Saturday, February 18, 2012

Now for something Completely Different! Pumpkin Pancetta Pasta Recipe

Do you ever have one of those days (usually near the end of the week) when you think, "We don't have any food in the house but I really don't feel like going out?"

That was us today. My husband is going out of town for about a week (leaving tomorrow morning!) and it was important to me that he have a nice healthy send-off dinner. I knew we didn't have any meat or fish that wasn't frozen, so options were limited. I thought about a sweet potato and chickpea curry, but I think Little Habibi ("loved one, male" in Egyptian Arabic) and I will have that while Big Habibi is away. Mommy has vegetarian leanings. :-)

So I thought through the contents of the pantry and fridge and dug out the following:

1 box spaghetti (we buy Smart Taste for extra protein and fiber...on sale 4/$5 last week so we have many boxes)

1 can of pumpkin purée

3 cloves garlic

1 small yellow onion

1 four oz package of diced pancetta I keep on hand for just such an emergency. (If you're without an emergency stash of pancetta, 4-6 slices of smoked bacon would work fine...the only difference is that pancetta is not smoked.)

1-2 cups Chicken stock (Mine was homemade because I had it in the fridge. That is totally not necessary, a box broth is just fine.)

Dried ground sage (fresh would be arguably better)


(These ingredients are listed in the order I took them out, not the order they were used. Sue me. It's my first shot at this...)

So, big pot of water on the stove. I salt at the beginning because I don't like how the big grains of kosher salt make the water boil over. Yes, I know this takes longer to make the water boil. Once it's boiling, drop your pasta. Time it so it is al dente/firm, so it can finish cooking in the sauce.

On another burner, place a large skillet. DO NOT turn the skillet on yet. Put the pancetta in a cold pan. The pan needs To be cold in order to render the fat from the pancetta/bacon. Once the pancetta is in, put the heat on medium low. While pancetta is rendering, dice onion and garlic (and if using, fresh sage leaves). You're not after crispy bacon, but you want most of the fat out, and cooked through. This didn't take long, though I didn't time it (5 min, maybe). I had no idea this recipe would be a keeper, let alone a "sharer."

Once the pancetta is cooked through, pour off most of the fat that has rendered out. Reserve for another purpose if you like. Leave the pancetta in, and add the onions. Allow them to sweat until translucent. When the onions look to be almost done, add the garlic. If using fresh sage, throw it in now. Do not allow the garlic to brown, just soften. When the garlic is done, deglaze with about one cup of stock. Scrape up the brown bits from the pancetta. Add dried sage after the stock.

Allow to cook for a few minutes until stock is hot. Add 1-1.5 cups of pumpkin purée (1.5 cups is about a 15 oz can) and mix thoroughly. At this point assess the consistency. You can add more stock if you want more liquid or more pumpkin if you want your sauce thicker. Also assess for seasoning at this point and add salt/pepper if needed. Mine was ok, pancetta is pretty salty/peppery, and the stock was also seasoned.

About this time the pasta should be ready. Reserve a cup of pasta water and drain. The pasta should go directly from the strainer to the skillet and be tossed in the sauce. Adding a little of the starchy pasta water will help the sauce stick. We finished it with grated Parmesan cheese.

This was good with spaghetti, but I think a short pasta, or even a cheese ravioli might work better. Ratchet up the amount of sauce and it might even work well in a lasagna.

I served this with quickly sautéed kale and garlic.

Big Habibi loved it. Little Habibi threw some plain spaghetti on the floor with a flourish (we both sang, "I Whip my pasta back and forth" as he did it. Not what Willow Smith had in mind.). I will happily eat the leftovers, all of them, while home this week.

I wish I could take complete credit for taking a risk on this flavor combo, but I'll be honest. Once I saw this stuff and thought, "Pumpkin and pancetta. That sounds like it will be good," I googled it to see if it has been done before. I found two risottos, one by Jamie Oliver (you had me at hello, Jamie!) and one by Nigella Lawson. I didn't read the recipes, but it was nice to confirm that I probably wasn't crazy for putting these items together. I figure anytime those two agree on a flavor combo it must be good. At least this time I am right. And it was done faster than we could be home with takeout.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

His name isn't Gracie, and he's not a girl

Before our little man was born, and before I knew he was a he, I had already started singing him a sweet song by one of my favorite singers, Ben Folds. It is called Gracie Girl, and he wrote it for his daughter. Once we found out our little guy was a, well, little guy, I amended the words to Baby G...those who know our last name know it fits pretty well. :-)
I recently dug back in the recesses of my mind looking for new lullabies to sing, and this one came up.
Oh, the tears, as I sang these words, at the same time so innocent and so hurtful:

You can't fool me I saw you when you came out
You got your mama's tastes but you got my mouth
And you will always have a part of me nobody else is ever gonna see Gracie Girl

With your cards to your chest walking' on your toes
What you got in the box? Only Gracie knows
I would never try to make you be anything you didn't really want to be, Gracie Girl

Life flies by in seconds
You're not a baby, Gracie, you're my friend
You'll be a lady soon, but until then...
You've gotta do what I say.

You nodded off in my arms watching TV
I won't move you an inch event though my arm's asleep
One day you're gonna want to go
Hope we taught you everything you need to know, Gracie Girl

And you will always have a part of me
Nobody else is ever gonna see but you and me
My little girl
My Gracie Girl

I think of the gravity of those words, and how true some of them are, and how patently untrue others are. I think of the part of me that only my son knows...the part that mourns the nursing that we never got quite right. The part that cried out in emotional agony as he pushed me away. The part that thought my son didn't love me because I couldn't give him what he needed. The part that thought I deserved his newborn non-love. I think ahead thirteen months or so to my sweet boy resting his head gently on my chest as I rocked him to sleep, obliterating every thought that he didn't love me, that he didn't know the comfort of a mother's heartbeat in his ear.

I think of myself trying to make him someone he isn't, trying to make him push just a little bit harder, hoping I can "fix" him, turn him into someone or something "acceptable." I imagine myself stealing HIS joy in an attempt to find my own joy for him.

I fast forward to a time when he wants to be independent, he wants to go. Unlike so many parents of the Cosby generation, who hope that their kids will leave the nest rather than mooch, we have a different deal. We have no guarantee of Sam ever "going," or more importantly, ever being able to go. We cannot make a promise to him that he will enjoy the independence that Gracie will be lucky enough to Experience. There is a greater likelihood that we cannot teach him everything he needs to know than that we can

This song, that brought me such joy before we met our precious boy, is now one that brings unspeakable pain for him. I want Ben Folds' promises to Gracie to be the same ones I make, and keep, to my son.