Tuesday, April 25, 2006

One of Those Days

Yesterday was one of those days. It started off rough and only got worse. By 4pm I'd already had an argument with one of my sisters, snapped at one of my clients, yelled at my cellphone provider, accomplished only half of the items on my to-do list, had two appointments cancelled at the last minute, and had cried twice. By the time I realized I had not yet made the menu for the week, nor gone grocery shopping, I was close to not even caring whether or not we had dinner. But then I remembered that cooking would actually make me feel better.

I knew without looking that the produce drawers in the refrigerator were getting dangerously close to empty, and I have been slowly purging our pantry shelves so as to further reduce our consumption of packaged foods. And since I almost always cook from a weekly menu that I make up on Sunday afternoons, I get a little whacked out when I have to come up with a spontaneous meal. So I reverted back to my old ways and headed for a box of spaghetti noodles. If all else failed, I had half a loaf of crusty whole wheat bread, a box of whole wheat spaghetti noodles, some olive oil, a few heads of garlic, and a container full of basil plants in the front yard. Surely something could be accomplished with a minimum of added hassle to an already dreadful day.

I vaguely recalled seeing some overly simple pasta dishes in the Everday Italian cookbook, and I obviously had the makings for bruschetta, so I closed one eye, hoped for the best and flipped to the pasta section of the book. Amazingly, something finally went right. I found a recipe for Spaghetti with Garlic, Olive Oil and Red Pepper Flakes. And I had everything in the ingredient list, including fresh mint, something I never have on hand but bought recently for a reason I have already forgotten. Life was looking up. And since I was getting hungry, it wasn't a minute too soon.

  • Salt
  • 1 pound dried spaghetti (PLEASE use whole-wheat pasta, white noodles are just nasty)
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tsp dried crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (I only had curly parsley - it worked fine)
  • 1 Tbs chopped fresh basil
  • 1 Tbs chopped fresh mint
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook, stirring often, until tender but still firm to the bite.
  2. Drain noodles, reserving 2 Tbs of the cooking liquid. Do not rinse the spaghetti. The natural starches help the sauce adhere to the noodles.
  3. In a large saute pan, heat the oil over a medium flame. Add the garlic and saute until golden and fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove and discard the garlic. {This was interesting to me. I have always minced the garlic before using it to flavor oil, so I was surprised to see it done whole. And the directions specified to not overcook the garlic because that would make it bitter. I've never noticed bitter-tasting garlic, so whatever...}
  4. Add the red pepper flakes to the oil and saute for one minute. Carefully stir in the reserved pasta liquid and 1/2 tsp of salt. {This particular instruction didn't go so well for me. When I added the liquid to the oil, there was a popping sound and then some very violent sizzling action that threw hot oil all over the stove, the counter, the open cookbook, and the floor. I'm wondering if maybe the liquid and the salt should be added after the next step so as to avoid THAT problem again.}
  5. Immediately add the drained spaghetti and toss to coat well. Season with more salt and red pepper flakes to taste.
  6. Transfer pasta to serving bowl and sprinkle with the fresh herbs.
  7. Clean the stove, the cookbook, the counter, and mop the floor. Grumble loudly.

I loved the flavor of this recipe, slightly spicy from the red pepper, but fresh tasting from the mint. It made for a light dinner, perfect for a hot grumpy evening. And if I hadn't made such a mess with the oil, this would be ideal for those times when a quick meal is needed. I served it with bruschetta on the side, but next time I will serve a salad with it as well.

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