Working up a sweat for a vegetable

I used to take this acting class and in that acting class there were about 10 guys and one guy that was cute if you squinted. The rest of them were not so cute.
It was a perfect opportunity for the lecture that my acting teacher loved to deliver. “Listen” he’d say “there is nothing happening here. I’m feeling nothing and if I’m feeling nothing, I can guarantee you’re not feeling anything.”
I know for a fact that my acting partner felt the same way about me. I was an empty bag of chips on the subway tracks; you look at it because there is nothing else to look at.
“You have to find something that you can’t resist in that boy. Does he smell good? Does he have nice ankles? Can he cha cha? FIND IT!” And we’d start again.
It’s amazing what you can see when you’re really looking. This kind of thinking is what helps when it comes to vegetables. A leaf of spinach is never going to put in a sweat. You have to find it’s potential. You have to work it. And if you don’t believe you love it, I can tell you what, the child sitting next to you is not going to believe it either.
To put you in the mood:

Creamy potato leek soup with the tiniest drizzle of cream and a grating of nutmeg is a beautiful thing . It’s what nursery dinners were made of. If add tender baby spinach leaves at the end of simmering and puree the whole thing to a brilliant green with your immersion blender it only gets better. If shorty likes cheese, even better. Top it with a grating of the real thing.

Homemade ravioli. I know you don’t have time to make homemade pasta on a weekday–use wonton wrappers. Throw broccoli rabe (cima di rapa)in a boiling water with olive oil and salt for about 5-7 minutes until tender but still green. Drain well. Sliver up some garlic and saute til just golden over a low flame in beautiful olive oil. Add the rabe. Stir up the best ricotta you can get your hands on. You may have to add a drizzle of cream or mascarpone. Add a little lemon zest, salt, pepper, chili pepper if you baby likes it spicy and a bit of chopped flat leaf parsley. Chop the rabe and add it to the ricotta. Put a dab on wonton wrappers (kids can help here), dip your finger in water and drag it around the edge; top with another wonton wrapper. (or same with pasta sheets cut into squares.) Drop into simmering water. Cook til just cooked, drizzle with olive oil, and dust w/ parm.

Once you have worked up a sweat and life feels good again, get out the cornmeal. Make a polenta using one part cornmeal to 3 parts water. You want to bring the water to a boil, add enough salt to make it taste seasoned, and then in a thin stream, as if you were making a vinaigrette, start adding the cornmeal. Whisk constantly, until it’s all in. Turn the heat down to a simmer and switch to a wooden spoon. Now here’s the thing about cornmeal. For about a dollar more, you can buy the best and you should. It will take longer to cook and it’s the difference between strawberry shortcake flavored cheap ice cream and eating ripe red strawberries that you picked on a hot day, layered between the top and bottom of a biscuit fresh from the oven with a little heavy cream whipped just enough to thicken it.
When the cornmeal starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, it’s ready. Turn off the heat. No more stirring. Now you are going to fold in about 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, salt to taste, and a small handful of parmesan. Taste for salt and pepper. Pour it onto a wooden platter. While the cornmeal has been cooking: saute an onion w/a little chopped pancetta and a few parsley leaves until the pancetta begins to crisp. Add broccoli or string beans or tiny cubes of butternut squash–substitute sage leaves if you use the squash and braise the veg first if you want it to go quicker.) Saute to blend and pour over the polenta.

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