Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Gift to be Simple (Gorgonzola Pasta, Balsamic Honey, Walnuts, Arugula)

As I'm sure you know, life can be a bit of a whirlwind. Work, chores, friends, family... each has merits on its own, but coming at you in unison, they can combine to form a perfect storm of chaos. That's why it's important to simplify every now and then.

Patience, grasshopper

My close family members reading may raise an eyebrow, as my "medieval palate" was always something of a family joke. I don't usually like to make simple food, I like to make gastronomical extravaganzas that strain the normal boundaries of good taste. Especially as a child, it was very common for me to take a can of Spaghetti-Os and tip half the spice cabinet into the mix, or sneak extra ingredients into my parents' cooking to tinker with seasonings.

As a general rule, this is something I have to watch out for when cooking: my tendency to want to make things more complex, more multilayered, more strongly flavored. I'm more likely to add than subtract, but with good cooking (and especially good ingredients) that can be a mistake. Or to put it another way: a complex dish may certainly be a symphony, but the performance of a solo violinist can sometimes be more moving.

Walnut solo

In that spirit, today's dish is an exercise in my self-restraint: fresh Gorgonzola medaglioni (bought at the market), tossed hot with chopped walnuts and baby arugula in a light sauce of honey and balsamic vinegar. As a happy addition to the simplicity of the list of ingredients, it also can be thrown together with less than 10 minutes of effort - how simple is that?

Deliciously simple

I recognize I'm vamping on some similar flavors, echoing the Gorgonzola and arugula of the pear salad earlier this week, but here's a great example of how to take things in an entirely different direction. It also gives us all a chance to make sure all those ingredients get put to use. I personally can't stand to buy a whole bunch of fresh cilantro for a recipe, for example, only to use a few sprigs and leave the rest to rot in the fridge. My mother raised me with better home economics than that. So we'll take some usual suspects and dress them up for another adventure.

The sweetness of the hot gorgonzola pockets blends beautifully with the toasty crunch of the nuts and arugula's peppery bite. The sauce actually happens to be inspired by an issue of Men's Health and I can't recommend it enough. You might expect the vinegar to add too much tang or the honey to push the sweetness over the top, but together they counterbalance perfectly. The resulting aroma is subtle, aged, and earthy, the tender greens barely wilt from the steaming pasta, and the dark vinegar paints the white pasta a golden toffee brown.

Like bronzer for your pasta

The end result is the total package: a tasty, fancy-looking meal that's actually cheap & easy. Everybody wins.

The winning team
Gorgonzola medaglioni, balsamic honey, walnuts, arugula

1 package Gorgonzola medaglioni (or other cheese-filled pasta)
1 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 tbs. honey
2 tbs. balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1 1/2 cups baby arugula, well washed
Salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

Set a pot of well-salted water to boil on the range for your pasta and preheat the oven to 375° F. Place the walnuts on a parchment-lined sheet pan and toast in the oven until fragrant and lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

As the water comes to a boil, cook your pasta according to package directions.

Pay no attention to the man behind that curtain

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, honey, and vinegar. Taste and adjust seasonings. Set aside.

Like pasta and salad all at once

Once the pasta is cooked, drain (reserving a few tablespoons of pasta water-adding a splash of the pasta water helps the sauce adhere to the noodles) and toss with the arugula, hazelnuts, and balsamic honey. Garnish with freshly grated Parmagianno Regiano or crumbled Gorgonzola cheese.



KJL said...

This looks really yummy. My local supermarket is lacking in the fresh pasta department, but I'll have to keep an eye out for a similar pasta. Great photo work too with the new cam! I also enjoyed your aside as to your youthful predilection for dumping the spice cabinet in every dish. I can vouch for that.

J said...


I'm sorry to hear about your market selections, I'm truly blessed to be near a Wegman's, if we had a Trader Joe's, too, I'd be ecstatic.

I imagine you could turn decent results by using a regular (non-stuffed) dried pasta, like farfalle, and then tossing about 1/2 cup of crumbled Gorgonzola cheese in during the final toss with the hot pasta.

Lena said...

This looks delicious. I'm always looking for quick recipes, and this looks like it would be great for (cold) lunch, too. I might make this next week to bring to work.

Lena said...

I actually changed my mind and made this last night with cheese ravioli. I added some crumbled roquefort and used lamb's lettuce instead of arugula. It was really delicious and easy to make! Thanks for the recipe

J said...

I am glad it worked out for you, Lena! I imagine this would work out quite nicely as a cold dish one could carry to work for lunch, too. It is also very forgiving of experimentation, the honey+balsamic combo sets a strong foundation.