Now more than ever, self-care is critical. And yet, it seems a lot more difficult than it should, considering I've barely left the house these past nine months.
I should have plenty of time to cook, right? Plenty of time to work out during my lunch hour (my temporary home office is sharing space with my workout area, after all). Plenty of time to give myself a mani-pedi, face mask and body scrub with the 90 minutes I’m saving each day by not driving to the office.
Instead, aside from my day job and generally not showering as much as usual, I seem to spend an awful lot of time staring at the news on my computer. It seems the fear of missing out extends to information during global pandemics.
But I know three things for certain. First, I need to make sure I drink enough water, something I struggle to do in the absence of my office routine. Second, I need to limit the amount of alcohol I consume, because it wreaks havoc on my nerves in the best of times.
And third? Third, I absolutely must, above all else, make sure I eat plenty of vegetables.
During normal times (whatever those are) I include vegetables in just about every meal. I know I feel better when I eat them regularly. Since I prefer savory breakfasts to sweet ones, it’s not unusual for my first meal of the day to include bell peppers, onions, asparagus, and spinach.
But these times are not normal, and I've found myself consuming exponentially more cheese and carbs than any reasonable person should.
I haven't been feeling much like a reasonable person.
Gradually, though, I’ve clawed my way out of the quicksand and back into the kitchen. I’ve put together a list of main dishes that can be made with the ingredients we have on hand and I starred those that should be made sooner than later due to perishable ingredients.
I wanted the list to be flexible, so I could decide on any given day which entree sounded good. While I try not to stress-eat, it’s comforting to sit down to a hearty, nutritious meal that really hits the spot.
Recently, I opted for pasta with vegetables. I was craving a big pot of chunky pasta. I had a bunch of asparagus, some withered cherry tomatoes lurking in the fridge, and onions in the pantry. I knew I could make something from that.
This is not a particularly low-calorie meal, and that’s ok. It is, however, soothing and tasty and chock full of vegetables. I used chickpeas for a vegetarian protein option, but you could surely mix in some chopped cooked chicken instead, or even a can of salmon.
Author’s Note: This dish is very flexible. Feel free to adjust the seasonings to your taste. Use the vegetables you have on hand. Add ingredients from your pantry. I seriously considered throwing in a can of chopped artichoke hearts, but I only had one, and I decided to save it for Artichoke-Parmesan Dip (thanks, Joy of Cooking!) later in the week.
- 3 TB butter
- 2 TB olive oil
- 2 medium onions
- 1 pint of grape tomatoes
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 large bunch of asparagus
- 1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 pound chunky pasta — ziti, rigatoni, farfalle, etc.
- Better Than Bouillon — any flavor (or bouillon of your choosing)
- White wine (or vinegar or lemon juice)
- Seasonings of your choice — I recommend two teaspoons of the Mural of Flavors blend from Penzeys Spices and/or a mixture of Italian herbs
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- A liberal portion of freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large skillet. While that’s doing its thing, cut the onions in half and thinly slice them. Add the onions to the skillet and make sure the heat is on low. Cook the onions, stirring frequently, until they are very soft and slightly caramelized, around 20 minutes.
(Side note: As I am attempting to caramelize the onions, I am reminded yet again how much I hate my glass-top stove. It’s almost impossible to get the burner temperature low enough as the onions soften.)
Add the grape tomatoes, whole, along with a generous pinch of coarse salt, and cover the skillet (use a baking sheet if your skillet doesn’t have a lid). We want the tomatoes to burst and release their liquid. Stir the mixture periodically to ensure the onions aren’t getting too brown while the tomatoes are heating up.
Meanwhile, cut the asparagus into bite-sized pieces.
Fill a large pot with about two-thirds of the amount of water recommended for the pasta you’re using. (Did you know, you don’t NEED all that water!) This will make the cooking liquid nice and starchy, and we’re going to use that liquid later. Add a couple of teaspoons of Better than Bouillon, or the bouillon of your choice, to the water, and bring it to a boil.
Cook the pasta according to the package, adding the chopped asparagus during the last three or four minutes of cook time, depending on how small your pieces are. You don’t want your asparagus to get too soft. No, you really don’t.
Once the pasta and asparagus are done to your liking, reserve two cups of the cooking liquid. Drain the pasta and asparagus, return it to the pot.
When the tomatoes start to burst (annoyingly, they refuse to do it all at the same time!), throw in your minced garlic. This is the time to add some seasoning, too. I used crushed red pepper and some of the lovely Mural of Flavors blend from Penzeys Spices, which has citrus notes and shallots, but I encourage you to use your favorite flavors. In the absence of a blend, I’d probably try rosemary, basil, thyme, oregano, and marjoram.
(Side note: I used to turn up my nose at the idea of spice blends until I discovered Penzeys. Many of my hard-core home chef friends love them too. They’re based in Wisconsin but have retail stores in the United States and ship internationally too. They also have the most beautiful bay leaves I’ve ever seen. I swoon when I look at them.)
Add the garbanzo beans to the cherry tomato mixture once all the tomatoes have burst. (You may need to press down on the occasional straggler with a spoon; use the lid to shield yourself from possible spatter.)
Add a couple of generous glugs of dry white wine to the skillet. This does not have to be expensive wine. I know what they say, but I just don’t think it’s necessary in many cases. If you don’t have wine or prefer not to use it, a splash of vinegar or lemon juice would provide a similar acidic flavor.
Add the tomato-onion-garbanzo mixture to the pasta and asparagus. Add enough pasta cooking liquid to loosen the mix (I used a cup and wished I had a little more).
Adjust seasonings (I needed a bit more salt) and serve with extra crushed red pepper and freshly grated Parmesan.
I enjoyed this so much I had it for breakfast the next morning. Desperate times call for desperate measures.