Easy-to-serve convenience foods have gotten a bad reputation over the years, and yours truly has certainly been a vocal proponent of scratch-cooking and not sacrificing flavor for microwave-able speed, but real life practicality means we don’t often have the luxury of plating an Instagram-able meal for our families. Sometimes it’s enough to get anything edible in their hungry mouths, and rapidly.
Two locally-made foods prove it’s more than possible to serve a quick weeknight pasta dinner that is exceptionally high quality and genuinely flavorful.
Boulder’s Pastaficio crafts award-winning fresh and boxed dry pastas in small batches from organic heritage and ancient wheat that is milled in-house. The flavor and texture is memorably nutty, but take care not to overcook this pasta into mush.
Pastaficio’s casarecce is a simple twisted shape ideal for catching and holding sauce. I sautéed chopped broccoli and walnuts in olive oil and butter with the undercooked noodles before adding black pepper and a little salted cooking water. Simply perfect.
I could have happily served the pasta with bottled Spinelli’s Roasted Garlic Fra Diavolo Pasta Sauce. This is the sauce you’d make if you had time, with only roasted fresh garlic, extra virgin olive oil, crushed tomatoes, red chilies, and salt. Made by the much-loved Spinelli’s Market in Denver, the preservative- and gluten-free vegan sauce is naturally sweet from ripe tomatoes with no sugar added. I enjoyed the punchy roasted garlic flavor and moderate chile heat on pita bread pizzas, over creamy polenta and on roasted chicken thighs. It needed nothing but grated Romano cheese.
Pastaficio dry pastas are sold at natural food markets, farm stands, and shops. Spinelli’s sauces are available at Natural Grocers and other local supermarkets.
Another roadfood attraction
Facing the traffic and road construction gauntlet, drivers motoring south of Denver on I-25 who want to take a break are barraged with signs for fast food and chain eateries. However, there is an island of traditional flavor that’s worth exiting for in Castle Rock. At the Castle Cafe, bone-in chicken is dredged in peppered flour and slowly fried in cast-iron pans. That traditional Southern cooking produces juicy white and dark meat encased in a crackly skin and a thin crisp crust that begs to be appreciated with mashers and gravy. Patience is rewarded as it takes a solid 30 minutes before you’ll get a taste. Hopefully the highway gridlock will have eased while you were licking your lips.
What to do with too many apples?
You could cook them into sauce or bake them in a pie but honestly, wouldn’t you rather dip apples in warm caramel sauce?
Caramel sauce is among the easiest and most impressive things you can make at home. Put it in a jar and this sweet buttery sauce becomes a warmly welcomed holiday gift.
Easy Butterscotchy Caramel
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup honey
Optional: Vanilla extract, sea salt and Scotch whiskey, to taste
Bring the ingredients to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly for three minutes. If desired, stir in vanilla extract, whiskey or salt, to taste. Remove from heat and cool for 15 to 25 minutes. Dip in slices of ice-cold tart apples. Covered and refrigerated, the sauce will keep for weeks . . . but it won’t last that long. Rewarm sauce gently in the microwave so it doesn’t “cook” and harden.
A bake sale pop-up November 7 at Dry Storage, 3601 Arapahoe Ave., will benefit the Women’s Bakery, a nonprofit that educates women and builds nutritional bakeries in East Africa . . . Speaking of dumplings, Boulder’s Food Lab hosts a fresh pasta workshop November 23 that includes making potato gnocchi. More at foodlabboulder.com