There are only three people who live in my house, but all three of us have vastly different preferences when it comes to food. One of us is a former nearly life-long vegetarian who has only conceded to eating meat if it a) hails from the sea, or b) does not in any way resemble something that was once attached to an animal (this means no bones, no skin, and no “chewy bits”). Another one is a human food depository with the metabolic rate of a hummingbird, a person who, if pressed, will only list one single food that falls into the realm of being not entirely favorable (this food is water chestnuts and, really, it’s not that they are regarded as inedible so much as they are simply relegated to the bottom of the list of preferred foods). The third person is a child, and this generally means that the foods most highly regarded by his palette fall into the category of being carbohydrates: bread, pasta, rice, crackers, and fruit.
So what’s a person to do, other than try and conjure up a dish that will be eaten—and, in hope, enjoyed—by all three people? And how does one go about building such a dish? I’ll give you a hint: the first step is pasta.
The second step is butter.
You’d be hard pressed to find a person who doesn’t enjoy the simple pleasures of a basic pasta tossed with a bit of butter, oil, and sharp parmesan cheese. The best thing about pasta bianco (or bianca, depending on who you ask and how much he or she wants to show off a perceived prowess for Italian pronunciation) is that it’s like a building block for any number of dishes one might like to construct.
You start with pasta, cooked al dente with a little bit of the pasta water held off to the side. The sauce starts as gently heated butter or olive oil (or both), perhaps with a bit of garlic and red pepper flakes thrown in.
You can stop there, tossing the pasta with the butter and oil and then adding a satisfying handful of parmesan cheese to the mix, or you can move on, adding flavors and bulking up the dish to see how far you can take things before you meet that good middle ground of having a dish that is still primarily made of pasta (child’s preference), but also bursting with fresh vegetables and crunchy textures (slightly meat-o-phobic former vegetarian’s preference).
The third person, of course, will most likely be happy no matter what, seeing as the dish is plentiful and, you know, made of food, therefore satisfying his basic list of requirements as related to meals and consumption. The best part about this pasta, however, is the fact that it is highly delicious, which is arguably the most important element of any dish, no matter who is eating it.
Garden Spaghetti in a Lemon Butter Sauce
1 lb dried pasta (spaghetti, linguine, or another long variety)
1 lb broccoli, washed and trimmed into long-stemmed florets
1 tablespoon olive oil
3-4 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, smashed and very finely minced
2 lemons, juiced and zested, the zest finely grated or chopped
optional: 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
6-8 oz fresh spinach, washed and trimmed
1 large handful Italian parsley, trimmed and coarsely chopped
parmesan cheese, for sprinkling
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, then cook pasta according to package directions. During the last minute of cooking, drop in broccoli florets and briefly swirl around to allow for even distribution and cooking. Drain pasta and broccoli, setting aside 1 cup of pasta cooking water. Return pasta to cooking pot, toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil to prevent sticking, and set aside.
While the pasta is cooking, melt butter in a small saucepan set over low heat. When butter has melted, add in minced garlic and gently simmer for about one minute, allowing the garlic to release a lovely smell, but being careful not to let it brown. Add in lemon juice and lemon zest, and, if using, red pepper flakes. Carefully simmer for another minute, then remove from heat. Carefully stir in reserved cup of pasta water.
Pour lemon and butter mixture over pasta and broccoli. Toss well to mix. Add salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, place a handful of spinach on a plate, place pasta over spinach, then sprinkle pasta with parmesan cheese and chopped Italian parsley.
This should make 6 large servings for 6 normal people. In my house it serves one adult, one preschooler, and one Perfect Eating Machine, with a modest bit remaining for leftovers.