Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Peanut Butter Pasta

As anyone who has read this post will know, last year I met and fell hard for a guy – so hard that our third date was a whirlwind 24 hours in Paris (we met in London so it’s actually not as insane as it sounds, only mildly irresponsible); our fourth date was a weekend spent in New York City and at our house on Long Island, where he was introduced to my family; and the fifth was a sushi dinner the night in Riverside, California, the night I flew out there to move in with him. That was about 9 months ago, so yeah, we’re moving right along.

It’s been a blast, and also something of an adjustment, naturally. And for Todd as well – before I came along, he apparently subsisted entirely on pasta with sauce from a jar, Trader Joe’s frozen dinners, and Chinese takeout (the state of his kitchen upon my arrival attests to this). While he made it clear that this arrangement was perfectly acceptable should I want to continue it, I want to cook for him. Does this make me sound like a 50s housewife? I'm not like that, really, I just enjoy feeding people. Though I am not religious, ethnically speaking I am half Jewish, so I like to think this is where my desire to feed people I care about comes from (I sometimes call it my Jewish mother side coming out). So yeah, it was important to me to be able to cook for Todd (I can already bake pretty well, as I have mentioned, but baking cookies for dinner every day would probably have some adverse effects after a while). I can cook, don’t get me wrong, but I’m pretty inexperienced, and I tend to get stuck in a rut when it comes to recipes and find myself making the same successful dishes over and over. I want to expand my repertoire a bit.

Luckily, Todd is a vegetarian and I myself hardly ever eat meat, which means I don’t have to learn how to cook it (my two forays into cooking chicken breasts for guys I liked were terrifying experiences. Never again!). Also luckily, my mom is both an excellent cook and also a vegetarian, and so she’ll be passing along recipes to me all this month, most of them quick, easy and nutritious, all month long.

Last night we cooked up something I think Todd will really like (at least I hope he will, because I loved it): Fusilli with Broccoli and Peanut Sauce, which I have renamed Peanut Butter Pasta, because I like alliteration and think it has a nice ring to it. Sounds weird, right? I thought so too, but it’s really good. It’s from The One Dish Vegetarian, by Maria Robbins, a book that gets a lot of use in my parents’ kitchen because it makes tasty, easy recipes that allow for a lot of variation.

If any of you have had Indonesian sate sauce (really, really popular in the Netherlands, but maybe not so much in the States), this pasta sauce tastes a lot like that. It’s not pretty, I’ll admit – in fact it’s downright ugly. But seriously, I was licking the spoon to get at the remains of the nutty, slightly spicy, slightly sweet sauce. I would go so far as to say that bread is essential with this dish (we had ciabatta on hand, but some naan or other flatbread would go well with the Asian-style sauce), because you will want to get every last bit of sauce possible.
We added some sautéed firm tofu (press it first and let it drain for a couple hours to get rid of excess moisture) to get some more protein. If you’re not vegetarian, I’m sure stir-fried chicken or shrimp would be good, too.

Fusilli with Broccoli and Peanut Sauce
Adapted from The One-Dish Vegetarian: 100 Recipes for Quick and Easy Vegetarian Meals by Maria Robbins

The author notes at the end of the recipe that you can use any kind of pasta; we used rotini, which did a nice job of catching up the sauce. I’m also eager to try it with soba noodles or rice vermicelli to enhance that Asian feel. Leftovers are good heated up the next day, but you may need to thin the sauce a bit with some hot water.

Makes 4 to 5 servings

¾ cup smooth peanut butter [I’m sure you could use chunky as well; that’s what we have in our kitchen in Riverside, so it’s probably what I will use next time, and the sauce will just have a bit more texture. Be sure to use regular peanut butter like Skippy or Jif, however; natural peanut butter probably won’t work as well.]
½ cup hot water [optional – see my notes in recipe below]
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 garlic cloves, pushed through a garlic press [I mashed up 2 cloves with a pinch of coarse salt, since I don’t have a garlic press; you could probably also just mince it finely]
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper [or more, if you like it spicy]
2 tablespoons salt
1 pound fusilli [or other pasta, preferably one with nooks and crannies to catch the sauce, or Asian-style noodles]
1 large bunch broccoli (3/4 to 1 pound), trimmed, cut into bite-sized pieces, stalks peeled
½ cup finely chopped dry roasted peanuts [optional; we didn’t use any last night. If you used chunky peanut butter this wouldn’t be necessary anyway]

  1. Place large pot of water (6 quarts) on high heat to boil for the pasta.
  2. In bowl large enough to hold finished pasta, whisk together peanut butter and hot water until smooth. Whisk in the soy sauce through cayenne pepper. [Note: My mom usually mixes up everything for the sauce except the water and just sets it aside until the pasta water is hot, then uses a bit of that to loosen up the sauce. Just a bit, because when you dump the pasta and veg in with the sauce, the liquid still clinging to it will further loosen the sauce.]  Taste and adjust seasoning [And try not to keep tasting. This is really good sauce.]
  3. Salt the boiling water and add fusilli. Boil for about 7 minutes, until pasta is almost al dente. Add broccoli and boil for 2 to 3 minutes longer.
  4. Drain pasta and vegetables and add to bowl with peanut sauce [here’s where we added the sautéed, cubed tofu] and toss well. Pass chopped peanuts for garnish [or just sprinkle them on top of everything]. Enjoy!


  1. Wow girl, you get around! Sounds like me when I was around your age - summer in Seattle, fall in southern Illinois, spring in Paris, summer all over Europe, fall and winter back in Seattle, spring in Mexico, summer in Seattle, a year in Boston, then winter and spring in London, then back to Seattle, whew! Enjoy it all now before you get too settled!

  2. Haha, sounds like you actually got around more than I even do! I'd love to spend an entire spring in Paris, and a year in Boston sounds great, too. I've only ever spent a few days in Seattle (hoping to rectify that this year) but I thought it was a great city (seems to be a hotbed for bloggers, too!). Where in London did you live?