Eating to remember… and forget

It’s been almost nine years since I lived in Italy and almost six since I last went back to visit, and sometimes I miss the damn place so much.

Let me be clear, there’s a lot I absolutely don’t miss, but sometimes, like last night while eating a homemade dinner of gnocchi in an herbed tomato sauce with olives and capers, I just miss Italy in general. I miss the food, the pace of life, the “not this” of it all.

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Note to self: eat more gnocchi

With Plated‘s help once again (cause you know, I’d be lost otherwise), I made one of my favorite Italian meals, and an easy one to boot: gnocchi, those perfect little pillow-like potato dumplings that are even easier to cook than pasta. My favorite thing about them? You’ll know when they’re ready because they’ll float up to the top of the boiling water they cook in, only after two to three minutes. Bloop bloop bloop.

My recipe card walked me through making a rich and flavorful, deliciously comforting chunky sauce, made with oregano and rosemary, garlic and onion, fat, juicy tomatoes, crushed red pepper, plump, buttery Castelvetrano olives (my faves), and the tiny little bursts of briny goodness that make every dish with them delicious, capers.

It all came together quickly and easily, and the end result was so very good that I think my stomach couldn’t help but remind my heart of all the times I sat around similarly easy, delicious meals, and how they made all the not-great things about Italy tolerable.

And for my next trick: spaghetti squash!

Ok, I need to ask a serious question here for a second: where— WHERE!— has spaghetti squash been my whole entire life?

Listen, I own one of those little hand-held spiralizers and have actually used it a bunch. I’ve had zoodles and whatever else you want to call noodle shaped food really made out of vegetables and not good ol’ fashioned carby pasta. I’ve had zucchini noodles, carrot noodles, the squash-that-looks-like-a-yellow-zucchini noodles.

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It’s not a great picture, but that’s fully MY fault, not the meal’s.

They were alright. Sometimes, buried under some delicious sauce usually reserved for bowls of pasta, they were even good(ish).  But they were never as good as the real thing. And they certainly weren’t ever something I would rave about and call the most delicious thing I’ve ever cooked.

But spaghetti squash, well ho ho HO, let me tell you… it’s blown my mind. Having it for dinner the other night, thanks to Plated, really felt like unveiling a magic trick. Cut the squash open, pop it in the oven, pull it out and scrape the inside with a fork, and  TA DA! BA DA BING BA DA BOOM! SHAZAM! a delicious, yellow heap of something that looks like noodles, but is in fact JUST vegetabley goodness.

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Again, bad lighting, not great photo, but a damn GOOD forkful. 

I kid you not, folks.

Plated’s recipe  had me make a delicious sauce from tomato paste, sun dried tomatoes, spinach, harissa, cream, garlic and onion which I then dumped the scraped out squash into along with some feta, and mixed together until it was perfectly coated and almost indistinguishable from a plate of angel hair pasta. I then spooned this delicious creamy sauce back into the scraped out squash shells and topped it with another mix, this time made of bread crumbs, parmesan, oregano, before popping it all back in the oven for another 10 minutes.

What came out of my oven was— no exaggeration— one of the best things I’ve ever made… which yea, I know, there’s not a ton of competition in that department, but still! Delicious, filling, vegetarian, and my new magic trick!

Pasta will forever hold a place in my heart, but since it also loves to hold a place in other parts like my thighs, I’m thrilled to have something to substitute it with every now and then that makes for just as delicious of a meal.

Plated: my new best friend in the kitchen

Fact: I can eat like nobody’s business, but I can barely cook to save my life. No really, not kidding. If my life depended on my cooking, I’d probably die.

But there’s hope for me yet, thanks to a service one of my friends turned me on to called Plated. Every week they put up a collection of meals, you pick the ones you like, and they send you all of the ingredients needed to pull it off, along with nice, easy-to-follow illustrated cooking instructions. (I can’t stress enough what a huge difference illustrated instructions make for us cooking-challenged folks. Total game changer.)

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For someone who loves getting stuff in the mail, this was like Christmas!

For my first Plated meal, I chose a polenta pizza with ricotta cheese, mushrooms and Brussels sprouts. Plated sends you everything, in the exact quantities you need, so there’s no waste, and best of all there’s no waiting in line at the supermarket, which because I live in New York, the world’s worst city for supermarkets, also means no risk of violent outbursts or homicidal thoughts. (Mark my words, it’s only a matter of time before someone snaps at the Trader Joe’s in Union Square.)

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All the ingredients come individually wrapped and labeled, so you don’t confuse your Brussels sprouts with your thyme, for example.

The only ingredients I had to provide myself were pantry staples olive oil, salt and pepper. Plated sent everything else and with it, this nice big recipe card. Again, pictures make a serious difference.

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Maybe a picture book approach to recipes is what I’ve been needing all along.

So with my oh-so-helpful color pictures to guide me, I followed all of the steps. I cooked up some polenta, sauteed some Brussels sprouts and mushrooms with garlic, oil and thyme, then spread the polenta on to a baking sheet and loaded it up with a layer of ricotta cheese, the sauteed veggies and a sprinkling of parmesan.

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Building the base and toppings for my “pizza.”

Once everything was loaded up and ready to go, I popped my baking sheet into the oven and tried my hardest not to be whiny and impatient whilw it cooked.

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Assembled and ready to go, next and final step: the oven!

Once out of the oven, I let it cool for a bit (but really only because the instructions told me to. I’m usually all about digging in immediately and burning myself with molten hot food.) before cutting it into slices, drizzling with just a little bit more olive oil and a couple shakes of salt and pepper, and BAM! Delicious, healthy, home made dinner for two.

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Who knew a slice of home made polenta pizza could do so much for making me feel like a normal functioning adult?

In my opinion, Plated is a genius idea, for both those who actually know their way around a kitchen and those of us still struggling to to learn the ropes. I’m looking forward to lots more Plated boxes waiting for me on my doorstep.