From time to time, life needs to be shaken up just a little to keep things fresh and moving in a forward direction; to keep the circulation strong so that stagnation doesn’t set in in various areas. I would liken life to a jug of unfiltered orange or apple juice in that after a while, if you don’t shake the jug, all the good fruity stuff—the tasty pulp—will accumulate and sort of “settle” at the bottom, leaving the liquid left at the top to taste weak and diluted, lacking the depth and fullness of its potential flavor. It may taste “OK” or “so-so”, but not especially vibrant or memorable. And let’s be honest: it’s quite easy to lose interest when somethings is just “OK” or “so-so”, isn’t it? But if that jug of delicious unfiltered juice is shaken up on a regular basis, those sweet sediments will disperse throughout the glorious liquid, revitalizing each cold glass poured, so that each sip is as full-bodied and as flavorful as it can possibly be. I imagine our existence that way; that if we don’t stop to shake up that “juice jug” that is our life from time to time, we can’t really expect life to remain as interesting and flavorful as it could ultimately be. We’ll just keep right on drinking the watery liquid at the top, and over time end up feeling like things are a bit bland and not know quite why. Deviating from our “norm”, or departing from what is routine and familiar, can make us nervous; I mean, who prefers to be outside of their comfort zone? But sometimes, that’s exactly the “shake up” that’s needed. Who says things always have to be one way, or approached in the same way? Why not turn things on their heads every once in a while and see how that can inspire some refreshment for the soul? Some movement and betterment? In all candor, I personally find myself hungry and thirsty for that very thing right now (perhaps all this talk of fresh-squeezed/fresh-pressed juice doesn’t help), and it’s something that I felt compelled to share, because I know this is not unique to me. It’s a “human thing”. I’ve been going through a stage where I’m realizing that my life could surely be even more “fuller tasting” than it is, and I’m stubborn enough, in a good way, to want to experience that deeper flavor; I know that it’s there, waiting for me to desire it. The remedy is quite simple: it requires a stepping out of the comfort zone that I’ve created without even meaning to—to shake up my “juice jug” and let all of the deep, sweet flavors mix together again and flow for optimal enjoyment. I long to see new things, experience new things, learn new things, taste new things. Who knows just what might happen? A life well-lived, most likely.
All of the above holds true in regards to food and recipes as well. Often, a familiar dish is perceived in one way and one way only; but does it have to be that way? Why can’t a beloved favorite be made in a fresh and different way? I like to take the essence of something that I do know, and create something else that I haven’t yet had; to take bits and pieces—the elements—that are reminiscent of a familiar dish and make a completely new one out of them, an original, to keep things fun and interesting for myself when it comes to cooking and eating. I love using inspiration as my guide when it comes to food, the same way I try to use it when it comes to everyday living. So when I sat down to come up with a few comforting and cozy pasta recipes to share over the next few posts, I thought back on a scrumptiously unique and tasty Thai noodle dish called “Drunken” Noodles that I used to get quite often from a nearby restaurant that has since relocated, and imagined how delicious it could be to make an Italian version of the dish. Why not, right? Food is a great place to step out of a comfort zone, to shake things up and redistribute all of the flavor possibilities; it keeps things creative and different, and keeps the curiosity piqued. I love it. And as always, with food there are no rules, in my humble opinion—only one requirement: that it tastes good. Check.
Once we give voice to a concept, once we speak the words or put a thought out there into the world, we’re now responsible for it. That means that there’s nothing to hide behind, no way to feign naivete any longer. Action is required, and action is just the physical representation of the spiritual change. I want the best out of my human existence; I want the best out of what has been given me in the form of my life. So that means that things need to be examined and refreshed from time to time, for the nectar of life to be shaken up so that more joy, fulfillment and understanding can be had; and so that, ultimately, nothing is taken for granted. Out with the “eh”, the “OK” and the “so-so”, and in with the “WOW!” and the vibrancy that is all around. Life is abundantly full of deep, complex flavors meant for each of us to experience; and really, I can’t think of a better first-step towards experiencing that than some slick, saucy little “drunken” noodles twirled around my fork right about now.
Taste what’s good and pass it on.
Saucy, Italian “Drunken” Noodles with Spicy Italian Sausage, Tomatoes and Caramelized Onions and Red and Yellow Bell Peppers, with Fresh Basil
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• Olive oil
4 spicy Italian sausage links, casings removed
1 large onion, quartered and sliced thinly
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 red bell pepper, cored and thinly sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, cored and thinly sliced
1 orange bell pepper, cored and thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
½ cup white wine (I used Chardonnay)
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, julienned, divided use
8 ounces Pappardelle noodles, uncooked
-Place a large, heavy-bottom pan or braising pot over medium-high heat; add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and once the oil is hot, crumble the spicy Italian sausage into the pan in small chunks (you want to keep the sausage fairly chunky), allowing it to brown in the oil for a few moments on each side; once the crumbled sausage is browned, remove it from the pan/pot with a slotted spoon and place into a small bowl to hold for a moment; next, add the sliced onion into the pan with the sausage drippings, and allow it to caramelize and become golden for roughly 5 minutes or so, stirring to keep it from burning (add a touch more olive oil, if necessary); once the onion starts to become golden, add the salt, Italian seasoning and cracked black pepper, and stir to combine, then add in the sliced bell peppers, and allow those to saute with the onion for about 2 minutes until slightly tender and golden; next, add in the garlic, and once it becomes aromatic, add in the white wine and allow it to reduce for a few moments, until almost completely reduced; next, add in the diced tomatoes with their juice, and return the browned spicy Italian sausage back into the pan, and gently fold the mixture to combine; allow it to gently simmer for about 3-4 minutes to blend the flavors, then turn the heat off; to finish the sauce, drizzle in about 2-3 good tablespoons of the olive oil to create a silky, rich flavor, and add in the chopped parsley and about half of the julienned basil; stir, and keep warm while you prepare the noodles.
-Prepare the pappardelle noodles according to instructions on package; then, drain the noodles very well, and add them directly into the sauce, using tongs to gently toss and combine the pappardelle noodles with the sauce and all of the ingredients in it; check the seasoning to see if you need to add any additional salt or pepper.
-To serve, add equal portions of the “Drunken” noodles to bowls, and garnish with a sprinkle of the remaining julienned basil; you can even top with shaved Parmesan, if desired, and an extra drizzle of olive oil.