Ever feel so smugly confident about your ability to conceive of and put together a good meal that it seems you are just cruisin' for a bitchslap from the universe? Well, that happened to me last night. My husband loves any kind of pasta and requested we have pasta for dinner. OK, I thought. I can ace this. I have zucchini and summer squash, sweet red pepper, red onion, garlic and plenty of herbs. I'll make a roasted vegetable pasta with white wine and extra virgin olive oil. And to enhance those flavors, I'll do some roasted shrimp, roasted eggplant, roasted grape tomatoes and lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Flake salt and freshly ground pepper will tweak those ingredients until they say, "Uncle!"
To assist me with this process, I opened a bottle of rioja, Marques de la Concordia 2007 (Spain), to be exact. Somewhere around $12 a bottle, this little gem is the result of the juice of a lot of happy Tempranillo grapes spending 6 months in new American oak. So it is lusciously fruity with pronounced cherry-berry flavors along with vanilla and spice. Not too much oak, but it tastes surprisingly mature and well-made. A most delightful red for that time when you're in between seasons, it's no longer infernally hot and fall whispers "Yardwork!" to you from the small piles of fading leaves in your back yard. It also happens to be a great wine to have with roasted veggies, pasta, garlic and olive oil. I poured about 4 oz. into a lovely long-stemmed glass with a generous bowl. I sipped. MMMMMother's milk. I sighed contentedly.
My mouth watered as I anticipated what would come from my kitchen that night. I thinly sliced the zucchini and summer squashes, the red pepper and eggplant. I sipped. I oiled the vegetables well and spread them out on two baking sheets, generously sprinkling them with salt. I sipped. I prepared a second baking sheet of oiled grape tomatoes and peeled shrimp. I sipped. Everything smelled wonderfully toasty and looked deliciously golden when I removed the veggies and shrimp from the oven. Feeling content (and slightly too big for my britches), I took a generous sip of wine and began boiling water for pasta. I sipped again, proud of myself that I had chosen a wonderful artisan pasta that looks like long corkscrews: fusilli col buco. Sip. I had artisan olive oil. Sip. I had big, fat cloves of garlic. Sip. I had a lovely dry white wine to deglaze the pan and enhance the flavors. Sip. I had fresh herbs and fresh Parmesan. Sip. I still had plenty of Marques de la Concordia, which was rapidly becoming my dear, long-lost friend. Time for another glass of wine.
I swirled the wine in the glass, looked at its gorgeous ruby hue, took another (generous) sip of wine, closed my eyes and imagined how all the flavors in the pasta would marry and produce a phenomena greater than the sum of their parts. Inspiration and sheer genius would bloom from my humble electric stove and shabbily outdated kitchen! Sip. Lovely, sophisticated and complex, yet still approachable by my non-foodie husband, it would be the best thing I had made so far (as he was fond of saying to me). Sip. I stirred the pasta, waited for it to finish cooking (sip, sip, sip), then carefully drained and rinsed it. Sip. Finally, it was time for the Grand Alchemy. I took another sip of wine and called on my Muse, Tempranillo, to deliver me.
Now, I wouldn't say that when I have some wine while in the kitchen, disaster is sure to follow. I wouldn't say that when I drink wine and cook that I cook badly. I wouldn't even go so far to say that I have removed body parts. However, I have come dangerously close to creating all of these unfortunate incidents while courting my Muse a bit too much, which is why me and Mr. Mandoline parted company on not very good terms. I will say, however, that when I have wine and cook, I become much more creative, impulsive and inspired. This is a good thing. I also become much more careless. This is not such a good thing. It is true what your probation officer told you: alcohol lowers your inhibitions, impairs your judgment and reduces your fine motor skills to those about comparable with a three year old's.
Which is why I'm about to tell you about my recent and very sad experience with cooking, wine and various impairments. Let this be a lesson to you, Dear Readers. You must be EXTRA CAREFUL in the kitchen when you have (a lot of) wine and cook. You must take precautions you wouldn't ordinarily need to worry about. Why? Because knives are sharp. Because smoke alarms warn you of grease fires that may require the assistance of the fire department. Because bad things happen to perfectly good food.
And so, after lovingly, carefully (and rather tipsily) sauteeing my garlic and diced red onion in artisinal olive oil, and after smelling how heavenly that aroma was, and after sipping a little more wine, and after salting the sauteeing ingredients generously with specially-ordered fine Kosher flake salt from Penzey's, I got lazy, careless and, OK, overly-confident. I decided that instead of risking repetitive injury to my wrist by using my pepper grinder at this stage (you see, some judgment was present, but we won't comment on the quality of that judgment), I would just reach for my jar of lovely, pungent, slightly fruity Extra Special Bold black pepper that I had ground two days ago. I had put said pepper (approximately 1/2 cup) in an old, clean glass jar with a shaker top. However, said shaker top was not secure. Unaware, I peppered. So. You can imagine the carnage. The scene was enough to make me put down my glass of wine. I sighed. Not contentedly.
I stood at the stove, dumbly staring into the saute pan. Those beautiful pieces of red onion and garlic that I had so lovingly (and expertly, I might add) sauteed where now covered in about 1/2 cup of lovely, pungent, slightly fruity Extra Special Bold ground black pepper. The delightful aroma drifted up toward my nostrils and I thought: life is bittersweet.
"I've ruined our dinner." I stated this calmly and matter-of-factly to my husband, who was channel-surfing only a few feet away. "Oh, no you haven't. You always say that," he said, chuckling. "No, really. I think I've ruined dinner. I just dumped about a half cup of ground black pepper into this pan." My husband wisely kept silent. Somewhere through the Tempranillo-induced miasma, I managed to reach for a teaspoon and start scooping out large portions of ground pepper. Into the InSinkErator went half of my lovely sauteed garlic. Half of my lovely sauteed red onion. Almost all the Extra Special Bold pepper I sighed, drained, emotionless.
And then I took another sip of wine. And I completed my original plans for this pasta dish. And I must tell you that it had a lovely, pungent and slightly fruity quality from all the black pepper I couldn't remove. And it was very, very good.
Oops!! Ruined Pasta
1 lb. good-quality long-stranded pasta
2 small zucchini squash, ends trimmed and sliced thin
2 small summer squash, ends trimmed and sliced thin
1 small eggpplant, stem end trimmed, quartered and sliced thin
1/2 sweet red pepper, cut into long strips
1 cup grape tomatoes
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 to 4 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup diced red onion
1 cup dry white wine
minced fresh herbs such as basil, parsley, and/or thyme
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Cook pasta according to package directions, rinse, drain and set aside to keep warm.
2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425 degrees.
3. Combine squash and eggplant slices in a large bowl and drizzle generously with EVOO. Season well with salt and pepper. Toss to coat and spread in a single layer on baking sheet(s).
4. Combine red pepper strips, grape tomatoes and shrimp in same bowl. Repeat process with EVOO, salt and pepper. Spread on a large baking sheet.
5. Roast vegetables until golden and slightly blistered and shrimp until pink, removing vegetables as they complete cooking and turning shrimp if necessary. Set aside until ready to use.
6. In a large skillet, coat bottom of pan with a generous amount of EVOO. Heat over medium-high heat until it just begins to shimmer.
7. Add garlic and red onion and season generously with salt and pepper (the more pepper, the merrier).
8. Saute garlic and red onion until slightly softened, being careful not to burn garlic.
9. Add white wine and deglaze the pan, simmering for about 2 to 3 minutes.
10. Add the pasta and toss gently to coat, then add roasted vegetables and shrimp, combining gently to just heat through.
11. Check for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary.
12. Serve pasta in a large serving bowl garnished with minced fresh herbs and plenty of Parmesan. Serves 4 to 6.