Last week I bought the new, revised edition of How to Cook Everything. I had actually forgotten there was a revision until I ordered it – I just think that once your paperback copy of a book has fallen into three or more pieces, it’s time to invest in the hardcover.
I was reading the introduction to get an idea of what had changed in the new edition when I came across this quote: “Everyday cooking is not about striving for brilliance but about preparing good, wholesome, tasty, varied meals for the ones you love. This is a fundamentally satisfying pleasure. Your results need not be perfect to give you this gift, to which all humans are entitled.”
It reminded me of the introduction to Nigella Lawson’s new book, Nigella Kitchen, wherein she stresses that she is a cook, not a chef, and in fact expresses some horror at occasionally being called the latter. She mentions clutter and inconsistency in her own kitchen, compared to the perfect cookie-cutter consistency required to be a professional chef, and writes, “Not adhering to professional standards in the kitchen doesn’t show our limitations, but is indicative of our liberation and individuality.”
I am intrigued and delighted by these proud home cooks, and by their expression of a backlash against “food porn” and striving for some ideal of perfection that may keep some folks out of the kitchen.
Here is a simple, delicious meal that I dreamed up one day several years ago because I had some spinach and mint and was craving the flavors of spanakopita. Luckily I remembered – undoubtedly with some good-natured chivvying by my sweetie – to write it down. It comes together fast and is always satisfying.
If you’ve been thinking of trying whole-wheat pasta, this is fabulous with it (I use Bionaturae brand), a little more deeply flavored and satisfyingly homey. Regular pasta is what I usually use, though, because it’s always on hand. There are several optional ingredients in here, and certainly a multitude of ways you could play with it – add cherry tomatoes, more garlic, different herbs. Make it your own!
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red or yellow onion or half a bunch green onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, sliced thin or minced
1 package (8 to 10 oz) baby spinach
3 tablespoons mint, chopped (optional)
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup pine nuts, optional
8 oz regular or whole-wheat spaghetti, cooked and still hot, 1/2 cup cooking water set aside
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper or more to taste, optional
Salt and pepper to taste
Place olive oil in a cold skillet. Heat over medium heat until nice and hot. Add onions and cook 5 minutes, until translucent (2 minutes or until wilted, for green onions). Add garlic and cook 2 minutes. Add spinach and mint; toss with the oil mixture until each leaf glistens. Cover pan and let steam 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all the spinach has wilted. Set aside a little feta and pine nuts (if using) for garnish; stir in the rest. Add the spaghetti, lemon juice, crushed red pepper, and black pepper, and toss well. If it seems dry, add a few tablespoons of the pasta-cooking water and toss again. Taste for salt and add more if necessary – it probably won’t be, as feta is very salty.
Portion into warm bowls. Serves 2 to 4, depending on appetite and side dishes.