bookstore buffet

If you’ve read a little about me, you may recall I’m currently in grad school for Nutrition. Well, I’ve gotten in this funny little habit… my huge university requires a two hour early arrival, as finding a parking space takes 50 minutes on average. So then I’m on campus too early for class, and some days don’t feel engrossed in my studies enough to study prior to a three-hour lecture.

That’s when I discovered these fantastic chairs in the student bookstore. My campus is filled with deceivingly comfortable chairs, but fifteen minutes in most has me desperate for an ottoman. Besides that the purple chairs in the bookstore are adorable in a Lindsey-loves-retro kind of way, these seats are seriously comfy.

It’s merely by coincidence that my favorite chairs are adjacent to the extensive Cooking genre shelves. I admit that I’ve spent the week indulging in hours of cookbook reading, today’s reading leading to several Italian recipes now penciled in the back of my spiral notebook.

So I came home tonight ecstatic to try out an arugula salad with fried gorgonzola balls, and cavatappi with walnut sauce. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm. Even more delicious than they sound.

What’s also exciting is that this meal was not terribly expensive, thanks only to Trader Joes (and this recipe ended up making enough for 6 to 8). For under $15, we enjoyed a healthy and truly gourmet dinner with crisp Pinot—no required reservations or tip!

I came home with this beautiful half-pound hunk of fresh gorgonzola cheese from TJs…surely would have been well over $9 at another grocery store. Only this little guy was under $3.

Now here’s where a mini food-prep is a fantastic tool: I needed my large food processor for other aspects of our dinner, and this was such a small amount to dirty the huge bowl of my kitchenaid.

I broke the cheese into smaller pieces and processed until smooth. This could be done with a variety of cheeses, and next time I think I’ll try goat cheese. The processed result resembled gray putty, but the aroma was fantastic.

I rolled the cheese into teaspoon-size balls. This sounds like a lot of work, but it wasn’t complicated or messy, and the result was absolutely worth the time. A quick dip in beaten egg and breadcrumbs, and I lined them onto some wax paper. Though the recipe said they should be refrigerated for an hour, the freezer was much more effective in helping the cheese to stay put during the frying process.

This was really no more than ten minutes of work. Now that the cheese was in the freezer preparing for later frying, I could start on the dressing for the salad and sauce for the pasta. I’ve heard all kinds of food chef celebrities acclaim this salad dressing, and it was one of those things I always wanted to try. Let me tell you: it is simple, and divine. AMAZING LEMON & OIL DRESSING: I combined the juice of two lemons with some fresh lemon zest, salt, pepper, minced garlic, and thickened with a sweet teaspoon of honey. Remember, mincing garlic with your microplane is a fantastic method to incorporate garlic evenly into your recipe. Chopped garlic would have been way too harsh in this raw dressing.

Once I whisked all of these together (plenty of salt and pepper), I added olive oil to taste. The recommended 1/3 cup was way too little. I just kept adding little dribbles, whisking well, and tasting for balance. That’s IT. This dressing is light and flawless.

As you can see in the background, toasting the walnuts was essential. If you want to toast nuts on the stovetop (and believe me, you want to toast your nuts), you may choose to do so because, like me, you store an obscene amount of kitchenware in your oven and taking it all out to toast a cup of nuts is plain silly. Or you may toast them on the stovetop because keeping them in sight makes you less likely to burn them 😉 Either way, be sure you have a dry skillet on medium heat and toss the nuts occasionally. You will smell their fragrance as they toast, they’re just about done at this point. Don’t burn!!

You may look at the walnut sauce ingredients here and think: that’s just odd, Lindsey. But I assure you, toasted walnuts with a little bit of butter, plenty of salt and pepper, and some fruity Extra-Virgin Olive Oil makes for the beginning of a fantastic pasta sauce.

After processed until smooth (drizzling the oil in very gradually), I stirred in 1/2 cup of fresh parmesan and 1/2 cup of heavy cream. I considered substituting milk or plain yogurt, but gave into the heavy cream this time for the sake of a quality recipe. Cream and cheese and the sauce is ready to be set aside for the finished pasta!

I substituted whole wheat pasta for its nutritional value, and in the case of a light, nutty sauce like this, hearty whole wheat pasta was just so perfect. And if you’re a meat eater like my hubby, you may enjoy trying what we did tonight: chopping up some store-bought rotisserie chicken to add to the finished pasta. Andrew couldn’t believe how well the chicken balanced with the sauce. The vegetarian here will just take his word for it.

This was a really hearty and filling meal, I couldn’t even finish my pasta! Fried cheese is so enjoyable as it is, and crisping my little gorgonzola balls in olive oil made for impeccable flavor. I love bleu cheese with fruit, so dried cranberries were the perfect complement to the arugula and lemon and gorgonzola.

As soon as the pasta was just al dente, I put the hot strained noodles right back into the pot and stirred in the walnut sauce with a good amount of reserved salty cooking water. Needs some salt and pepper at the end, and parsley just tops it off. For the salad, I tossed the arugula with the lemon dressing just before serving, sprinkled the fried gorgonzola balls and cranberries on top and enjoyed a simple, filling salad.

 

Yes, this meal was some work, but really nothing technically challenging or complex in ingredients. Great meals don’t have to be expensive, or “gourmet”. I like to think any simple dish at home can taste better than restaurant cuisine. Once in the while, it’s fun to try something exceptional and unique in one’s own kitchen. Tonight’s dishes were well worth it.

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Filed under dinners, techniques, the basics

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