out of our (walnut) shell

Not that it lessens the shame, but it turns out I’m not the only one. Often I go to the grocery store and think, “I hope I don’t see anyone I know, I look/feel [self-deflating comment here] today.” Why one’s self-esteem drops upon stepping into the flourescent lights is beyond me; I never have this thought at the post office, the shoe store. Certainly not at Trader Joes.

Sure enough, upon shopping for this celebratory meal, I see two women reuniting in front of the napa cabbage. The first, with her back to me, motions her palms down her body shaking her head apologetically. The other, I can nearly hear by now, reassures, “It’s great to see you. Oh, but really, you look fine.”

Why do we walk about feeling so terrible about ourselves when there is so much to enjoy, certainly in the produce section? I wish I could say this fear of ours is irrational, but I encountered my favorite teacher (of all time, I might add) at Whole Foods before Thanksgiving. I came straight from the doctor, had not showered, my skin the shade of bitter onion. We caught up on each other’s lives and menus, and exchanged e-mail addresses; I guarantee no trauma ensued.

All the energy on our looks, fear of lengthy recipes, feelings of inadequacy, is more efficient for creating something wildly memorable in the kitchen. What better way to end the day than take loving pride in a wonderful dish you cooked?

Something new with 5 ingredients in 10 minutes? Now that sounds do-able.

Creamy Walnut Sauce

mostly from Fresh Flavor Fast, serves 4-6

tell me you would also fall for this darling orecchiette ("small ears") pasta?

1 lb. pasta (your favorite kind)

1 cup heavy cream

1 garlic clove

2 cups walnuts, toasted

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

(1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley or chives, optional)

Toast the walnuts in a dry skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant (just a few minutes).

Bring a pot of water to boil, then add a generous amount of salt (there isn’t much elsewhere in the dish). Cook the pasta until al dente according to the package. Drain pasta and return to the pot.

While the pasta is boiling, combine the cream, garlic, and 1 cup of the walnuts in a food processor. Process until smooth, and season with coarse salt and fresh pepper to your taste. (If you don’t have a $2 pepper grinder, pick up one in the spice section next time).

Transfer to the pot along with (at least) 1/4 cup parmesan, chives (if using), and remaining 1 cup walnuts. Toss to coat the pasta. Serve with additional cheese.

Since this is a simple and inexpensive dish, maybe the $2 for fresh chives won’t break the bank??

On the side? The first time I made a walnut pasta dish, I made this incredible fried bleu cheese arugula salad.

Tonight, I made a very, very basic panzanella. You may remember my first Greek panzanella, an inspiring salad experience. I recommend panzanella to every person who a) claims they can’t cook anything and b) needs to impress dinner guests. No bowls, no baking.

Panzanella requires day-old bread, so it’s a great use for a leftover dinner loaf, or any nice bread abandoned in the freezer.

There are a number of ways to transform your nearly-stale bread into remarkable croutons. You could bake them—now cut into two-inch cubes—in the oven, but I find it simpler to flip them around in a medium-hot skillet with some nice olive oil. Really toast the bread until you’re concerned it’s rock hard. This won’t take ages, maybe a little more than five minutes.

In your serving bowl, combine equal amounts olive oil and red wine vinegar (or balsamic). Stir in a little salt and pepper. For a medium-sized salad bowl, 2 tbsp. of each is a good amount. Add your veggies. I kept it to tomatoes and cucumbers, chunks of feta and fresh basil. (It was less expensive to purchase a big pot of basil at the store than a single serving, so I set it in our sunny window with abundant prayers).

Of course, red onion, white beans and all kinds of other wonderful ingredients can grace your panzanella. There is no one way to create this rustic bread salad—an overwhelming thought to some cooks. You really can’t make this incorrectly. Toss your veggies around in the oil and vinegar, and taste if it needs salt or pepper. Once your happy with your seasonings, add the bread and serve it… anytime! I don’t like the bread too soggy, though this is the point of the salad. Let it sit about twenty minutes, or even hours in the fridge. The bread absorbs deep flavors and makes this salad a substantial accompaniment. Add your basil or chives just before serving.

Finish off with this delightful dessert.

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Filed under dinners, here to share, lickety-quick

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