I love going to the grocery store; I do it several times a week, if only for a few things. I know, I know, it is poor planning on my part, but I enjoy weaving through the aisles, checking out new and interesting ingredients I may have missed during my previous visit. I recall going to the grocery store with my dad when I was small. He would take a list with everything we needed but inevitably, we’d return home with something he wanted. I remember riding in the cart or walking alongside my dad down every aisle in the grocery store. He’d take his time, selecting a bottle of this, or a jar of that, turning it over in his hands, considering its use, before returning it to the shelf or placing it in our cart. Mom never really knew what he’d bring home. Sometimes it was a jar of pickled herring, sometimes it was a new mustard, and sometimes it was a package of cookies he’d open on the drive home for the two of us to sample.
Perhaps my love of grocery stores is rooted in nostalgia. That’s fine, I’ll take that. But as much as I love grocery stores, for whatever reason, I didn’t feel like going last night. I hadn’t planned dinner and I didn’t want to shop. My only option was to use what we already had in the house; in a way, I chose to “shop” our cupboards. Sometimes I forget what we have, so was a nice surprise to find that I had enough items to throw together a pasta dinner.
Pasta dishes don’t have to be complicated. With a few simple ingredients, you can create a lovely, luscious, and delightful dinner in the time it takes you to boil your linguine (or spaghetti, or penne…you get the idea).
I always have dried pasta in the cupboard and this time around, it was linguine. I also had a red onion, a lemon, some garlic, a red bell pepper, and fresh spinach (not pictured). As usual, if you find that you have different ingredients on hand, feel free to substitute; pasta is flexible!
The method for this pasta was dead simple – finely dice the onion and pepper, mince the garlic, grate the zest of the lemon, and wash and dry the spinach. Put the water on to boil, sauté the onion, pepper, and garlic, and by the time the pasta is al dente, everything is ready to be tossed together and voilà! Dinner is served.
Shopping my cupboards and fridge ended up working in my favor last night and I’d be willing to bet that if you challenged yourself to shop your own, you’ll find that you have the ingredients for a lovely and delicious pasta dinner. And you didn’t have to leave the house!
Linguine with Fresh Spinach, Red Bell Pepper, and Lemon
1/2 pound dried linguine
1/2 large red onion, finely diced
1/2 medium red bell pepper, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
zest of one lemon
juice of one lemon
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (depending on preference)
one bunch fresh spinach leaves, washed and spun dry in salad spinner
freshly cracked black pepper
grated parmesan cheese (optional)
Bring 2-3 quarts of water to a boil in a large stock pot. When water is at a rolling boil, toss in 1 tablespoon kosher salt and allow it to return to a boil. It’s essential that you salt your pasta water, as this is the only seasoning your pasta will get until mixed with the rest of your ingredients. You don’t want under-seasoned pasta. As a result of salting your pasta water, you may find you need less salt in the overall dish. You’ll want to boil the pasta according to the package directions until it is al dente (usually 8 minutes or so).
Once water is back to a boil, add pasta and give it a good stir. Stirring pasta for the first minute or two will ensure your pasta doesn’t stick together. Don’t go nuts and stir throughout – just a few good stirs within the first 2 minutes should suffice.
In the meantime, heat a large saucepan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and one tablespoon butter; allow the butter to melt, turn heat down to medium and add onion, red pepper, and garlic. Season with 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, and a pinch of kosher salt. Sauté for several minutes, stirring often, until vegetables are softened – make sure they do not burn. If you find the vegetables are getting too much color, turn heat down a bit. Add spinach and red pepper flakes; stir gently to wilt spinach – turn heat off.
When the pasta has reached al dente, dunk liquid measuring cup into the pasta water; save at least 1/2 cup cooking water. Drain pasta in colander and return pasta to pot. Add vegetable mixture to pasta along with lemon juice, lemon zest, and the remaining two tablespoons butter and toss gently with tongs until butter is melted and all ingredients have been combined. If you find the pasta is a bit dry, add a few splashes of the pasta water and toss.
Serve in bowls and top with freshly grated parmesan (if desired) and a few turns of freshly cracked black pepper.