bundle of chard stems that started accumulating the day that I came across Alice Waters’ recipe for chard stem gratin. (I hate throwing those meaty stems away. One day, when it once again sounds appealing to pour heavy cream over vegetables and throw them into a hot oven to gratinee, the poor chard stems will make it onto the menu rather than into the compost.)

The vegetable drought is entirely my fault. I am the one who canceled our CSA box for last week, but I just didn’t feel like another round of romaine lettuce, winter carrots and sweet potatoes. And call me ungrateful, but the baby celery and navel oranges just weren’t going to cheer me up. This week I’m looking forward to mangoes and leeks and mushrooms, but I can’t help but feel a little cranky about the winter carrots again, and the potatoes – again. Even the Cameo apples, which are passably crisp and tasty considering how long they’ve been in cold storage, serve as a reminder that, even though we are wearing flip flops, and the bees are making rosemary honey, and the trees are making their canopy of fresh green, it’s going to be weeks and weeks before the only nightshade on our dinner table isn’t a potato.

Ah, how the joy of eating seasonally turns to petulance in spring!

And then, the weather turned cold and rainy for two days, inducing temporary amnesia about everything fresh or green. Who needs vegetables when there is pancetta in the fridge and and pasta in the cabinet?

Penne Arrabiata

Penne Arrabiata is a mainstay in our house. It’s lightning-fast, make-it-with-your-eyes-closed comfort food that we’re as likely to make on a rafting trip as for a casual dinner with friends. Arrabiata – literally, ‘angry’ in italian – refers to the spicy tomato sauce. The fire-roasted tomatoes give the sauce a great smoky flavor, but any good quality diced tomatoes will do. For a vegetarian version, omit the bacon and increase the olive oil. Caramelized onions in the first step would be nice. For that matter, if you want to veganize it, just skip the cheese, but go ahead and give it a bit more olive oil.

6 oz rice penne, preferably Tinkyada brand
2 oz pancetta or bacon
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
extra virgin olive oil
red pepper flakes
16 oz can Muir Glen fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1/3 cup grated parmagiano reggiano cheese

Prepare the pasta as directed in salted water, stopping just before it is al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, pour several tablespoons of olive oil into a large frying pan. Add the pancetta to the pan and saute over medium heat for about five minutes. When the pancetta is cooked, but not crisp, add the chopped garlic and two good pinches of red pepper flakes to the pan. Saute for one minute, taking care that the garlic doesn’t brown. Add the diced tomatoes and simmer for a couple of minutes until the pasta is ready. Taste for seasoning, adding more pepper flakes – the dish should be really spicy – or olive oil if needed.

Add the drained pasta to the frying pan, and toss with the sauce. Return the pan to the heat for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally and allowing the pasta to soak up a bit of the sauce. At this point, the pasta should be well-coated, but not swimming. Add the grated cheese to the pan, give it another stir, and serve.

Serves 2 lesbians.


5 Responses to “cold comfort”

  1. 1 Enriqueta Canseco-Gonzalez April 20, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Thanks for the penne arrabiata recipe. I love those “very easy even for me” recipes. I also loved the ‘serves 2 lesbians’ note, although I’d modify it to “one lesbian mom and her ever hungry tween.”

    I am starting a log of “comfort friends’ recipes” I have received in the last few months. Yours already have several entries.


  2. 2 Katie Rooney April 20, 2009 at 8:42 pm


    Cold comfort or should I say hot comfort. Im so TIRED of the same ole same ole pasta dish that I make all the time. Im very exicted about this dish.

    So i look forward to your musings and recipes so please dont take me off your list.

    This is coming from one lesbo and looking forward to feeding 2 lesbians. KT

  3. 3 Ona April 22, 2009 at 12:04 am

    I love the humor, the writing, the recipes and the reflections but I miss this wit and wisdom in our lives everyday at Community Action. Maybe we can hire you as our cook and you can do what you clearly love, AND advise us on energy policy!

  4. 4 Ambrose-P April 22, 2009 at 11:20 am

    No chard stems goes unwasted in our SF lesbian bungalow. I never considered saving them for gratin, but will keep that in mind as the abundance of green and leafy overwelm our california crispers.

    Typically I save chard stems and prep them like i would celery, onions, carrots and add to any dish that lends to a saute of onions or leeks.

    • 5 jami April 22, 2009 at 11:41 am

      Pamela, what a great idea! The stems are going into the next soup. I almost never buy celery, so that usually gets left out of the mirepoix – but to substitute chard stems? I’d never thought of it. Thanks!

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