I love the first few days of January, but not for reasons you’d expect. There’s something magic that happens in those first days of the year – days where the rush and crush of the holiday has subsided but you’ve yet to dive back into work – that can restore your soul if you let it.
After our family departs back to their homes and Mr. Table goes back to work, the Wee One generally has a day or two left on her winter break. Try as I may to rush headlong into my New Years’ resolutions, I simply can’t: she’s here, and so we simply putter around the house, existing in a quiet little vacuum of midwinter. Fires blaze, blankets get snuggled into, another lazy midday round of Catan or Ticket to Ride is played, and time seems to stop all around us. As someone who thrives on accomplishing tasks and burning my way through post-its, no one is more surprised than me to find these uneventful, list-less days more restorative than any headlong dive into January 1st goals ever was.
Our January so far has been brutally cold: I can’t say I hate it, because given the choice between 0˚F and 100˚F, I’ll take 0˚F any day of the week. I like layering clothing and sitting in front of a fireplace and glancing out the window to see remnants of snow on my lawn while I work. I’m still wearing my scarf as I type this because I want to: it makes me feel cozy, much like this little beauty of a dish right here.
Friends, those of you that know me know I relish a healthy-eating plan for January: it’s a chance to reset my body and maybe pare down the sugar which exists in my body post-holiday treats season. This year, though, I didn’t find myself really gorging on anything particularly horrid: sure, cookies happened, and sometimes at inappropriate times (although I maintain that almond cookies sandwiched with raspberry jam are just an alternative version of granola), but mostly, I ate nice things. I made a spectacular beef tenderloin, lots of roasted vegetables, these panko-crusted green bean “fries” that I really need to share the recipe for, and lots of homemade soups. Because of that, I don’t feel the need to fill my refrigerator with kale and bean sprouts just yet.
I thought I’d start with this: it’s from one of many cookbooks I happily received this Christmas. I’ve admired Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street endeavor since its inception, and when I saw he had a cookbook out compiling all the recipes together, I couldn’t write it on my list fast enough. Filled with all the “here’s why” science of America’s Test Kitchen, but with beautiful and brilliant recipes that seem much newer, with an edge.
This one seems straightforward enough, but it’s an absolutely spot-on approach to creamy pasta. Simply mix any acid-set cheese (here, it’s chèvre, but you could use feta or ricotta) with some oil to break it down, mix it in with pasta and a little pasta water, and hey presto: you have ultra-luxurious cream sauce that’s surprisingly light, with nary a lump to be found. Add in fistfuls of fresh arugula and toasted walnuts (pine nuts would be lovely here too), and it’s an indulgently warm but semi-healthy-ish way to ease into those January eating plans.
Adapted from Milk Street: The New Home Cooking by Christopher Kimball. The new home cooking, indeed.
Cavatappi with Chèvre, Arugula + Walnuts
Serves | 4 |
Cavatappi happened because I couldn’t find the gemelli the original recipe called for, and I couldn’t summon up a reason as to why it really mattered. I love the recipe as-is, because it’s satisfying yet un-weighty. If you want this extra creamy, make double the chèvre/olive oil mixture: it’s a good way to go if you’re feeling it, trust me.
- 12 ounces cavatappi pasta
- 4 oz fresh chèvre (goat cheese)
- 5 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1/4 tsp chili flake, plus more to taste
- 4 oz (about 4 cups, loosely packed) baby arugula
- 1 cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
- 1/3 cup chives (or use a couple of scallion greens, if that’s what you have)
Look at how simple this is:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add pasta and cook to al dente, according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, combine chèvre, olive oil, salt and chili flake in a medium bowl, stirring and mashing with a fork until smooth (a few tiny lumps is 100% fine.) Once pasta has cooked, drain pasta, reserving 3/4 cup of pasta water. Return pasta back into pot and add goat cheese mixture and reserved cooking water.
It should be noted that at this point, I thought this was a fail. The sauce just looks like milky water at first, and when you see it, you think there’s zero way that turns into creamy sauce. Trust me: it does…do not doubt the Kimball. Proceed.
Stir the pasta a few times sauce begins to thicken and coat the pasta. Fold in arugula until it begins to wilt, add toasted walnuts and chives (saving a few for garnish if you’d like.) Season with more kosher salt and chili flake as needed, then divide into those lovely low bowls (Pro Tip: warm the bowls in a low oven before divvying up the pasta between them) garnish with chili flake, walnuts and/or chives, and serve.