Rigatoni with artichoke hearts and red onion.

Sometimes, it’s actually just about food.

One of the things I realized on our wild mother-daughter trip was that I need to double down on getting my daughter to expand her food horizons. When she was little, I did a fairly good job of introducing new foods and tastes, and I always had the back-up of a peanut butter sandwich if they tried three bites (the house rule) and still didn’t like whatever I’d made.

But that part? That was hard. So hard. Because I was reasonably sure, at the time, that I would be making peanut butter sandwiches just about every night. And sometimes it was just easier to make something I knew she and her brother would eat in the first place.

So, I have a checkered career as a cooking mother. The details of that aren’t worth belaboring here, tonight.

Because what happened tonight was this:

I told my daughter I was going to make something that would require stepping out of her comfort zone, and what I planned to make was this miso-butter pasta with butternut squash.

Only I decided, at the last minute, to substitute sweet potatoes for the butternut squash, because the recipe notes very clearly suggest making substitutions, and because I wanted to roast some sweet potatoes to make soup for myself for tomorrow, and because I already used (and ate) most of the butternut squash from Saturday’s market.

And my daughter walked in the kitchen at the precise moment I was checking on the sheet of sweet potatoes, and she said: Mom, I hate sweet potatoes. If you’re “challenging my taste buds” with sweet potatoes, I’m not going to eat them. I hate sweet potatoes.

So there I was, in my kitchen, with a roasting pan full of cubed sweet potatoes getting nice and caramel-colored in the oven and a pot of water coming to a boil for the rigatoni, and I had to make up something new to serve for dinner, something that didn’t include sweet potatoes and that would also help my daughter branch out from standard pasta with red sauce (or butter and cheese).

To the pantry, then, where I found …

…a can of artichoke hearts.

Here’s what I made:

Oops. I forgot to take a picture until after we’d eaten dinner. So, this is what was left.

This recipe is for 8 ounces (half a package) of rigatoni. I’m sure it would double just fine. Do you need directions to cook the pasta? I doubt it. So cook the rigatoni the way you’re supposed to cook it. While the water’s coming to a boil and then the pasta is cooking, make this sauce.

You’ll need:

Olive oil
Red onion, sliced into half rounds
A can of artichoke hearts, drained
Heavy cream
Red pepper flakes
Parmesan cheese
Lemon wedges

Get the skillet nice and hot (Note: I used my favorite pan, the one Le Creuset called the “Fait Tout” pan, which is like a wide, shallow Dutch oven. It’s long discontinued, the Fait Tout, but if you can find one secondhand, I recommend it.)

When the skillet is good and hot, add one part butter, one part olive oil (1-2 Tablespoons each). When that mix is hot and foamy, add the onion rounds in a single layer. Let them cook for a bit without moving them around, watching for light brown around the edges, and then toss them with tongs to keep cooking until they’re soft and translucent.

Scoot the onions to one side of the skillet (the cool side, if there is one on your stove) and add the artichoke hearts, laying them down in a single layer and letting them cook, untouched, for several minutes before turning them over. They should be lightly browned in places, all around.

When the artichoke hearts are lightly browned and soft, toss them together with the onions.

Pour in about a quarter cup of heavy cream – a light coating. Let that bubble up and start to take on the brown color from the skillet, then use tongs to toss everything together.

Turn the heat down to low.

Sprinkle with red pepper flakes and salt, to taste.

The pasta should be about done by the time the sauce is ready. Use a strainer to lift the pasta from its cooking water and straight into the skillet with the sauce. Some of the pasta water will come along for the ride; encourage that to happen. Toss everything together, let’s it warm together in the warm skillet, then sprinkle with grated Parmesan, and serve with lemon wedges, if that appeals to you.

She tried it, and she ate the pasta, leaving most of the artichoke hearts for me.

I call that success.


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