There are three weeks left in the school year. ¬†The littlest chef is starting end-of-grade testing on Friday, and she’s now busy most school nights with puppy training, guitar lessons or swim team practice/meets. ¬†We’re in a very hectic cycle, and there are two things that are not negotiable, especially with the testing and the physical activity on the agenda: ¬†nutrition and sleep. So, I’ve ramped up my already manic menu planning system to have dinner on the table even faster than my typical 30-40 minutes after walking in the door. To do this, I’ve settled into a routine of occasionally cooking two¬†meals at once — one for immediate consumption and the second for the next night. If you peruse my menu planning calendars (see links at left), you’ll see that I’ve started mapping out not just the nightly menu but also what advance prep I’m doing for other nights. I’m finding this very helpful.
Last night’s dinner was a variation on one of my standby meal plans — stir fried veggies and sesame noodles, with or without some tofu, meat or fish.¬†¬†These dishes are healthy and¬†quick to prepare,¬†and we almost always have the ingredients in the house.¬† Our sesame noodles were made with whole wheat spaghetti cooked and then tossed in a dressing that pretty closely follows this recipe. The veggies used what I had available — carrots and broccoli left from last week’s produce delivery, and some lovely bok choy that came in yesterday’s delivery.¬† The ahi tuna was marinated for about 30 minutes in the marinade from this recipe.¬† Since our grill was recently put out to “pasture,” and our new grill hasn’t arrived yet, I left the tuna in portion-sized pieces and cooked it under the broiler.¬† Grilling would have made it better, but we were pretty happy with it prepared this way.
One of the things that amazes me every time we travel in Europe is the way that “fast” food is interpreted. Now, I don’t mean “fast” in the sense of something one would pick-up in a drive-through and eat in the car while driving from one errand to another. I do mean lunch in its most routine sense — the lunch that an average Joe or Josephine would eat on a workday. My latest example brings us to a fabulous bolognese sauce.
As I mentioned in a previous post, we went somewhat off the usual beaten path for tourists during¬†our recent trip to Tuscany and visited Pistoia, a lovely town known for its lively street market. Then, we took a scenic route back to Lucca by first driving up into the hills and then back down, to finish our day with a stop in Collodi —¬† named for the author of Adventures of Pinocchio — for a visit to the¬†charming Pinocchio Park.¬† We were hungry as we left Pistoia, and¬†we were planning to stop for lunch en route.¬† But the villages along this route are very, very small, and they just don’t see a lot of nonresident traffic in the winter — that quickly became very clear.¬† So the few restaurants we saw tended to be closed.¬† We drove for maybe 40 minutes, and then we saw it — an old building containing a bar and a pizzeria, with an “open” sign and¬†foggy windows that spoke volumes of how¬†warm it was inside.¬† Did I mention that the weather on this day was overcast and windy?
We enter the restaurant, where no one seems to speak English, and the other patrons’ uniforms suggest that they are all local utility workers on their lunch break.¬† Every one of them was seated facing a television which seemed to be airing a local news program. And they were eating pasta with this gorgeous, homey-looking sauce.¬†When my husband received the¬†Ravioli with Bolognese that he had ordered, I quickly recognized it as the sauce that the locals were all eating¬†on their pasta.¬† It looked and tasted delicious!¬†Looking around, it seemed as if this lunch was as “everyday” to the locals as stopping at for a sandwich at Subway might be in the U.S.!¬† Imagine that!
When we returned to the U.S., I kept thinking about the bolognese sauce.¬† After comparing a number of recipes, I decided that this recipe seemed very close to what we had in Tuscany. As I made this sauce, I remembered that on my last day in Tuscany, as I visited the string of stores in the village center to gather ingredients for dinner (butcher shop, produce shop, bakery, etc), I found myself making the loop directly behind the same woman, such that we both chuckled as I held the door for her at the last shop. That day, I saw each of the items she purchased, and I am now absolutely certain she was making bolognese sauce! It was so much fun to cook this Bolognese sauce in my kitchen and imagine that Italian woman doing the same in her kitchen so far way! I’ll never know her name, but I feel certain I’ll think of her each time I make this recipe!