We're on the road again this weekend--to see my parents and siblings in the DC area. We're feeling pretty capable and confident: emboldened by our 13 hour road trip this past March, we're trying something different with the kids--leaving in the afternoon instead of our usual morning-with-a-stop-for-doughnuts departure. The main reason for this is that we just haven't had the time to GET ready to leave on a weekday morning. I've been in all-day meetings since Monday and there is too much laundry to finish up before the weekend, and too much prep I need to do before summer school starts next week and too many project deadlines I need to get past before we can leave town for a long weekend.
I have, however, found the time to cook. I've noticed that when I spend days in a row stuck in long meetings, breathing artificial air, and drinking too much bad meeting coffee I get home and feel the need to unplug. The last thing I want to do is sit in front of the computer, or read anything, or think about anything that requires too much thought. But being in my kitchen, with the radio playing, and T. drawing at the kitchen table, and my hands flying as I chop and mix and prepare food for my family seems to give me the break I need.
On Monday I raced home as fast as I could, shed my work clothes, slipped into comfy yoga pants and a t-shirt, and started cooking. At my meeting earlier in the day a colleague, who is lucky enough to live on a large farm in South Carolina, brought me a huge ziploc bag bursting with fresh spinach from his garden. Whenever I grow my own fresh produce, or I'm lucky enough to get the gift of homegrown fruits and veggies from a friend, I marvel at how different the fresh version is from the store bought kind. This spinach was gorgeous: large, tight, green leaves, and crisp stems--not the slightly anemic, sometimes bruised, sometimes soggy version you get from the store-bagged kind.
Fresh spinach is, of course, wonderful as it is, in salads, with a few squeezes of fresh lemon and pepper. Or you can cook it up with lots of oil and lemon and garlic, and serve it as a side. But one of my favorite ways to use fresh spinach is with pasta. When we were in Greece years ago, my uncle cooked us a simple dinner: pasta, fresh greens, and lots of briny olives topped with fresh feta cheese--it was a dinner that still sticks in my memory, and one I try and recreate as often as I can.
Here's how to do it: cook up a pot of your favorite noodles. While the water is reaching a boil, wash your spinach by soaking it in a bowl of cold water. Then, chop up a pile of fresh tomatoes, kalamata olives, basil, feta cheese, and some garlic. You might want to lightly cook the garlic in some olive oil first, to soften it. When the pasta is done, drain, and then immediately mix in generous handfuls of the fresh spinach. The heat will wilt the spinach, but not make it soggy.
Next, stir in the fresh additions, and add a drizzle of oil. I usually add the feta at the end, but you can certainly mix it in with the spinach so it melts a little.
Feta + fresh spinach + tomatoes + basil + olives = pure heaven, in my opinion!