For all good intentions, meeting an old friend for lunch is not the world's easiest maneuver. It's difficult enough when you work in the same vicinity, but if you're in separate states, it's next to impossible.
That doesn't mean old friends need to be neglected. After work is prime time for meeting. People avoid this type of get-together because 1) they don't feel like staying out to drink, or 2) they don't feel flush enough to drop a lot of money at a mediocre but convenient restaurant.
The solution, of course, is dinner at your place. And if your friend happens to be with you on the way home, or plans to show up at your house only moments after your return, there won't be a lot of time to hang around the supermarket waiting for inspiration about what to cook. Nor will there be a lot of time to stuff chicken breasts while your friend perches on a stool and sips the house wine. The point is, after all, to concentrate on the friendship, not on the dinner.
Equipped with a corkscrew and a can opener, you can call yourself both hostess and chef. A bottle of standard grocery store wine suffices for the aperitif while you open the cans of clams and artichoke hearts. Another tip: Compare the cost of the pre-minced garlic in a jar with bulb garlic and you'll probably opt for the convenience.
Be forewarned: Keep the grated parmesan off the table if your friend is Italian. Seafood and cheese are really declasse'. But regular American types often prefer parmesan, a real treat when it's freshly grated. If you have no food processor, allow your friend the honors of grating.
This meal was served with roasted, peeled green peppers that had been marinated briefly in mild vinegar and a little basil; but any green vegetable will do. If you opt for peppers, however, begin them before you start the pasta and sauce.
This dinner (not including wine) just takes one quick trip through an 8-item supermarket express lane, provided you already have flour, sugar, salt, pepper and (olive) oil at home.
EXPRESS LANE LIST: canned clams, canned artichoke hearts (not the marinated type), garlic, basil, parmesan cheese, fettucine, green peppers, red wine vinegar.
MARINATED PEPPERS (2 servings) 3 large green peppers 1/2 teaspoon basil Freshly ground black pepper 1/4 to 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
Place the green peppers on a baking sheet and put them on an oven shelf fairly close to the broiling element. Broil the peppers on all sides until their skins are black. Place them in a paper bag until cool enough to handle. Then peel, core and seed the peppers. Slice them into strips and place on a large plate. Grind black pepper over them, sprinkle with a little basil and pour vinegar over all. Refrigerate while you cook clams and pasta. Drain peppers and serve just a little cooler than room temperature.
Note: This recipe is designed for peppers that will not marinate long. An oil and vinegar combination should be used for peppers that will marinate for several hours.
CLAM AND ARTICHOKE PASTA (2 servings) 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 teaspoons minced garlic 14 ounces canned artichoke hearts, drained 6 1/2 ounces canned clams, drained of much of their liquid 1 teaspoon basil 6 ounces fettucine Freshly grated parmesan cheese
Put a large, covered pot of water on to boil. Heat olive oil in a medium skillet. Add garlic and cook for several minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Quarter the artichoke hearts and add them to the skillet along with clams (and a little clam liquid) and basil. Cook 2 minutes and then turn the heat off. Cook the fettucine in boiling water. While it drains, reheat the clams and artichokes. Serve a large portion of pasta with clams and artichokes nested in the middle (this is not a saucy topping the way tomato sauce is). Serve with roasted green peppers and pass cheese separately.