Saturday, May 21, 2011

Milestone

Yesterday, Gabe pressed the elevator call button All By Himself for the first time. All the stretching and reaching and standing-on-tippy-toes he's been doing lately must have caused him to grow those millimeters hitherto standing between him and success. His joy was total: he leap-skipped up and down the hallway, proclaiming "Mommy, mommy, Gabe push the elevator all by his self!" When the door slid open, he hopped in and shouted, "Yippee!"


Sometimes, as adults, I think we forget the feeling of pleasure that comes from learning how to do something. I mean, we've mastered a lot at this point in our lives. Walking, for instance. Tying shoes. Brushing teeth. Reading. Attaching documents to emails. (I distinctly remember feeling baffled by that one for quite some time.) Maybe we just get accustomed after a while to that "I did it" feeling. Or perhaps in adulthood the milestones are spread so far apart that we might not even recognize them when they pass? And yet last night I found myself feeling like Gabe post-elevator button triumph.

When I began this blog, I wrote about my fondness for and reliance upon recipes. I followed them the way some people adhere to the teachings of scripture. Without them, I was lost. A few months ago, I came across an article by Daniel Duane that laid out a simple road map to culinary independence. Basically, he says, you can learn a lot by cooking the same dish several times, each time using less recipe and more memory. The article demystified recipes and helped me to see the interconnectedness among dishes. It empowered me to borrow techniques and flavor combinations, to experiment, and to trust myself.


I am happy to announce that I have, for the first time, made a very tasty dish both sans recipe and sans shopping list. The recipe below came together gradually as I sorted through the items we had on hand, consulted my nascent kitchen acumen, and got started. When it came out well, I was pleased but not surprised. A year ago, I would have been surprised.

Who says milestones are just for babes? Mind if I shout "Yippee!"?

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Orecchiette with Mushrooms, Tomatoes, Sausage, and Thyme
Penne or another ridged pasta would work just as well here. If you don't wish to use meat, I would suggest using a bit more of the cheese and perhaps a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. Cannellini beans would be a nice addition as well.
>Serves 4

1/2 lb. orecchiette pasta
1 link spicy Italian sausage (optional)
10 or so medium-sized mushrooms (I used button)
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
pinch of salt
1 1/2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
1/2 cup finely grated pecorino romano cheese
1 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped

In a medium saucepan, bring pasta water to a boil. Salt the water generously and add the pasta. Cook until al dente (10-12 minutes). Drain, reserving a cup or so of pasta water.

Meanwhile, place a large saute pan over medium-high heat. If using sausage, remove it from its casing and place it in the hot pan, breaking it into bits with a wooden spoon. Saute the sausage, stirring frequently, until it is cooked through. Remove sausage to a pasta bowl. Return the pan to the heat and add the mushrooms. Reduce the heat slightly and let the mushrooms brown and soften for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add butter, olive oil, salt, and thyme to the pan and cook, stirring often, for a couple of minutes. Add wine, broth, and a splash of pasta water to the pan, and increase the heat. Bring the liquid to a boil and cook for several minutes, until the liquid is reduced by half. Add tomatoes and cook for another minute or two, until they have softened just a bit and released some juices. Stir in the pasta, sausage (if using), and cheese, and add more pasta water as needed to moisten. Cook for another minute or so. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley. Serve, topping with additional cheese, parsley, and a drizzle of olive oil if you like.