I'd like to offer snapshot of this evening's dinner table.
My husband worked late tonight, so I fed the crew solo. After assuring Ty that the wee bits of broccoli I sneaked into his pasta were actually green tellicherry peppercorns and telling Leif that it actually was broccoli and not trees as Liam said, we are prepared to eat.
The meal, as usual, progresses smoothly for about five minutes before spiraling into the expected chaos. Ty flips his head toward the window to look into the dark for the coyote he heard outside. In the process, the massive forkful of spaghetti he has hanging out of his mouth whips around and adheres to the side of his face.
Aidan, who just saw the show that Ty put on, starts laughing so hard that he turns various shades of purple and I stare at him to figure out whether or not he's choking. He's not. But he is honing his fake-laughing skills and the royal we are not amused.
Liam, who is attempting to maintain the carefully cultivated air of superiority that comes with not "behaving like those animals," breaks the thin veneer of civility by grabbing a huge floret of garlicky buttered broccoli with his hand. Instead of taking small bites he, by degrees, manages to wedge the whole thing in his mouth at the same time.
Leif shrieks, "MOM! WOOK!" and proudly shows off an almost life-sized picture of a sword he has drawn entirely with cooked spaghetti noodles on, what else, the table. Rowan, who has amused his brothers by singing our mealtime prayer at the top of his lungs every minute and a half or so, decides to sing the whole thing while growling.
When I have had enough of the din and smack my palm on the table to be heard over the roar, Rowan imitates me and catches the edge of his bowl, overturning it in the process. Sigh.
There are worse things, though. At least they all loved dinner. I'd recommend trying it -- the dinner, that is, not feeding the five kids alone. However -- notes of caution -- if your family is not fond of spicy things, omit or reduce the crushed red pepper flakes. I made it once with twice the quantity of red pepper for my chili-head children and was greeted with cries of, "Mom this is great, but my neck is spicy," and "Mom, my tongue is on fire. Can you spray my face with the faucet? Then can I have more?" And "Oh my tongue HURTS, Mom. Can I have more cheese?"
As with many meals, this one was born of desperation at 6 p.m. when the kids were clinging to my legs moaning, "I'm huuuuuuuuuuuuuungry," while I stared blankly into the freezer at a bag of frozen broccoli. In other words, if the fresh broccoli at the store is anemic looking or you have broccoli cuts in the freezer and just don't feel like trudging out to the store, you can easily substitute them in this dish.
Do you absolutely need meat in it? Crumble some browned bacon or leftover browned sausage onto each plate. It is very simple to prepare and packs major eye and tastebud appeal. It's a fantastic main dish on meat-free nights or a tasty side dish that pairs beautifully with many entrees.
Garlicky Broccoli with Spicy Spaghetti
1 lb. broccoli florets, cut into spears
1 lb. whole grain thin
4 T. unsalted butter
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, crushed, divided
1/2 t. crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
Fresh grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese to taste (we like about 1/4 cup per plated serving)
While pasta is cooking according to package directions, bring about 3/4 inch of water to boil in a medium saucepan. Place steamer basket over the boiling water, put the broccoli spears in the steamer, cover, and cook until broccoli is crisp tender, about 3-4 minutes. When broccoli is done, uncover, remove steamer basket and set aside until pasta is done.
Pour pasta into a colander and replace empty pasta pot over low burner. Melt butter in the pot and then add the extra virgin olive oil and garlic. Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant. Toss the broccoli in the butter and then turn off the heat. Add the cooked spaghetti, tossing to coat the spaghetti with the garlic butter, and evenly distribute the broccoli. Mound on serving plates and top with copious amounts of grated cheese. This is so very good served with fresh homemade garlic focaccia, but any good crusty bread will elevate this meal to the sublime.
This is a family favorite adapted from Beth Hensperger's wonderful "The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook".
1 1/8 c. lukewarm water
1/4 c. plus 2 T. extra virgin olive oil and extra for brushing, divided
3 1/4 c. high-gluten flour (if you don't have it you can use all-purpose)
1 1/2 t. salt
1 t. garlic powder
1/4 t. dried oregano, basil or thyme
2 t. instant yeast
Cornmeal, for sprinkling on rimmed baking pan
3-6 large cloves garlic, minced
2 T. minced fresh parsley, optional
In the mixing pan of your bread machine, add water, 2 T. extra virgin olive oil, flour, salt, garlic powder, oregano and yeast to pan in manufacturer's recommended order. Set on dough cycle and press "start."
(If you don't have a bread machine, place water in the bottom of a large mixing bowl and sprinkle yeast over the top. Stir gently and add the previously listed ingredients to the water. Mix with a spoon until dough holds together, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Grease another large bowl, put dough in, cover lightly with plastic wrap or tea towel and place in a warm, draft-free area to double in bulk, about an hour.)
While dough is rising, brush a 17-by-11-inch rimmed baking pan with olive oil and sprinkle generously with cornmeal. When dough cycle is done or dough is doubled in bulk, remove to a lightly floured surface and divide into two portions. Use the heel of your hand to flatten dough to approximately 1/4-inch thick. Lift it onto pan and repeat with other portion of dough. The two pieces should fit on the pan with a few inches between them. Drizzle the tops with the remaining olive oil and cover lightly with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise at room temperature until puffy, about 25 minutes.
While dough is rising in the pan, place a baking stone on the bottom rack of your oven and preheat to 450 degrees for at least 20 minutes. Remove plastic wrap; sprinkle tops of dough evenly with garlic. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees and place the pan on the hot stone. Bake for 15 minutes or until the focaccia is golden brown and delicious. Serve hot from the oven or cool on a rack. If, by some odd chance, you have some left, this bread makes amazing croutons or panzanella.
Rebecca Lindamood is a northern Lower Michigan native now living in New York state. A food lover and mother of five young boys, she writes occasionally about preparing creative, yet affordable, meals for a family. Drop Rebecca an e-mail at email@example.com or write to her care of the Record-Eagle.