All photos by Susan Axelrod (that’s me)
A year ago at this time, I was feeling pretty good about a 12-pound weight loss, achieved via Weight Watchers over the course of several months. (Ted got rid of several extra pounds, too). And then in late April, we moved to Maine. Eleven months, a hellishly cold winter, and several Holy Donut donuts, Pai Men Miyake pork buns, Standard Baking croissants and Otto pizzas later (nevermind the beer, wine and cocktails) those pounds are right back on and I’m staring down the barrel of shorts season feeling panicky.
Of course I’m well aware of the solution. Cut out the booze, go easy on the beer and wine and eat at home — for the most part. Take salads, lightly dressed with white balsamic vinegar, to work for lunch, with bags of carrot sticks and a little hummus as an afternoon snack. For dinner, lots of vegetables and a small portion of lean protein. We did this before … we can do it again. It’s only April 2, after all. Bathing suit-weather is a good ways away.
More often than not, Ted is the dinner cook; he is a master of flavorful stir-fries, roast chicken and other healthy dishes. Last night, with him away on assignment, I knew I should poach a couple of eggs, put them on top of salad greens and call it a day … but I was craving something warm and hearty. And uncomplicated.
As luck would have it, the vegetable bin of our fridge had the makings for a pasta that would satisfy without catapulting all of my recent eating-light efforts off a cliff (although a glance at Ted’s homemade bacon did have me thinking, momentarily, about spaghetti carbonara). Cauliflower, cremini mushrooms and baby kale would offer heft and nutrition; garlic, shallot, a splash of Worcestershire sauce and Parmesan cheese would provide plenty of savory flavor.
Here’s a tip that is essential here and will make any pasta dish taste better: start with well-salted water — it should be like the ocean. Before you drain the pasta, use a Pyrex measuring cup or ladle to scoop out and set aside some of the water for the sauce. Additional salt should not be necessary, especially with the cheese.
Feet up on the coffee table, this bowl in my lap and Monarch of the Glen on Netflix — I could almost enjoy being home alone.
Small handful of spaghetti (about 1/8 pound – you can use any kind of pasta)
Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 small head of cauliflower, cut into florets
6-8 cremini mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 small or 1/2 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
pinch each dried rosemary and dried thyme
1 large handful baby kale leaves (you can also use baby spinach, arugula or any other green you like)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Bring a heavily salted (see note above) pot of water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente.
While pasta is cooking, pace a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat, add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and swirl the pan to coat the bottom with the oil. When the pan is hot, but not smoking, add the cauliflower and the mushrooms; cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are well browned.
Turn the heat down to medium, add the shallot and garlic, stir until both are softened, making sure they don’t burn.
Add the Worcestershire and herbs; give everything a good stir.
When the pasta is finished cooking, drain into a colander, reserving a half cup or so of the water (see note above).
Add the pasta, kale and half the cheese to the skillet with the vegetables. Drizzle in a little of the reserved cooking water and toss everything together, adding more water if it seems too dry.
Transfer the pasta to a bowl and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese. Finish with a few good grinds of black pepper.