Fun stuff in the ‘fridge can often elicit a fun dinner – and a fun dinner is what we had!

The goal is to eat a bit healthier which means there’s more fresh vegetables in the ‘fridge – which means use ’em or lose ’em. We all know my thoughts on wasting food, so… it’s use ’em! The joys of cleaning out the refrigerator…

By Sunday, the vegetable bins are becoming bits of this and that. In the winter, it’s the perfect recipe for soup – throw it in a pot and make it hot. Summer requires a different approach. Usually, it’s a salad of sorts, but the weather wasn’t horrible outside and we’ve been doing a lot of salads, lately. A Sunday Pasta idea crept into my mind…

One fennel bulb, one leek, a small bunch of baby broccolini, half of a yellow and half of an orange bell pepper, a bit of leftover pasta sauce, and a couple of hot Italian sausages from the freezer made the sauce. A bit of orecchiette, and dinner was served in the time it took to cook the pasta.

I love to cook and love being in the kitchen, but even I don’t want to spend all-day-every-day in there. One of my best learning experiences was in my early days of demo cooking. I’d come up with grandiose ideas and my friend and partner, Ruth, would smack me upside the head and say “I have two screaming kids who are hungry and 20 minutes to get dinner on the table – simplify that!” It was pretty much the exact opposite of everything I had done before – toasting spices to bring out their flavor and then crushing them in a mortar and pestle… building layers of flavor in a slow-simmering sauce… and dirtying every pot and pan in the kitchen.

Translating professional kitchen to home kitchen.

Putting dinner on the table every night can be a pain in the ass, sometimes – especially when there’s a picky eater in the house. But cooking from scratch doesn’t mean you have to spend all day in the kitchen or have special ingredients or tools – and it can be faster than thawing a store-bought entree or opening a box. Granted, there are tools out there to make preparation and cooking easier – I love my mandoline, for instance – but a good knife will also suffice. It’s more about getting organized and learning a bit of technique.

I think too many people have been sold the idea that they don’t have time to cook or that whatever they cook won’t be as good as that frozen whatever. It’s balderdash, of course. Yes, it is very difficult to replicate foods you get at restaurants – they have access to ingredients and cooking equipment and methods not readily available to the home cook – but that doesn’t mean you can’t cook a restaurant-worthy meal at home.

I read cookbooks like other people read novels. I look at recipes constantly – but I don’t necessarily follow them. I use them for ideas, to learn technique. I think that may be one of the reasons I like Jacques Pépin so much – at least three of his cookbooks are all about technique. He takes the everyday and elevates it.

I took a bit of the sausage and sauce and set it aside for Nonna. I then sauteed the sausage, fennel, leeks, and peppers. I added some red wine, along with some fresh herbs from the garden, and made a more complex sauce for us. One dinner cooked two different ways – 30 minutes start-to-finish – and everyone was happy.

And… it was enough for two meals. Even better.