When Jason told me the band was coming over Friday night to listen to their recently recorded album, my first thought was that I could cook dinner for them. Something about “the band” coming to the house pushed me to feel the need to cook up a hearty meal for some hungry men. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been re-reading Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking, and I feel the impulse to have fabulously quaint dinner parties in the face of limited resources, like she so eloquently writes about in her book.
Jason’s first reaction was “sure, something simple”. Either he didn’t want to appear too fancy to the band, or didn’t want to stress me (more likely). Who knows why that man says the things he says, and I know better than to push for an explanation. Our relationship is built as much on the silences we allow each other as the long conversations and playful banter we enjoy. As an introvert who spends all day talking to people, I really appreciate that about us.
So I laid in bed that night thinking about what I could make. Pot roast sounded pretty good until I remembered they were coming on Friday, not Saturday, and as we do not live in Spain 10pm would be too late to dine. I briefly considered a roast chicken and mashed potatoes, but my end of the month budget dismissed that idea. It was then I remembered I had leftover spicy vodka cream sauce, which while boring the first time around seemed to have improved with age. With the addition of a little more cheese and cream I thought it could make for a fine dinner when paired with a simple green salad. Plus with the purchase of just a few more items I could also make my pesto cream sauce, and we could then have a dinner for not much money or sweat.
So a pasta party it was. I bought some basil and mixed greens, whipped up the amazingly easy and delicious pesto sauce, whisked together a simple vinaigrette with the amazing balsamic vinegar I got Jason for Christmas, and dinner was set. Actually, dinner was almost set and then I remembered I was cooking for band boys for whom 7:30 was probably more likely to be 8:15. I turned off the boiling water and put the sauces on to simmer and joined Jason on the front porch.
It’s February in Ohio, which usually means relentless cold and endless gray. This year it means relentlessly unpredictable temperatures and endless gray. It was warm enough to step outside in just a sweater, and we sat on the front porch listening to music and talking about our week. Gayle our dachshund sat loyally on Jason’s lap, enjoying her up close watch on the sidewalk and bike path. Eventually I sensed it was time, and returned to put the pasta on to boil and to make the salad.
The bandmates showed up shortly after the pasta was drained and the table was set. It was fun to try two different pastas at once – one spicy and rich with tomato, the other peppery and inappropriately creamy. The best compliment of the night was that the person who thought they preferred a red sauce liked the pesto cream sauce more, and the one who thought they preferred a pesto sauce liked the red sauce best. I’m winning hearts and minds, people.
Actually neither of the recipes we cooked that night were from the cookbook I’m currently working my way through, Cooking for Jeffery by Ina Garten, but the rest of my weekend was spent with her. I made her crusty baked shells and cauliflower for a different set of friends on Saturday night. Not like a creamy mac & cheese, these shells are roasted until crispy and topped with a bright sprinkling of bread crumbs, lemon zest, and parmesan. It was delicious, but did not translate well to frozen and then reheated leftovers tonight. Although that might be because I defrosted overnight, cooked for a sleepy 30 minutes at 6AM this morning before work, and then microwaved the poor thing upon returning home.
Sunday I made her creamy parmesan polenta. Polenta to me has always been associated with vegetarians for some reason, and as a reformed veg head I stayed away from it. It was only recently I realized that it was more Italian in tradition than anything else, and after the most recent Spilled Milk episode I promise I would give it some time in my kitchen. Her recipe was the perfect thing to have on a solo Sunday night where I was feeling a bit under the weather, mentally and physically. Loaded with parmesan and a slight kick of garlic, it made for a meal worthy of sitting on my kitchen counter to enjoy.
So while I have my head wrapped up in the worlds of Laurie Colwin and Ina Garten, two women who know how to host a dinner party, you probably want to try and make your way to our place because I will inevitably end up cooking for you. I cannot, however, promise that afterwards when you go up to the attic to listen to music that I will not fall asleep on the downstairs couch with Home Cooking opened flat across my chest. It’s a small price to pay for a free meal.
Easy Pesto Cream Sauce
1 bunch basil (about an overflowing cup’s worth)
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan (plus more to finish)
2 tablespoons pine nuts (or any nut you have on hand)
1 small clove of garlic, minced
3/4 cup olive oil (give or take)
S&P to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
Make the pesto. In a food processor or blender, combine the basil, parmesan, nuts, and garlic. Blitz a few times to get combined, and then start to drizzle the oil into the blender or processor. Pause a few times to scrape down the sides. Blend and add enough oil until it is smooth and coats a spatula without being grainy like wet sand. Taste, and season as needed with salt and pepper. If your pesto “breaks”, meaning the oil doesn’t want to emulsify or blend with the other ingredients, add a teaspoon of mayo and blend. Works every time and you can’t taste it.
Melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Add in the cream and whisk until combined. Whisk in the pesto and leave on heat just until warmed through. Once it starts to thicken slightly, remove from the heat.
Add to your favorite pasta, using some pasta water to help it really stick to the noodles. Finish with more parmesan. Goes very nicely with bacon, cherry tomatoes, and gnocchi.