Blog, I know I did you wrong. For months I left you cold for my other blog. A wedding blog, of all things! Ridic. But that's all over now and I realize how much I missed you. Blog, baby, will you take me back? I just want to cuddle up with you and muse about pasta, not rant about the stupid wedding deejay.
Here's the catch, though: I want to talk about cooking in my new married life because there is a lot to say. Blog, is that okay with you? Is it okay that I don't always make my dishes quite as frugally as I used to? (Marriage has its financial rewards.) Is it okay that I have cut all yellow squash from my dinner repertoire? (Marriage involves compromise.) Is it okay that I no longer subsist on raw cabbage from time to time to maintain my girlish figure? (Marriage is a commitment to stay together through thick and thin, and I take that commitment quite literally, especially the thick part.)
Funny how my last post was about pre-wedding dieting. HA! I say to that, Ha! How things have changed. While I have not exactly been "letting myself go" just yet, I've enjoyed reconnecting with two long-lost friends, Meat and Carbs. We're just letting bygones be bygones or, more accurately, letting backflab be backflab. No big deal. But the real reason for our renewed friendship is this whole married life thing. Special Someone and I like to sit down for dinner and enjoy a meal together when we're both home. I like to cook more than he does, plus my tolerance for Steak-umms is non-existent-to-quite low, so I end up doing most of the preparations. But my single gal style of cooking cannot keep up with this man's idea of a normal portion or a filling meal. I am starting to comprehend the challenge my mother used to face nightly, cooking for her bottomless pit of a husband, three ravenous sons, and an equally gluttonous daughter (back in my youthful days of turbo-charged metabolism -- man, I miss those days).
Anyway, if I were to cook traditional Economical Epicurean-style meals for Special Someone every night, he would get too skinny (and I'm still in that newlywed phase where I think we need to eat the same thing, together, every night, so for now making our own separate dinners is not an option). And no amount of Cream of Poverty soup could ever sate this fellow. So it's a trade-off: either he gets skinny or I get fat. It's more fun getting fat, so without too much further ado, I present my original recipe for the most compliment-inducing meal I have ever made for him. (Not to get all "here's a man-pleasing meal to please your man" on you -- this is genuinely delicious, and though it's not very innovative, it is surprisingly quick and inexpensive to make, and will last you for days if you're not married to Special Someone.)
Recipe: Penne with Vodka Sauce, Sausage, Shrimp, Spinach, and Sundried Tomatoes (There's got to be a less unwieldy name for this, but at least I lay it all out there, and anyway Pasta with Five Esses sounds a bit contrived.)
I know what you're thinking: "Surf and turf? No way that's economical!" True, it ain't rice and beans, but it's not as bad as you think. (My recommendations for cutting costs are in the ingredients list.) Also, I must confess I totally cheated on this one and bought jarred vodka sauce. This was the more economical thing to do since we don't have any vodka in our house for some reason, i.e., I drank it all, and cream is darn expensive. The vodka sauce I bought was this fancy, all-natural Whole Foods brand that was on sale for $3.99 (I happened to be there eating free samples for lunch and felt the sudden urge to make penne alla vodka for dinner). I'm still including homemade vodka sauce in the recipe since it's super easy and convenient to make if you're the kind of person who manages to keep vodka and cream in the house at all times. You're the kind of person I aspire to be some day.
With all the spinach in this dish, it's a complete meal. The only accompaniment it may want for is some crusty bread.
Makes 8 servings (more like 4 in our household) and reheats well for lunch and dinner over the next couple days. Total time, including prep: 30 minutes
4 T olive oil
10 garlic cloves, finely chopped (sounds like a lot, but it's part of the vodka sauce; if you use store bought vodka sauce, just use 3 or 4 cloves)
1 small- or medium-sized onion, sliced into thin strips
2 spicy Italian sausage links, casings on, sliced into thin discs (feel free to use more sausage, but in the spirit of frugality I decided to save the rest of the package for lentils and sausage later in the week)
1/2 lb. frozen precooked peeled and deveined shrimp, any size, thawed or mostly thawed, tails removed (about half a bag)
a handful of sundried tomatoes, chopped (a nonessential but surprisingly inexpensive ingredient that adds excitement to any dish!)
1 lb. dried penne pasta
1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
1/2 t salt
1/2 t sugar
1/4 c vodka
1/2 c heavy cream
6 oz. baby spinach (or the contents of one bag)
additional salt to taste and freshly ground pepper
1/2 c freshly grated Parmesan
some parsley or basil (optional -- I make mine herbless and it's fine that way)
Special Equipment: a stick blender (or regular blender or food processor)
Place the olive oil, onions, and garlic in a Dutch oven and turn on the heat to low-medium (not the usual way, but starting garlic and onions in cold oil draws out more flavor than heating the oil first). Once things are getting a little crackly, add the sausage, shrimp, and sundried tomatoes and stir everything around for about 3 minutes (the sausage and shrimp are precooked so you really just need to heat them up). If you are using store-bought vodka sauce, dump in the entire jar along with the spinach. Cover the pot and go cook your pasta.
If you are making homemade sauce, remove the shrimp and sausage from the pan and set aside. Turn up the heat to medium, add the tomatoes with their liquid along with the salt and sugar to the Dutch oven, and stir around for a couple minutes to break everything up a bit (vodka sauce traditionalists tend to puree the tomatoes first and then add them to the pot -- do this if you don't have a stick blender, but otherwise you can blend everything at the end and it will have some good savoriness from the sausage and shrimp that were cooked in the same pot). Add the vodka, and while the sauce is simmering, get to work cooking the pasta: add about six cups of water to a large pot and set it on high heat, throw in a tablespoon or so of salt once the water boils, then add the pasta and boil for 10 minutes. Drain and return to the pot, reserving a bit of the water.
At this point the vodka sauce is definitely done, so turn off the heat, stir in the cream, and if you have not already pureed the tomatoes, puree the sauce with the stick blender or transfer it to the regular blender. Stir the pasta and the shrimp and sausage into the sauce, then stir in the spinach. Do not fear that this pasta dish you made has turned into a salad -- all that spinach will wilt almost beyond recognition. Add a bit more salt if you like and some freshly ground pepper. Serve with the Parmesan cheese and the herb(s), if desired.