Occasionally I'll have just enough of an ingredient that it will outlast my desire to eat any more of it in its traditional form. This happened the other night when, on day three of working my way though a batch of chorizo I recently made, I needed a brief respite from what is otherwise my one true love, the taco. For help I turned, as I often do, to pasta.
Pasta and chorizo do remarkably well together in the same dish, the pasta soaking up all the flavorful juices and fat left in the pan by the cooked sausage. Sturdy and assertive kale is the perfect supporting ingredient here, holding its own in the presence of the aggressively flavored meat and adding a great, chewy texture to the dish. This is one of those refreshing moments when you don't have to reach for kale out of some sort of healthy eating induced guilt, but simply because it will make dinner taste better. Lastly, small croutons add crunch and round out the texture. In a dish that straddles the line between Italian and Mexican flavors, croutons push it a bit towards Italy. If you wanted to keep the crunch of croutons but lean more Mexican, toasted and chopped pumpkin seeds would be a great substitution.
This is enough food to serve as a full meal for two people or as a light snack for one full-grown lion:
- 8 ounces of spaghetti (preferably bronze cut)
- 6 ounces Mexican chorizo: The point here is for it to crumble into small bits and kinda get lost in the dish, so use traditionally made stuff or my recipe skipping the step where you cook down the chile mixture.
- Half a yellow onion, cut lengthwise in strips. Or diced. Follow your heart here.
- Kale, like 4 loosely packed cups, removed from the stem, cut into two inch-ish strips
- 2 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
- 1/4 cup white wine from the box of dry wine you bought for moments such as this
- A few slices of white bread, cut into small cubes
- Enough butter
- A dashable quantity of:
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Dried oregano
Step 1: Boil water. In a pot. Add salt. Then add more salt because you probably don't add enough salt to your pasta water. This isn't your fault. You were taught to fear salt. Blame authorities responsible. They let you down. They led you astray. Make up with your old friend, salt. It's here to help. Add 1% by weight of water. Move on. Stronger. Wiser. Seasoned.
Step 2: Heat a pan over medium heat. Add oil. Just a bit. Add chorizo and cook on one side, not moving it, until it browns a bit. Browned bits are great. Ok, now stir it up and cook it through. This will take a number of minutes. Try not to cook it for too few minutes and definitely don't cook it for too many minutes. Just the right amount of minutes is what you're aiming for. At the exact right moment (which, thankfully lasts a few minutes), transfer the chorizo to a paper towel lined plate and return the pan to the stove.
Step 3: Add a bit of oil to the pan that, until moments ago, was used to cook the chorizo. Add the onions. Sauté. Sprinkle in some salt. It will help pull moisture from the onions. Think about the innocence of youth. Think about skinned knees and bike rides and hide and go seek and imaginary friends and how all of that is gone now. Forever. This will pull moisture from your eyes. Pour yourself a glass of wine. Cook onions until translucent but not brown.
Step 4: Add the garlic and sauté. It will soon smell like garlic everywhere. It will be inescapable. Do not fight it. Yield to the smell of garlic. Let it teach you things. Primarily, let it teach you that it's now a great time to add the wine.
Step 5: Cook the wine. Let it reduce in the pan. Watch the steam evaporate and think about this world is a hot place that steals your dreams, and if you're lucky at least leaves you with a condensed, smaller, diminished version of self. The French call this "au sec."
Step 6: Add the spaghetti to the boiling water. Stir gently. Occasionally. Relax.
Step 7: In another pan melt a few tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. Add cubes of bread. Toss. Cook slowly. Tossing intermittently until all sides are toasted and the bread is crunchy. Season with garlic powder and onion powder and salt and oregano. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate. You did it. You made croutons. Then realize this isn't a big deal. Croutons are just tiny toast. You made tiny toast. Humility is important. Embrace it.
Step 8: Add the kale. Add a dash of salt. The kale will dominate the pan. It will cover every last inch. You will think, "this is too much. I've made a huge mistake. Dinner is ruined." Don't think those things. Kale is a poser. It's also mostly water. Both of those things together mean that after a few minutes of stirring in the pan, the kale will diminish in size. It's will be a tenth of what it was. Dinner is saved. You are victorious. Drink more wine. Disregard humility.
Step 9: Remember the chorizo? Add that back into the pan. Old friends will reunite. New friendships will be forged. Things are looking up. Dinner is almost ready.
Step 10: The pasta should be just about done now. Using tongs or another effective scooping device, transfer it to the pan with the vegetables and kale. Add a ladleful of pasta water. Stir. Stir some more. Keep doing this for a few minutes until the pasta cooks through and the water becomes sauce and sticks to the pasta. If you feel like there's not enough water in the pan, add more water. The pasta is here to absorb. Believe in the pasta. Believe in yourself.
Step 11: Add a bit of lemon zest because life is too short to ignore it. Transfer to a plate. Add grated cheese. Add the croutons.
Step 12: Eat. Enjoy the fruits of your labor. Relish in your ability to create, to nourish yourself.
Step 13: Watch television. Leave the dishes for your roommates.They'll understand. They know you deserve a break. They're proud of you too. Drink more wine.