One of my favorite annual events, Harlem EatUp!, was cancelled this year, due to COVID. In its stead, the organizers decided to host a telethon-style fundraiser, called Harlem Serves Up, last month. All money raised went straight into the Harlem community and the first couple hundred who donated received a box of food (sponsored by Barilla pasta) to be used for a live cooking class with celeb chefs Marcus Samuelsson and Lexis Gonzalez.
I was so excited to open my box and discover the main ingredients were Southern. This was definitely in my wheelhouse! I loved cooking along with the chefs but also learned something very important: it kinda doesn’t matter when it comes to pasta. Some of the ingredients were compromised in transit (Barilla totally made good on the error – thank you) but I learned the best way to cook with pasta is to simply throw in whatever you’ve got. That’s why this recipe post is less recipe, more inspo.
Start by boiling pasta. We were using rigotoni and the wide tubes were perfect – and necessary – for capturing the sauce, which was less sauce, more roughly chopped veggies. While water boiled/pasta cooked, I got the “sauce” ready. I started by sautéing red onion in butter. Red onion is usually not my thing, but I enjoy it when you cook it down to death like this. When it’s just about done, add some chopped zucchini. We had some leftover mushrooms so they went in the pan as well…why not?! Once those veggies are nice and soft, you can add the succotash ingredients: lima beans, corn, and chopped tomato. I used leftover cooked corn (canned works great) and canned lima beans. Since these ingredients were already cooked, you don’t need to add them til your onions/zucchini are done. Next add in collard greens and here’s my biggest tip: use leftover collards! Don’t waste time cooking them down, which takes forever. We had eaten bbq the night before and ordered extra collards that I just saved in the fridge. This meant they were already seasoned and delicious, thanks to the bacon/ham hock they were cooked with. Since my dad accidentally threw away the special seasoning that had been included in our box, the seasoning from the collards gave this dish tons of it’s flavor. The parmesan from our box sat outside a bit too long so I used leftover cotija from the previous Taco Tuesday, knowing that we really just needed a firm or semi firm salty cheese for this dish. Finally, I added a bit of reserved pasta water and some fresh parsley and VOILA.
So much of this dish was created on the fly and I’m not at all mad about it. There were so many hardy veggies that this was super satisfying. Everyone seemed to love it (my Dad requested seconds) and I loved that I was able to go off script a bit. And I looooved that I could use up all the leftover in the fridge for this one.
I JUST REALIZED SOMETHING. Growing up, I would often order the veggie plate at restaurants. In the South, any waitress at a bbq or traditional meat and three restaurant knows what that means. [I now know] in the North…not so much. So let me educate you. A veggie plate just means a plate of sides. Instead of ordering a bbq sandwich and two sides, for instance, you simply choose three items from the sides section. A very common order (for me) would be mac and cheese, collards, and succotash. This is that order all rolled into one dish. Yesssssss.
One more thing…inside my ingredient box was the handiest dandiest Pasta Builder guide from Barilla. It really underscored the idea that you can make an amazing dish with whatever you have hanging around in your pantry/fridge but I also loved how it was organized. There was a pasta builder recipe for every type of cuisine imaginable (French, Caribbean, Korean, Italian, Japanese, regions of the US – you name it!) and for each one, you start at the bottom and work your way up: choose a pasta shape, pick a protein, add in a relevant veggie, include a sauce common to that region, give it some toppings. I love that each step had several options but still kept you in the “lane” of that cuisine. It’s basically a choose your own adventure for cooking, and it may just be the cookbook of the future.