Indulgences: Writing Life Novels, Pasta Primavera

The food: pasta primavera

The story:

I just read After the Workshop, a satiric novel by John McNally about a failed writer in Iowa City who has become a media escort for authors on book tours.

Writers who write fiction about writers and the writing life are often accused of being self-indulgent and self-reverential. Worst of all, they’re said to be producing work of interest only to other writers (good god, not that).

Sure enough, my non-writer husband E, an avid reader of contemporary literary fiction, had no interest in reading beyond the first chapter of After the Workshop, but I did. Not because of its in-depth skewering of the famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop MFA program, about which I know very little, but because I like reading about blocked writers (and about how they overcome the block); the satiric bits about agents, publicists and high concept memoirs were funny; and I found one of the characters, a courtly, older author named S.S. Pitzer, quite endearing.

I also recently enjoyed the comic novel How I Became A Famous Novelist by Steve Hely, published in 2009, which, like After the Workshop, is a faux memoir of a writer in crisis, though How I Became is both more ambitious and more broad in its comedy – it takes on all genres of bestsellers, and is rife with punchlines and parodic passages of bad writing.

I feel a little guilty when I read this kind of insider novel (another notable one that comes to mind : the comic Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon), the same way I feel when gossiping with my writer friends about other writers (not that I ever do that).

In contrast, a refreshingly guilt-free indulgence is the pasta primavera recipe with shrimp, fresh tomatoes, feta cheese, asparagus and arugula that I recently devised – it’s a fresh, lively dish that combines cooked and raw ingredients to satisfying effect and will taste good in summer, too.

Linguine with Shrimp, Tomatoes, Arugula, Feta and Asparagus

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp. butter, divided
2-3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
3 Tbsp. dry white wine
4 cups arugula, stems removed, washed and drained
1 ½ cups cherry or strawberry tomatoes, seeded and quartered
¾ cup feta cheese
1 lb asparagus stalks
1 lb large (20-30) shrimp, shelled and deveined, thawed if frozen
1 lb linguine
2-3 Tbsp. lemon juice (juice from ½ a lemon)

salt and freshly ground pepper

Method:

1. Put on large pot of water to boil for linguine.
2. While water is heating, chop arugula leaves coarsely, and cut feta into ¼-inch dice. Place arugula and feta in large serving dish along with quartered tomatoes.
3. Snap off bottoms of asparagus stalks, and cut stalks into 2-inch-long pieces.
4. When water boils, add linguine to pot and cook according to package directions.
5. While linguine is cooking, heat 1 Tbsp. butter and 1 Tbsp. oil in sauté pan under medium high heat. Add shrimp to pan in single layer (cook in 2 batches if necessary), and cook for 1 minute on each side until pink. Add 2 Tbsp. white wine, turn off heat and cover pan, let sit for 2 minutes until shrimp is opaque. Turn cooked shrimp and any liquids in pan into serving dish.
6. In a large skillet, heat remaining 1 Tbsp. butter over high heat. When bubbling, add asparagus pieces. Turn quickly to coat with butter, then add 2 Tbsp. water to pan. Cook over high heat for 1-2 minutes more until asparagus turns bright green and is crisp-tender and most of the water boils off. Add cooked asparagus and any liquids in pan to serving dish.
7. When cooked al dente, drain linguine into colander and while still hot, add to serving dish. Drizzle with 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil and juice of half a lemon, toss linguine with all other ingredients in dish, and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
9. Serve immediately.

Serves 4-6.

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