The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.

--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History

Monday, November 27, 2006

Case of the Mondays

How many of you have days that end up way longer than you anticipated? Wait, wait, I see that timid hand in the back row. Well, sister, you are not alone. Even someone as amazingly scattered as I can have days that don't conform to my (gulp) schedule.

Today was one of those days. Between one thing and another, I found myself at 5pm in the grocery store, picking up that onion which was indispensable (at least in my mind) to tonight's dinner. Now for some of you, 5pm doesn't sound all that late. At one time for me, 5pm was the perfect time to grocery shop in order to prepare a nice leisurely dinner by 8pm. However, times have changed. I now have a toddler who eats between 530 and 6pm every night. If he doesn't, he calls down the fury.

With such a dictator in my life, making dinner can take on stress levels that were unthought of before. As we barrelled through the grocery aisles I a) mentally cursed my CSA for not supplying onions, b) mentally cursed my husband for not reminding me to steal some Vidalia onions from my Nana at Thanksgiving, and c) mentally cursed myself for being such a slave to onions in my recipes. Finally, with onion (and a few other essentials) in hand, my son and I exited the grocery store. He was an angel. He even obligingly put the change in the Salvation Army's red can. The fury didn't come until after we got home . . .

Anyway, made baked ziti, a modification of a friend's recipe. She's Irish Catholic and married a half-Italian. Since their wedding day, she's made tomato sauce from scratch because he doesn't eat jarred. This friend was the source of my epiphany that you can make homemade pasta sauce in less time and hassle than expected. My version:

I make a basic tomato sauce pulled from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

a certain amount of tomatoes
a certain amount of basil
olive oil

Quarter the tomatoes and toss them in a heavy bottomed skillet/pan/whatever. Add the chopped basil. Cook, covered, on medium high heat for about ten minutes (until tomatoes really start to give up their juices). Don't forget to check the pan periodically to make sure the tomatoes aren't sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Put the whole mess through a food mill. You now have a basic sauce to which you can a) add the olive oil and salt and serve as is over pasta, b) use as a base for soup or other sauces, or c) freeze and then do b.

I chose b and used it as a base for the ziti sauce.

1 medium onion, chopped to bits in the Cuisinart
4 cloves garlic, chopped to bits in the Cuisinart
2 leaves of red chard, chopped to bits in the Cuisinart
x amount of fresh parsley, chopped to bits in the Cuisinart
olive oil
white wine
x amount of fresh Parmesan, grated
x amount of ricotta
x amount of mozzarella, grated
penne (okay, okay, so it's technically "baked penne," but who wants to argue semantics?)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Put olive oil in the same heavy bottomed pan as was used for tomato sauce. When it is hot, add the onions and garlic. Cook until soft (now be careful because since the pieces are so small, they are way easy to burn). Add the parsley and red chard. Saute for a bit. Then add the tomato sauce, white wine, and sugar to taste (sometimes I add none, sometimes a whole tablespoon). Simmer for a while (and I am assuming that this whole time you've been cooking the penne in a separate pot of boiling water). Add the Parmesan. Let it melt.

Take half the sauce and mix it with 3/4 the ricotta. Pour that over the al dente penne in a casserole dish. Mix in some mozzarella. Cut in the rest of the ricotta. Top with the rest of the sauce, Parmesan, and mozzarella.

Bake 350 for about 25ish minutes.

If I were really serious about using up some more of my CSA stuff, I would have served this with a salad. But I just got the newsletter from the CSA today that said, along with the fact we owe them more money, the first frost has already come and killed off the cucumbers. I am also assuming the lettuce too, so I marked these deaths by refraining from consuming any fragile greens.

That's just me. Always sensitive to sudden tragedies.


  1. Just caught up on your blog...I giggled out loud at the image of you ranting about chard while the CSA woman watched with thumbs up. Fabulous (and very Breeann). Can't wait to cook with you on a regular basis!

  2. Oh, and it's "kneaded." You were right, Professor!

  3. "I've never seen a day so long;
    When time keeps crawling by.."

    Wait. That's not right. Who's complaining about long days? Better they than days like seconds in an ant's life and flash-in-the pan lives of strutting and fretting one's "hour upon the stage" (see, e.g., your blog title).