Growing up, when my sisters and I were teenagers, Dad felt it was time to get us more involved in the family meal. For as long as I can remember, everyone helped. Helping was just a part of everyday family life. Helping lets children feel a sense of self-worth within the family dynamics.
When my sisters and I were old enough to take a more active roll beyond setting the table or making a salad, Dad conducted a weekly family meeting. My sisters and I were responsible for preparing one meal each from the planning stage to placing the food on the table. We picked which day, the recipes, and even prepared a shopping list. Whenever possible Dad even drove us to the neighborhood market and we had to do our own shopping. During the summer we learned to plan our meals around summer events and what was ripe in the garden or how the hens were laying. In the winter, we learned the value of stretching the food dollar as money could be tight. Dad worked construction jobs to support his family, and when it rained, the work stopped.
I’m fortunate in that seasons no longer have an impact in the household income, but seasons do affect the availability of fresh local ingredients. Shopping local is a big deal. Hubby and I grow a summer garden. That’s fine for tomatoes and peppers. We don’t put in much else. Not because we don’t eat other things, but because a garden would produce more than we could possibly eat. Tomatoes and peppers can be transformed into salsas and sauces that can be put up for future use. Waste not want not. So for produce that doesn’t come from our own garden, we seek out our surrounding farmer’s markets. We are blessed once more in that we now live in a very rural community. While the biggest crops are nuts, family farms offer all sorts of wonderful things.
Big farms that mass produce use crops that have been engineered for shipping. Something happens when you mess with Mother Nature. Flavor is lost. Big farms also pick green, and food is artificially ripened. Take a tomato. The flavor of a grocery store tomato and the flavor of a tomato you’ve grown to perfection in your garden are as different as night and day. The same can be said for spinach – I love cooking with the spinach I get at the farmer’s market. It even smells wonderful. Fresh and green.
Thank you Dad for instilling in me an appreciation for family mealtime from beginning to end.
Chicken Florentine Rigatoni
10 oz Fresh Spinach
1 large boneless Chicken Breast
Italian Seasoning Blend to taste
A pinch Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
12 oz Rigatoni Pasta
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
1 cup Heavy Cream
1 (26 oz) jar Basil Tomato Pasta Sauce
3 teaspoons Minced Garlic
1 cup Mozzarella Cheese, shredded
Wash spinach, pat dry. Tear larger leaves into pieces and set aside. Cube chicken breast. Season generously with Italian Seasoning, set aside.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 10 minutes or until al dente; drain and reserve.
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken and sauté until cooked through and no longer pink inside. Add pasta sauce and heavy cream to skillet. Season with a pinch of red pepper flake, if desired and cook over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes or until sauce thickens. Add garlic, stir to blend. Add spinach reduce heat to low and simmer until spinach has wilted.
Stir pasta into the skillet with the chicken. Simmer until heated through.
Serve with Mozzarella Cheese to top as desired. Perfect with warm buttery bread and a nice salad on the side.