I used to write three-figure checks to cover ingredients for five-course meals, burn weeknight fuel scratch-building weekend food and read cookbooks in bed like pulp novels. I just wanted to live up to a reputation that was one of my so-called rewards for appearing on some well-read food pages throughout the years.
But my friends stopped inviting me over for dinner because they feared my disapproval. My family stopped talking to me in the kitchen because they feared my boiling point. We were gaining weight while our checkbook was losing.
Rebellion set in: My family was shocked when I started showing up at the table within 60 minutes of showing up at the stove.
It was penne in a fresh tomato sauce I had spiked with jalapeno peppers and cilantro and served topped with grated dry Jack cheese. Alongside were a simple spinach salad enriched with kernels of grilled corn left over from another meal, a very hot baguette and very cold butter.
I tested family, then friends with a few more quickies--what I now call three-course meals served all at once, pasta, soup or grilled meat.
I feel better now. Starting here my point is fast food can be good food, inexpensive food can be trendy food, and fresh food can be easy food.
Here's the pasta recipe. You can substitute dried red pepper flakes (the hot Italian kind), parsley and Parmesan cheese for the jalapenos, cilantro and dry Jack and end up with a more traditional version the Italians would name arrabbiata. I named mine Pasta Brava.
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
1 1/2 pounds Italian plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley
1 pound penne or mostaccioli, cooked and drained
1/3 cup grated dry Jack or Parmesan cheese
Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and jalapeno and saute about 1 minute. Add tomatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Stir in cilantro and season to taste with salt. Pour sauce over penne in large bowl. Toss to combine. Serve sprinkled with Jack cheese. Makes 4 to 6 servings.