Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Impromptu Guests

I was working at my computer one day when I kept hearing a strange tapping. It wasn’t rhythmic. I couldn’t detect a pattern. Started. Stopped. Then, every once in a while, a bit of a crash/bang/thump.

Every time I got up to investigate, I found nothing. No picture had fallen off a wall; no book had dropped off a shelf. Nothing. Finally, after a couple of trips (like answering the phone to find no one there) I finally spied it -- the psycho-cardinal.

She tried and tried to get in. Whether she just saw her own reflection or something pretty in the room, I don’t know. Maybe she was having a frustrating day and just felt like banging her head. The window has the marks to prove she must have hurt herself.

But the unexpected "knocking at the door" got me thinking about impromptu guests and all those times you need, or want, to whip up something quick. (My husband hates it when I “disappear” into the kitchen for what he thinks is too long; unfortunately, our kitchen isn’t big enough to invite company.)

If we didn’t live so far from any town, I suppose we could be like normal people and order a pizza or takeout, but then someone would disappear for at least an hour fetching the food. I’d rather have the company.

So, I’ve developed an easy repertoire of “go-to” meals and snacks. My friend Susie taught me how to make a killer salsa (a big can of diced tomatoes, drained, ½ jar pepper rings, also drained, ½ small onion chopped, and a teaspoon of the pepper juice. Simple. Great. I’ve also known her to take a can of drained black olives and season them with olive oil, salt & pepper and oregano. More simple. More great.)

I keep a pretty well-stocked pantry and we usually have a variety of cheeses and crackers on hand, or when something more substantial is called for, there’s always an omelet or frittata, even a plain ol' fried egg sandwich.

But my favorite go-to meal is a sausage-pasta-spinach-tomato dish. There has to be a great name for it and I can’t remember how I started doing it, but here it is: You’ll need a pound of sweet Italian sausage, a 15-ish ounce can of diced tomatoes (as opposed to Susie’s “big” can), a bag of fresh baby spinach (a box of thawed frozen spinach will do in a pinch), and a cup of cooked pasta – shells, bow ties, rotini, etc. If I’m feeling real creative or not rushed, I’ll grate some fresh nutmeg into it, too. Or add a chopped onion. Or a couple ounces of feta or a handful of olives. (Then I could call it Mediterranean Pasta Toss.)

You really just need the four main ingredients to make a super simple supper, though. While the pasta is boiling, brown the sausage (and onion, if you want, maybe some garlic), then add the tomatoes and simmer. Then add the cooked pasta. But don’t add the fresh spinach until you’re just about ready to eat it. You just want to get it wilted. And don’t forget to grate some nutmeg on top to make it a bit special. And grated cheese, too.

What’s really great about this is that if I make it for just my husband and me, the leftovers are great reprised as a frittata!

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