Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Your Restaurant Is My Restaurant

Lately, my mind has been reeling with restaurant inspired dishes. I've been eating out a lot lately, and while eating great food from the comfort of a padded banquette without the inconvenience of washing dirty dishes is what people tend to love most about eating out, I'm otherwise inclined. Of course I enjoy being catered to as well, but what I really enjoy is picking apart each dish, tasting the subtlety of flavor combinations, and most importantly, figuring out if I can make it at home.The truth is that in 90% of the cases, anyone that loves to cook and studies food and flavors (even in the most elementary way) certainly can. While I understand that most people don't enjoy making food as cerebral an endeavor as I do, I also know that five minutes of thoughtful analysis can help all of us make the leap from just putting food on the table to making an enviably delicious meal. And if we're really honest, isn't the best part of cooking being told how amazing the meal you made was? I thought so.

While I'm still working out recipes for some of the most impressive dishes I've had recently, one dinner last week was inspired by a restaurant dish I had as a kid. My mother loves minestrone, traditionally made with heaps of veggies and tomatoes. I don't really care for it, but I do love pasta fagioli, because of the little tube-like noodles and beans. I don't love tomato based soups in general because I find that the tomato often overshadows all of the other ingredients that I much prefer. But some restaurants get the balance just right, where each ingredient gets it's equal time to shine. Years ago I had an amazing white pasta fagioli, and I've been searching for another one ever since. It had no tomato base, and was on the chunkier side, almost like a soupy pasta dish, with all of the ingredients resting in a light and spicy broth.

There was no better time to make my own version than the present, when I was feeling a little kitchen lazy but very hungry. After a little research I discovered that I was not the only one that yearned for this type of recipe, and ended up taking a few tasty sounding renditions and making a hodge podge. The tastiest one was topped with pesto, an idea that I immediately appropriated as my own. The dish turned out great, and in fact became the disposal for my leftover veggies. I used white cannellini's and green beans, and then folded in some leftover arugula. The broth was spicy with red pepper flake, and the pesto added all the rest of the herbs and seasoning needed, not to mention a nice rounded, salty kick from the cheese. I don't see any reason why this wouldn't work with whatever you have leftover in your fridge, not to mention it's a great way to fool the kids into eating their veggies (especially if you top it with some extra cheese and pesto). I'll certainly be using it the next time I want something hearty that helps clean out my crisper, or when I want something hearty and easy that can use my freezer veggies. Here's how to do it:

White Pasta Fagioli With Pesto

1 1/2 cups ditalini or other short tube pasta
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 tsp dried red pepper flake
1 15 oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup pesto (store bought is fine)
1 cup fresh, frozen, or leftover green beans
2 cups loosely packed greens like spinach or arugula

1. Cook pasta in salted boiling water until al dente, about 7 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of cooking liquid before draining.

2. Meanwhile, bring broth and red pepper flake to a simmer in a nonstick skillet. Add beans and cook until heated through, then add green beans and continue simmering until heated through.

3. Stir in pasta, greens and pesto, reserving 1 tsp of pesto to top each dish when plating. Stir to combine until greens are wilted. Taste for seasoning and add pasta water 1/4 cup at a time if more liquid is needed. Enjoy!


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