I grew up in a very organized home with a very organized mama. My bed had to be made every morning, even though I was just going to get back in it later! Our rooms had to be kept neat and tidy. And you definitely did not leave anything laying around that you didn’t want to be recycled! She kept all surfaces clear of clutter.
I used to give her such a hard time during my headstrong teenage years about the way she arranged our groceries on the conveyor belt- all the frozen items together, cheese and dairy, snack drawer foods (Yes, we had an awesome snack drawer!!), cleaning supplies and ziplocs, etc. I thought it was so over the top OCD- why couldn’t she just let it go with the flow?!?! Um, because grouping the items together before bagging makes it 100% easier to put them away at home!
I have this magnet on my fridge.
And it is sooo very true. I laugh at myself now a lot- thinking about how my mom’s little tricks and forethought not only make perfect sense to me now, but they are totally brilliant, and I use them every day. And, now I channel all of that organizational prowess to relieve stress in other people’s lives too.
As a grown up, I realize that order brings calm and chaos brings…well, chaos and unsettled feelings. I saw this daily in my teaching life as well. Children are more productive, cooperative, and willing to take risks when they know what lies ahead. Being aware of their expectations, their schedule, and their consequences for missteps allows them to take charge of their learning and embrace their school community. This principle applies to adults just the same. It’s part of the balance that we’re always trying to achieve in life.
In my business, it’s helpful to assist many folks in getting organized and stocked up at the beginning of the week, so they don’t have to worry about it all week. There’s no daily stress of, “What are we gonna eat? Do I have to stop at the store on my way home from work? Do I have a can of tomatoes in the pantry or not? I meant to print out that recipe!” AAHHHH. I feel the anxiety creeping in just from writing that!
Since the beginnings of my weeks tend to be very busy, Adam and I plan meals that are simple to put together and quick to cook. These nights are perfect for pulling out a batch of homemade, veggie-rich tomato sauce out of the freezer. The hard work is already done, and the flavors are just waiting to be appreciated.
Last night, we made whole wheat pasta with pancetta, leeks, roasted eggplant and peas with red sauce.
Pasta options truly are endless. The pastas themselves are many and varied. Meats, vegetables of all colors and textures, various cheeses, sauces, and nuts offer us an infinite number of possibilities. We always like to concoct new combinations, so we decided to start our dish with pancetta, an Italian version of bacon. The difference is that it is not smoked, it is dry cured with salt and spices, and it comes from the belly of the pig. Still tastes a lot like our bacon, and you know that’s a soft spot for Adam and I! We only used 3 slices- less than a quarter of a pound- so it was inexpensive and a great way to provide a foundation of flavor to our dish.
While the meat started to transform in the heat, I started cleaning the leeks.
They can be really dirty, so I let them take a bath in some cold water after slicing them. I also began preparing the eggplant. I just cut them into “cubes”, which is kind of tricky since the eggplant has such an hourglass figure! Part of my philosophy in the kitchen (and in life) is striving for excellence and not perfection. It took me quite a while to get there, but I am a firm believer in that notion now.
Those chunks are roughly the same size, and that’s the important part. I employed the ole drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, toss to coat, and pop into a 400 degree oven strategy. I know that I use that method a lot. But it’s just so simple and I feel like the ingredient itself gets to shine while being enhanced with that roasty toasty flare.
In a matter of minutes, the pancetta crispiness started to happen.
Then, I removed the pancetta to a paper towel lined plate and turned down the heat a little before adding my leeks.
I wanted to give them a little time to caramelize and soften. I covered them with a lid and gave them a couple minutes. By that time, the eggplant was finished.
The pasta was in and out of the pot within 7 minutes.
These spirally noodles are a perfect vehicle for transporting sauce from the bowl to my mouth.
Next, it was time to add the peas to the pan. They were frozen at their peak of freshness, and it’s one frozen vegetable that I almost always have in my freezer.
The leeks literally melted like butter- soft, tender and yummy! The peas only needed a couple minutes and were quickly followed by the eggplant and pasta.
And then, the icing on the cake…
Ah, the loveliness of it all. Simple, fresh, bright.
We topped each of our bowls with a bit of crispy pancetta and some freshly grated parmesan cheese. Buon appetito to us!
So very scruptious. I’ll admit, it would have been delicious just to sit down with a bowl of pasta and sauce with a little cheese on top. I think Adam said he would eat the sole of his shoe with that tomato sauce on it. And there is a time and a place for that. I love my vegetables and what they bring to the table, and the sauce was meatless. So we just bumped it up a few notches.
None of these steps was difficult. And we treated each ingredient with respect. The culmination of our quick work was a happy fusion of beautiful flavors and textures. The leeks were so soft and buttery. The eggplant brought its unique richness- leaving its raw, bitter flavor in the dust. The peas were little bursts of sweetness, as were the carrots from my red sauce. The depth of that sauce just rocked the house. Oh- and the pancetta prizes along the way were salty and crunchy. Ah, a belly full of goodness again. Hooray!
So, mix it up in your kitchen this week while being mindful of your time constraints. Try a new combination of flavors. Play with one ingredient that you’ve never cooked before. Do your research and your planning, and then have some fun with your colors, flavors, and textures. You’ll be pleasantly surprised what happens when you push your own boundaries or just shake things up a bit.
Happy cooking and eating!