Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Atkins Advantage

There are some slight advantages to having your mother and aunt buy into the Atkins craze.

Oh, sure, it means it's completely impossible to offer to cook anything for them now - it used to be so easy to offer to bring a loaf of bread, say, when you come for dinner, or to make some cookies to help out after a hectic week. No more. Not thanks to ol' Dr. Atkins. Unless you have some sort of mad desire to make a meat cake - which, by the way, would work much better than the absolutely abysmal soy-flour cookies I tried over the holidays - you're kinda restricted to bringing a six-pack of diet soda and a smile.

However, the flow of food seems to magically reverse when relatives go on Atkins. All of a sudden, there's all this food around that they can't eat any more ... and if your relatives are anything like mine, they can't just throw it out.

That means giving it away to avoid temptation. And that, my friends, means a bounty of pasta for the Kitchen Ninja.

When I say a bounty, I mean it. My shelves are literally overflowing with lasagne noodles, spaghetti, rigatoni, penne, and every shape in between. I've got bronze-cut semolina pasta, regular supermarket pasta, whole wheat, the works. I have a whole damn lot of pasta around.

Naturally, that means I've gotta use the pasta. And the discovery of a slowly mummifying lemon, along with a suspiciously elderly looking cubanelle pepper, presented that most favoured of the Kitchen Ninja's challenges: figuring out what to do with the stuff that the kitchen elves have left behind.

The result? A creamy red pepper and mushroom penne, with pepper and lemon. Just the right kind of quick comfort food for a windy February night.

Creamy Red Pepper and Mushroom Penne
serves 1 hungry ninja

1 cup penne
1 cubanelle or red bell pepper, sliced
5 button/white mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon sour cream
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
lemon zest (around half a lemon's worth, or around 1/2t)
pinch of nutmeg

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add penne and cook ~8 min, or until al dente. Scoop out around 1 cup of pasta water and reserve, then drain and rinse under cold water.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat and add the mushrooms and peppers. Saute until the mushrooms start turning golden and the peppers soften and take some colour.
  3. Add the garlic and continue to saute for another 1-2 minutes, or until the mushrooms and peppers are tender.
  4. Add the black pepper, lemon zest, and nutmeg. Stir to combine.
  5. Add the ricotta and sour cream, stirring well as you add them. Use the pasta water to thin out the sauce until it's a nice, creamy consistency.
  6. Add the pasta to the pan and stir to coat in the sauce.
  7. Plate and enjoy!
I think next time I'm going to use half pasta water and half white wine to thin out the sauce - it could use a little extra something. Not bad for an improv, though!

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