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Last month, when done with all my catering events, I found myself surrounded by an ocean of leftover fresh spinach. I had bought so much of it, turned out, I could fill the bath tub with all that green and sprinkle some more on the floor leading to our bedroom instead of rose petals. Talking about a healthy sex life!
However, since we were to leave first thing the following morning for our Christmas pilgrimage to East Texas, I was left with no choice other than to blanch the green entity in batches and freeze for later. The later came as soon as we returned to LA, when I opened the freezer and an avalanche of frosty green bricks fell out on my feet.
WHAT IN THE WORLD AM I TO DO WITH ALL THIS?
And the cooking fest began. First was Sautéed Spinach With Toasted Pistachios to accompany my Stuffed Chicken Thighs Wrapped in Bacon. (Thank you my buddy Gordon Ramsay for this decadent idea!) Next, I mixed the spinach, having thawed it out earlier (duh!), with shallots, garlic, and ricotta cheese thus turning it into a creamy filling for my Faux Ravioli (the same way I made them here). I made so much of it actually, I later used some of the mixture on Whole Wheat Crepes, folded them in four, and pan fried them into perfectly crispy Sides for my Beet Soup. A bunch of friends that came over for dinner that night saved me from devouring the entire pile by myself, the suckers were that good.
My favorite spinach transformation, however, was the dish I am about to describe, wherein the title-artichokes finally come to play their role.
If you’re one of those people that would die for a dip of an artichoke dip, but every time you allow yourself to indulge you feel awfully guilty, here comes your savior.
With the ever reliable help of my ordinary suspects–pancetta and frozen green peas–that are always in stock in my kitchen, plus a handful of frozen artichoke hearts, shallot, pistachios, tablespoon of mascarpone, salt and pepper, I was able to bring this goodness to life and declare THE END OF THE CALORIE-DENSE AND SOUL-POLLUTING ARTICHOKE DIP ERA.
The dish was ready in 15 minutes, since I was of such mind clarity to let the spinach thaw out the night before in the refrigerator. In a tiny drizzle of blended oil I sautéed some shallots first, added thinly sliced garlic and pancetta. When the fat rendered, I added pistachios, and a bunch of frozen peas and artichokes. Salt and pepper were not forgotten either. Over a slow heat, and under a lid, the veggies came to their senses and asked for Mr. Spinach to join his buddies. Another three minutes of that cuddle party and I was ready to finish the dish with a touch of mascarpone that gently spread its sweet and creamy arms all over the green meadow in the pan. Fold it once, twice, aaaand hop into a bowl. Believe it or not, that was my dinner, and I was fully satiated and content.
Try it. Let’s make the other cheesy and heavy dip retire already. Comfort foods are good especially when they are good for us. And they are good indeed. Oh, how good they are, I tell ya!
I can’t concentrate on the keyboard. I keep drifting away into the wonderland in my head where Hauschka‘s piano rolls out a stairway in front of my eyes, and I ascend step by step into the air, surrounded by blue lollypops wrapped in red ribbons, and corpulent purple elephants taking an escalator down. Then, there’s a cloud of hippy bees buzzing by, followed by uptight butterflies dressed in unicolored suits and bow-ties.
I’m on zero medication, and it’s the music alone that afforded me a mid-afternoon high.
The reason I’m here today is to save the life of that half wilted zucchini in your refrigerator. There’s also a sad chunk of drying out bacon, or even better–pancetta–in the cheese drawer of your icebox that must be resuscitated immediately. And for the love of Zeus, how long do you think you can keep frozen peas in a freezer? They do expire, too, you know.
There’s no reason to toss food away, when it can be utilized in the most delicious way. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Every week, usually on Saturday, we do grocery shopping. Come Friday, I’m left with a handful of unused produce in our refrigerator, and a brand new challenge of turning it into a healthy, satisfying and comforting dinner for two. I’m not scared. On the contrary, I opt to face the music. That’s when I get to flex my creative muscle.
One of the babies of that intense and inspired labor was my ZUCCHINI, PEAS & PANCETTA MEDLEY. In other words, I saved the precious enzymes, mincro-elements, and hopefully also a few vitamins that then nourished our bodies, instead of being thrown away to the garbage and letting cockroaches rise in power.
The dish is so simple and self-explanatory, one does not even need a recipe. I will recap the steps in an effort to help you stayed organized.
Pancetta was diced and tossed into a hot skillet, and soon after chunks of zucchini followed. I seasoned the bunch gently with salt, as the bacon itself is salty already. Freshly ground black pepper, a touch of paprika, a dash of cayenne pepper for that extra punch in the nose all added flavor to my mixture. Half way through the coloring process (I like my veg a bit ruddy on the cheeks), in went the frozen peas. Five to seven more minutes and everybody was happy enough to leave the fire. A perfect time to finish the creation off with a teaspoon of my compound butter I told you about not long ago. The aroma of garlic and herbs unlocked from the creamy butter wrapped itself around every single green element on the plate, not leaving behind slightly salty and chewy bits of rendered pancetta.
We devoured the side dish along with steamed broccoli and a roasted leg of an organic chicken… Yes, it was a feast, and hardly did it look like the waiting area of an Emergency Room.
Do yourself a favor and save your hard-earned money. Don’t waste food. People in Asia, Africa, in your own city go to bed hungry each day, and only a fraction of them does it for vanity reasons. Let’s utilize more, and trash less. In general.
I stole food from my dog.
I am out of control.
Since I got that call about that job on that show for HBO, the one you know nothing about as it’s not yet on, it’s been raining almost consistently here in LA. That last piece of information is relevant to my story only thanks to the drip-drip soundtrack that torrential tempest provides as I type these words.
So, I’ve been working on HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA … the show, and quite literally, in life. There’s no glamour in the services I provide here, but I feel at ease and no longer experience the yearning for recognition and appreciation for my work in a corporate setting. It brings an unspoken amount of relief to have finally discovered a passion in life, which for me, aside from exploiting my life on the Internet, is defined by cooking. I have developed a skill I can offer to the world now. The minute I’m done with my current duties on the show, I’ll walk back to my kitchen, or into my clients’ kitchens and will make a living by stirring, blanching, and shocking vegetables.
In the meantime, I share offices with editors and their assistants who work hard gluing and stitching together the show you’ll be able to watch on HBO in a few short weeks. Since the office space is rather congested, everybody can hear the dialog, music score, and any other sound effects present in a given scene the editors are currently working on. Today moaning and gasping fills the air around, as the sex scenes are being patched together. I can’t help giggling under my nose as if I were 12 and caught my uncle and auntie DOING IT.
While I’ve been enjoying the on-screen sex at work, my loyal ol’ pooch goes through separation anxiety.
It must be it. How else to explain he’d gotten sick FOUR times since I left home? There’s nothing new about the wholesome dog food we’ve been feeding him forever. He’s not lethargic or sad when I come home. On the contrary, the minute I open the door he jumps at me from whichever corner of the house he’s been laying in wait and nails me straight to the wall behind me and bombards me with a shower of kisses. What that really means is that he licks my face inside out with a boy scout’s zeal and precision of a robot on Adderall. When he gets back on his fours at last, the joy dance begins and Cosmo spins right round until I get dizzy. I say he’s fine.
Still, my heart sank every time I saw my baby throw up and all this past week. It was time for me to take action. It was time to employ some drastic measures. Cosmo was about to learn of that brilliant witch that his mommy was.
I entered the kitchen, swoosh, pulled out a pot, clink, and mounted it on the stove, bang. Inside went diced pancetta, a handful, and sizzled until its fat rendered. Rice (half a cup) was next along with a tablespoon of crushed dry marjoram. Mixed with the pork juices, the rice toasted evenly just in time for a cup of grated carrots that landed right in the pot. Then I drowned it all in organic, low sodium chicken stock, because my dog deserves the best. It didn’t end there. For color, I tossed in sweet peas, then seasoned the dish with salt, and plunked a bay leaf to top that field of savory yumness.
You think dogs don’t like parsley? Just watch Cosmo.
Thus enlivened, Cosmo’s breakfast/dinner combo for the next 4 days was officially completed. Except, I tasted it. BIG MISTAKE. The food was beyond awesome, its flavor so simple and comforting, and yet robust and indisputable. I took another bite. EVEN BIGGER MISTAKE. An electric current of paramount pleasure torpedoed down my spine. My hair stood upright. ALL HAIR. Everywhere. Next thing I knew, half of the pot was empty and the wooden spatula I used to stir the goods was shoved fist-deep into my throat. I was out of control stealing my sick puppy’s meal. Suddenly, I caught his terrified look with the corner of my eye, as if he was saying: “MA! WTF?!” The spoon slipped out of my hand and dropped to the floor. The sound of it was like a slap to my unconscious self, thump. When I realized the level of devastation the hungry monster within caused I was startled. The little bit that was saved was barely enough for two doggie meals.
Cosmo sat right by my feet throughout the cooking process and the incident of mindless food absorption. He was hungry. He KNEW I was fixing food for him. I don’t know how, but he knew. I saw a shade of panic in those deeply dark eyes, not yet a full on attack, but a growing anxiety of upcoming loss. You know what I’m talking about? I could see it all in the look he gave me.
Without a word, I grabbed a box of quinoa, 4 more carrots, a parsnip, and made a new batch of food for my pooch. This time I knew better than adding salt, bay leaves, and fresh parsley in the end. A tablespoon of lard is all any dog needs in their food to get their undivided attention. And enough to avert mine.
You don’t have a dog? What’s the problem? More food for you!