What’s the best compliment you ever got in the kitchen?
One night J sat at the kitchen table watching me try to invent a pasta dish from the random pickings of a quick farmer’s market trip. When I’m in creation mode he knows better than to ask how he can help, but he stays nearby in case I forget he’s home and starving. I figured he must be wondering what he’d gotten himself into, marrying this oddball who doesn’t cook like normal people do by reading from a cookbook or recipe box.
My process is more, hmmm, shall we say, kinetic? I open the pantry door, retrieve ingredients, stare, return a bag of dried cherries in exchange for a tin of pine nuts. Maybe my hand swirls in the air as I waft imaginary aromas toward my nose. I close my eyes and air chew, trying to imagine exactly what I want. I twirl to the refrigerator for a lemon maybe, or a vegetable. My hip bumps the fridge door closed as I pivot to the island countertop, hands full of spinach.
“You cook like you’re dancing,” he said and I melted. I pulled him up off the chair for a quick waltz around the table before returning to the skillet heating up on the stove.
I was pretty happy with how that night turned out, yes for the dancing, but also for the pasta.
The surprise of the dish is squash blossoms.
I’ve eaten squash blossoms in salads where I find them beautiful, but a little out of place. Squash blossoms overpower gentle lettuces like butter and get lost in hearty greens like kale. But heat these babies up – and yes technically the stork doesn’t bring zucchini to your garden, it begins life as a seed and then a squash blossom – and something symphonic happens, sort of like how the drudgery of an ordinary weekday meal prep can turn into a kitchen waltz.
I call this dish Promenade Penne with a nod toward how the pasta pot and squash blossom skillet waltz together toward the grand finale of a meal culled from a stroll through the farmer’s market. Also, there’s a little sweet kiss of honey in it, and all good proms end with a kiss.
3 large sweet potatoes
One bunch fresh squash blossoms
3 T pine nuts
3 T honey
1 lb. penne
4 C washed baby spinach leaves
Freshly ground parmesan and fresh ground pepper to taste
– Peel sweet potatoes and slice into 1/2 inch circles.
– Heat a large skillet over medium-high flame. Add enough olive oil to coat skillet. Let it warm up, then sauté pototoes until slightly browned and soft. Stir now and then to prevent burning.
– Meanwhile, in a separate pot, heat water for pasta. (This is a fine time to dance.)
– Right about the time the water begins to boil, the potatoes should be tender. Toss pine nuts into skillet with potatoes and allow to brown just a bit.
– Add pasta to boiling water and cook according to package directions.
– Turn potatoes down to low. Add squash blossoms and stir. If necessary, add a dash more olive oil.
– When the pasta is al dente, drizzle the honey over potatoes and squash blossoms. Stir to coat and heat evenly.
– Drain pasta in a colander. Place spinach in empty pasta pot and after pasta is finished draining add back to the pot so the pasta heat slightly wilts the spinach. You may toss with a little more olive oil.
– Place pasta and spinach in a large bowl. Spoon sweet potato and squash blossoms on top. Garnish with fresh parmesan and pepper if you like.Light the candles. Good night.
With heels kicked up,