Monday, April 14, 2008

Dueling Dishes

I'm still not always quite sure what leads to the dishes I make. Sometimes I become so infatuated with an ingredient that I just have to figure out a way to use it. Sometimes I want to learn how to do something new, and still other times I just need to use leftover ingredients before they die a sad death in my crisper. This past Friday a few cups of baby spinach and a very sad looking package of bacon were about to kick the bucket when I decided I should take them out of their misery and use them in a dish. I thought about possible dishes throughout the work day and finally settled upon creamed spinach. After some careful thought I figured I couldn't just eat a big tub of high-cholesterol creamed spinach and bacon for dinner (or could I?), so I decided to use a little bit of leftover spaghetti and make a lighter cheese sauce with lightly wilted spinach and crispy bacon.

I was able to get home a bit early that day (is there anything better than walking home in the springtime sunshine?), so for the first time in a long time I was able to put on comfy pants and curl up on the couch to catch up on some late afternoon tv before starting dinner. I sat down with my pen and paper in hand to create a rough outline of the ingredients my pasta dish might entail. Imagine my surprise when after crossing all my t's and dotting all my i's, I turned on the Food Network to find Rachel Ray making my dinner. It wasn't exactly the same, since hers was elbow macaroni with a light cheese sauce and a lot more spinach, but she even used the half cream sauce/half chicken broth method I intended to use. I normally don't watch her program (I'm still a bit scarred from her 'authentic' Spanish dish episode) but I watched the episode through to the end just to see how it turned out.

It ended up not resembling what I envisioned for my dish at all. Her sauce was a lot thicker (and more plentiful) than mine, and because she used a whole 2 bunches of full sized spinach, it looked more like a green mac and cheese (which is what she called it). I was looking for something that was like a light cream sauce with fresh tasting and lightly wilted spinach and a nice crunch from the bacon. I ended up getting exactly what I hoped for by rendering out the bacon in a pan and setting it aside to drain on a paper towel once crispy. I then created the roux for the cream sauce right it the drippings (hey, I said it was light, not healthy) by adding a bit of butter and flour, then thickening it with chicken stock and cream before adding the cheese. I tossed the spinach in with the spaghetti during the last minute of cooking so it would wilt but stay a nice, bright green (Ray added hers to the cream sauce to cook). I also separated out 1 cup of the pasta water just in case I wanted to thin out my sauce later. After draining the pasta/spinach mixture I added it to the sauce and mixed in the bacon, reserving a few bits to top off the dish. It was exactly what I hoped for, and super easy and quick to put together. Here's what I came up with:

Spaghetti in Light Cheese Sauce with Spinach and Bacon

2 servings of spaghetti (I used wheat)
3 bacon strips, roughly chopped
2 cups baby spinach
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour
1 cup stock (I used chicken)
1 cup milk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Cook pasta in plenty of salted water.

2. Meanwhile, render bacon in a large pan (you'll be adding everything here later).
With a slotted spoon, remove crisped bacon to a paper towel covered plate to drain.

3. Reduce heat to low and add butter. When it's melted, add in the flour and stir to combine with a whisk. Cook the roux until slightly browned. Slowly whisk in the broth, followed by the milk. Stir over low heat until thickened, add the cheese and season with salt and pepper.

4. Add spinach to pasta water about 2 minutes before the pasta is done. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water before draining the pasta/spinach mixture.

5. Add the drained pasta, spinach and bacon to the sauce, stirring to combine. If the sauce looks too thick, add some pasta water 1/4 cup at a time. Plate and serve topped with a few reserved bacon pieces. Enjoy!


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