18 May 2009

Slinging hash: two pastas with asparagus, PASS/FAIL

Asparagus is in season and reasonably priced, so it is now in regular rotation in our house. Often I simply roast it in the oven with salt and pepper, and serve it as a side dish but last week, I decided to toss it in a cream sauce over pasta.

Although I cook most nights of the week, I try to make Friday night's meal slightly more special for Shabbat. This is one of my favorite family traditions. Though I rarely step foot in synagogue, I find these small ways of worshiping at home carry great meaning for me. We light candles, and say our prayer over the kindled light, make kiddush over the wine, and my children are allowed to have a "dip." (This is the part that would make the grandparents cringe, because my children, and Gabriel especially, really enjoy the wine. Even as parents, it is always a bit alarming to hear Sacha scream, "CAN I HAVE MORE WINE?" followed by David and I saying, "NO," in unison.) David always brings a challah home from Amy's Bread (it may not be kosher, but neither are we, and this is hands down the most delicious challah I've ever had). We say the hamozi, the blessing over the challah, and then eat.

One of Gabriel's favorite meals is Fettucine Alfredo, or, as he calls it, "feta-cheese alfredo." In the wonderfully long suffering ways of blessedly privileged children, he's always asking me when am I going to make it again, as he hasn't had it in so long since he'd had it. (I make it roughly every other week.)

My neighbor had mentioned that her chives were blooming, and I was welcome to them. So asparagus + fettucine alfredo + chives led to this dish. I warmed some cream in a pan with a few slivered cloves of garlic. Garlic warmed slowly in milk, or cream, is one of the most indescribably delicious, and simplest bits of kitchen alchemy I know. This alone, over pasta would be delicious. I boiled the water for pasta, blanched the cut asparagus, and then cooked some egg fettucine. (I really like deCecco egg fettucine, the kind that comes wrapped in little nests; it has a very nice bite, and the flavor of the wheat, and the egg, really shine through. I'm finding it increasingly difficult to find in my local supermarkets, which is a bit disappointing to me.)

I tossed the pasta with the cream, asparagus, lemon zest, a few ladles of pasta cooking water, and topped it with chives, complete with their beautiful flowers. The marriage of the mellow cooked garlic and the more robust garlic flavor of the chives made a nice contrast, and the lemon zest brightened it up nicely. This was a win-win-win dish, meaning Sarah, Gabriel and Sacha all enjoyed it. They may not have eaten much of the asparagus, but I'm willing to overlook these things, and so, by my own two out of three criterion, this dish received a passing grade.

On Monday night, armed with another bunch of asparagus, as well as a log of goat cheese in the house, I was inspired by this post on Smitten Kitchen. I didn't know how my kids would feel about goat cheese, but sometimes I just say, What the fuck, let's live dangerously, and see how it turns out. I cut and blanched my asparagus, mixed the log of goat cheese in a pan with some olive oil and a few ladles of the pasta cooking water while the pasta (I used penne) cooked. Deb, of Smitten Kitchen used tarragon in her pasta, but that didn't seem like the right flavor to me, plus, I had my neighbor's chives, which seemed, to my palate, a better match for goat cheese and asparagus. I finished the dish with the zest of a lemon and the chives.

While David and I were perfectly happy, on the grand scale of cooking for five, this dish was a FAIL. Sacha, who will eat pasta with anything on it was perfectly happy. (He is a somewhat picky eater, but his passion for pasta is remarkable. Not only will he eat alarming amounts of it, but I fear I could present him with a bowl of penne sauced with gorgonzola and shit, and he'd eat two bowls, and demand, "MORE PLEASE!") Although he gave me every bit of asparagus from his bowl, saying, politely, with eat piece, "Here, Mama, this is for you," he ate his requisite two bowls, and then the remainder of Gabriel's as well. As I suspected, Sarah and Gabriel found the goat cheese too tangy, and they barely touched their dinner.

Such is life. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. And when you lose, hopefully, as in the case of dinner, the consequences are not dire.

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