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A Duo of Spaghetti Improvisations

Two pasta dishes demonstrate the divergent ways non-recipe, improv cooking can go; one night you produce a dinner fit for company and another time it’s a messy plate you’re glad not to share. Our contenders:

Spaghetti and Greens in Creamy Sauce vs Spaghetti with Sage Butter, Walnuts, Peas, Capers and Egg (also sherry)

Both have ingredients I like a lot, but the different results prove that execution and judicious application of great basics are what helps a dish transcend its individual parts, or it can turn even the best ingredients into an undistinguished blend of bland. Guess which one ended up less than the sum of its pieces.

The winner:

  • 4 oz mixed stir fry greens (young kale, chard, etc.)
  • about 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 Tbs flour
  • Parmesan (fresh grated)
  • 1 Tbs butter and some olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 oz spaghetti (dried) – or more

The how-to: Wash and chop up your greens, roughly; sauté them in some olive oil in a large pan (medium to high heat). Add some chopped garlic if you have it, but give the greens some time to wilt first, and then turn the heat low. Meanwhile, melt about 1 tbs butter in a small pot, add the flour, stir and cook on low heat for about a minute or so – this is a basic roux and you don’t want it to get too dark because this is a bechamel-type sauce we’re making. Slowly add the milk and keep stirring. Let the sauce thicken, add Parmesan and salt and pepper. Stir, check for consistency, and marvel at the fact that you are making a creamy, cheesy sauce. While this is going on, cook your spaghetti the usual way. Combine the sauce with the greens and the spaghetti, toss to coat the pasta, season to taste. If the sauce is a little too thick, add some of the pasta water (just a bit). Now that I think about it, you could add some chopped walnut as a topping if you want. This is definitely one you can serve to company (once you’re comfortable making your own creamy cheese sauce.)

If you’re curious about the other dish, well, the ingredients are right there in the name. And it wasn’t awful; in fact, it tasted ok. But it looked a bit too grayish-greenish thanks to the last-minute, ill-considered addition of egg and sherry. Feel free to experiment with the basic approach but as for me, the less said about this one, the better.

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