We all toss our old junk for various reasons (other than the fact that it's old junk). Spring cleaning usually gets a lot of us. Sometimes we're rummaging stuff out of the attic for our parents. Other times we're digging through boxes of our childhood belongings, turning over each gold starred assignment or beaten Christmas present from way-back-when to absorb and rekindle any old memories attached to it before sending it to the curb or to be dropped of for donation.
I mostly donate out of laziness and to pad my tax return a bit. Not the most philanthropic motivation but the good is done. I never donate clothes with holes in them and certainly never give them anything broken. I only donate what might actually make the Salvation Army a buck (a buck probably being on the high side). Still, whenever I donate I do hope that whoever ends up with it will find some use and pleasure in it.
Argue all you want that things don't bring happiness. They do. And since these things we part with often have offered some modicum of happiness in our lives it's reasonable enough to want them to do the same for others.
That's where I introduce this guy:
BF and I spotted him sitting by the dumpster on top of an abandoned desk that would have looked pretty jaunty had it not been missing its middle drawer. A little, ceramic elephant statue about a foot and a half high. Ugly, but good lines and a certain charm. I stopped in my tracks to investigate it and, after a few oh-my-gods upon realizing he was in perfect condition, I decided to adopt him right then and there.
He's the perfect kind of ugly, like one of those pets you see at an adoption kennel that looks like it was run over by the Fugly Parade. You can't help but just fall in love with its lazy eye and freakish overbite. So it was with the statue. Kitschy. Awkward. An offense to good taste, but damn it if he wouldn't look perfect in my poorly kept excuse of a vegetable garden.
Cleaned up a bit and propped next to the screen door he's the new good luck charm of the garden. He's has Many Names: I call him Ganesh; BF named it Jubo; Roommate calls him an unfortunate decision, but what does he know?
As it is with horrid ceramics, so is it also with ingredients. Recently, a neighbor gave me a small basket of figs. They were almost overripe and she wasn't going to get around to them. Later, Roommate uncovered a forgotten bag of still-good hazelnuts - an impulse purchase - that he wanted to throw away as he doubted he would find a use for them.
Where they saw a burden I found opportunity! "No! Don't toss those! I can use them!" I cried. These are ingredients that just need a bit of love and attention. A bit of re-purposing to spruce them up a bit.
The resulting pasta is just such a thing. The hazelnuts are toasted and thrown into some brown butter along with figs and a quick chiffonde of basil. Tossed with spaghetti it becomes a modern, intriguing dish that utilizes the best of late summer produce. Toss with a bit of Parmesan (surely, most good food lovers have a block or an old rind with some meat still on it somewhere) and you have a meal that's guaranteed to impress. And, maybe, goad you into reassessing all that stuff you passed off as junk.
Spaghetti with Brown Butter, Figs, Hazelnuts, and Basil
Adapted from Pasta Sfoglia
1/2 lb. spaghetti
1/2 cup hazelnuts
8 oz unsalted butter
10 ripe figs, quartered
6 basil leaves
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
ground black pepper
1/2 cup pasta water
grated Parmesan for garnish (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350F and toast the hazelnuts for about 10-15 minutes or until fragrant. Use a tea towel and rub off their skins as they're a bit bitter. Roughly chop the hazelnuts and set aside.
2. Bring well salted water to a boil and stir in the spaghetti. In a 10-inch skillet over medium high heat place butter, hazelnuts, figs, basil, salt and pepper and leave undisturbed so the butter can brown and the figs can become tender.
3. When the spaghetti is almost done take it out of the water and place it in the skillet along with the 1/2 cup of pasta water. Cook for two more minutes. Serve immediately and garnish with freshly grated Parmesan.