Sunday, August 13, 2006

Packing an Italian lunch

Sometimes (especially when I feel particularly cheap), I like to make my own lunch to bring along on birding trips. The best method of doing this is to cook dinner the night before and make sure plenty of leftovers are available. Not only does this mean there's one less thing to deal with in the morning when I'm trying to get myself on the road, it also means that if dinner disagrees with my stomach, I can put together Plan B for the trip. Intestinal issues are bad enough when you're at home; when you're on a birding trip and may be miles away from a pit stop, they can be catastrophic.

My birding pal The Lurker, like many, just packs a sandwich or two when he feels the need to brown-bag it. You might ask why I don't bring a sandwich. For some reason, I just don't make them for myself any more. I used to pack them frequently when I worked in New York City. Of course, these were the most boring sandwiches you could imagine: two slices of generic bread and some lunch meat completed the picture. Sandwiches just don't excite me, I guess. Besides, something like Thai fried rice seems to do a better job of keeping me going during the day.

Yesterday we went off to Delaware in search of shorebirds at Bombay Hook and the avian celebrity of the moment, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. I knew I wanted to pack a lunch, so I picked out a simple pasta recipe from Anne Casale's Italian Family Cooking, "Linguine with Shrimp." However, I didn't get to cook it until yesterday morning.

I didn't follow her ingredient proportions exactly because I was just cooking lunch and not wanting leftovers for a change. I sauteed three sliced scallions in a blend of a quarter-cup each of olive oil and butter for two minutes, then did the same with some garlic for a minute and a half. Then, in went the peeled shrimp, which I cooked over high heat until they turned pink. Then I turned the heat to low and added a few spritzes of lemon juice and a teaspoon of torn basil leaves; once this was heated through, I added half a teaspoon each of white pepper and salt, stirred a few times, then poured it over spinach fettuccini. By the end, the scallion bits were fairly brown and the sauce was rather oily, so I minimized the proportions of those ingredients when I dished it into my lunch container. I did add more sauce than I would normally, just to keep the pasta moist while it traveled around in the morning. The kitchen smelled wonderful, but it was time to run out the door.

Lunch found us at a Wendy's in Smyrna (along with everyone else in the county, it seemed). While my accomplices in crime waited on line to get their fast food, I started sampling my lunch. It was quite good; one unexpected thing I enjoyed was that the shrimp had cooked long enough to get a few little crispy brown bits on their edges. That made them extra tasty. When Perfect Tommy finally arrived at the table, carrying his Wendy's salad, he was able to guess the ingredients in short order. Later on, he suggested adding grated parmesan to top the dish, which sounds like a nice addition in the future. By the time The Lurker got to the table, my lunch was all gone, which meant that I wasn't the last one finishing my meal for a change.

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