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Minty Cappelletti with Njuda Butter

Last night’s dinner turned out to be an unexpected one. I had some items that I wanted to use up before it would be time to toss, so I scavenged through and found, among other things, a few staples and a few seasonal foods to put together for a meal: mascarpone, mint, asparagus, morel mushrooms and pomegranate seeds. Kind of sounds like a Chopped episode, no?

The few morels left in my paper bag were no longer good, so they had to go. This made me extremely sad. As in, sad that I was wasting food, and even more sad because they were expensive. I’m not shy to admit that I’m pretty careful with my spending. Our household budget is created in Excel each year by yours truly, and I'm a stickler for making sure we adhere to each week's allowances. While most women shop often, or like to have an excuse to buy something (Oh, a wedding/graduation/random party to attend? I’ll just pick up a new dress/jacket/sweater), I’m not usually in that camp. Most of my clothes have become a joke to my husband, because I rarely buy work clothes, I choose from one of three t-shirts at night, and wear the same uniform on Saturday nights. Wear, wash, repeat. I buy good quality items and take care of them so that the investment is worth it, even if my loved ones grow tired of my wearing "that? Again?"

I’m the same way with food. I carefully follow best practices to ensure my food purchases last as long as possible. No matter how much I would rather keep my beautiful Meyer lemons out on display, hiding them in the produce drawer of the fridge keeps them fresh up to a week longer. If there’s a baguette in the house that needs to last for another day, you can bet I’ve got that sucker suffocating in Saran wrap to keep it from drying out. Looks like a fifty-cent roll from a questionable bodega, but it works.

Okay, so we’re all on the same page here with the morels. My eight dollars were now tossed with the mint stems and I needed to switch gears. The original plan was a pea tortellini in a butter morel sauce scented with mint. Seeing that I also didn’t have any peas on hand, this was totally not going to work. At all. No worries. I would make the pastas and fill them with mascarpone and mint, then make a brown butter sauce, and have a salad on the side.

The first thing I did (after dramatically wiping away a fake tear) was mix the filling for the pasta. Into a ramekin went a heaping half cup of mascarpone, the zest of one lemon and perhaps ten mint leaves of varying size, finely chopped. Seasoned with salt and pepper, I placed the ramekin in the fridge for the filling to set while I prepped the rest of the meal.

After rolling the pasta dough into a ball on the counter, I quickly shaved the ends of the asparagus with a hand peeler, and then roughly cut the remaining pieces to a nicely sized bite. Salt, pepper, sliced almond and the pomegranate seeds were mixed in before a drizzle of red wine vinegar went over the salad to pickle the asparagus.

Next up was the sauce. I melted about a quarter stick of butter in a sauté pan with fresh rosemary. The rosemary was on its’ last leg, and originally I thought it would enhance the woodsy flavor of the morels, but I let it scent the butter anyway. Then I had an epiphany – there was still some njuda* in the fridge! I added a sliver of this to the sauce, watching it melt right into the butter and give the sauce a gorgeously bright, golden red color.

Onto to the pasta. Since today is Saint Patrick’s Day, and I’m half Irish, it seemed only logical to my husband that we meet his relatives for dinner tonight at an Italian restaurant. No ham and cabbage here – it’ll be cavatelli with sage and eggplant Parmesan with the Franks. I’m okay with that so long as I can still wear my green. Last night when cutting the pasta though, I decided to make a slight shape change and do cappelletti. Cappelletti are similar to tortellini, except they have a small point to look like a bishop hat. There we go! The diehard Irish Catholics love their churchy people, and they love Saint Patrick’s Day. A fair compromise in the pasta category. I went old school and pulled a juice glass out of the cabinet to make the coins, then added a dollop of the filling before folding over and shaping up the little points.

As the water came to a boil, I removed the rosemary from the sauté pan and gave it one last seasoning. About a minute after I lowered the cappelletti into the water, I quickly moved them into the sauce for their final minute of cooking. This method coats the pasta with your sauce and ensures that you won't overcook the dough.

I dressed the salad with olive oil and a touch of honey as we sat down to this pre-Saint Patrick’s Day, completely not-Irish meal. I’ll be honest – most years I get much more into the holiday. I don’t know what it was this year. The unrelenting cold winter that made life a little dreary lately in New York? The fact that, for the first time since me moving here, Flogging Molly did not kick off the green season with an NYC show? Who’s to say?

Either way, one thing I do know for sure is that this impromptu dinner last night was incredible. The brightness of the pasta filling, with the mint and lemon, completely cut through the butter and njuda. Somehow it just worked. The asparagus salad was a perfect ending to the meal - light and acidic, with a little sweetness from the pomegranate and honey.

Tonight Frank and I will eat in good company at my new pretend BFFs’ branch spot in the city. I’m thinking it’ll be just what this girl needs to get psyched for spring – a brisk walk from the subway in cool, fresh air, great conversation and…that…eggplant!

*Njuda is a soft and spicy salami from Sicily. It's becoming easier to find, although most Italian markets and butchers will have some on hand. Similar to Spanish chorizo in that it melds into a sauce and provides a vibrant color, njuda has a dictinct flavor profile and is way more pliable.

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