Any night's spaghetti night

The Front Burner

August 25, 2011|By Donna Ellis

Although it should be against the law to start classes before Labor Day, summer is over for most families here in the Free State. While the lunar calendar affords us a few more weeks until the autumnal equinox, the school calendar forces us to get back to some sort of mealtime routine.

And that usually means supper in a hurry to fit our more regimented schedules. Indeed, even those of us without brilliant little students at home tend to adopt a slightly more regular schedule when school starts up again.

The culinary challenge this time of year is to fix something that's quick and nutritious, and since, thermally, summer's still here, something that doesn't heat up the kitchen too much. Oh yeah. And something comforting.

Our choice is obvious. Pasta, a.k.a. spaghetti. Our exercise du jour, then, is some fast-fixing dishes that can serve as main courses or side lights for storebought roasted meats: chicken, turkey, beef, etc. We've done what we could to ease the calorie count without sacrificing flavor. And they'll get you out of the kitchen fast — some of the sauces don't even require cooking — so you can drag everyone outside after dinner for a power walk around the neighborhood.

Tuna spaghetti

Called "tonnato" sauce in Italian, this sauce becomes quite colorful and just a smidge peppery with the addition of baby arugula and baby spinach. If you can't find arugula, use all baby spinach.

Our no-cook (you'll still have to cook the pasta) tonnato sauce can serve as a main dish. Offer some Italian bread on the side. Maybe let them have some gelato for dessert.

When you cook the pasta, remember to reserve a cup or so of cooking water for the sauce.

2 (6-ounce) cans chunk light tuna in water, well drained, tuna squeezed as dry as possible

2/3 cup lite mayonnaise

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons water

4 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained well, divided

6 flat anchovy fillets, drained well on paper towels

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons water

3 ounces each baby arugula and baby spinach (trimmed if need be), for a total of about 14 cups

1 small head radicchio, finely sliced

1 pound spaghetti (No. 8), cooked al dente according to package directions (saving 1 cup cooking liquid for the sauce)

In a blender, puree tuna, mayonnaise, olive oil, water and 3 tablespoons of the capers until smooth. Taste for pepper, and salt if using.

Place arugula, spinach and radicchio in a large bowl. Add hot spaghetti and remaining capers. Toss. Add some of the hot spaghetti cooking water to thin, if you wish.

Makes 6 servings.

Pecorino pappardelle

Sorry, you'll have to do a little cooking for this one. Pecorino (romano) is an aged parmesan-type cheese with a heartier flavor (and slightly more salt). We like to use portobello mushrooms to mellow the dish and add a bit of earthy color. Simple grilled chicken (or supermarket roasted) takes care of any protein source you feel you need.

A green salad using up some late-season veggies is a plus with this pasta; if you add some chick peas, you'll add some protein. Hold the bread.

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound portobello mushrooms, wiped clean, sliced

4 large cloves garlic, chopped

Coarsely ground black pepper

2/3 to 3/4 cup dry vermouth

1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons

2/3 cup chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/4 cup finely diced roasted red pepper

About 1 1/4 cups freshly grated pecorino cheese, divided

1 pound pappardelle (very wide short noodles), cooked al dente (some cooking water reserved)

In a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high, heat olive oil. Add mushrooms and cook about 6 minutes, until somewhat brown and tender. Add garlic and saute 1 more minute, until fragrant. Add plenty of pepper, and the dry vermouth. Bring mixture to a simmer. When simmering, add cold butter a couple of tablespoons at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon so butter thickens (emulsifies) the sauce. Continue cooking until sauce is reduced by about half.

To serve, in a large, heated bowl, toss pappardelle with mushroom mixture, adding some of the pasta cooking water if sauce seems too thick. Add parsley, red pepper and 1 cup of the pecorino cheese. Toss. Sprinkle remaining pecorino on top. Makes 6 servings.

Rotini and zucchini

Here's a way to incorporate veggies into dinner. Maybe they'll go for it, maybe not. But since we also use bacon — and who doesn't like bacon? — I suspect they will.

This sauce requires a bit of cooking, too.

12 ounces thick-sliced bacon (preferably applewood-smoked), cut 1/4 inch wide (crosswise) and one-inch long (e.g. matchsticks)

1 large Vidalia (sweet) onion, in half-inch dice (about 2 cups)

1 pound zucchini, washed, dried, in half-inch dice

1 pound small yellow summer squash, washed, dried, in half-inch dice

Coarsely ground black pepper

1/3 cup finely diced cherry tomatoes, garnish

Shredded parmesan cheese, for serving

1 pound rotini pasta, cooked al dente according to package direction, save 1 cup of the cooking liquid to moisten sauce if need be

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.