"What did you make for dinner?" He asked me, as we settled in to watch Twilight on pay per view a couple weekends ago.
I crumbled my face up in indifference. "Eh... just a simple 30-minute meal. Nothing fancy." I responded with a shrug.
Though I played it off like the dish wasn't meant to be anything special, the confession made me sad. My dinner that night wasn't supposed to be merely "simple." When I found the recipe in Bon Appetit's April issue for tagliatelle with baby vegetables and lemon-Parmesan sauce, I envisioned it being a cheesy, creamy sensation -- not a ho-hum meal that is relegated to the weeknight line-up.
It wasn't that the dish was bad -- on the contrary, it was a light and healthy way to counteract all the comfort foods I've been relishing since... well, Thanksgiving. It just wasn't what I expected. In my head I imagined it to be a meal that is savored -- an experience for taking time to twirl each whole wheat spaghetti noodle (I subbed spaghets for tagliatelle) around my fork, while carefully planting a piece of vegetable or chicken into the bite as well. I thought I would put down my utensils while I chewed, and sip a crisp Sauvignon Blanc to accentuate the bright flavors.
Instead, it was the type of meal that is more or less "wolfed" down -- a means to reaching a satisfied end (ie. a full stomach). Despite my liberal use of lemon, it somehow got lost in my sea of vegetables and pasta, and the single tablespoon of Half & Half seemed nowhere to be found amidst the Parmesan-laced dish. The whole affair seemed to be crying out for something more. The sauce was in desperate need of a generous splash of white wine instead of merely the pasta water the recipe calls for. The vegetables needed more bite -- perhaps from a garlic clove or two. And I needed to not be so shy with my use of cream.
Regardless of my complaints about this recipe, I don't want to be completely dismissive of it. Ultimately, it did what dinner is supposed to do. It stopped my hunger. It provided me with three servings of vegetables. It fueled my body after a long day of running around LA. And it did so with a cooking time of 30-minutes or less. Maybe it wasn't what I expected, but ultimately, the only reason I am really disappointed that it didn't wow me, is because I don't have anything exciting to say about it here.
In the grand scheme of my evening, it didn't matter that the meal wasn't a home run. I washed my dishes, went over to my friend's apartment, and we watched a bizarre, yet oddly intriguing teen movie about vampire love, while eating Jell-o vanilla pudding cups. Taken in its entirity, it was a pretty tame and unremarkable Saturday night -- especially in a city where half the girls my age are running about Hollywood Blvd. with most of their clothes off. But to me, it was a night that was still fairly close to perfect. Sometimes there is nothing better than a simple supper, a cheesy movie and a vanilla pudding cup -- a night that is remarkable simply because of its unremarkability.
Spagghetti with Vegetables, Chicken and Lemon-Parmesan Sauce
Adapted from recipe in the April issue of Bon Appetit magazine
1 chicken breast, sliced
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 serving TJ's whole wheat spagghetti
1/4 medium white onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup yellow squash, sliced into matchstick pieces
4 spears asparagus, cut into inch-long pieces
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon Half & Half
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Cook pasta in large pot of salted boiling water until just tender. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot.
Meanwhile, heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add chicken and garlic, season with pepper, and cook until no longer pink. Remove chicken and add onion - saute until slightly translucent and then add the asparagus and zucchini. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Saute for a couple minutes before adding chicken and lemon peel to the pan. Cook together for another minute or so, and then add the pasta, Parmesan cheese, cream, lemon juice, and 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking water to the vegetable/chicken. Place over medium-high heat and toss until heated through and sauce coats pasta, adding more reserved pasta liquid as needed. Season with pepper to taste and then serve immediately with more Parmesan on top.