I am a person who spends far too much time thinking about food.
Though this tendency could most likely be attributed to my simple greed, which I will not deny, I am also intrigued by the way that we relate to our food. I know I have said it before, and admired those who have said it more eloquently, but I am still fascinated by the way food can not only be a source of nutrition but also such a part of the way we live our lives.
Our meals can be a creative expression, a link to the past or an exploration of possibility. Or, we can eat to satiate the need to fuel the body.
I have been eavesdropping on an ongoing conversation regarding the place for shortcuts, take out and convenience food in the kitchen. The discussion touches upon the ever-increasing popularity of certain network television personalities and their accompanying “semi-homemade” philosophies.
Without taking a particular side of the table so to speak, I did stop to consider the food my family eats on a daily basis; outside of the grand food holidays and events, simply Monday to Friday sort of fare.
I have always eaten reasonably well. Lucky to have the luxury of a childhood in a family of cooks, convenience food and take out was the exception rather than the rule. In my early adulthood, I tried to get my 8-10 servings of vegetables per day, even if they were sometimes interspersed with a pint and burger at the local pub.
It was when I became pregnant that I really felt the impact of the food choices I made. I was suddenly responsible for more than just me and my waistline. With each bite, I realized what I was eating was what would sustain my child. What would help him develop, help him grow strong and nurture him before I could even hold him in my arms.
As you may well imagine, heavily-processed foods, caffeine, additives, nitrates and the like where not on the menu.
With Benjamin’s birth, a part of my Mummyhood has come to include the role of family nutritionist and meal provider. I know that I am the one that is, in large part, shaping the way he views food. The way he views how food is made. The way he views food as part of his life - as energy or as something more.
It is that something more that I think about most. I think about how somewhere along the way society developed this love-hate relationship with food. We love indulgence, yet hate the consequences; we move from extremes of decadence to extremes of denial.
In our day-to-day food is frequently regarded as an inconvenience; something that takes time from all the more important things that we have scheduled for ourselves.
I can only speak for myself. I can only say what works for me. I have chosen to make good food a priority. Not simply the act of eating, though I do believe in taking the time to eat as a family whenever possible, but also the act of shopping, preparing and discussing food. Nutrition, tradition, why we eat what we eat when we eat it - all of these are topics I hope to share with my son as I share them with my dear Sean now.
I want Benjamin to realize that sometimes things are worth effort or time, and that the proof is truly in the pudding. I hope he sees the beauty in a balanced life.
I will admit that there are frozen pizzas in my freezer. I will also admit that there are a stack of take out menus in a drawer somewhere. But I will also point out the recipe books, pots and pans and utensils that fill our cupboards.
I do not scorn convenience. Cooking may not be for everyone. But I will rally against the notion that cooking is nothing more than a chore. There is beauty in the process of making food, even when at its most basic. There is a poetry in it that tells you “this is worthwhile.”
I made this pasta as a quick dinner when my dear Sean was working late. Inspired by a love for spaghettti alla carbonara, all the elements of the original are here. Salty pork punctuating a tangle of creamy, egg-blanketed pasta. I have added chicken stock to the sauce for a fresher version suited for early spring. The mix of asaparagus and mushrooms also seem fitting for the season, and the crisped prosciutto is tender, yet still toothsome, among the pappardelle.
It should have taken about 10 minutes to come together, but again, priorities came into play. I stopped prepping once because of a potential altercation between Benjamin and Miss Billie the Cat (priority). I continued when Benjamin chose to dump his toys across the floor (not a priority). I paused again to kiss my husband hello (priority). Then I finished making dinner.
Far from Rockwellian, but we did manage for the three of us to end up around the dinner table; all eating the same meal, at the same time.
I, for one, felt truly nourished.
Creamy mushroom and asparagus pappardelle
Lighter than a traditional carbonara, but still retaining its charm, this pasta is a quick and satisfying weeknight meal.
4 slices prosciutto
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
150 g trimmed and cut asparagus spears
250 g cremini or brown mushrooms, cut into halves or quarters depending on size
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
175 g pappardelle
30 g grated parmesan cheese
Generous teaspoon thyme leaves
2 large eggs
1/3 cup mixture of chicken stock and cream, whatever ratio suits your taste
Cook the prosciutto under a preheated broiler for about 3 minutes, until crisp and lightly golden. Set aside.
In a frying pan over medium high heat, sauté shallots in the olive oil for about a minute, or until beginning to turn translucent. Add mushrooms and asparagus, season sparingly with salt and pepper and cook for 6 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Reduce the heat to low.
Meanwhile, cook pappardelle in a large pot of salted boiling water until just under al dente, or slightly less than package instructions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Add the pappardelle to the vegetable mixture, turning to combine. The pasta will darken as it absorbs the olive oil and juices from the vegetables. Crumble in prosciutto. Turn off heat.
Whisk together parmesan cheese, eggs, thyme leaves, cream and chicken stock in a small bowl.
Working quickly, add the egg mixture to the pappardelle and toss to coat. Continue to stir until the eggs are cooked and slightly thickened; the sauce will thoroughly cling to the noodles. Add the reserved pasta water as necessary until the desired consistency is achieved. Season with additional pepper.
Best eaten immediately. Serves 2 rather generously, or 3 when feeding one adult male with a hearty appetite, one adult female with a medium appetite and one greedy little toddler.
• I used a ratio of about 3 parts stock to 1 part 10% cream. Use whatever amounts, and butterfat content cream, that suits you.
• Baby spinach can also be substituted for the asparagus. If you are lucky enough to come across fresh morels, they would be fantastic here.