A few weeks ago Michael Ruhlman made a quasi-offhand remark (quasi only because he loves playing the role of provocateur) that the claim that it takes too long to cook at home is, to not put too fine a point on it, “bullshit.” His real thesis is all about choice: he’s not railing against those who choose to eat Lean Cuisines, he’s simply calling them out if/when they say they turn to that option because they have no time to cook something from scratch.
While he has a valid point, it’s important to note that he is a successful writer who is paid to write extensively about food and cooking, and therefore his worldview is a mite different from, say, a working mom with an hour-long commute, or a single person who is logging in crazy hours in an office. Yes, they are choices that we make–I certainly choose to make my hour and a half trek (on a good day) each way to go to work–but what I wish he would talk about in his suggestions area later on in his post is how to make good food fast, aside from roasting a chicken for an hour. In Piemonte, for instance, fast food entails going to the pasta shop and picking up a few ette of tortellini or some nests of pasta and fashioning a simple sauce, usually consisting of butter and herbs, and maybe serving it with a simple salad or some sautéed vegetables.
I realize that I am unbelievably fortunate in that I married a man who not only has this blasted luck in having short, walking commutes, but also loves to cook, so no matter what time I get home (save for the late nights at focus groups and the like), there will be something waiting for me, if not someone and multiple plates of food. In the four-ish years we’ve lived together in some capacity he has always had the upper hand in the better commute lending itself to dinners at 7; the only exception was when I was unemployed and would either take over the kitchen or simply do the prep work for dinner in anticipation of Michael coming home and I could feel like I accomplished something that day.
That said, even I can manage to get into the kitchen and cook after a long day at work. A few weeks ago, right after my trip to Indianapolis, I was seriously craving home-cooked food on a Friday–an anomaly as we tend to go for takeout this one night a week–and told Michael that takeout would not cut the mustard in terms of a meal; I needed something made at home. True to form, he made me make the final decision for dinner, and I chose Giada DeLaurentiis’s Toasted Orechiette with Prosciutto, which I did much of the prep work for (including the impromptu shopping) while he handled the final assembly, and it was as delicious as ever, even after us running out to gather the supplies and grab a martini at our favorite watering hole. And a week later, on a sweltering Sunday, I was craving pasta to bring to work for lunch and ended up making nearly a week’s worth of food in about twenty minutes, humidity and heat be damned.
My point in all of this is simple: it helps to have easy recipes at the ready for these instances, all that lead to great recipe adaptations. It’s also important to start small and work your way up–once the idea of throwing together some pasta and a light sauce sounds both too easy and a little mundane, start experimenting! A little effort goes a long way, and the results always taste better than something that came out of a box.
Giada’s toasted pasta can be found in Everyday Italian; we’ve taken some liberties with her lemon pasta to post it here, as it should be an everyday pantry pasta that still instills delicious flavors.
Serves 4 with leftovers, or 4-5 lunches
- 1 LB cavatappi, cooked to a minute less than package directions
- 2 lemons, skins zested and pulp juiced
- 1/2 cup Parmigianio-Reggiano
- 10 stalks of fresh oregano, minced (less if you don’t like oregano that much)
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- Kosher salt and pepper
Combine and whisk lemon zest, juice, Parm, oregano and olive oil; salt to taste and set aside. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil; add pasta and cook to a minute less than package directions. Reserve a cup of starchy pasta cooking water–you may not need it, but it’s better to have it than not. Toss pasta with dressing, and add a little pasta water (by the tablespoon at most) to add a little heft to the sauce. Top with extra grated Parm as a garnish.
The “sauce” is easily whisked together while the pasta cooks–you’ll be surprised how easy it really comes together.