Tuesday, September 29, 2009
I think, sometimes, that I must be prejudiced in my love of this time of year because my birthday falls within it. But it is just so gorgeous, with the wispy white clouds, crisp air, and sky in that perfect shade of blue. While I do miss the heat, and bemoan the fact that we didn't have much of a summer in New England this year, I also look forward to fall for cooking.
The farm stand selection in September and October is so incredible that sometimes I wish that there were more than seven dinners a week. During my fall shopping trips, I struggle to buy only that which is on my shopping list. But then it starts. My internal voice chattering away while my eyes dart from colorful fruit to colorful vegetable, "Oh, look at the peppers. I should stuff peppers. You know, I really should roast some pork with local plums. What about that peach brulee I was talking about making? I should get some peaches." On and on it goes.
This past week, there were olives in need of curing at the farm stand that I frequent, and for only $2.99 per pound. Yet, I stood firm, and didn't buy them, though my fingers are crossed that when I return on Thursday, there are still some available. They're on this week's shopping list, you see, and I've stocked up on salt for the brine. That's the thing about the shopping list, it's easily modified to suit one's desire from week to week, so long as it seems as though one is planning ahead.
Aside from winter squashes, the arrival at the farm stand of kale and other Brassica kin - collards, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts among them, signals to me the arrival of that eagerly anticipated fall cooking season. And though our temperature is alternating between hot and crisp here in Massachusetts - it's time to start weaving these vegetables into our repertoire, even if the weft to their warp is an insalata Caprese or a watermelon salad on those warmer days.
My lacinato kale seedlings are taking a beating so far this fall. The slugs appear to be getting the better of them. And with the shorter duration of evening sunlight (evening being when I am normally found in the garden), I'm not as effective at collecting them from my garden beds and tossing them to the waiting laying hens as I am during the longer days of summer. Nonetheless, the laying hens eagerly gather in the corner of their run nearest to the garden once word spreads that slug-tossing humans are in the garden (I'm not sure how they do it, but believe you me, they spread the word, and quickly at that). With no homegrown kale in sight, I purchased some curly kale to make this dish - it was on the list - and will certainly find both curly and lacinato varieties on my shopping list throughout the fall and winter. Unless, of course, my newly concocted cold-frame kale seeding can be kept slug-free, in which case, I will blissfully harvest kale until that first ice storm hits. Please let that not happen until February. Please.
Rigatoni with Sausage, Kale, and White Beans:
(for this dish, either curly or lacinato ("dinosaur") kale will do, or you could substitute collards, spinach, Swiss chard, turnip greens - you get the idea)
1 pound rigatoni
1 pound sweet Italian sausage
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves roasted garlic, finely chopped (fresh garlic will give a different effect, but it's okay to use it if you have not a bit of roasted garlic on hand)
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 bunch (approximately 3/4 pound) kale, woody stems removed, and cut into 1-inch strips
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
This type of meal is far and away my favorite quick-prep weeknight meal. You might have noticed in the Gemelli with Tomatoes and Pesto post how quickly that dish comes together. This follows in that same vein. Start the pasta water to boil, just before the pasta goes into the water, start cooking the saute part of the meal. Here goes:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the manufacturer's instructions until the pasta is al dente.
Preheat the broiler. Place the sausage links on a broiler pan or 9 by 13-inch rimmed baking sheet and broil until browned and cooked through. While you could pan cook the sausage while the kale cooks, I like the additional flavor that broiling imparts.
Just before the pasta goes into the pot, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until the garlic becomes aromatic. Add the kale, and cook, stirring frequently, until the greens are wilted, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the beans and their juices, and stir to combine. The bean juices will thicken as they cook, so once the pasta is cooked to al dente, you'll add 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water to thin it out a bit.
Using tongs to hold the cooked sausage (because it is hot), cut the sausage crosswise into 1-inch rounds. Add the sausage rounds to the pan with the kale and beans.
Once the pasta is al dente, drain it, reserving that 1/2 cup of cooking water we discussed a paragraph ago. Add the pasta and the cooking water to the pan, and cook for 2 minutes more to meld the flavors. Remove from the heat, salt and pepper to taste, and distribute evenly on each of four plates. Sprinkle a tablespoon of Pecorino Romano over each, and serve them forth.
Estimated cost for four: $9.22. I bought my rigatoni on sale, and therefore, it cost me $1.00. The sausage was on sale for $3.99 per pound. The olive oil costs 36-cents, the crushed red pepper 3-cents, the roasted garlic approximately 11-cents. The kale costs $2.49 per bunch, and the beans are 99-cents per can. The Pecorino Romano will run you around 25-cents, and nearly as quickly as the meal comes together, I have done the math for this dish. It almost never happens like that. If you're just two people, like JR and me, you get two lunches out of this as well for $2.30 each. Not too shabby. Not too shabby.
Dinner tonight: Well, it's not exactly as warm outside as it was yesterday, but I bought a watermelon at that favorite farm stand of mine for the express purpose of making Watermelon Salad with Chicken and Basil, so that's what we're having. Estimated cost for two: $9.62. Turns out, this is bordering on a splurge if you're buying all of the ingredients. The watermelon cost $5.00, and I haven't weighed it yet, but I'll wager it weighs around 6 pounds. Let's say that I'll use half of that between cubed watermelon and the watermelon dressing I'm making, so that costs $2.50. The chicken cost $3.29 for a whole chicken breast at our local poultry farm (we didn't slaughter any chickens this weekend, so we had to buy). I'll use half of that, so that's $1.65. The lettuce will come from the garden, as will the basil, but if you purchased them, the lettuce would cost around $1.99 and the basil would be about a quarter of a purchased bunch - it's just an accent here - so that's 50-cents. I'm adding some fresh ricotta to the mix in order to use it up after making last week's collard greens pie, so that adds around $2.25 to the total. There will be about 48-cents' worth of olive oil in the dressing, and probably 25-cents in honey as well. Because the lettuce and basil are coming from the garden, the cost comes down to $7.13. Perhaps a bit pricey still, but here in New England, the opportunity to eat local watermelon must be seized when it presents itself.