Sitting here at my dining room table — my work desk since the pandemic struck — I’m brought back three years, almost to the day. Everything changed the day the COVID-19 lockdown began in mid-March 2020. I remember packing up everything I thought I would need from my desk at The Berkshire Eagle and being instructed by the IT guys how to operate my laptop from home. We all thought it would be only a couple of weeks …
It was a scary time — almost nothing was known about the disease and how to treat it, and people were dying by the tens of thousands. New York City, an epicenter for the disease, was a ghost town, where people gathered on balconies, street corners and out windows to salute the health care workers each day. A trip to the supermarket was feared — we masked up, sanitized our hands constantly, wiped each grocery item down with a disinfecting wipe before putting it away at home, and then wiped down the counter and sanitized our hands again. We didn’t allow ourselves to get closer to another person than six feet. Zoom meetings became the norm and were the highlight of my day as I watched my coworkers in their home environments.
The weeks became months, and the months turned into a year, and then a year and a half. I watched life from my dining room table as I worked. The seasons changed, neighbors moved and life somehow went on. Yet, sitting here today brings it all back. We are older, we are wiser, and, for most, COVID-19 is no longer a death threat. But I’ll never look at life the same way.
My son has joked over the past few years (at least I hope he’s joking!) about having found “the home” for me — referring to a senior citizen facility and not a new house. At the risk of having him finally committing me, I have to confess, I bought a bag of baby spinach and a tub of mascarpone cheese for a recipe — and I can’t remember what recipe or where I saw it … So, instead, I tried another one, Beans Alla Vodka. I love pasta with vodka sauce and was intrigued by the recipe. It didn’t fail me. I added a couple of handfuls of baby spinach because, well, I had it.
BEANS ALLA VODKA
(Recipe courtesy of Carolina Gelen, carolinagelen.com)
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon chile flakes, plus more to taste
A splash of vodka, can be substituted with water
1/2 cup heavy cream, can be substituted with full-fat coconut milk
1/2 cup water
One 15-ounce can butter beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus more for topping
A knob of butter, optional
Kosher salt and pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh parsley and balsamic vinegar for topping
Add a glug (about 3 tablespoons) of olive oil to a pan on medium heat. Add the finely chopped shallot and cook for about 3 minutes, or until softened and translucent. Add the heaping tablespoon of tomato paste. Mix it with the shallot and cook for 3 to 4 minutes mixing occasionally, or until fragrant and darker in color (you’re looking for a dark-ish red). Reduce the heat to medium-low and add more olive oil if needed. Add the garlic and chile flakes, and cook for 1 minute, until softened and fragrant. Carefully add a splash of vodka or water to the pan, and mix.
Pour in the heavy cream (or coconut milk) and mix to combine. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Add the water and beans, and mix until combined. Simmer everything until the sauce looks smooth and glossy, for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add more water until the sauce reaches your desired consistency.
Add the freshly grated cheese and a knob of butter and season everything with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve immediately with a drizzle of good-quality olive oil on top, freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, chile flakes, parsley and balsamic vinegar. Serve with garlic-rubbed toast on the side.