This month, we've been talking a lot about the importance of family dinners. And really, there's nothing quite nicer than sitting down with your clan at the table after a long day of work and school to relax, enjoy each others company and have a nice, decent catch up.
A couple of weeks ago, a close friend sent me a copy of James Peterson's new cookbook, Kitchen Simple as a late birthday gift. And if you're not yet familiar with Peterson's past work, this cookbook is an excellent pick for getting well acquainted.
Besides having taught at acclaimed culinary schools including The French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, the New York Restaurant School and the Institute of Culinary Education, Peterson is the author of 15 cookbooks -- including six of which that have won James Beard Awards and including one, Sauces, that took home the awe-inspiring James Beard Award for Cookbook of the Year. (This guy kinda knows his stuff.)
But regardless of high honors and an extensive culinary resume, Peterson's Kitchen Simple embodies everything that a home cook could ever wish for. Gorgeous photography (everyone loves a cookbook with pictures!), indexes for ingredients, techniques and utensils -- and not to mention hundreds of quick and smart, creative recipes for the most simple of dishes and beyond. All of the recipes call for only a handful of ingredients at most, and much like the book's title, everything is kept as simple and straightforward as can be.
You'll find recipes for everyday dishes such as roasted potatoes and buttered green beans, and for those that you may not have thought about ever including on a Monday night menu -- such as broiled New York steaks with béarnaise sauce or tuna steaks with saffron aioli.
There's a whole section on cheese dishes (mmm) and not to mention, a great section dedicated to basic sauces that we all know and love, including foolproof homemade mayonnaise, béchamel and homemade apple sauce, among others.
For my first cooking adventure with Kitchen Simple, I chose to take on the dish that graces the cover of the book: pasta and peas. It was incredibly simple. And, like Peterson has promised, dinner was out and on the table in 30 minutes (which is a standing-ovation feat in our home).
I made a couple additions to Peterson's recipe, but they were slight: sliced cherry tomatoes from the backyard garden were added at the end and instead of basic spaghetti or linguine noodles, I threw in our favorite, "special-occasion treat" pasta -- bucatini, which can be found on the shelves at Whole Foods for about $5-6. (We like to call it "shoelace spaghetti" because it is thicker and larger than regular spaghetti with a hole running through the middle, similar to a drinking straw.)
I also used chopped shallot in place of onion (what we had in the kitchen) and substituted fresh basil from the garden for the parsley as our basil plant is seeing its last good days of the season.
Overall, the pasta and peas were a huge hit! It's certainly one recipe that we'll be adding into to our weekly rotation and one that can be tailored to fit even the pickiest of eaters, or veggie-friendly families.
Pasta and Peas
Adapted from Kitchen Simple by James Peterson
Makes 6 first-course or 4 main-course servings
4 tablespoons butter
One 4-ounce slice prosciutto (1/4 inch thick), cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 small onion, chopped
One 10-ounce package frozen peas or 10 ounces fresh baby peas
1 bunch of parsley, finely chopped
1 pound dried pasta, such as spaghetti or linguine, or 1 1/2 pounds fresh
Finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, to serve
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
In a large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the prosciutto and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion turns translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the peas and cook just long enough to heat them through and, if they're fresh, lightly cook them, anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes (taste one to determine doneness). Add the parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, boil dried pasta according to the instructions on the package, or if fresh, for 30 to 60 seconds, until soft, with the slightest resistance to the tooth.
Drain the past and transfer to a heated bowl. Toss it with the pea mixture. Serve in heated pasta or soup plates. Pass the Parmesan at the table.