dinner in twenty minutes

February 15th, 2008

spinach pasta

People often lament their lack of time to cook a nice meal for dinner, opting for takeout instead. Lord knows, I’ve been known to do the same. When you come home from work at 7:oo or later, cooking is the last thing on your mind. My first instinct is to curl up on the couch and watch a silly science fiction show with my husband and dog, munching on whatever happens to be in the refrigerator or whatever we can get from the local tacqueria without waiting in line with the rest of the neighborhood. Other times I look at the beautiful vegetables I bought at the farmers’ market and think it would be a shame for them to go to waste. I mean look at that chard… its succulent, deep green leaves, its sturdy stalk. Can’t you just feel its crunch between your teeth? Can’t you taste the garlic clove in the butter in which you’ll wilt it? How long would it really take to turn that beauty into dinner? It’s that moment when I change my mind and get to cooking something fast.

Here’s a little something I threw together the other night. I’m not sure whether it took me twenty minutes, as I spent some time perusing the fridge and cobbling together the shape of the meal. The base is pasta, with a sauce of spinach and goat cheese and a bit of ground cayenne pepper to liven it up.

quick pasta with spinach goat cheese sauce

I used savoy, or curly leaf spinach for this pasta dish. The leaves are small, curly and somewhat more waxy than ordinary spinach. As a result, it releases less moisture during cooking and wilts a little less. It also has a slightly nutty flavor which goes nicely with the pine nuts. You could use ordinary fresh spinach just as well, but you’ll probably have to add back less or none of the pasta water. I used goat butter to go with the goat cheese, but that’s because I had it on hand. Feel free to use any butter you like. As usual, measurements are approximate.

short pasta, enough for 2 (about 1/2 lb or 250 g usually works, including leftovers)
olive oil and butter
1-2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 red pepper
1 lb or 1/2 kg savoy spinach
3-5 oz. fresh chèvre
handful of pine nuts
salt and pepper
ground cayenne pepper

  1. Cook the pasta in salted water according to the instructions on the package. Drain the pasta, reserving some of the water. An easy way to do this is to place your pasta colander in a large bowl in the sink and pour your pasta into the colander. You’ll have plenty of leftover pasta water in the bowl beneath the colander. Be sure to move the colander elsewhere so that the pasta stops cooking. Dress the pasta with a little olive oil to keep it from sticking.
  2. In a pot or large pan over a low to medium flame, melt some butter with olive oil. As it heats, coarsely chop the garlic and finely chop the red pepper.
  3. When the oil and butter are hot, add the garlic and stir. When the garlic is almost golden, add the red pepper and stir. Let the pepper cook for a minute or two.
  4. Add the spinach a few handfuls at a time and stir. Let it cook down a bit (say for a minute or two), then add the goat cheese in pieces.
  5. Stir the mixture so that the goat cheese melds with the liquids in the pan. If the sauce is a bit dry, add in a little reserved pasta water. It can be as creamy or thin as you like.
  6. Add the pine nuts. Alternatively, you can toast the pine nuts briefly in another pan, and then add them.
  7. Add some of the pasta back into the pan and mix with sauce. (I served this sauce on top of the pasta, instead of mixing it back in. But I think it might be better mixed in the pan.)
  8. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. Taste and correct seasoning.

Serves 2, with a little leftover for lunch the next day.

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