It’s no secret that I think about food a lot. Okay, almost all the time. Even when I’m on vacation and staying 30 miles from the nearest town or market, I still want to eat food that’s delicious and fresh. And since I seem to care more than most people about what’s for dinner, I’ll happily volunteer to plan meals, shop, and cook — to a point. The empty can of Cutter and proximity of a refrigerator full of chardonnay notwithstanding, I don’t want to spend my entire vacation in the kitchen. I want to be out there hiking (bear spray in hand), canoeing, and fly-fishing with my family, not to mention reading a cheesy novel on the deck.
So, on vacation we stick with simple favorites (grilled chicken, enchiladas) and then improvise a few easy and quick dishes based on what’s available at the produce-challenged market in town. But what sets these vacation suppers apart from a typical weekend night at home is that the meals come together during my idea of a good, old fashioned happy hour — i.e. the adults are fiddling around with the grill and shredding lettuce with real cocktails in their hands while the kids are playing football, shooting arrows, planning skits with their cousins, and otherwise generally ignoring their parents. Each meal turns out to be a special event — not necessarily because the food is extraordinary, but because getting it to the table was so much fun for everyone.
But some of the food is extraordinary. While some things like elk fajitas and huckleberry-barbecue salmon just taste great when you’re in a log cabin in the woods, others, like this super simple asparagus pasta, are delicious — and easy to recreate — anywhere.
Sautéed Asparagus Pasta
1 lb. fresh asparagus
1 lb. fresh mushrooms
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
A few fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup white wine (can be poured directly from glass)
1/4 cup milk or cream
1 package spaghetti (whole wheat if you can get it)
salt & pepper
Shredded Parmesan or Romano cheese
Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of well-salted water. Drain and reserve on cup of the cooking water.
Heat a cap-full of olive oil in a large skillet and then add garlic. Use scissors to cut the basil into ribbons and add to the pan. Rinse the asparagus well, snap off the ends (asparagus is very nifty in that it usually will naturally break right where the ends start to get tough, so I think the best way to handle it is to snap each spear individually), and cut into 1-inch pieces. Add to pan. Clean the mushrooms (if you wash them, allow them to dry fairly well; or you can just wipe off the dirt with a paper towel), cut them in quarters and add to the pan. Feel free to add any herbs of spices you can find; our selection included some oregano and “Italian Seasoning” I suspect was from the 1980s. Add wine and allow to cook until it doesn’t smell “boozy” anymore. Add milk or cream. If the sauce is too thick (or if you don’t feel like you have enough of it), stir in some of the pasta water and allow it to cook down a few minutes. Add pasta to the pan and toss to mix well. Season with sat & pepper. Add some cheese to the individual servings. We served this with buttered ciabatta toasts (huge hit) and a simple romaine salad.
If you have kids who don’t like “mixed food,” this is an easy meal to deconstruct, by the way.