Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Every ethnicity has their own version of a fallback meal. I'm sure this is what stir fries are in Asian cuisine and pot pies are in Anglo circles. For us it was the "macaroni and...s."
The dish usually starts with softening up some onions and/or garlic in olive oil while boiling up a pound of whatever pasta you have around (hence, the generic "macaroni" instead of a specific type). Then you throw in whatever vegetable(s) is(are) handy in the crisper, freezer or can, toss in a little of the pasta water and, usually basil and/or oregano. The cheese and grater are, of course, on the table.
These days, I cut the amount of olive oil and rely on chicken stock along with the pasta water for some of the moisture. And I don't cook the living daylights out of the vegetables and pasta like my mother and grandmother did
The dish above is macaroni and cauliflower, which sounds like it shouldn't go, but actually does (a drained can of diced tomatoes is in there too). I've upgraded it with fresh oregano, only because somehow last year's oregano patch that went to seed survived the winter and now we have more oregano than we know what to do with. When you come to my house, you don't get to leave unless you take oregano with you.
There is also macaroni and peas made the same way, only I confess I like it best with a handful of diced pancetta browned with the onion. I'm the only one who likes macaroni and escarole -- mostly because no one else will even taste it. I'm sure at some point my mother or grandmother made macaroni and kale -- but the main reason I married Dirtman is that he had a equally jaundiced opinion of kale and I knew that I would never be forced to so much as smell that horrid weed ever again.
In this house, our hands down favorite is Macaroni and Beans. This is the only time you will find me opening a can. And it is the only time I will insist on a specific pasta. If you make macaroni and beans (the "beans" being dark, red kidney beans) with medium pasta shells, the beans will slip neatly into the shells like little tiny jackets, offering a perfect bean/pasta ratio. We used to tell the Heirs that I did this little trick by hand, hoping to enhance my Martyr-Mom image -- it worked fine until they turned about four or five and realized their mother didn't have that kind of attention span or patience.
Of course you can go to a restaurant and order just about the same thing for eight or nine dollars. So I plated this in my best Italian ceramic pasta bowls and put that little sprig of fresh oregano there so it would look all professional and we can pretend we're dining out -- well, all except for the 75 cents per plate price tag...and Toppergetdown's chin in my lap.