|You might not run off yelling into the night about how awesome this is, but then again it is a very good and satisfying dish of food.|
I am not making dinner dinners as much as I used to, and I can’t tell if it’s a phase or a shifting worldview. Nine times out of ten these days, if Michael’s not home for dinner, then the kids and I light candles at the coffee table, and sit around it on the floor to enjoy a simple meal of fresh bread, goat cheese, and oranges. Or a giant Caesar salad that we eat right out of the bowl, sometimes with real homemade croutons (the kids’ first choice) and sometimes with roasted chickpeas standing in for them, so I’m sure we get some protein.
Michael overheard me telling this to a friend, and was, like, WTF?, because he’s hardly the kind of man you need to make a big meat-and-potatoes dinner for. He has an even longer history of vegetarianism than me, for one thing, and for another he is very easy to please. He really is. The Patriots’ loss notwithstanding.
Maybe it’s that he doesn’t like goat cheese, not even the good kind from Trader Joe’s that I marinate in olive oil, lemon zest, garlic, and herbs. And maybe it’s that he’s too big to sit comfortably on the floor. And maybe it’s that the kids and I are bigger romantics than he is, and we crave the intimacy and appetizers-at-a-party feeling of our living-room meals. I’m not sure.
|Bean pasta!!! (Unhelpful visual. I didn't take a lot of pictures.)|
So we are still eating plenty of beans and brown rice, plenty of wide bowls of freshly cooked pintos dressed simply with olive oil and salt, plenty of black bean soup and lentil soup and beans, beans, beans every which way. I cook meat, chicken, or fish maybe once a week, if that, and if there’s one main staple in the house, it’s—can you see this coming?—beans. So here’s one of our go-to meals, and we call it Chili Mac, because that sounds better than Bean Pasta, but it’s not really chili mac. What it is is more of a concept than a recipe—a quick and ever-changing combination of pasta and beans (tinned or leftover or even leftover soup, depending), and whatever else we have around that would be good in it. Kale or spinach, say. Or herbs. Or odds and ends of cheese. It’s the kind of recipe that requires a few strict principles, and then the variations are nearly infinite. The strict principles are these:
· Cook the pasta in well-salted water and butter it after you drain it. These two steps guarantee that the dish you build around it will be good.
· Use plenty of olive oil. It is the base of the sauce you are making.
· Add something a little bit acidic: tomato paste and/or vinegar and/or lemon juice.
· Add plenty of cheese.
· Add something crunchy: butter-toasted breadcrumbs is everyone’s favorite, but here I’m using toasted walnuts. Toasted pepitas or slivered almonds are good too.
Super-Healthy Chili Mac
Active time: 15 minutes; total time 30 minutes
If I’m using white beans or chickpeas, I will sauté a stalk or two of chopped celery with the onions, and add lemon juice and lemon zest to the final dish. And I might not call it Chili Mac. If I’m using pinto or black beans, I often go in a more robust direction with a little bit of smoked paprika and/or chipotles, and a nice oozy layer of grated cheddar.
1 pound whole-wheat pasta shapes (I like Bionaturae, which is often on sale at Whole Foods)
3 tablespoons butter
1 15-ounce can of any kind of beans (or two cups cooked beans or bean soup)
1 small onion, diced
1/3 cup delicious olive oil, plus more as needed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Sherry vinegar (or lemon juice or balsamic vinegar)
Toasted walnuts (or different nuts or butter-toasted breadcrumbs)
Grated Parmesan (or cheddar or crumbled feta)
Chopped parsley (or basil or cilantro)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a large handful of salt, and taste the water. It should be as salty as the sea. Cook the pasta, drain it, and add the butter.
Heat the bowls, if you think to, in a very low oven.
Meanwhile, over medium-low heat, sauté the onion in oil until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté another minute or two, then add the tomato paste, and the beans with their liquid, and simmer until it the beans are fragrant and hot. Add salt and a teaspoon or two sherry vinegar (2 teaspoons) to taste, and make sure it’s loose and saucy (if it’s not, add some more olive oil and/or some of the pasta cooking water).
If the pan is big enough, stir the buttered pasta into the beans—otherwise combine them gently in a large bowl. You’ll want to stir in about half the pasta to start, and see how much more pasta the sauce can take. I suppose it might make sense to cook only half of the past, but (full disclosure) the kids like to have their seconds be plain buttered pasta.
Top each bowl with walnuts, cheese, and parsley.
|This photo is so cute, if not exactly a ringing endorsement. But the kids are happy enough to eat this, I swear.|