It seems a thousand things occur on the weekends that we have my kids: volleyball tournaments, slumber parties, homework, laundry, grocery shopping and hopefully, time to stop for a moment and look at each other across the dinner table and talk.
Since I work away from home all week, cooking for my children and that time we finally spend together is crucially important. No matter how busy or how long the weekend to-do list is, I squeeze in the time to cook. Senses are often frazzled from a week of racing the clock, and I find myself longing for just an hour or so in the kitchen--the sound of water filling a pan, the feel of a heavy knife in my hand, the warmth of the gas flame on the stove flickering to life, and the comforting savory smells of nourishing food slowly roasting in the oven is soothing and familiar. It brings me back to who I am and what I love. It reconnects me to my now teenage children. Putting together a meal for my family is about the best way I can relax, and knowing I am nourishing them with good food and memories at the same time is wholly satisfying.
When I found out on Friday that I was picked to cook a dish from Nigella Lawson's new cookbook followed up with a chat by video with her and the New York Times Dining Section editor, Julia Moskin, along with two other home cooks like me, I was elated. What a fantastic excuse to make something lovely and delicious for my family, and then photograph the whole thing! The cherry on the cake is to actually talk about it directly with Ms. Lawson after it's all said and done.
I followed her recipe exactly. It really was something I could prepare on a weeknight, since the most complicated thing was simply a bit of chopping. Tossing the veg into the water as it boiled along with the pasta is a very cool time saving trick. If I was leisurely preparing the dish, and wanted to change it up a little, I might oven roast the brussels sprouts and potatoes after coating them with a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt in the 400 degree oven while the pasta boiled, then add them in at the last second.
I printed the recipe before I left work on Friday. A sweet benefit of working at a cooking school is having a stable of brilliant Chef Instructors at my fingertips, so I asked Maxine, the wine instructor, for advice about which wine would be best with this particular dish. She scribbled down a few for me and I grabbed up a rather lovely but inexpensive bottle of Sauvignon Blanc on my way home.
Although I followed the recipe rather exactly, at the last minute I realized I'd left my glass lasagna dish at a friend's house, so I used a cast iron skillet instead. Also, I set my oven to "convection bake" accidentally, so the dusting of Parmesan cheese crisped to a deeper golden brown than perhaps Nigella intended. We rolled with it though, and I just confidently informed the kids that it was simply "caramelized" and would add a little crunch that they would love.
The kids heaped seconds into their pasta bowls. Emma separated the sprouts from her coveted pasta and cheese as usual, but everyone agreed they'd love to eat this particular recipe for dinner again.
And of course, once the flavors melded together after a few hours, the left-overs were a delicious treat to be enjoyed after everyone else has gone to bed... in proper Nigella Fashion ; )