all I had to do was boil water…

…and dinner would have been ready in 9-11 minutes.

Rather than rambling and disjointed, let’s pretend this post is a quirky and inventive discussion about risk, reward and the silliness that often ensues. This week the plan was to celebrate green vegetables as vibrant disrupters and co-conspirators, not simply loyal sidekicks. Originally I wanted to highlight their many virtues, but my real-life kitchen antics morphed into a blooper reel and I just couldn’t look away.

That said, I credit two people for inspiring this unexpected adventure, both of whom are treasured fixtures in my life: my lovely mother-in-law and my imaginary boyfriend, Stanley Tucci. One gave me my beautiful and much-coveted standing mixer and the other, a culinary stroll through Italy on Sunday nights during the lowest point of the pandemic. So armed with my fancy new toy and Mr. Tucci’s preoccupation with zucchini, I dedicated last weekend to Spaghetti alla Nerano.

y’all know I name things so…meet Stanley

For context, while I love almost all vegetables, I’m really a salad gal. Most nights there is an off-camera bowl of Caesar or balsamic & blue. After all these years a green salad with dinner has become habit, if not ritual. I come by it naturally – Daddy is the family salad authority who can perform miracles with only a wedge of iceberg, a tomato and a red onion. Not to be outdone by the salad king, Mother has always served her delicious green beans and broccoli with enthusiastic frequency and volume.

As a parent, I too made the salads and cooked the green beans, etc. But honestly, during our elementary- and teen-rearing years I had neither the ability to ignore dramatic fake gagging nor the patience to argue over how many peas constituted a bite. Salads were easy and dependably yummy. Sous Chef loved them, but my older boy, who we will ironically call Food Taster, had to be threatened with scurvy.

killer salads and required sides

Now here’s my confession: after snubbing cooked vegetables for years, I was shamed back into the fold when I noticed that my food photography appeared a bit, well, monochromatic. So I was going to create a post solely dedicated to glorious, colorful vegetables. Right on cue I chose this decadent zucchini pasta recipe, hit the farmers market for a week of healthy greenery and even picked out some Green Day for the playlist. Oh yeah, I also bragged to anyone who would listen about how amazing it all was going to be…and completely jinxed myself.

Just because Spaghetti alla Nerano is vegetarian and punctuated by beautiful fresh zucchini doesn’t mean I was off the hook calorie-wise. Or effort-wise. First, the zucchini is fried to hell and back and second, it’s a two-day process to begin with and then I insisted on making the pasta myself. From scratch. So now I’ve added risk to calories and effort. While it should surprise no one that I bristle at even the suggestion I can’t do something, it would also seem that I am alarmingly mortal when it comes to fulfilling those challenges.

Remember, all I had to do was boil water.

There was no flaming zucchini disaster, no smoking Stanley, but my performance was far from graceful. It’s 100% on me – I failed to do the proper research for making or cutting fresh pasta and barely knew how to operate my equipment. I think the tip-off was when the roller attachment itself began to spin wildly and the noodles went swinging into full 360° rotation. And I swear those giant stainless rollers lips smirked at me each time they whirled into view. As Stanley transformed into an evil pasta Ferris wheel, I could only laugh as our dinner flew through the air. No photos sadly, because it apparently takes two hands to catch spaghetti.

I started so strong…

“…it’s not losing per se, but failure that offends me. I feel like failure assigns blame, whereas loss acknowledges factors you cannot control. Either way, I hate to fail and I hate to lose, which is problematic for learning and growth, especially in the kitchen.”

Foodishness, 1.24.22

Defeated, I sat out a round – watched a little Olympic curling, had a nice glass of courage and pulled myself together despite flour, dough and shards of dignity scattered everywhere, simply EVERYWHERE.

Then with renewed moxie I pushed on and began to add more and more noodles to my pile, which became an unruly mass within minutes. Mass really is the best descriptor here because those sticky strands were never, ever going to separate – they were permanently fused into a revolting pasta blob. So I wadded it all back up, sprinkled on a little more flour and started rolling again. Calmly and carefully I coaxed Stanley along and somehow salvaged enough “spaghetti” to make a meal for two. Also, you should know there were now dozens of little dough-boogers dangling from my disheveled, floured hair. I was a pretty sight.

and then I made a pasta brain

Obviously this was not the experience I had anticipated and in fact, it was arguably close to a debacle. But even near-debacles can rise to hilarious heights and then suddenly rebound to some semblance of success. I finally did make a delicious dinner, but at that point it was kind of like eating croissants in a car wash. I kid, I kid, it was fine, but the cleanup was epic. And my grand plan had developed a darkly humorous subplot which sort of stomped out the green vegetable celebration. Carbs have a way of doing that, don’t they?

Perhaps we should consider the virtues of determination and resilience more often. They have served me as a woman, a mother, a photographer and a cook more times than I can count. At worst it’s called obstinance, but at best, being stubborn can accidentally unlock some pretty swell moments – strategic, creative and everything in-between. And the morals of this tale? Pick your battles, laugh until you cry, do the work and eat your greens.

2021 with tomato jam and recognizable spaghetti

Okay fine…Green Day it is:

cheat sheet

  • I included a single recipe above, but suggest you poke around and adjust. But the overnight rest is critical to draw out the flavors.
  • Basic pasta dough rule: 3 eggs for every 2 cups of flour. Not whatever I did.
  • All Purpose flour is fine, but I’m going to try semolina and 00 as well.
  • Refrigerate the kneaded dough prior to rolling.
  • The rolled-out dough needs to dry 15-20 prior to cutting into noodles. Did not do that and I paid dearly.
  • Think twice before piling cut noodles – perhaps lay them out to dry so you don’t make a pasta brain.
  • Don’t wear flip flops when you work with flour. Just don’t.

the rest of the week:

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