Not to take anything away from our turkey and trimmings and those great leftovers, for the other nights at home during this hectic holiday time, you might try one of these truly delicious winter pastas.
The first, spaghetti tossed in a decidedly different pesto, is equally as delicious as the summery basil and pine nut variety, and comes together quickly. Recently, I watched two kids under 12, almost inhale it. The recipe comes from Chicago food columnist, Leah Eskin.
The second is out of a brand new cookbook, "Melt" (Little Brown, $30) that takes a seasonal approach to comfort food. I was lucky enough to receive a review copy. I think it's the ideal holiday present for anyone who likes to cook.
Winter Pesto (4 servings)
When addressing the cheese in this pesto, make sure it's the good stuff.
1 cup toasted walnuts (see below)
3 cloves garlic
Coarse salt (I use kosher)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves and stems
1/3 cup freshly ground Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound spaghetti (imported brand, please)
Spread walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet. Slide into a 350-degree oven and toast, shaking pan once or twice, until fragrant and crisp, about 5 or 6 minutes (check frequently).
Halve garlic the long way and pull out any green shoots.
Measure 1/4 teaspoon salt and the pepper into the food processor. With the machine running, drop garlic chunks down the shoot, one by one, buzzing garlic to bits.
Add parsley, cheese and lemon juice. Pulse a few times. With the motor running, drizzle in oil in a very thin stream, until you have a thick sauce. Tumble in the toasted nuts and pulse a few times, leaving pesto chunky.
Cook spaghetti in lots of boiling salted water until al dente.
Drain and place into a warm serving bowl. Scrape all of the pesto onto the pasta, toss well and serve hot. Pass more cheese at the table.
Cauliflower and Gruyere Macaroni Gratin
(4 to 6 servings)
This is a rich dish, but then you have the cauliflower which makes it a bit healthier than regular mac and cheese. I suppose you could use half and\half in place of the cream, but I think I'd rather balance this out with a crunchy green salad and call it a day.
1 medium-sized cauliflower
1 tablespoon olive oil
Freshly-ground black pepper
1/2 pound elbow macaroni
3 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
8 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Trim cauliflower by cutting away the leaves from the stalk. Break into florets, then cut into small pieces. Toss florets with olive oil and lightly season with salt and pepper. In a 9-by-9-inch baking pan or casserole dish, roast the cauliflower for 20 to 25 minutes, until slightly browned and easily pierced with a fork.
While the cauliflower is roasting, cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until just shy of al dente. Drain and set aside. Pour the pasta into the pan with the cauliflower. Add the Gruyere, cream, dry mustard, nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Mix well. Use a spoon to push the pasta beneath the surface of the cream and top with the Parmesan. Bake for 1 hour, then allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes or until the cream sets. Serve hot.