"No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize." - Julia Child

Thursday, April 8, 2010

An Easter dish that's perfect for every day of the week

Happy very-belated Easter! And what a beautiful Easter it was here in the Northeast. The temperatures were in the low 70s, there was a lot of sun, and it was breezy. It really was a lovely, pleasant weekend.

Easter has never been a very big deal in my family. We usually gather at my aunt's house for a half-hearted egg hunt in her tiny backyard, chocolate bunnies, and a dinner of meatballs and ham. I think one reason I've never been very keen on Easter is those dreadful spiral-cut hams people have on Easter. A big, pink lump studded with cloves, covered in sweet sauce, and topped with pineapples is not my idea of how to honor a beautiful ham. To me, ham should be salty, because the natural subtle sweetness of the pork will shine through the brine. To cover a ham in sugar AND cloves AND fruit AND syrupy sweet stuff is just a crime. An absolute crime! Putting a bit of sugar on ham is okay by me ONLY if you are also putting savory spices on it, like cumin and paprika, and using the mixture as a nice rub. None of this gooey sweet ham nonsense. Honor your ham and lay off the pineapples! (I despise pineapples, mostly because they make my mouth incredibly itchy, but if they're your thing, go for it. Just don't let me see you putting them on a ham.)

Jeremy and I kept it pretty casual on Easter Sunday, but because I did want to at least do something a bit Eastery, I decided to make penne with asparagus and ham. It includes a lean ham steak, which you cut into tiny bits and add in at the end. This dish is lovely and light, yet lemony and flavorful, and it's also really healthy because it's pretty low in fat. In fact, it's a dish I got from a Weight Watchers cookbook, and Jeremy and I just love it. The best part of this dish is that you can also eat it cold, like a pasta salad, something that came in handy last night when it was freakishly hot (90 degrees!) and we couldn't even muster the energy to heat our leftovers, let alone actually stand in front of the stove to cook anything.

To make this delicious meal vegetarian friendly, swap the chicken stock for vegetable stock and consider adding some tofu stir-fried in a bit of oil and garlic in place of the ham, or else add some nice sliced mushrooms.

Penne with Asparagus and Ham (depending on your portion sizes, this makes about 4-6 servings)

- 2 cups whole wheat penne OR linguini broken into 2-inch pieces
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1 large tomato, chopped
- 3 thinly sliced garlic cloves
- 1 lb bunch of asparagus, cleaned and cut into 2-inch pieces (snap off and discard woody bottoms of stalks)
- 1 cup reduced sodium chicken broth
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 diced lean ham steak
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 3 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan

Prepare pasta according to package directions and drain.

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add tomato and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomato has softened, about 5 minutes. Inhale the delicious aroma of garlic and tomatoes cooking together and wonder to yourself what you did to deserve such a treat.

Add asparagus, broth, and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until asparagus is tender, about 3 minutes. Use a fork to poke about at the asparagus and make sure it is to your liking.

Add pasta, ham, and basil and toss to combine. Allow everything to heat for a minute or two and then serve.Top each dish with Parmesan. (You remember my rant about fresh Parmesan, right? And you're not cheating by using that stuff that comes in the green tube that shall remain nameless, correct? Okay, good. Just making sure!)

1 comment:

thelaygastronomer said...

i like the recommendations for making it veg!

at taste of the nation yesterday, i was snapping photos of hungry mother's chef's baby girl, and he gave her a piece of bacon to pose with. gotta start when they're young!