When it comes to books, movies, and TV, I don't have guilty pleasures because I don't see why I should feel guilty about reading or watching anything purely for enjoyment or relaxation. In fact, I'm outspoken about the whole range of what I read and watch in part because it's so fun to confound people's expectations of what a woman, or a romance author, or a Penn alum, or an adult, or any other group I'm a part of, is "supposed" to enjoy.
That said, I feel some of that guilty pleasure bashfulness about admitting I own two of Rachael Ray's cookbooks. I can be a bit of a food snob sometimes. While Mr. Fraser and I are hardly rich, eating out a couple times a year at places like Tilth and Boat Street is one of our main indulgences. I don't ask for jewelry and such for birthdays and anniversaries--I'd rather have a really nice, really unique dinner. We celebrated my first sale with a dinner at Canlis, and I've promised Mr. Fraser dinner at The French Laundry should I ever make a major best-seller list. (Though they haven't cropped up yet in the rotation, we have two Keller cookbooks--Ad Hoc at Home and The French Laundry Cookbook.)
The thing is, as much as I'd love to devote long hours to working my way through those Keller books, cooking is a lower priority than my day job (which supports my food, shelter, and transportation habits) and my passion for writing. In fact, most days I just want to get a reasonably tasty, reasonably healthy dinner on the table with enough time left over to write, work out, and even unwind a little before bedtime. And that's what Rachael Ray's cookbooks, her whole approach, is for.
So, you know what? I'm not going to feel guilty about that, either. I'm not a chef, and I am busy. Why shouldn't I work from cookbooks that are designed for people in my circumstances, especially when, as Ray's generally do, they're based around actual fresh ingredients that cook quickly rather than processed shortcuts? I do think Ray's earlier cookbooks are better than her later ones, and her pasta recipes are better than the rest of her repertoire. And the EVOO thing drives me crazy. It doesn't take that much longer to say extra-virgin olive oil.
All that said, Cookbook #28 was Express Lane Meals, and my chosen recipe was...
Drunken Tuscan Pasta
1 bottle Tuscan red table wine such as Rosso di Montalcino or Chianti (I just used a bottle of Oregon pinot noir we happened to have in the house)
1 lb. spaghetti or other long-cut pasta
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 lb. sliced pancetta or bacon
3 portobello mushroom caps, thinly sliced
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
A couple pinches red pepper flakes
4-5 cups chopped dark greens, your choice of chard, escarole, spinach, or kale (I used chard)
Black pepper, to taste
1/4 t. freshly grated nutmeg
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, a handful plus more to pass at the table
Pour the entire bottle of wine into a large pot. Add water and salt to fill the pot up as you would to cook pasta. Bring the wine and water to a boil over high heat, add pasta, and cook to al dente, ladling out some cooking liquid for the sauce before draining the pasta.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 T oil, then chop and add the pancetta. Brown the pieces until golden at the edges and transfer them to a paper-towel-lined plate. Add the mushrooms to the same skillet, season with the rosemary, and cook until they are deeply golden, 6-8 min. Push the mushrooms to the sides of the pan, add the remaining oil, and add garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook them for a minute or so, then blend in the mushrooms. Add the greens and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. When the greens have wilted, add a couple of ladles of the pasta cooking liquid and cook for a minute to reduce it a little.
Drain the pasta well and add to the skillet. Add the pancetta and a handful of cheese to the pan. Toss the pasta for a minute or so to absorb the remaining liquid. Adjust seasonings and serve.
It looked like this. The pasta isn't whole wheat--cooking in red wine darkens it:
And it tasted delicious. Nothing to feel guilty about at all.