About half of the cookbooks on my shelf did some time in the cabinet above my parents’ toaster. Most of the books are stained, bindings broken, pages folded and worn. And the best ones have notes scribbled in the margins, even highlighted lines, like a high school copy of Romeo and Juliet. Occasionally I’ll come across my mother’s chicken scratch (although by now I can barely discern her handwriting from my own), but more often the handwriting is unfamiliar yet well-known.
You see, the beautiful thing about our Nannies was that each prepared Madhur Jaffrey’s lentils and Sheila Lunkins’ chicken just a little bit differently. And each wrote different kinds of notes to remember. Linda was very precise, next to a recipe listing 1-2 cloves garlic she wrote “1 teaspoon minced”. Laura liked to add her own touches, “better with provolone” she noted. Jeffrey catalogued presentation, “beautiful in the shallow blue pasta bowls.” Kris was tuned-in to our preferences, “skip onions for Evan.”
By far the most well-loved of all my mother’s cookbooks were those by Mollie Katzen. The Enchanted Broccoli Forest is missing a cover and Moosewood Restaurants Low-Fat Favorites is held together with a huge rubber band. We adored the cottage cheese dill bread, the fresh tomato soup, and most of all, the penne with creamy walnut sauce. I think our creamy walnut phase was during Jeffrey’s reign – the poor guy probably made it two hundred times in the few years he lived with us. It’s a wonder we didn’t turn green! This saucy pesto is still a go-to recipe for me, easy to make, healthy, and great the next day too. It’s amazingly flavorful and hearty, and packed with nutrients. The original recipe calls for tossing the sauce with penne and broccoli florets, and I quite like the broccoli. But you can certainly leave it out, or perhaps throw in some green peas instead. I have, of course, made a few tweaks, including cutting the recipe in half, since the cookbook version makes a ton of sauce. The amount below is plenty to coat a pound of pasta and then some!
Penne with Creamy Walnut Sauce (Adapted From Moosewood Restaurant’s Low-Fat Favorites)
1 pound whole wheat penne (or other pasta shape)
3 cups broccoli florets
1 6-ounce bag baby spinach
2 tablespoons water
1/3 cup packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup walnut pieces, toasted
1/2 cup freshy grated parmesean cheese, divided
1 large garlic clove
1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente. Steam the broccoli over the boiling pasta water until tender but not mushy. Meanwhile, transfer the spinach to a microwave safe bowl and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of water. Microwave on high for two minutes until wilted.
Transfer the spinach (with any liquid from the bowl), basil, walnuts, 1/4 cup parmesean cheese, garlic clove, and cottage cheese to a food processor and whir until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides if necissary. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss the sauce with the pasta and top with the broccoli and remaining cheese.