Morro Bay is one of my favorite places on earth—of the places I’ve been, that is. I love the small town feel, the friendly people, and of course the view. Every year, my family goes on a trip to Morro bay. We go with another family and with one of my best friends. It’s usually a total of at least 9 people, but sometimes more. We rent a house and stay there for a few days. This year, between my brother studying abroad, my mom working two jobs, and having visitors throughout the summer, we weren’t able to plan our yearly trip with the 2 families (+the extra Vock daughter). Instead, my mom, Patty (the mom in the other family), Alyssa (the extra Vock daughter), and I went, just the four of us. We rented out this condo-type apartment that we have wanted to stay in for years but it was just too small for the 9 of us. The Inn is on the embarcadero and each condo has its own patio RIGHT on the water. It is pure bliss. One of the best parts of getting a house or a condo instead of a hotel room is the kitchen! Yeah, they’re never stocked with what you need and you often have to improvise, but hey—there’s a stove, a sink, an oven and a fridge. I can get by. On our first day, like always, we had lunch at Rose’s. They have the most incredible garlic fries, which we always order with extra garlic. We made a rule a long time ago that everyone HAS to each the garlic fries so that we all smell like garlic and no one feels self conscious. It works out pretty well. I had some really good fish and chips that were lightly fried and not too greasy. Rose’s is on the water and we always sit outside and watch the seals and otters as we eat our grub. That evening, after a day of kayaking and laying on our patio (and taking time out to each some delicious homemade guacamole—my mom’s recipe: just avocados, chopped cucumber, garlic and a little bit of lime juice), Alyssa and I made dinner. Alyssa and I call our yearly Morro Bay trips our “Anniversary” because it was three years ago that I invited her to come with and we found out that we are kindred spirits. But Morro is magic and bringing Alyssa and I together was just one of it’s many tricks. Alyssa and I have an intense love for pasta. And I really do mean intense. We wanted to make one of our old favorites and something that would warm us up on a cold, coastal night. We decided on Spinach and Ricotta Fusilli. Mmmm mmm.
Spinach and Ricotta Fusilli
Adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine
3/4 to 1 Pound spinach
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 Small scallions, chopped
1 1/4 Cup ricotta cheese
1 Cup half-and-half
3 Pinches nutmeg
1 Tablespoons butter (optional)
1 Pound dried fusilli
1/2 Cup freshly grated Parmesan
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt and olive oil. This will flavor the pasta a bit.
Give the spinach a rough chop just so that there won’t be any huge pieces. The spinach will wilt in the end so it’s not a huge deal what the sizes are.
Heat some olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chopped scallions and cook for a few minutes until softened. (I get shallots and scallions confused so once I used shallots accidentally and it gives it a heartier taste—good for fall and winter. Both are delicious though.)
Add the spinach to the skillet along with some salt and pepper. Cover the skillet to steam the spinach until it is wilted.
In a small bowl, combine 1 cup of the ricotta, half-and-half and nutmeg. Alyssa and I love nutmeg so we do 3 pinches but if you’re not into it, then use less. But let me tell you, it is so good with 3 pinches. Mmm!
Stir the ricotta mixture in with the spinach. If you are using butter, it goes in now. We did not add it by accident and it was still delicious. Season with some salt and pepper. At this point, let the sauce cook until it thickens. You can use your judgment for however thick or thin you want it. But I would be careful to not make it too thin. Plus, you’ll be adding reserved water later, so keep that in mind.
Meanwhile, cook the fusilli according to the directions on the box.
Before you drain the pasta, reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking liquid.
After the pasta is drained, add the spinach mixture and the left over 1/4 cup ricotta. I like adding this at the end because the ricotta in the sauce loses it's texture and I really like having a bit of that texture in the final dish. Then add enough reserved water to let the sauce coat all of the pasta. Reserved water is something I learned about a few years ago and it is really one of the most useful tricks I know. It keeps sauces creamy while thinning them out. The starch from the pasta is the key to the reserved water but the salt and olive oil that is added in the beginning also helps, I think.
Stir in the cheese and serve!
We paired the pasta with a simple salad and some delicious garlic bread that I made by mixing butter, olive oil, garlic, parsley and salt and spreading it over fresh French bread and baking in the oven.
We ate on the patio, by candle light and everything was peaceful and satisfying.
The next day included delicious scones, made from a mix from Bette’s Diner in Berkeley, Alyssa’s and my favorite coffee (a tuxedo mocha with carmel syrup) and a trip to SLO to visit our friend, Amanda and have some frozen yogurt (tart flavored yogurt topped with kiwi, granola and honey). I miss Morro Bay already, but it has energized me for the beginning of a new school year and a whole lot of change.