How my husband encourages me in the kitchen (featuring a bowl of pappardelle pasta we love)

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My husband and I have been married a year today, something that feels impossible and wonderful and has been cause for much celebration (more on that in an upcoming post).

But we've been together for about 8 years total, so I've had a lot of time to learn to appreciate things about him. Toward the top of the list is the fact that he is perhaps the world's least picky eater, something I am thankful for every time I set a plate of food down in front of him.

He's also a good cook — he doesn't cook often, but when he does, he knows what he's doing. Over the years we've both honed our foodie sensibilities, and grown to respect a well-executed meal. And he has an innate ability to identify what ingredients make up a dish just by tasting it. Bottom line: I can trust his suggestions and critiques.

I have learned to decode his (mostly positive) reactions, something I think has helped make me a more confident home cook:

"That was pretty good." Content silence through most of the meal followed by this sentence usually means that is was fine, thank you for cooking it, but it may be slightly too healthy or bland for his taste. We usually end up adding more salt or, his favorite, hot sauce.

"Mmmm!" Another winner!" This means he would eat this particular dish again, and it's a good one to keep in the rotation. Most meals get this praise.

"Wow, this is ... really good." This is the highest honor of all, delivered with wide eyes and an air of almost disbelief. It has been judiciously administered to a couple of select meals: chicken and dumplings, a recent quinoa carbonara, an old standby chicken and Brie pizza, an egg-avocado creation we call "egg toast." This week's recipe got that most prized reaction, so I had to share it with you.

I bought fresh pasta at a specialty grocery store because I had a major craving for the fresh stuff, but you could easily substitute regular dry pasta in this recipe. Opt for a shape you don't normally go for to mix things up; I chose pappardelle, a wide, thick noodle, instead of thinner spaghetti or fettuccine.

Now, the cream sauce. This is where you work your magic. Because I must be true to myself, I Googled "healthy cream sauce" to get some ideas for how to make what I envisioned: a thick, creamy, cheesy pasta coater that wasn't pure fat. The grand revelation was that you don't always need butter to make a decent sauce, and chicken broth and nonfat milk can help take the place of cream. Though I did add a splash, because, come on.

A few forkfuls in, my husband got that look in his eye.

"Wow ..."
 

Pappardelle with Cream Sauce and Mint

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 shallot
Salt
Pepper
½ cup chicken broth
1 cup nonfat milk
3 or 4 tablespoons flour
½ cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
¼ cup goat cheese
Heavy cream
8 to 12 ounces pappardelle, fresh or dry
Fresh mint
1 lemon

Set a large pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil. Add a large pinch of salt.

Add olive oil to a medium saucepan set over medium heat. When oil is warm, grate garlic into saucepan using a box grater or microplaner. (Watch your fingers!) Do the same thing with the shallot. Season with salt and pepper and stir.

Cook for about 3 minutes, until very fragrant and just starting to brown. Add chicken broth and milk and stir. Increase heat to high and bring mixture to a boil. Add flour one tablespoon at a time, whisking to fully incorporate. Once mixture has boiled, reduce heat and keep at a rolling simmer for about 5 minutes, to let the sauce thicken up. If it's not thickening, cook for longer or at a higher temperature.

Add Parmesan and goat cheese and stir well. Add a generous pour of heavy cream, and stir again. Let simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes until thickened up nicely.

When sauce is nearly done, drop pappardelle into boiling water. If using fresh pasta, cook for 2 minutes. If using dry, cook for about 10. Drain pasta, then return to large pot. Ladle in as much cream sauce as you'd like and stir to coat pasta.

Divide into serving bowls, then top with fresh mint and freshly grated lemon zest. Garnish with more Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper, if desired. Serves 2.