Spinach surge going on in the CSA basket. Each week of the season brings a new element of surprise. Our old CSA filled us up with root vegetables the moment Labor Day hit. This year’s CSA has given us so much variety, that each week brings about a different meal plan. Love variety without having to seek it out myself. I guess we saw a good number of zucchini and carrots come through, but not enough to make us feel constrained in what ended up on the dinner table throughout the summer.

But the spinach surprise is wonderful. Not what I expected this late in the season. In Maine, the first week of summer is the cresting into fall. By the third week, we are wearing coats in the morning, and evenings at the outdoor dinner table are pretty much over.

In the Spring soft, delicate tiny spinach leaves arrived. Mid-summer another more mature batch came, and now the leaves are large, yet still lush and tender. A bit stronger in taste, but not too much. In the Winter I love stewed and roasted dishes – things that take a while to cook, but during the time of year when all is still freshly coming from the garden, I cede to my French/Italian philosophy on gently seasoning to taste the freshness and subtlety of the food. A tomato sauce that simmers all day to intensify the sweetness of the tomatoes, is seasoned with onions, a bit of garlic and fresh basil. Sugar need not apply. Asparagus with a creamy Hollandaise. It is all about the subtle nuances of the ingredients and how they marry.

Haute Cuisine vs Home Cooking
(haute technique vs everyday technique)

Many shudder when they hear Haute Cuisine, the elevated cooking of the fancy French restaurant’s fare. Fear not my fellow pot stirrers. There is a world of difference between Escoffier and a perfectly roasted chicken. Not that Escoffier did not or could not make a perfectly roasted chicken, but he probably would have stuffed, trussed and brined the fowl fellow. You do not need to cook like that every night. Sometimes it is fun to take a lot of time to cook and to follow the recipe meticulously to a T, but most night’s in the modern day kitchen, time is of the essence. I have not boned a chicken since cooking school, nor do I feel the need to at this point in my kitchen life.

Haute cuisine means hours of preparation, making everything from scratch, stocks that can take days and puff pastry that gets one turn, one roll, chilled, and then an hour or so in-between each layer, and repeat. If you love French food, and/or cook it yourself, it is pleasurable to do it the traditional way, but you need to set aside the time. The most well-known of the American French Chef’s is Julia Child. Her books Mastering the Art of French Cooking transformed the way that America cooked, but in today’s kitchen, Mrs. Child is relegated to the weekend. Some recipes are easier than others, but I save this book for weekends or times that I want to spend a long afternoon or day in the kitchen.

All cuisines have their intricacies. At one point one had to make pasta at home to have good fresh pasta, but thankfully there are many places to buy wonderful fresh pasta nowadays. And there are tricks to Itailan cuisine that I shall never master, such as knowing the perfect texture of a gnocchi. But I know a good one when I eat one. French while a much more technical cuisine on the Haute end, relies more on specificities of ingredients, and the gnocchi, well, it’s about the texture and I just cannot get it. Oh do I miss Arthur Avenue right now.

Sacrifice flavor not

Most French and Italian home-style cooking is much simpler and something that you, yes you, can do on a nightly basis. There are a few recipes to master, such as that perfectly roasted chicken and a homemade tomato sauce. Ask any French cook or chef, and they will tell you that a roasted chicken, simple as it sounds, is high on the list of techniques to master and one that receives a lot of praise for a very basic endeavor. Barbara Kafka, who has sadly passed, wrote one of the most definitive cookbooks on roasting.

Barbara Kafka’s Roast Chicken from Food52

Have Baguette; ready to prep dinner

The image of a Frenchman walking or cycling with a baguette under an arm or protruding from a basket, along with a small bag of dinner ingredients appears in many a French film, and at rush hour on the streets of any place in France. Why? Because they are going home to cook. It’s what they do. It’s what we all should do.

And on the Italian influential end of the cooking spectrum, a perfectly cooked noodle al dente topped with fresh garlic spinach and olive oil, sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano, is again simplicity at its finest. Good ingredients make for good food, unless you add too much salt or something. In Italy there are outdoor markets everywhere. Open air markets, front window open produce shops, farms, even the supermarket produce section is overflowing with fresh local ingredients.

When I am in Maine, I have to have enough on hand for several days. The farmer’s markets are a trek, and it is a two hour event to go to the grocery store. It’s a social scene, so it takes a while. I do not go by a market every day, but I try to buy for three or four days, so it is fairly fresh. Unless you live in a city, chances are you are not walking by the markets every day either. Adaptation in the kitchen is the key to happiness.

Keep the stress away from your kitchen life

Time in the kitchen should be filled with pleasure. Look forward to spending an hour or so making dinner. Let’s start with simple. Move into what are the ingredients. Ask what seasonings will bring out the natural flavors of the food I am about to prepare. And get to work…but not too much. That is the whole idea. Roast a piece of chicken. Steam the green beans. Slice the Baguette and slather it with sweet cream butter. Dinner is ready.

Additional recipes to try:

French Potato Salad from Mon Petit Four
Pork Tenderloin with Dijon Mustard from My Parisian Kitchen
Grilled and Marinated Rosemary Scented Shrimp from Mary Ann Esposito at Ciao Italia
Skillet Cooked Broccoli from Lidia’s Italy

Gemelli & Spinach

Ingredients

  • 1 pound/500g gemelli or other short pasta (fresh or dried)
  • 6oz/170g spinach, cleaned
  • 1 vidalia or sweet onion
  • 2 TBSP pesto
  • 4oz/120ml EVOO
  • 2oz/60g freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

1

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package.

2

In a large saucepan or pot, gently warm the EVOO.

3

Sauté the onions until they are translucent.

4

Add the spinach and cook until it starts to wilt. If it goes too long it will become too soft, you want to have a bit of body to it.

5

Place the pasta in a large serving bowl.

6

Pour the spinach and liquid over the pasta.

7

Add the pesto.

8

Add Parmesan, salt and pepper. Make sure the pasta is well-coated with the cheese.

9

Serve warm or at room temperature.

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