Monday, December 3, 2012

No Heartburn with a Nostalgic Eighties Gourmet Veggie Pasta

Earlier this year America lost a wonderful writer and filmmaker, Nora Ephron. I first encountered Ms. Ephron's writings through her collections of essays, like "Scribble, Scribble" and "Crazy Salad", books passed on to me by girlfriends whose passion for Ephron's humor and worldview became my own. 

When I subsequently read through "Heartburn", (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), her semi-autobiographical novel about chef Rachel Samstat, who loses her way during her second husband's adultery, I knew she would always be a part of my pantheon of favorite authors.

I was delighted when "Heartburn" became the featured selection of Cook the Books, a bimonthly foodie book club that I and three of my good blogger buddies co-host. Simona, of the blog, Briciole, is the host of this round of Cook the Books, and she has enlisted Laura Lippstone, a big Ephron fan and blogger at Planet Lippstone, to serve as guest judge of the posts that we all write featuring our book selection and the foods we cook up inspired by our reading. 

Dipping back into "Heartburn" was a nostalgic read: there was the nostalgia of seeing that great dust jacket art, the familiarity of sinking back into Ephron's words like having a cozy conversation with a great friend that one hasn't seen in a bunch of years, and nostalgia for the 1980s world that pervades its pages. Ephron describes Samstat's longing for the great produce sections of New York City supermarkets and gourmet shops that she left behind when she moved to Washington D.C. and that made me remember how arugula and twelve different kinds of peppers didn't used to be a common site at the average food store.

And then there was that passage that made me laugh out loud when I first read and reread it to my friends back in the early Eighties, and which I read and snorted through and reread to my husband now that we're in the 2000-teens.

"When I was in college, I had a list of what I wanted in a husband. A long list. I wanted a registered Democrat, a bridge player, a linguist with particular fluency in French, a subscriber to THE NEW REPUBLIC, a tennis player. I wanted a man who wasn’t bald, who wasn’t fat, who wasn’t covered with too much body hair. I wanted a man with long legs and a small ass and laugh wrinkles around the eyes. Then I grew up and settled for a low-grade lunatic who kept hamsters. At first I thought he was charming and eccentric. And then I didn’t. Then I wanted to kill him. Every time he got on a plane, I would imagine the plane crash, and the funeral, and what I would wear to the funeral and flirting at the funeral, and how soon I could start dating after the funeral.” (p.83)

My homage dish to Heartburn is one that celebrates the dazzling bounty of what the grocery store produce aisle features most any time of the year (alright, the locavore in me is conflicted about how great that bounty is in terms of carbon footprints). I made this great pasta dish after sniping the recipe from my cousin-in-law Diane, a fabulous cook. I added some cubed winter squash, because I have an abundance and threw in some diced tomatoes, too, cause I had some hanging around, but otherwise it's Diane's fantastic recipe. It's delicious and I can assure you that it won't give you Heartburn:

Diane's Eighties Gourmet Pasta

1 small eggplant, peeled and diced small
1 small Delicata squash (or other winter squash), peeled, seeded and cubed (about 1 cup)
1 each red and yellow bell pepper, diced small
1 red onion, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
3 plum tomatoes, medium chop
1/3 cup olive oil
1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 lb. of your favorite small pasta shape (Diane uses orzo, I used GF rigatoni)

Pasta Dressing:

Juice of one lemon

1/3 cup olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper

4 scallions, minced (I used chives)
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (I used walnuts)
3/4 cup feta, diced (not crumbled)
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into julienne

Toss all of the vegetables in the first part above with garlic, 1/3 cup olive oil, salt and pepper on a cookie sheet. Coat thoroughly with oil and then roast in a 425 degree oven until browned, turning at least once with a spatula.

Cook pasta and drain. Toss with roasted vegetables. Mix dressing and pour over pasta and vegetables.

Gently toss in scallions, nuts, feta and basil. 

Serve at room temperature. Serves 6-8.

Diane says to try throwing in some cremini mushrooms, yellow and green squash or zucchini, if you want.

Simona will be rounding up all the delicious Hearburn blog posts back at the Cook the Books site after today's deadline, so be sure to stop by and see what everyone cooked up. And don't forget to join us in reading, cooking and blogging up our thoughts about "The Hunger Games", by Suzanne Collins, both book and film, for our next round of Cook the Books!