Last week, my wife and I had our grandparents over, and so I spent much of the day cooking. Recently, we went to one of those ‘junk-food’ Italian places, wherein the menu is primarily lasagna, fried/breaded cutlets, thick sauces, and lots of salt. Can’t say that it was bad — it was junk, after all — but I’ve slowly, mechanically, been improving my pasta dishes for a number of years, now, usually cooking them once a week or so, trying to polish them every time. It’s taken a lot of forms: pasta and broccoli in a red sauce (which was my mainstay for a while), experiments with pasta and potato (sucked!), the use and mis-use of various greens, tomato varieties, oils, and, of course, different pasta brands.
Since I strictly eat whole grains, it is hard to find a whole wheat pasta that is firm, dry, and not too overpowering. Supermarket brands are no good, so I’ve experimented both with cheap and artisan pastas. Bionaturae is good, but not worth the cost. Garofalo is hands down the best, and better than most white pastas, but too expensive for anything but special occasions. Yet the lowly Trader Joe’s brand pasta is just a little over $1, rivals Bionaturae in taste, and — if cooked right — indistinguishable from white.
For my grandmothers’ visit, it was best to keep things simple. They’re old, and have a bland palate, while I’ve settled, over time, on a recipe that calls for thin shiitake mushrooms (as opposed to the meaty ones in Chinatown and Flushing), a pound or two of tomatoes, a pound of turkey sausage, half a pound of mixed green leaves (chard, spinach, and kale), half a pound of fresh basil, a large onion, a few heads of garlic, two or three tri-color peppers, parmesan/romano, raw butter, olive oil, black pepper, pink Himalayan salt, and half a jar of Trader Joe’s basil marinara. The shiitake, in particular, imparts an MSG or ‘umami’ flavor to the dish that mixes nicely with the rest, but not for THIS little dinner party. So, I just dumped a jar of the basil marinara into a pan, added 20-30 chopped garlic cloves, some lemon, butter, cheese, basil, mixed leaves, and olive oil, mixed the result with the spaghetti, then apportioned the remaining sauce on 4 grilled swordfish steaks. Grandmas love mushrooms, so I grilled that on the side. The recipe is as follows. Serves 4:
Pasta & Swordfish Recipe (Serves 4):
- 1 box of Trader Joe’s whole wheat spaghetti
- 1 jar of Trader Joe’s Tomato Basil Marinara
- 1 bag of Trader Joe’s “Power Greens” (baby spinach, kale, and chard)
- 4 swordfish fillets
- 1 bunch of fresh basil, chopped
- 3-4 heads of garlic (20-30 cloves), chopped
- 2-3 tablespoons of rice brain oil
- 3-4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 2-3 oz of grated parm/romano
- 3 lemons; 2 squeezed into sauce, 1 squeezed over fish