I have been thinking a lot in the last couple of weeks about what it means to cook when you’re pressed for time. I’ve always had the luxury of time. Even when I juggled a full-time job and a site, the sum of my evening tasks were still only to make whatever I felt like making for dinner, and if dinner was done at 10 p.m. instead of 7:30 p.m., we just shrugged it off.
Alas, as you other mamas out there know, the third trimester is all about waking up one day in a frenetic frenzy, as I did out of the blue yesterday morning. If we’re about to go into lockdown for a couple months, there is so much we have left to do: the upholstery needs to be steam-cleaned! The baby’s room needs a dimmer switch! The printer cartridges are, like, totally out of ink! And I haven’t yet learned to cook respectable meals in a minimum of time.
“Respectable” is a bigger deal than it may sound. There are no shortage of shortcuts for busy meal-preparers these days; in fact there’s an entire segment of the food industry (or dare I say, most of it) that exists to ensure that you won’t actually have to spend any time in your kitchen. But what about people like me? I love to spend time in my kitchen; I just need to become someone who knows how to do more with less of it. Or at least until That Thing That Kicks Me Nightly In The Ribs learns to peel carrots and shell peas.
I turned to an article I read almost five years ago for inspiration, one written by William Grimes, a former New York Times restaurant critic. Grimes found that in his retirement from food criticism, he’d never stopped critiquing the food in front of him, most recently his own. He’d lost interest in avant-garde experimentations, all-day home cooking projects and takeout pizza; his new, nonnegotiable demand was that he had solid one-star dining in his home, every night, and that he didn’t have to spend a lot of time preparing it. Grimes sifted through 30 Minute Meals, Everyday Food and Betty Crocker’s Quick and Easy Cookbook in search of what he considered “good” fast food: no canned green beans or canned onion rings. And he found some gems, such as this six-minute sauté from Jacques Pepin, which “takes almost no time to prepare, but the result looks more impressive than a lot of dishes requiring triple the time and effort”. We auditioned it tonight for dinner and give it four stars.
Asparagus with Chorizo and Croutons
Adapted from Jacques Pépin
First of all, some confessions: This may be a six-minute meal for you, but some of us still had to be pains in the tuchus’ about it. I ordered a par-baked country loaf from Fresh Direct that first needed to be baked and cooled, before it could be rendered into croutons. (Could I be more ridiculous?) Then I fell all gaga over some cranberry beans at the Greenmarket yesterday, so I had to shell and pre-boil them before adding them to the dish. (Though canned and drained beans, or skipping the beans entirely, would also do.) And yes, I know asparagus season has really passed but that off-season stuff isn’t a quarter bad.
And now, some cooking notes: The asparagus will be very al dente, cooked in this method. We love it that way, but if you like yours with more give, you can start it a couple minutes earlier in pan or steam it for a minute or two before you add it. Marcona almods are fantastic if you can find them, but because I couldn’t, I used slivered almonds which burned easily — not recommended; use the whole ones. The beans are optional and not part of the original recipe, but we liked them in there a lot.
1 pound large, thick, firm asparagus, lower third of the stalks peeled with a vegetable peeler or snapped off
1/4 cup good olive oil
4 ounces Spanish chorizo (but Portuguese chouriço will work as well), cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups 3/4-inch bread cubes (croutons), preferably from a baguette or country bread loaf
1/4 cup whole almonds
1 cup cooked beans (optional; I used 3/4 pound fresh cranberry beans, shelled then boiled for 20 minutes in lightly salted water)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Make this right as you are ready to eat. Cut each asparagus stalk into 3 or 4 pieces. Heat the oil in a large skillet until very hot. Add all the ingredients except the beans, if using, and salt and pepper. Cover and sauté over high heat for 5 to 6 minutes (thinner asparagus might be done sooner), tossing or stirring the mixture a few times, so it browns and cooks on all sides. Add the beans, if using, and salt and pepper, toss again, and serve.