Pasta makes a perfect meatless Monday meal
Chef Mario Batali writes about coming together with family around the dinner table and eating meatless on Mondays.
I have long been a proponent of meat, often expounding on the virtues of pig fat and beef cheek. However, I do not hesitate to declare, in black and white, that there is very little more delicious than a perfectly ripe pear or local ear of corn in season. In an interview with "60 Minutes" last year, my friend and constant inspiration, Jose Andres, called meat "overrated." He added, "I believe the future is vegetables and fruits."
I don't think meat is overrated per se. It's delicious, and I enjoy meat frequently, especially a good burger. It is, however, overused. Not out of malice or foolishness, but out of habits learned over the last century. It is the centerpiece of most tables in America for most of our meals. But I do agree with Chef Andres' sentiment that its reign at the center of the plate is waning.
Fruits, grains and vegetables are undeniably the future of sustainability and of healthy eating and nutrition in this country and eventually the world. In the words of the sage and writer Michael Pollan, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
Yes, it's January. It's not necessarily the time of year you think of "just picked" freshness. We're typically emptying out root cellars and pantries of cans for hearty soups and stocks. But warm and hearty isn't necessarily or exclusively synonymous with meaty.
We're making this Monday "meatless" with a zippy and exciting pasta: Trenette With Jalapeño Pesto.
What we commonly think of as "pesto" is only one variety of the sauce. Pesto Genovese, the basil pesto native to the beautiful Ligurian coast in northwestern Italy, is the one most commonly replicated in America. But pesto can be made by combining any green leafy vegetable (or even a ripe or preserved vegetable, say, sun-dried tomatoes) with Parmigiano-Reggiano (or some other kind of cheese) and usually some nuts. Here, I mix hot Latin American peppers with onions, almonds and olive oil.
In my house, family dinners are fairly regular. Mondays are meatless, and I always cook. Tuesdays are either homemade by me or "takeout Tuesdays."
Wednesdays and Thursdays are almost always homemade Mexican fare by Chef Leo, my boys' baby-sitter of 10 years. Eventually, when the boys move away to college or trade, I hope that Chef Leo will stay with us, simply because she's such a great cook and a true force around the house.
For family meals, the schedule is as important as the discussion. It's the little things like rhythm and ritual that bring the family around the table and trigger a shift in mentality away from the guarded thought processes developed during long and stressful days, and toward the relaxed state of mind found in the safety and comfort of the family supper.
This pasta dish serves eight to 10 as a first course, all'italiano, or six as a main. A presto!
James Beard Award-winner Mario Batali, a Seattle-area native, is a chef, restaurateur, author and TV personality. His latest book is "Molto Batali."