October 19, 2010

Not Quite 30 Minutes, But Very, Very Good

The main course for Monday's dinner was a recipe from America's Test Kitchen 30 Minute Suppers, Pasta With Butternut Squash, Spinach and Prosciutto.  We also had some cherry tomatoes, and for dessert we had vanilla ice cream topped with some of the peaches Juli canned awhile back.  It was all excellent, and the pasta recipe is a real winner. 

America's Test Kitchen 30 Minute Suppers (Cooks Illustrated (96 tear-out recipe cards), Winter 2010)

We made the main dish with an unusual, fancy pasta: creste di gallo, which translates to cock's comb.  Unsurprisingly, the individual pieces of pasta do indeed resemble the crest on a rooster's head.

Cubed butternut squash was sauteed in butter, white wine and chicken stock and combined with spinach, shaved prosciutto fried bacon-crisp and the pasta.  The dish didn't feature much in the way of seasoning - a couple tablespoons of fresh thyme, some salt used in preparing the pasta, and a bit of salt and pepper when serving - but with the blend of rich flavors, it didn't need much in the way of seasoning to be great.  The recipe as written gave us two very generous portions, plus enough left over for three lunches or dinners.

America's Test Kitchen 30 Minute Suppers, which was released last winter, is no longer available in stores, and Amazon.com is currently out of stock, but it is available through the Cook's Illustrated website.   It has a cover price of $7.95, or you can currently get it free as a special offer if you subscribe to Cook's Country magazine.  However you manage it, it is well worth your time to track down a copy.  The book is soft covered, magazine format, and inside the covers are 96 recipes, each printed as an individual recipe card.  There is a pretty diverse selection of recipes, including meat, poultry, seafood and vegetarian dishes and a section of main-dish salads.  The recipes represent a wide variety of cuisines.  Some examples include Thai Curry Chicken with Sweet Potatoes and Green Beans, Pork Schnitzel with Red Cabbage Slaw, Black Bean and Chorizo Enfrijoladas, Italian Pasta and Bean Soup, Quick Beef Provencal and Roasted BBQ Short Ribs. 

A lot of the recipes in this book look great, and I expect I'll eventually end up making a good chunk of them over time.   I think I got to page 5 before I encountered a recipe that didn't sound good to me (it features mayonnaise, and I can't stand mayo), which would have been 20 recipes in.  So, 19 out of 20 recipes looking like winners... that's one heck of a ratio!   Besides that, who can say no to a collection of tasty recipes that one can prepare in 30 minutes?   Not me, for sure.  That said, the "30 minutes" thing does bring up my one beef with  America's Test Kitchen 30 Minute Suppers.  As written, a very efficient and experienced cook probably can prepare all of these recipes in 30 minutes or less, and even a talented amateur like myself can probably manage most of them close to that time.  The "as written" part is the trick, though.

As written, many of the recipes in this book call for ingredients that are already prepared, but which you cannot easily purchase pre-prepared.  Or at least I can't, anyhow.  Maybe some of the America's Test Kitchen cooks lives in places where supermarkets sell things like heads of bok choy already stemmed and chopped up, but I sure don't, and I'm guessing that's the case for most of the book's potential audience.  Heck, I have a tough enough time finding fresh lamb during most of the year.  As another example, the recipe I prepared on Monday night calls for two butternut squash halves, peeled and seeded and cut into 1/2 inch pieces.  Once again, I don't recall ever seeing cubed - or even pre-split and seeded - butternut squash in stores, and getting a butternut in that condition takes a fair bit of time.  These are only two examples, but there are many more. 

Sometimes the recipes call for spices already prepared - Pasta with Butternut Squash, Spinach and Prosciutto also calls for minced fresh thyme, for example - and a good many call for ingredients that have been peeled, sliced, minced, pressed, trimmed or otherwise prepared.   Even canned ingredients often call for being drained and rinsed, and while that seems a minor quibble, opening cans, draining and rinsing does take time, and that time adds up.   So, yes, if one starts as specified in the recipe, with all the preparation already done, one can probably get the dish ready in 30 minutes or less (or a bit more, for less-expert cooks)... but the preparation, and the organization required to cook efficiently, are also part of the cooking process, and to not account for them in the advertised time is a bit of a cheat.

That quibble aside, I really do recommend America's Test Kitchen 30 Minute Suppers.  Just remember to give yourself a bit more than 30 minutes to get many of the recipes ready.  If you are reasonably organized, the majority of the recipes in the book can probably go from fridge and pantry to table in less than one hour, and that's still pretty good.

1 comment:

  1. Juli here. I was more ticked off at the time involved in this recipe than Jeffrey was. J's example of opening and draining cans of vegetables hardly takes any time at all, but prepping the butternut squash for this recipe was physically difficult, since the squash in question is hard as a rock. It was time-consuming to peel and cube, and for CI not to take that prep time into account and call this recipe a 30-minute one was very annoying! It was more like an hour with two people working on it, before this was on the table.

    It's a great recipe, and I would be happy to eat it any time (as a matter of fact, I had two servings today!). But a 30 minutes recipe? Not so much.