TV dinner {Parks and Recreation}

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If you want to be my friend, you have GOT to watch Parks and Recreation. Or at least pity-laugh at all my Parks & Rec references. This is one of the few shows I’ve actually watched since its beginning and stuck with… and I still laugh at every episode, old or new. And since the season premiere airs tomorrow on Thursday, September 26 at 8/7c, I had to make a dish to commemorate one of my (dozen) favorite shows. Welcome to the Low-Cal Calzone Zone!

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In Season 4, the ever-adorable Ben Wyatt has a bit of a meltdown. He finds himself unemployed and directionless (like being in your 20’s). Instead of moping about, however, he decides to pursue his “hobbies”… claymation and a new restaurant concept he calls, The Low-Cal Calzone Zone. The claymation… turns out to be a dud. The calzone endeavor also proves to be a dud, but it does provide the genius for the second installation of my TV dinners series!

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Italian tragedy… NYC comedy

Once upon a time, there lived a lovely maiden with raven hair and rosy cheeks (I’m talking about me here). This maiden liked to eat and cook or better yet, eat while cooking. One glorious semester her dreams came true when she found herself in the land of milk and honey and arancini a.k.a. SICILY. There she devoured such morsels as this…

and kissed every toad/blood orange in sight…

All was wonderful in the kingdom of Sicily until one dark and stormy night. That evening, the maiden and her fellow cooker-eaters embarked upon a Sicilian cooking class. All seemed well. The students were adorned in matching aprons as they prepared the menu rich with authentic Sicilian specialties such as Pasta alla Norma and sweet cannolis.

But all was not well. Soon the students realized that their matching aprons were actually uniforms for labor, as their cooking class turned into a Sicilian sweatshop. Put to work, their hands burned from squeezing salty eggplant and brows sweat with the piping of every pastry shells (Disclaimer: Any similarity to actual personsliving or dead, is purely coincidental).

At the end of the 3 hour “cooking class” (slave drive), the exhausted maiden sat down to a much deserved dinner only to find… there was not enough food for everyone. The evil slave-drivers had not prepared for there to be enough food for all the hardworking sweaty servants. Suddenly… the demure maiden became very impatient and hangry (hungry + angry) with rage. For everyone knows you don’t stand between an American maiden and her pasta. From that day on, she cursed the day she ever made PASTA ALLA NORMA.

Almost 3 years later, the maiden found herself in yet another amazing yet strange land where the people walk very fast and like to nosh on round bread with a hole in the middle. Yet the curse of Norma still haunted her. Until one fine day, she decided to once again test fate and purchased an eggplant…

40 minutes later, with not a single Sicilian in sight, she had done it. She had made Pasta alla Norma… and it was as Norma had always intended it to be: truly delizioso. The curse had finally been broken. The townspeople of Apt #5 rejoiced as all was right in the land and in their bellies. From that day on, the dish was renamed Pasta alla Margaret after the perseverant maiden who never lost hope when it mattered the most.

Pasta alla Norma

  • 1 medium eggplant
  • kosher or sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cups basic tomato sauce, jarred or homemade
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • ½ pound penne pasta
  • about ½ cup fresh ricotta cheese (traditionally: ricotta salata)
  • freshly cracked black pepper

(1)  Slice the eggplant into ½-inch slices and sprinkle both sides generously with salt. Allow to drain in a colander for 15 minutes.
(2)  Rinse the eggplant slices in cold water and pat completely dry on paper towels. Cut into 1-inch cubes.
(3)  Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat, then add the eggplant. Sauté the eggplant, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 15 minutes.  Cover the eggplant for 5-7 minutes to cook all the way.
(4)  Once the eggplant is tender and golden brown, add the tomato sauce, chopped garlic and crushed red pepper. Bring to a simmer.
(5)  Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Cook pasta according to directions for al dente and drain, reserving ½ cup pasta water.
(6)  Add the pasta to the sauce and toss together. If a bit dry, add the reserved pasta water. 
(7)  Serve on a plate or pasta bowl with a (big) dollop of fresh ricotta (or grated ricotta salata) with freshly cracked black pepper.

Makes 4 servings

And they all lived happily ever after.

The End.

kale, it’s what’s for dinner.

the first week i was home, i ate nothing but junk. junk junk. like rice krispy treats and gummy worms and cheesy nachos, junk. it’s hard when you shift from my rather meager pantry to Mama Choo’s overflowing, snack-stocked one to not over-indulge. every time i come home, i open the pantry door and exclaim ‘CORNUCOPIA!’ before devouring such goodies as mentioned above (think charlotte’s web, when templeton goes to the carnival). afterwards, i feel so happy… for about 30 minutes.

then i feel as though someone has just punched me in my stomach’s face and realize i’m getting too old to treat my body this way. so to reprimand for that week of ickiness, i made this dish which incorporates whole grain spaghetti, sautéed kale and cannellini beans. yes, it’s meant to be healthy but it’s also super delicious! if you’re vegan, the recipe can easily be adapted with the omission of the parmesan cheese but i kept it cause, a little indulgence now and then never hurt anybody.

Spaghetti with Braised Kale
adapted from Bon Appétit

  • 1 pound kale (about 2 bunches), large center ribs and stems removed, cut
  • crosswise into ½-inch slices
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 ½ cups)
  • 8 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • kosher salt
  • ½ pound spaghetti (I use whole grain)
  • 1 can (15.5 oz.) cannellini beans, drained
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • finely grated Parmesan cheese

(1)  Rinse and drain kale.
(2)  Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy sauté pan over medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes.
(3)  Add sliced garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and pinch of salt; cook until onion is golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.
(4)  Add kale and remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and toss until wilted, about 3 minutes. Cover pan and reduce heat to medium-low. Continue cooking until kale is very tender, stirring occasionally and adding water by teaspoonfuls if dry, about 20 minutes.
(5)  Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in medium pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving ¼ cup cooking liquid.
(6)  Add cooked spaghetti to kale mixture in pan. Add cannellini beans, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons reserved cooking liquid; toss to combine, adding more liquid by tablespoonfuls if dry.
(7)  Sprinkle spaghetti with grated Parmesan cheese and serve.

Makes 4 servings

do you have a go-to, feel good meal?? share it with me!