I’m trying, I really am, to be better about taking lunch to work with me. I know, it sounds strange – I work in a hotel kitchen, and could certainly have lunch on any given day from banquet leftovers. But I have a difficult time eating food that I’ve been seeing, smelling, handling for several hours, so I tend to go without. Which is a terrible way to eat (or not), let alone live. By mid-afternoon, I’m headachy, irritable, and sleepy.
When I take leftovers from home for lunch, though, everything changes. I actually sit down, eat a decent, enjoyable meal (I even transfer it from its portable container to a real plate), and read a book for 20 to 30 minutes. The entire tenor of my day is better. Lately, days have been sooooo long, and I’m so tired when I get home that I’ve cleaned out my treasured stash of leftovers in the freezer. The good news is that I’ve actually eaten dinner; the bad news is that there’s nothing left to take for lunch. Clearly, the moral of the story is that I need to remember it’s well worth the effort to prepare some lunches ahead.
I mentioned recently that the latter part of summer makes me very nostalgic for Italy. Just writing that led me to crave First Night in Florence Spaghetti. When that craving collided with my need for a few lunches, a spark of inspiration resulted in my reimagining it as a salad.
FIRST NIGHT IN FLORENCE PASTA SALAD
1 pound dry fusilli
Sea or kosher salt
3 ounces olive oil
1 pint grape tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic, smashed, peeled, minced
Juice of 1 lemon
5 ounce can tuna packed in olive oil
Fresh baby spinach
Sea or kosher salt and pepper to taste
Red pepper flakes to taste
Additional olive oil as needed
Why fusilli? Because it’s sort of the shaped pasta equivalent of long angel hair. It cooks quickly. Besides, what fun to cook something whose name translates as “fuses.”
After 9 minutes (read here about how much water to boil and how much salt to add to it), it was perfectly al dente (be sure to check the cook time on your package). I drained it, poured it back into the pot, filled the pot with cold water and a couple of handfuls of ice cubes, then swirled the pasta around with my hands until it was completely cooled.
I drained it again, then poured it into a large mixing bowl, and stirred in 3 ounces of olive oil to prevent it from sticking together.
One pound of dry fusilli yields about 6 cups cooked. I scooped a couple of cups into a ziplock bag which I stashed in the freezer for a night like the stretch I’ve just finished. I poured the remainder, along with all its lovely olive oil, into a large mixing bowl.
Using the moderately frightening tomato knife that KDub gave me (she rashly thought I was adult enough to responsibly handle such a tool), I reigned in my typically wandering thoughts and zenned in on halving the tomatoes lengthwise.
The one hitch in the transformation from a cooked sauce to a cold one was how to take the sharp edge off the garlic without sautéing it. Here’s a good trick to know: there are all sorts of lovely acids present in both the tomatoes and lemon juice, so after mincing the garlic, toss it together with them, along with a generous pinch of salt (to encourage the tomatoes to give up their juices more readily).
Set it all aside for about 15 minutes.
Open the can of tuna and add it and its olive oil to the pasta. Pour in the tomato-garlic-lemon mixture.
Toss everything together, then season to taste with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. If it seems a little dry, feel free to drizzle in additional olive oil.
To take this for lunch, since I don’t want the spinach to break down excessively, I filled some ziplock bags with a couple of handfuls each of fresh baby spinach. At work, I’ll toss the salad together with the spinach when I’m ready to sit down for lunch. And a book.
But first things first. Labor Day may have glided past us, so we ostensibly can’t wear white or linen any longer. But we can damn well have a great salad for dinner on a still-warm evening. After I’d packed some lunches, I placed 2 generous handfuls of spinach in my favorite salad bowl, spooned some of the pasta salad over it, feathered some Parmesan over the top, and sat down to a new and heavenly version of one of my favorite dinners ever.