Sometimes the same old things get boring. Take, for example, where I grew up: Long Island. A place that’s famous for Levitt-style houses, the Gotti’s and the LIRR drunk train (did anyone else see How I Met Your Mother last week? What they’re talking about is real!) Most of the island is just how you’d expect a suburb to be. There are mini-vans, little league games, PTA and community pools. Pizza, bagel stores and Dunkin Donuts litter practically every shopping center. For a long time, this was the exact Long Island I was desperate to get away from because it always seemed stereotypical and boring and I knew I wanted to be among more exciting, faster paced things. So I moved to “the city,” as us Long Islanders call it, also known as Manhattan.
Since I’ve left Long Island, I’ve begun to appreciate it so much more than I ever thought I would. First of all, I love that I can go home with relative ease (1/2 hour on the subway and an hour on the train). Many of my friends live there and most of my family is there, too. Most of all, my personal story was created there; there are memories everywhere.
Recently, I was reminded that there are places on Long Island that I haven’t really explored all that much. I’ve been to my usual haunts, to Jones Beach and Tobay Beach, Huntington Village, Long Beach, and Roosevelt Field Mall. I’ve been to the Hamptons a handful of times, too. But up until a few days ago, I’d never seen most of the North Fork, in eastern Long Island, which is filled with numerous wineries, restaurants and beaches.
It was strange to be out there this past weekend, traipsing through Greenport, drinking wine flights with friends, and driving as far east as we could go (to the tip of the North Fork called Orient Point ), parking the car, and walking out to the quiet beach where almost all we could see was ocean. The water was crisp, blue and quiet. There were hardly any other people around. The rocks and shells lay practically untouched on the sand and we were enveloped by complete silence and peacefulness.
If you’re ever thinking of heading out to the North Fork, I can’t think of a better time to go than winter. I’m sure that if I had been out there during the summer, I would’ve felt differently about it, but being there when it felt like we were practically the only people around, made the experience that much more special. I kept thinking, “All of this exists and I’ve never taken the opportunity to come here?” I guess not everything worth while needs to be accessible by plane, which is how I sometimes determine the solidity and excitement of an adventure.
When the weekend was over and we came back to the city and ascended the steps of the 86th Street 1 stop, the symbol of “home,” I was glad to be back, but I was so refreshed by the simple idea that I had seen a place I thought I knew so well in a completely new way. And I was grateful for that.
It would only be fitting, then, that I talk about pasta. Even though I could eat it, slathered in marinara sauce, every day for the rest of my life and never get bored, sometimes it feels like there’s no real way to make it unique again. It’s as if all of the possibilities have been tried over and over to the point where no one even cares about it anymore. But apparently when you make pasta and toss in some steamed chard, white beans and sun-dried tomatoes, there’s a sudden change of pace on the plate that you don’t quite expect at first glance.
The chard, which I used in place of broccoli rabe, which the recipe suggests, adds a slight bitterness to the pasta while the creamy, tender white beans make the dish more substantial. The sun-dried tomatoes add tartness and a bit of sweetness and, above all, the addition of the warm water in which the tomatoes have been reconstituted, creates the base of the light yet deeply lively sauce that clings to each bite and adds layers of vibrancy that you can’t detect by simply looking at the plate. It’s a perfect way to give pasta a new way to shine, and it’s really, surprisingly good.
I’m learning now that sometimes the same old things don’t always have to be the same old things. I like that idea.
One Year Ago: Julia’s Brownies
Orecchiette with Chard, White Beans & Sun-dried Tomatoes
Yield: 6-8 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
1 pound orecchiette pasta
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 bunch chard (swiss, green or rainbow), stems discarded and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil), or 1 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes (about 12 pieces), sliced
1 14-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
fresh ground black pepper
red pepper flakes, optional
1. Steam your chard over a pot of shallow boiling water (I don't have a steamer so I steamed mine in a collander). Season with salt and pepper. After 4-5 minutes, the chard should be tender to the bite. At this point remove it from the heat and let it rest. (You can shock it in a bowl of ice water to keep the vibrant color, if you'd like.)
2. In the mean time, if you're using sun-dried tomatoes that have not been packed in oil, re-constitute them in 1 cup of boiling water in a small pot on the stove for 10 minutes. (If you're using ones packed in oil, skip this step.) After 10 minutes, drain the tomatoes and slice them. Do not discard the water in which you re-constituted the tomatoes; you'll be using it later.
2. Put a large pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil. Generously salt the water and cook the pasta according to the package directions.
3. While the pasta is cooking, sautee the garlic in the oil over medium-high heat for about a minute. Don't let the garlic brown. Add the chard to the pan and stir to combine, cooking for 2 minutes. Add the beans, sun-dried tomatoes, salt and pepper, to taste, and then stir the mixture to combine.
4. Once the pasta is cooked, add it to the pan with the vegetables and toss everything together. Add a few tablespoons of the water in which you re-constituted the tomatoes (or reserved pasta water), until the sauce has reached its desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper, if needed, and a large pinch of red pepper flakes if you'd like some heat. Serve warm.
Adapted slightly from Whole Foods