I was asked to host a dinner for a group of neighbors recently. I happily agreed; it was a small party, and I am always eager to gather folks around a table.
Then I learned that one of the guests was a vegan. Then the group expanded from 5 to 10. Then I discovered that I would be at a high school baseball game until 6 that evening; guests were arriving at 7:30. Then my oven broke.
So it was a bit of a challenge, but it worked out just fine. Stovetop dishes were nonnegotiable, so I assembled a pasta dish that had enough heft to it that the carnivores wouldn’t feel deprived. But, just in case, I braised some chicken so they had an option to toss in some animal protein if they wished.
Interestingly, most of the guests, largely omnivores, didn’t bother with the chicken, so it was an enlightening lesson — if the main course is robust and flavorful, meat is superfluous.
Obviously I couldn’t bake anything with a broken oven, so for dessert I offered a selection of sorbets.
The weather was delightfully warm, so we started the festivities on the porch nibbling on hummus surrounded by carrots, celery, cucumbers and crackers. I also offered a dish of nuts and some olives. All vegan, all good for you and super simple to arrange.
One guest volunteered to bring bread, so that was included — I served it with small dishes of olive oil drizzled with a little balsamic vinegar and a little salt and pepper. I had set the table, braised the chicken, prepared a green salad and made the pasta sauce before heading out to root, root, root for the home team.
All I had to do was boil water for the fettuccine when my guests arrived — an easy, breezy way to host and enjoy a spring evening.
Fettuccine with Beans and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
This dish is remarkably versatile and works with any vegetables you have on hand; broccoli, kale, peas, cauliflower are all perfectly reasonable additions. If you want to add meat, go ahead — braised chicken or turkey or any type of sausage work just fine. Feeling more dairy? Toss in Parmesan cheese rinds for flavor while the sauce cooks (if you have them lying around — or not) and top with grated Parmesan when serving. It’s also fine to let it alone; there’s plenty to enjoy without meat or dairy adding to the mix.
2 tablespoons oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 onions, chopped
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon (or more) crushed pepper flakes
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ cup chopped parsley
2 cups chopped fresh or frozen spinach
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil
2 cans cannelloni beans, drained
1 cups (or more) vegetable broth
1 cup white wine
1½ pounds fresh fettuccine or your favorite pasta
In a large skillet, heat the oil with onions, garlic, salt, oregano and pepper flakes. Stir as the flavors blend and the onions soften.
Add the parsley, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes with oil and beans.
Stir to coat and distribute all ingredients, then add the broth and wine.
Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer for at least 30 minutes. If the mixture seems to have too much liquid, remove the cover and bring it to a boil again to reduce. If it’s too thick, add more broth and/or wine.
When the sauce is done to your liking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta to al dente and, before draining, reserve ½ cup of the water. Drain well and top with the vegetable mixture. Toss well and serve as desired. n
Keri White is a Philadelphia food writer.