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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Thursday, July 25

Gapers Block

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This is the time of year when it's really tough to cook. Summer is short in Chicago. Working in a climate-controlled cube means it's hard to be inside after work, let alone stirring away over a hot stove. Heaven forbid the thought of using an oven when it's 90 degrees outside!

But, a girl's gotta eat and take-out tends to be greasy and I've made a promise to my budget to buy fewer dinners, so cooking at home more often means I can justify splurging when I do eat out.

Eating salads is nice and tasty and healthy (generally), but not always that filling. Occasionally, when I know I'm going to be sipping cocktails on a friend's deck or going for a long bike ride after dinner, I need something a little more substantial to get me through the night. And when I need a quick meal, I often turn to a book I bought 10 years ago to inspire my pasta-eating ways. The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces by Diane Seed has inspired many, many pasta dishes in my kitchen. I've followed exactly two recipes item for item, and those pages are splattered with little red and brown dots from when the book sat next to my stove.

While many of them sound quite delicious, I have a really hard time following exact directions. Besides, it's a pasta sauce. There's very little you can put over pasta that is wrong. Even peanut butter mixed with some coconut milk, chili powder, salt and pepper can make a decent topping for a plate of spaghetti.

Since all of these sauces can be made in the amount of time it takes the pasta to cook, they qualify as fast cooking in my book. They're also very simple, calling for just a few ingredients, so I recommend getting the best-looking and highest quality stuff you can find.

If you're still too busy to put even this much effort into dinner, I can't recommend enough the pasta sauces by Pomi. They're the best-tasting sauces straight out of the carton I've ever wrapped around my taste buds. My favorite pasta (that's easy to find) is Barilla brand. If you're trying to eliminate simple carbohydrates, look for whole wheat pasta or even pasta made from chick pea or chestnut flour. Quite yummy, fewer carbs, and a bit of protein thrown in for good measure. A little bit of freshly grated parmesan cheese would do well on any of these recipes.

What follows are my variations of Seed's recipes. Feel free to leave out what you don't like and add what you do. Each of these recipes will make a side dish for four, or a main dish for two or maybe three.

Hot Tossed Spaghetti
1 pound of Spaghetti or angel hair
1 hot chile
4 tablespoons of olive oil (doesn't have to be extra-virgin since you're cooking it)
1 clove of garlic, minced
Fresh parsley or basil (optional)

Add four quarts of water to a large pot and put over high heat. Chop your chile in half and throw it in the water, then cover the pot. Once the water boils and you add your pasta, put the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Throw in your garlic and stir occasionally. Once the pasta is cooked (the best way to tell if it is done is to simply taste a strand) pour 3 tablespoons of the pasta water into the pan with the garlic and oil and drain the rest. Either put the pasta back into the cooking pot or add to a large flat bowl. Stir the water into the oil and pour the mixture over the sauce, tossing well. The pasta will have soaked up the spicy flavor of the pepper (which should be discarded). Sprinkle the chopped or torn parsley or basil on top and serve.

Grape Tomatoes and Garlic
1 pound of Fettucine or Spaghetti
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 of a small bell pepper, sliced thinly
2-3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar (no substitutions)

Shortly before the water is ready, add the olive oil to a skillet on medium-low heat. Add the garlic and stir constantly. You don't want the garlic to brown, and you barely want the vegetables to cook. Once you add the pasta to the water, add the peppers and tomatoes to the skillet, tossing them every minute or two. Once the pasta is cooked, drain the water and pour the pasta back into the pan or into a pasta bowl and add the skillet mixture. Sprinkle with the balsamic vinegar, toss until the pasta's coated and serve.

Uncooked Tuna Sauce
1 lb of spaghetti
1 can of tuna or pouch of tuna (drained)
1/4 cup of your favorite chopped nuts
rind of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar (or Worcestershire sauce)
Fresh parsley or basil
4-6 tablespoons of olive oil (since you aren't cooking with it, use the extra-virgin)
salt and pepper

Using a blender or food processor, puree all the sacue ingredients. Add the olive oil slowly so that you don't add too much. If you're in the mood for tart, add juice from one half of a lemon to the blender and use less oil. Drain the cooked pasta, pour the sauce over it, toss well and serve.

Frozen Peas with Light Cream Sauce
1 pound of fusili or bowtie pasta
1 bag of frozen peas
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 cup of light cream (or heavy if you like it)
1/4 cup of parmesan cheese

Pour the peas, garlic and a small amount of the cream into a small saucepan. Stir occasionally over low heat as the peas thaw. Once the pasta have finished cooking, drain it and add to the pan or a serving dish. Keep a couple of teaspoons of the pasta water and add to the saucepan. Sprinkle in the shredded cheese and slowly add the cream until the sauce reaches the consistency you like. Pour the sauce over the pasta, toss well, and serve.

For less than $8 you can make a meal that will easily serve yourself and a friend. You'll save money, spend very little time heating up your home, and come away with the energy you need to get through your crazy summer lifestyle.

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miss ellen / June 11, 2004 12:13 PM

thanks, cinnamon!

these sound great for some quick, summertime cooking. now that i'm back from my various travels & finally settling into the new place, i'm looking forward to getting back into cooking.

in fact, tomorrow i'll pick up my first box of organic veggies since mid-april; eeek, way too long!


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