Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Small things: mirepoix

As we age, and our tastebuds dull, one might generalize that we mature into an appreciation of complex flavors. There's definitely something to this, and I'm sure I'll explore it in a later post. We tend to like more things because, ironically, we don't taste them as well, or as acutely, as we could or would have—had we dared—in those youthful salt-and-sugar-filled days.

But I'd argue that we also have the capacity to appreciate simple tastes. As I become a more mature cook, I thing I'm appreciating simpler fare. Okay, I give myself too much credit. Perhaps I'm just becoming a lazier cook. Regardless of the reason, today I sing the praises of mirepoix.

I remember my delight at discovering this luscious French word that makes "onion, carrots, and celery" sound exotic. But of course those foodie French have a lovely little word for, according to my trusty Food Lover's Companion, "a mixture of diced carrots, onions, celery and herbs sautéed in butter" (391).

On Sunday we gave thanks over bleak dinner fare: pasta and sauce. As my ever-gracious husband noted, "It's food."

Unsurprisingly, Monday found us with plenty of leftover pasta and a sauce that, while not bad, was clearly a dinner plate team-player without a team. Poor jarred pasta sauce. You tried.

Enter mirepoix. What would we have done without you? With you, dinner goes from blah to blah-ZOW!

So if you find yourself in a similar tight spot, consider a little mirepoix magic:

Lovely Baked Pasta

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F. Get a casserole pan ready.
  2. Boil some pasta in a pot (shapes are better than spaghetti).
  3. Meanwhile, mince an onion, a carrot, and a rib or two of celery. Use a food processor if you've got it. That's your mirepoix, darlin'.
  4. Sautee the mirepoix in some butter. Cook it until it's good and soft.
  5. If you want to brown a little ground beef too, throw it in.
  6. Add some dried oregano and basil, and a little salt and pepper.
  7. When it seems nice and cooked down, add some spaghetti sauce. How much? Whatever's in the fridge or the cupboard. Whatever looks good to you.
  8. Now toss the saucy mix with the pasta, which should now be cooked and drained, and pop it into the casserole pan.
  9. Add some cheese if you're into cheese (we are).
  10. Sprinkle more cheese on top.
  11. Cover with foil and bake for at least half an hour.

This, like many pasta meals, improves with age—to a point, of course. Enjoy it, and enjoy your leftovers the next night. Pat yourself on the back for (1) learning a French word, and (2) jazzing up a boring old pasta meal. Go you!

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