I didn’t grow up eating much pasta. I don’t think my father, with his British taste and sense of propriety, liked the messiness of spaghetti, and I’m not sure I ever saw him eat lasagna. When I had spaghetti as a child, it was because my folks were going out and my best friend and I were left to heat canned Spaghetti-Os, which we thought were manna from heaven. Oh, yes, we also heated canned spinach to go with it. There you have our two favorite foods. My taste has improved a bit since those days, and I love pasta, especially with a rich, red meat sauce. But there are so many other things to do with it.
My former sister-in-law served something she called meatless spaghetti, claiming she invented it one night before she and my brother married when he was coming for dinner and she had no money for groceries. She used what she had on hand, melting butter in the skillet, adding cooked spaghetti and lots of lemon juice. I “improved” on the idea by using spinach noodles and adding scallions and mushrooms. Now I also add chopped artichoke hearts and a frozen “ice cube” of homemade pasta. I frequently served “green noodles” as my children were growing up. The dish was a household favorite. It’s light enough for summer and is a nice one-dish meal.
1 16-oz. pkg. spinach egg noodles
1 stick butter
1 clove garlic, crushed
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced (I always buy whole and slice them myself—seems fresher)
4 scallions, chopped
1 can quartered artichoke hearts, chopped
1 ice-cube size piece of pesto, thawed (see note)
Juice of one lemon or to taste
Grated fresh Parmesan
Cook and drain noodles. Melt butter in the skillet. (My oldest daughter, Megan, weight-conscious in high school and to this day, used to insist that was too much butter, and it may be but it’s good.) Sauté the garlic. mushrooms and scallions in the butter. Add lemon juice to taste—I like lots; the mushrooms soak up the lemon and are delicious. Add artichoke hearts and pesto. Add noodles and toss to coat. Make sure all is heated through, and then serve topped with Parmesan.
My daughter-in-law, Melanie, does a slightly different version for her daughters, Maddie and Edie, both of whom at a very young age loved sour things like pickles and capers. Mel cooks angel hair pasta and butters it liberally; then she adds lemon juice and capers. I watched in amazement as she dumped capers in out of the jar, not bothering to drain them (as I always do, with some difficulty). “Oh, yes,” she said, “the juice adds a really good taste.” I tried it, and she’s right.
Note: I make a batch of pesto when I’m in danger of losing the basil crop to frost and pour it into an old-fashioned ice-cube tray. When frozen, pop the cubes out, put in a baggie and store in the freezer. One or two cubes defrost fairly quickly at room temperature. You don’t want to microwave them.
My favorite pesto recipe is plain and simple:
2 c. basil, packed
½ c. Parmesan, shredded
½ c. olive oil
1/3 c. nuts—I don’t like pine nuts much and prefer to use pecan pieces
3 garlic cloves
Salt and pepper
Lime juice to taste—but don’t get it too runny.
Put it all in the food process and blend.
I have done this with cilantro, and it’s great.
An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter has written fiction for adults and young adults about women in the nineteenth-century American West. Now she has turned her attention to contemporary cozy mysteries, and the first, Skeleton in a Dead Space, will launch August 29 from Turquoise Morning Press. Judy blogs about cooking at Potluck with Judy, http://potluckwithjudy.blogspot.com, and about writing and life in general at Judy’s Stew, http://www.judys-stew.blogspot.com. You can write her at email@example.com.