Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Famous Florentine

Pasta Florentine is a dead simple meal that can be made with pantry and freezer ingredients in under 30 minutes! I used @lightlifefoods crumbles for extra (vegetarian) protein, but feel free to use any meat or protein (like tofu or lentils). Half a block of frozen spinach and a can of evaporated milk make a rich sauce with pops of green that coats pasta perfectly. N loved it and can't wait to make it again!


I could have called this "quarantine florentine" but I resisted. You're welcome. 

This pasta dish is famous for N and I now, because it is dead-simple to prepare, is great hot or cold, and is one of the first things I taught him how to make! Like so much of my cooking during this era of long lines for the grocery store, empty shelves and generally feeling stressed out about everything, the majority of the ingredients for this lightened-up version of a classic were in my pantry and freezer, and are quite interchangeable. For instance, here, I used spaghetti (left over from Home Ec days) frozen whole-leaf spinach, vegan ground and evaporated whole milk. That said, if all you have is rigatoni, macaroni or egg noodles, go for it! Only finding frozen chopped spinach, frozen kale or another fresh leafy cooking green (like rapini)? Beautiful! Not into the vegan "meat"? Brown up some ground of your choice, chop up cooked chicken, toss in lentils or chickpeas or leave it out completely and serve the protein on the side. As for the dairy, I would not recommend skim evaporated milk (it likes to curdle and not thicken) but 2% will do, as will half-and-half, 18% or heavy cream. If you are using a "non-evaporated" dairy, keep an eye on it to avoid the nasty curdle or scorch factor - better to cook this lower and slower than burn it!

If you're organized, this is also a super-quick dish to pull together last minute and can be scaled up relatively simply. Leftovers are no problem at all, like I said leftovers are great cold or fried in a skillet (with or without eggs as a binder). When things settle down in the shops I can't wait to give this a go with some whole wheat pasta like fettuccine or even farfalle, as the nuttiness of the whole grain would lighten up the creamy sauce. Either way, it's a fantastic option when mac-and-cheese, grilled chicken and soup have lost their allure!

Famous Florentine
Serves 6
12 oz dry pasta (I used spaghetti here, but use what you have)
1 tbsp olive oil
12 oz ground meat or imitation ground meat (I used LightLife), or 1 (15 oz) can lentils or chickpeas (optional)
1 (10 oz) block frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (or 10 oz of another leafy green fresh or frozen)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk (or 1 1/2 cups fresh cream)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (pre-done is fine here)
pinch nutmeg (optional)
dried parsely, for garnish (optional)
  1. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta 1 minute shy of the package directions. 
  2. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the starchy cooking water, and keep warm.
  3. While the pasta cooks, in another large pot (big enough for the pasta and sauce) heat the oil over high heat.
  4. Add the meat and brown until cooked through (if using lentils or chickpeas add and warm through).
  5. Add the spinach, garlic, onion powder and pepper and stir well to heat through.
  6. Reduce heat to medium and add the milk and cheese. Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened.
  7. Add drained pasta and the pasta water along with the nutmeg and cook, tossing well, for 2 minutes until the pasta is coated and the sauce is thick.
  8. Serve garnished with parsley if desired.