Well, as expected, cooking did not even come close to a priority during our first year in graduate school. Between coursework, research jobs, and cats - oh yeah, we adopted two cats from the Oakland shelter in January - there wasn't a whole lot of room for culinary creativity or exploration. We fell back on tried-and-true recipes, easy pasta dishes, salads, ramen, and eating out. Great ingredients generally, but the overall cooking experience certainly has lacked the intellectual engagement that we could afford pre-graduate school.
But! The summer holds great potential. With no coursework monopolizing our evenings, the abundance of California produce, and apparently a reader who actively uses this blog to feed himself, we're going to try to resume the hobby that is culinary exploration. Bear with us, we're a little rusty.
At some point last year, we developed a tradition of having our friend DNA (kid you not! those are his real initials!) over to dinner on Friday nights. A very casual, family sort of thing: we'd cook whatever we were going to cook anyway and play boardgames, or watch a movie, or talk till the wee hours in the morning over several bottles of wine. Last night, DNA brought a hometown friend of his over, a friendly first year grad student at UCSF. Do made cocktails and we all hung out in the kitchen while DNA and I cooked dinner.
Dinner turned out Fantastic, much to my surprise. I was throwing together a simple summer pasta dish purely in an attempt to use up a bunch of our CSA veggies before they went bad. I was concerned that it would end up tasting too... "green." I've had pizzas and stir fries turn out that way, where the dish doesn't quite come together, and the veggies acquire this bland uniform flavor that permates the whole dish. To preempt this, I threw in ~1.5 lbs of Elgin sausage that I brought back from Texas last month. For those of you not from Texas, Elgin is a po-dunk town outside Austin that produces sausage which is legendary, pilgrimage-worthy. I'm actually a bit concerned that the dish will be less spectacular without that secret ingredient. Another trick that I tried was to create a "sauce" by stirring in ricotta cheese. I'd never done this before but it worked! It added a slightly creamy coating to the pasta, making it a true "dish" and not just a bowl were pasta and veggies happened to find themselves in combination. I will definitely use that trick again. The pasta turned out really, really successful, worthy of being immemorialized on an index card in my recipe box. For those of you who know us, this is how flavorful it was: Do didn't even ask to add hot sauce or red pepper flakes.
The other success story was DNA's spinach side dish. I know very little about it, other than it comes from an Indian cookbook, he's been making it for ages, and it was divine. Also very flavorful (can you tell that that's my biggest concern with veggie-centric dishes?), and the combination with diced mozarella provides a delightful texture contrast. I would have had seconds if we hadn't scarfed it all down on the first go.
Anyways, both dishes are recommended. And maybe next time we'll start pulling out the camera.
DNA's Indian Spinach with Cheese (serves 4 as a side)
1 lb chopped spinach
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 tsp tumeric
1 tsp chopped ginger
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 cup water
0.5 lb chopped mozarella
1 tsp veg oil
1/2 tsp cumin, toasted
Put mozarella in fridge. In a heavy saucepan, mix spinach, onion, ginger, salt, tumeric, cumin, cayenne, 1/2 c water. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and cook 5min or until soft. Stir in remaining water, bring to a simmer. Simmer 20-30 min till liquid is absorbed. Stir in mozarella seconds before serving, so as to preserve the differences in temperatures.
Summer Squash and Sausage pasta (serves 6 as a main)
1.5 lb Elgin sausage (or any super flavorful spicy sausage), crumbled
1/2 red onion, chopped
3/4 lb - 1 lb carrotts, chopped into matchsticks
4 summer squash (~1 lb), chopped into matchsticks
1 Gypsy pepper (or another medium spice pepper), chopped into matchsticks
3 tomatoes, chopped into bite-size pieces.
1/2 c ricotta cheese
1 lb pasta
Cook pasta per box's instructions. Set aside.
In a heavy saucepan, cook the sausage in batches. Pour off the fat in between batches, but don't throw it out. Set cooked sausage aside in a large bowl, add the tomatoes to the bowl. Use a little of the sausage fat to saute the carrots, summer squash, and gypsy pepper, add these veggies to the large bowl. Add the ricotta cheese and the pasta, stir to combine and salt&pepper to taste.