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 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.