We’ve been in a dinner rut lately, and I’ve been searching out some new recipes. With all the information available online and in the rabbit hole that is Pinterest, I decided it best to avoid those altogether. While I still like shaking the dust off the jacket and cracking the spine on a well-loved cookbook, many of mine are, perhaps fittingly, still gathering dust and injuring their spines crammed in boxes from our move three years ago. Thus I turned to the library’s cookbook section. In this case, it was the second time I had checked out a copy of Lynne Roseetto Kasper’s book, “How to Eat Supper.”
I know I have previously (rather sheepishly) admitted to being an NPR junkie, and that’s where I discovered her and her radio show, “The Splendid Table.” What I like about her in particular is that she is realistic. She tells you you should make your broth from scratch and that it is easy (and I will add safer as broth often has added dairy), but she also says she knows you won’t do it. Thus she offers shortcuts to make the boxed stuff taste better. Practical tips are what I need to get out of my rut. Browsing through her pasta section, a particular strong point for her, I came across a tuna-noodle recipe, http://www.splendidtable.org/recipes/sicilian-corkscrews-white-beans, which she said could be done in under 30 minutes and which she described as kid friendly.
I had pasta and a can of tuna I had been waiting to use since last winter when I was stocking up on foods that would keep when the power went off in a snowstorm, which it didn’t since it barely dipped below 60 here last winter (not complaining just explaining). Of course I couldn’t eat my snowstorm stash during the summer. That would be wrong. But now that’s it fall I think it’s OK. Besides, we had recipe and ingredients, I am going to call that serendipity or close enough! Certainly, I was intrigued enough to give it a try.
Still, there’s kid friendly and there’s *my kids* friendly. In the proper mood, Max and Claire very well might gobble up the tuna and ask for more. If they were having a bad day or the moon was out of alignment or they had an extra glass or two of soy after school when I wasn’t looking, it was possible they would boycott. Usually I cope with this unpredictability by pairing the new dish with some familiar favorite sides, but pasta doesn’t really call for a lot of sides.
This time I knew I needed a different plan. That back up plan occurred to me the day after I served my usual (did I mention we were in a rut?) spaghetti with red sauce. We had enough leftover for two or three servings, but not enough for a full meal for all four of us. I could have had the leftovers for my lunch over the next few days, but I was the one most frustrated with the rut. That’s when it occurred to me to serve pasta with red sauce as the back-up plan for the children with the new tuna pasta dish.
I called this dinner “pasta two ways.” Because the tuna recipe was said to be from Sicily, we also found that region on the map and had a mini showdown between it and Southern Italy, which for simplicity sake we called the home of red sauce. It was just the new presentation and added dramatic narrative I needed to get them to give it a try. We each got half a plate of the two types of pasta. They were encouraged to try several bites in order to vote on which they preferred. Both ended up liking the more familiar way best, but Max offered several specific suggestions on how to make the tuna dish more palatable to him. No beans and less tabasco were the tops on his list. Now I personally think these “adjustments” would ruin the dish, but maybe we could have another round of pasta three ways if I have some more leftovers one night.
Bonus: I used this approach again recently when introducing salmon cakes. I grilled salmon with a smear of honey and a spray or two or canola oil like I usually do for seven minutes at 375 on the George Foreman Grill. This time I also offered easy salmon cakes (canned salmon with about a cup of bread crumbs and dill and egg browned in a skillet and then baked at 450 in the oven for 20 minutes). This time the cakes were a big hit and easily won the vote. Of course the cakes are slightly more trouble than throwing the salmon fillets on the grill. I may regret messing with go-to quick fish dish, but it was a definite victory in my effort to break out of the rut.
Recipe: Note in the Sicilian Corkscrews with White Beans I cut the oil by at least half.