Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Creamy Comfort Pasta with Asparagus and Spinach

Well, here it is: September. I have to admit that I have never been happier to see the back of summer in all my life; to describe the past several months as "difficult" would be an understatement on a par with calling WWII "a bit of unpleasantness." Watching my mother get sicker and sicker, then losing her, dealing with the associated emotional and administrative fallout, getting one son ready for high school and another for college, finishing my looked like more than I could hope to manage back in June, but somehow it all happened, and here we are. I know that in years to come, when I look back on this hideous excuse for a summer, it will be as one of those "before and after" times that occur in all our lives - a season somehow removed and apart from our ordinary reality. That being the case, I am only too glad to turn the calendar page and look ahead to autumn, which has always been my favorite season. I won't deny that my boy's imminent departure for school adds a distinctly bittersweet note to the whole business, but my job is not to keep him a little boy, but to be happy as his horizons expand, and encourage him as he begins the exciting, scary, and amazing process of negotiating his life. (And fortunately, he's only 90 minutes away, and his room isn't going anywhere!)

So. I'm definitely ready for fall, but apparently central Massachusetts is not: today's temperature was well in the 90s, accompanied by a humidity level that challenges one's will to live, making the prospect of a nor'easter seem like Paradise. But we have had some hints of what's to come. About a week ago, we had a string of those cool, rainy late-summer days that always make me think of sweaters, hot cups of tea, apple pies, and crunchy leaves, filling me with hope for the season ahead. One delightfully drizzly afternoon, wondering what to make for dinner, I was struck by a craving for pasta. I've always been a sucker for a creamy sauce (as a child, one of my favorite meals was my father's outrageously rich Fettucini Alfredo), and I have to say that this really hit the spot. The sauce was really fast and easy, and the addition of spinach and some beautiful asparagus only made things better. The result was simple, yummy comfort food that was ready in well under an hour: what more could you ask for? Soon - very soon, it is to be hoped - this blasted heat wave will end, and I look forward to making this dish again on those blessedly chilly nights to come.

Creamy Comfort Pasta with Asparagus and Spinach

~ 1 lb. penne pasta, cooked and drained according to package directions
~ 8 oz. asparagus, broken into 1" pieces, steamed until just bright green
~ 4 tbsp. Earth Balance
~ 2 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 2 tsp. dried basil
~ 2 tbsp. flour
~ 1 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 2 cups vegetable broth
~ 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
~ A few generous grinds black pepper
~ 4 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped

~ In a large, deep skillet, melt the margarine.
~ Add the garlic and saute over medium heat, about 2 minutes.
~ Add the flour, salt, and basil, stirring to make a roux.
~ Gradually add the soy milk and broth, whisking constantly, and cook about 5 minutes.
~ Add the nutritional yeast and pepper, and cook another few minutes, until slightly thickened.
~ Stir in the spinach until just wilted, then add the steamed asparagus.
~ Add the sauce to the cooked pasta, combine thoroughly, and serve hot.

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