I’ve noticed that many of the discussions, or rather, debates in my classes center around the many and often competing elements of food. Culture, politics, justice, taste, economics. You name it. When it comes to food choice, we’re surrounded by competing motivations. Should we choose food for the joy of cooking or the necessity of convenience? Environmental sustainability or community building? Localized food systems or answer to world hunger? Things are often considered in binary terms, and something I’m learning is that this does not make for fruitful conversations. The metaphorical fruit, that is.
While food seems pretty simple, given that it’s a universal human need, it is somehow incredibly complicated. Everyone is concerned with different elements of the food world, to varying degrees, of course. Especially within my program. For example, some people only want to make and eat and taste and talk about food. Others only want to figure out how to allow everyone else the “luxury” of doing those things. It makes for interesting and challenging conversations. These considerations continue to shape my thoughts and opinions, and affect my own food choices. Rightly so.
Take, for example, the consideration of time and convenience. Many a discussion in my food policy class has come back to the fact that we exist in a culture that espouses the value of convenience at the expense of quality. And the reality is, whether we like it or not, our culture forces each of us to rely on some level of convenience. So, how are we to encourage people to buy fresh produce and cook at home, whether in an effort to encourage healthy eating choices or support a local food system, if they simply “don’t have time” to do anything but buy prepackaged, precooked meals? Good question. And better yet, how can I argue for the value of cooking at home if I’m not willing to take the time to do so myself?
I was haunted by this question earlier this week, in the midst of the now familiar end-of-semester stress that’s heavy laden with finals and term papers. I had yet another come-to-Jesus moment and realized I need to do a better job of practicing what I preach. (Well, I certainly hope I don’t preach. I prefer to suggest. With a healthy dose of opinion thrown in the mix.) So I tried desperately to remember what staple items were keeping each other company in my cupboards. This process usually lands me on the very popular pasta shelf. Top right, just above the stove. Pasta. My second favorite food group behind that butter-sugar-flour one.
Orechiette, it is! Those perfectly sized mini dishes of pasta, waiting to be filled with the perfect sauce. I was in the mood for something creamy. Shocking. So a little half & half, plus peas and spicy chicken sausage, and voila. Dinner. Admittedly, it took a bit longer than if I had purchased something frozen from Trader Joe’s or picked up pasta to-go from my favorite corner trattoria. But this night was about choosing time and quality over convenience. Choosing to know exactly what is in the food I’m eating. Choosing to use some of the food I already have in my kitchen in order to reduce some of my food waste. And choosing to practice what I preach.
The secret ingredient in this recipe is a goat’s milk Gouda cheese. My friend, Joyce recently introduced me to it and It. Is. Heavenly. (Have I mentioned how wonderful it’s been to be surrounded by people who love food as much as I do?!) This cheese offers the subtle and smooth sweetness that a good Gouda should. Literally melts in your mouth, no matter how much you shove in there. Not that I would know.
(Pssst! Tracy…I created this with you and Matt in mind. Pasta, cream, sausage. You said you missed my cooking so this should be right up your ally!)
Creamy Orechiette with Peas and Sausage
8 oz orechiette pasta
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 small sweet onion, finely chopped
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen (Freshly shelled peas at the peak of their season do offer an incredible sweetness and are worth the effort!)
2 chicken spicy Italian sausage links, cut in half lengthwise and then sliced into 1/4″ half moon pieces (Ground Italian sausage would work very well here, too.)
1 cup half & half
1 cup goats milk Gouda
Freshly ground pepper and salt, to taste
Freshly grated parmesan, to taste (Optional. But who doesn’t love a good pasta parm topper?!)
Cook pasta according to package directions.
While you’re waiting for the pasta water to boil, heat a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add the oil and allow it a minute or two to heat.
Add the onions and garlic. Cook for several minutes, stirring constantly, being sure they don’t burn but begin to soften.
Add the sausage. Cook for several minutes, stirring occasionally, allowing the sausage to begin to cook and brown.
Add the peas. Cook for several more minutes until the sausage is sufficiently cooked and browned.
Turn the heat to low and add the half & half and the Gouda. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
If you use a spicy sausage it will impart a good kick. The Gouda will add a sweetness to the sauce. I ended up seasoning with quite a bit of freshly cracked pepper since this was the main seasoning I used. I believe in the power of freshly cracked pepper and sometimes it’s all you need!
Once the sauce is seasoned to your liking, add the cooked pasta and stir to combine.
This pasta is best served immediately as the creamy sauce can begin to thicken and dry up quickly.
So, dish up and enjoy!