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Winging It Weeknight Pasta

I'm an unapologetic control freak in the kitchen. Ok - I'm an unapologetic control freak, period. You can count on me to get things done. My way. I know my limitations, and I try really hard to be accommodating. As the 70's sensation The Carpenters said, "Like the young trees in the wintertime, I learn how to bend." Sort of.

During a massage the other night, my masseuse asked what my plans were. It was the end of a long day and even longer week, and I knew I would be coming home to an empty fridge. She suggested that I relax after her magic hands had lulled me into submission. So when Jeff called, as I was paying, and offered to go to the grocery store, she beamed. She later told me how happy she is for me to have such a sweet husband. Agreed! He may not perfect, but he's perfect for me.

And yet - when my perfect-for-me husband called from the grocery store to say he had picked up fresh pasta, shrimp and pesto, I scoffed. Pesto in a jar? It's so easy to make. Why would you buy it? And why would you want pesto when we have an onion, tomato, garlic, lemon and parsley at home? I can easily make a fresh sauce. Well of course this was a conversation I was having in my head. I just told him he was great and that I couldn't wait to see him, then immediately got to work making the fresh sauce that would pair perfectly with pasta and shrimp. Pesto in a jar? Come on.

When Jeff came home with bags of groceries, he wasn't surprised to see me chopping, sauteing and chopping some more. He'd long since accepted the fact that it was my way or the highway in the kitchen. He quietly stashed the jar of pesto in the back of the refrigerator, making a mental note of the expiration date and knowing full well that the next time anyone touched it would be when we tossed it a month or two after it expired. A fellow control freak, I know he was dying to salt, stir, whatever he could do to put his mark on dinner. But like the sweet husband that he is, he stayed clear of me and the knives.

Jeff and I fell in love with all that's great about the other, accepted what was not-so-great and learned to live with each other's eccentricities, because it's neither of our first time at the rodeo, and we're well aware of the alternative. In the waves of a love affair, it's easy to wake up one day and see the other person as they truly are: imperfect. And that's when we choose to accept the good, the bad and the controlling.

As I was getting ready to serve the pasta with a spoon and fork, Jeff grabbed the pasta ladle. When I turned my back he poured the remnants of a jar of marinara sauce into the fresh sauce, and I pretended not to notice. We both agreed that dinner was great.

Later, we curled up in front of the TV and flipped through the Netflix queue of new movies. I nixed the Westerns, action movies and SciFi's that he wanted to see and we "agreed" on "The Secret Life of Pets," a cartoon about dogs running wild in NYC. He immediately fell asleep. The movie was great.

That frantic time in the kitchen when you're starving, exhausted and scrambling to make dinner can be tricky. We laugh a lot, which helps. It also helps that we're both comfortable in the kitchen and don't sweat the outcome. It helps even more when the outcome is a success.

The ability to wing it hinges largely on knowing what you have to work with. Do a quick assessment of the ingredients, before your husband gets involved. In this case, onions, tomatoes, lemon, garlic and parsley. I multi-tasked with the pasta water: I shocked the tomato in the water as it was rising to a boil, and then peeled it under cold running water in the sink while the onions were sauteing. I was chopping the garlic and parsley as Jeff walked in with the shrimp, which he had strategically had the fish monger peel (go Jeff!). In went the shrimp, garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice, a quick stir and then the parley. I finished is with Parmesan cheese and tossed in the pasta with a remnant 1/2 cup of the pasta water.

Another way to tackle a quick sauce starts in the morning. If you know you're going to have a long day, crank up the oven with a roasting pan in it when you wake up. Toss cherry tomatoes in olive oil, salt and pepper, then get ready for you day while the oven heats up. Before you walk out the door, toss the cherry tomatoes in the roasting pan in the hot oven, close the door, turn off the heat and go about your day. When you get home you'll have delicious blistered tomatoes that are great in a pasta.

2 T olive oil

1/2 pound peeled shrimp

1 tomato, peeled, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup chopped parsley

Fresh pasta for two


Parmesan cheese

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Saute the onion and olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium high. Season with salt. As the water is simmering and before it's boiling, drop the tomato in for one minute. Remove it with a slotted spoon and run cold water over it in the sink. The skin should easily peel off. Chop the tomato and toss it in with the onion. Once water is boiling, drop in the pasta and cook until it's al dente. Turn the saute pan to high and toss in the shrimp, garlic and lemon juice. Give it a quick stir and then add the parsley. Finish with Parmesan cheese and toss in the pasta with a remnant 1/2 cup of the pasta water.

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