Long week. Multiple cities. Landed at the airport, got in the car and drove right into the teeth of Friday Rush Hour traffic. By the time I got off the freeway 30 minutes later I'd gone from a rather involved Farro and Breaded Sole thing I had in my head to "screw it, I'm just stopping at the first fast food joint I see".
And then I thought, "Nah." If I'm gonna try to eat healthier I gotta actually eat healthier and I didn't want a sit down restaurant and I didn't much feel like cooking. Then I remembered this dish.
It's a standby go-to when I need something fast but I want it to be light and relatively healthy. I'd cook it for Jill from time to time when I'd get back from a week of travel and I was tired and didn't feel like cooking. But, you know what? She'd had a long week, too. She'd been working, too. She was tired, too. And I'd missed the hell out of her and wanted to do something for her.
Also, if you get your act together it'll take 15 minutes from the time the pasta water boils to when you're eating.
1 pound dried penne (or whatever)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tbsp butter
½ large red onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1 cup baby spinach
½ cup frozen peas
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
2 lemons, zested and juiced
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Let's do this...
Put a pot of water on a burner, turn it to high, cover it, let 'er rip. It's up to you if you want to salt it now or after it's boiling. Salt water boils faster than fresh water. HOWEVER, when you add salt, you add mass. So, chances are it's a wash. I usually throw the salt in when I start heating it, just so I don't forget. You're probably asking, "how much salt"? I don't know. At least a tablespoon. Over time you'll figure it out.
Get your supplies together. Cutting board, knife, vegetable peeler (what?), high-sided sauté pan. Get your ingredients together.
Put the pan on over medium heat and add the olive oil and butter. Peel one lemon with a vegetable peeler and drop the peels into the skillet. This will infuse the oil with a subtle lemon flavor. That might be where the classy part comes from. I do it this way because I don't really want to spend an extra $5 a bottle for lemon-infused olive oil and because I don't always want to have lemon-infused olive oil. This does the trick nicely.
Peel and slice the onion and garlic. They're going in together. Set them aside.
Once the water is boiling, throw the pasta in. Follow the directions on the box. Don't overthink it.
Remove the lemon peels from the skillet. Add the onion, garlic and red pepper flakes (if you're using them) and drop in a little salt and pepper to start building the flavor. Saute until soft and fragrant, about five minutes.
A note on the red pepper flakes: if you want a spicy dish, throw in all three tablespoons. If you want a little spice, throw in one. If you don't want spice, this dish tastes just fine without it. Since you're making this for your significant other, maybe you oughta make it the way she likes it. If you don't know how she likes it...um...ask. If you've been with this wonderful woman for awhile (like, years) and you had to ask, you suck at paying attention to your spouse. You have much bigger problems. Cooking for her probably isn't going to save you.
Add the spinach and another little bit of salt and pepper and the lemon juice. Shake, rattle and roll the skillet...or just give it all a good through stir.
I'm betting you have about five minutes left on the pasta. Take 2-3 minutes and grate the parm and chop up the parsley. Set them aside. When you have a minute left on the pasta add the peas to the skillet. They will thaw fast in there and they'll maintain a bit of crispness if you add them this late...but they will cook through.
Drain the pasta and throw it in the skillet. Mix everything up and let it go for about another minute. Pour it all into a big pasta bowl. Give it a taste. If you need to add any more salt, pepper, or lemon juice, do it now and give it all another good tossing.
Sprinkle in the chopped parsley. Before serving top with Parmesan. Plate that bad boy up.
This is such a fresh and vibrant dish. It's great in the spring or summer because it tastes like spring and summer. You also have a lot of room to play. At various times I've tossed in fresh thyme or rosemary or oregano. Sometimes all three (careful...that takes a bit of finesse). It can subtly change the whole dish. You also can subtract. If peas aren't your thing, leave 'em out. If you have shallots instead of onion, it works fine. If you don't want spinach you can use anything from arugula to kale to chard to collard greens. Lettuces don't hold up so well but the firmer leafy greens all work. The real key is the lemon. You want it to pop. It adds the brightness and the summery feel to it.