Simple Spring Pasta to Follow a Rare Dinner Out
Berkshire native Alana Chernila, local politician, mother of two, and author of the new cookbook, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making (Clarkson Potter), dispenses change and cooking ideas at the Great Barrington Farmers’ Market. She shares her peak-of-the-season recipes with Rural Intelligence to help us make the most of what’s growing in the region’s farms, fields, and gardens. This week, Alana recounts a memorable trip to New York City, filled with books and a dinner in Brooklyn.
We went down to the city for Book Expo America, the inferno of publishing conferences. It’s a guaranteed migraine for me, but Joey would rather be talking up kids’ book authors at BEA than anything else in the world (well mostly) and we go so he can get his ya-yas. We walk away with many signed copies of books we will most likely never read and random shwag like odd little notebooks and inappropriate stickers for the girls. I got to see what’s coming out in cookbooks and talk up those folks as well.
The indisputable highlight of the trip was dinner at Al di la in Brooklyn. I’d been wanting to get over there for a while, and it was definitely the right time.
What can I say about our dinner? Let me give you the dream sequence version. Stunning, Amelie-esque servers, coming to the door to greet you as if they were welcoming you and just you in their very own home. Cold white wine and wrinkly black olives, lots of asparagus, beautiful shoes under every table. More wine. Swiss Chard stem gnocchi, greener than anything you’ve ever seen. Lots of asparagus. Wine. Olive oil. Lamb chops, but I don’t even remember much by that point. And the homemade chocolate ice cream in a tall glass surrounded by whipped cream. Oh, I remember that part.
We eat out once every few years and it’s an emotional experience to feel like we’re doing it right. I think eating a meal like that can turn you inside out in a good way—it’s like backpacking in Europe when you’re 18, or getting stuck outside in a lightning storm when it starts to hail. I like it. I mean I really like it, but I don’t know how often I can experience it without getting desensitized, which would be sad, I think.
On our way back, we had the good fortune to find some really beautiful asparagus. The woman who sold it to me said, “I’m so glad you’re buying this. It’s the end of the season. So sad.” I almost started crying right there.
I came home to my girls who were wearing matching clothes and had their faces painted. And Sadie couldn’t stop talking about all the things that they had done. I kissed them, gave them their signed books and inappropriate stickers, and, moving slowly, washed and chopped the asparagus. I went out to the garden, looked at everything that had grown in the last twenty four hours, and got to thinning some greens. I’m glad I don’t live in New York. I am, however, still thinking about that glass of ice cream.
1 lb cappelini
1 lb asparagus, chopped into bite-sized pieces
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 - 4 handfuls of baby greens, or thin out of the garden - spinach, tat soi, swiss chard, to name a few - roughly chopped
Several sprigs of flat leaf parsley
4 cloves garlic, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
Coarsely ground pepper
Parmesan, grated in long strands with a vegetable peeler
Heat the water to boil. Generously add salt to the water.
In the meantime, coat the bottom of a sautee pan with olive oil. Add the garlic when the oil is hot and stir it until it is just starting to brown. Add the asparagus and continue to stir for a minute or so. Add the greens, parsley, and lemon juice, stirring until the greens are wilted. Remove from heat.
When the water is boiling, add the pasta along with a couple of glugs of olive oil and turn the heat down a notch. Keep your eye on the pasta; it cooks fast. When it tastes done, drain, throw a quick splash of cold water on it, and transfer to a serving bowl.
Add another glug of olive oil to the pasta and mix with your hands so as not to break the pasta. Put the vegetables on top. Make sure you don’t leave any of the lemon juice or olive oil in the pan; it should all go in the bowl. Top with parmesan shavings and fresh pepper. —Alana Chernila