Archives for category: pasta dishes

On Saturday my friend Margit and I walked through the Berkeley Farmers’ Market. I had been the week before and bought my first Brooks cherries of the year, walnuts in the shell, brown mushrooms. Stone fruit is beginning to come in: I saw apricots and bought a couple of baskets of cherries from Kaki Farms. Strawberries continue strong. Blueberries are here. Some vendors had bins of summer squash and the first beautiful broccoli was beginning to peep its heads out of baskets. But the thing that made me happiest was the bunch of basil I bought for two dollars.

Ah, basil. I didn’t even like the stuff when I was a child: it was just another mysterious seasoning in a Spice Island jar, dried and weird. It didn’t remind you of turkey stuffing like sage or pizza like oregano. Fresh basil was not seen or smelt at my house.

painting shows mortal and pestle, basil, basket of walnuts.

Making Pesto. 8″ x 8″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil, Sharyn Dimmick.

All that has changed now. All late spring, summer and early fall, I buy basil by the bunch and set it like a bouquet in a glass of water on the kitchen counter next to the olive oil. I chiffonade it over green beans and steam them, tuck it into ears of corn before roasting them, add it to Greek salads, put it in turkey meatloaf or burgers. It is probably the herb I use most during the summer. Today and many other days will find me sitting at the breakfast room table, pounding torn basil leaves, salt, garlic, walnuts and grated cheese in my large Vietnamese mortar with a little olive oil.

Did I say walnuts? I did. Classic pesto is made with pine nuts. I have nothing against pine nuts except the cost. If I lived in New Mexico or Italy I might make pesto with pine nuts. Since I live in California I make it with walnuts and have come to love the combination of bitter and sweet freshly cracked nuts with pounded basil leaves and garlic (I also use walnuts to make a cilantro pesto, flavored with lime).

The first pesto I tasted was served in a restaurant (I no longer remember which one). When I lived in San Francisco I used to buy little plastic tubs of Armanino pesto. Then for awhile I made my own in a blender, until my friend Leila mentioned that pounded pesto had a superior texture. Because our blender is old and cranky I was spending lots of time mincing basil and garlic before feeding its maw and I decided to get a mortar and pestle.

My friend Elaine and I went mortar hunting in Oakland Chinatown and I brought back not one mortar, but two: I have a small marble mortar that I use to crush spices and small amounts of nuts and I have my big wooden Vietnamese mortar for pesto duty each summer.

I start in the kitchen, smashing garlic cloves with the side of a knife and peeling the skins away. The garlic goes directly into the mortar and gets a sprinkle of kosher salt, which helps the pestle break down the garlic fibers. Then I take a utility bowl, my basil bouquet and the big mortar and pestle into the breakfast room. I inhale the spicy green scent of the basil as I pick leaves, discard stems, and tear each leaf into smaller pieces. I pick and tear for awhile, then I pound for awhile, then pick and tear another layer of leaves. The aroma gets richer. When I have torn and pounded every last leaf I take the basket of walnuts and nutcracker from the sideboard and start cracking and shelling. There is no measuring involved: the pesto comes together and is done when its taste and texture suits me — the size of the bunch of basil is the determining factor: I will add enough other ingredients to blend with it, to complement it, but the basil is the star, so I start with garlic and salt, add all the basil, then add walnuts. The last step is grating Parmesan or pecorino with my microplane and stirring in a little olive oil.

If I need a break while I am pounding basil I will pour a little olive oil over the top. This helps keep the color bright. I do not care for oily pesto and have a light hand with the oil: I am not too fussy about whether the final product is bright green: I know it will be delicious and we are going to eat every spoonful and scrape the jar besides.

I never get tired of pesto. When the basil really gets going in mid-summer I try to make enough of it to freeze to last all year. I am never successful because if I have fresh pesto on hand I want to eat it on pasta, on sandwiches, in salad dressing, on green beans, on broccoli, on broiled portobello mushrooms, dolloped on the top of a pizza just out of the oven, or added to a winter vegetable soup. Every year I manage to freeze a few small jars or a bag of pesto cubes made in an ice cube tray, but I am dipping into my stash practically as soon as basil disappears from the Farmer’s Market. At the same time, I have days when I wonder why I have bought yet another bunch (or two, if they are on sale), condemning myself to a few more hours of sitting at the table, pounding away when I could be walking or swimming or reading or whatever else it is that people do on long summer days, instead of inhaling basil fumes and oil of walnut rising from warm wood.

We ate our pesto with whole wheat rotini, fresh sugar snap peas and some roasted red peppers from a jar.

Food notes: You can, of course, make pesto with any fresh  leafy herb and any nut. Some people use seeds instead — pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds. Margit is allergic to walnuts and pecans so she can make hers with almonds. Elaine has used Brazil nuts successfully. Pine nuts are delicious. You can make pesto from arugula or from soaked sundried tomatoes. Some people make it with spinach or kale. You can mix herbs, too: basil, cilantro and mint is nice, or arugula and mint. You can make it in a blender or a food processor if you have one.

Blogging notes: Susie of SusArtandFood very kindly nominated me for another blogging award, the illuminating blogger award. I love it when people read The Kale Chronicles and I love it when they like it and I really like it when they find something useful here for themselves. What I don’t like is posting blog award patches on my site — I don’t think they look nice. And while I’m happy to let you know what blogs I enjoy reading I am not much good at making lists of them on the spot: I do have lists of links, although I probably should update them — perhaps at my one-year anniversary. You will find more details about me and my life in the posts than you perhaps want so I don’t think you need to know that my favorite color is green or that my favorite ice cream is coffee ice cream. My emphasis is seasonal home-cooked food. I’m quite happy when you read and comment on The Kale Chronicles and I do my best to respond to every comment I receive. Thank you all.

painting depicts ingredients for Romanesco with Gorgonzola Over Pasta recipe

Romanesco. 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

This week’s farm box included romanesco. Romanesco looks like cauliflower invented by Martians: it has points, spirals, triangular formations and it is often a stunning shade of neon green. You may not have eaten it: I would not have eaten it if I had not subscribed to Riverdog Farm in 2007.

Now, I’ll just tell you that I grew up eating cauliflower smothered with cheese sauce. I would have grown up not eating cauliflower smothered with cheese sauce if I could have managed it, but our family had rules, one of which is that you ate everything you were served. I did not make up this rule, but I had to live with it.

Part of my journey as a cook and as an adult has been to revisit foods I did not care for in my childhood. Some of them stay on the “Do not eat” list: avocado and asparagus have not made it to edible, much less pleasurable, and English peas require careful and judicious camouflage. I still will not eat cauliflower in pale orange cheese sauce, but I will eat it with a sauce featuring two of my favorite things: gorgonzola and cumin seeds.

The same farm that brought romanesco into my life brought me the recipe with which to cook it from the RiverNene CSA in England. I modified their ingredients list and then I modified their cooking method: what I have kept are a little butter, the cumin seeds, some milk and some gorgonzola, although not the quantities of each that I first saw. To get the most out of the creamy, cheesy sauce I like to serve it with pasta. I like whole wheat penne because the darker-colored pasta looks nice with the pale vegetable and sauce and has a nice chewy texture. That said, you could serve it on spinach pasta or tomato pasta for some color and you can eat it without pasta if you are counting carbs.

Romanesco with Gorgonzola over Pasta

Put your pasta water on to boil.

Cut or break your romanesco into florets.

Melt a little butter in a saucepan, perhaps 1 or 2 tablespoons

Fry 1 Tbsp cumin seeds in the butter until aromatic.

Stop the cooking by whisking in 2 Tbsp of flour

Then add some milk — start with 1/2 cup and have more at the ready.

Alternate stirring the sauce and breaking up some Gorgonzola to melt into the sauce. The cheese will help thicken the sauce. If it gets too thick, add a little more milk. If it is too thin, cook it down for awhile or add more cheese.

When your pasta water boils, throw in 1/2 pound of whole wheat penne.

After the pasta has cooked for ten minutes, add your broken or chopped romanesco to the pasta water. Cook for one minute and drain, letting the pasta water fall into a serving bowl to preheat it.

Transfer the sauce, pasta and romanesco to your (drained) serving bowl and stir so that everything gets coated with sauce. Eat while it is warm.

Food Notes: If you don’t have romanesco, you can make this with cauliflower, or even broccoli — it just won’t have the Martian atmosphere. Sometimes I add a few snipped sundried tomatoes into the sauce for the bright taste and the flecks of color: it is winter, after all. Regular pasta works, too. Sigh. The original recipe called for 2 Tbsp of brandy — if you are a brandy-swiller, go ahead and add it to the sauce: I’m sure it tastes delightful.

I like to serve this with a winter salad of raw spinach and sliced oranges. Sometimes I dress it with Orange-Sesame Vinaigrette. However, I had recently read about an orange-tahini dressing and wanted to see if I could put one together (I love tahini and January is a big citrus month). I started by juicing one orange, one Eureka lemon and two Meyer lemons. That yielded one half cup of juice, which I poured into my old Good Seasons cruet (Remember those? They are handy for salad dressings that don’t come in packets!) I added 3 Tbsp Tahini. I tasted it. Now what? I had on the counter some olive oil that I had used to cover roasted red bell peppers. The peppers went onto last night’s pizza, but the oil. I measured 2 Tbsp of the roasted red bell pepper oil. Mmm. That gave a nice roasty flavor. Gotta have salt: I put in 1/2 tsp Kosher salt. And garlic: I pressed 1 small clove of garlic. A little sweetness: in went 1 tsp honey. I thought about putting some cumin in it, but I kept it simple this time — there’s cumin in the romanesco sauce after all.

For a little more heft, I kneaded up a batch of black rye bread, basing it on a recipe by Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks. But I left out the carrots and the caraway and threw in a little orange juice and zest. It’s rising now: I’ll report on it on Wednesday (or not, if it is not worth writing about).

It’s still January, so they are still doing citrus recipes over at #citruslove. They are worth checking out if you like citrus or have a seasonal glut of it like we do.

painting depicts shrimp diablo and ingredients

Shrimp Diablo. 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor pigment. Sharyn Dimmick

I have a big binder of recipes that I have clipped from newspapers over many years. When I say, “big binder,” I mean I can’t lift it without both hands and I have been thinking about dividing it into two lately. My binder is loosely organized by main ingredient or type of food: for instance, there is an “Apple” section, but also a “Biscuits” section, “Pork,” but also “Pasta.”

Friday my Mom informed me that she had purchased some Gulf jumbo shrimp for Monday’s lunch. We don’t eat shrimp often because we don’t want to eat shrimp farmed in Thailand. Then she told me she wanted a recipe with a sauce and, of course, it needed to include ingredients we had on hand.

We had no open white wine, which lets out many recipes right there. We do have two bottles of open red, but I did not want to make that substitution in case Merlot was too strong for the shrimp. I took the “Shrimp” section out of the binder and handed her the recipes. “See what you think.”

After some discussion we settled upon Shrimp Diablo. The day she had bought shrimp I had bought a couple of grapefruit. Shrimp Diablo calls for tomatoes and grapefruit juice, dried and fresh chiles. I could use diced canned tomatoes as fresh tomato season is long past and I have always been curious about the effect of grapefruit juice in this dish.

Today I set to work. The first task was to find the New Mexican chiles. I found some expired New Mexican chili powder first and swept it into the garbage — the powder had disintegrated the cellophane packet and another plastic bag (I guess it was powerful in its day — either that or the packaging had been weakened by the New Mexico sun). I found another batch in a glass-stoppered jar (smarter) that had its full strength. Then, hiding on top of the refrigerator among the jars of tea and rice I found the dried chiles.

I put the chiles in a Pyrex bowl with water and nuked them for a minute, covered them with a plate and let them sit while I found the diced tomatoes, opened the can, peeled and sliced garlic, dug the small container of pickled jalapenos from the fridge. Mom said she was going to the store for sourdough bread. I asked her to please get some fresh cilantro.

Meanwhile I sliced five small scallions, measured out a cup of diced tomatoes, zested and juiced one grapefruit, drained the chiles. Then I put on a pot of water for pasta. Uncharacteristically I read the directions, which said to cook the pasta for twelve minutes. At the ten minute mark, Mom had not returned from the store, so I drained the pasta, reasoning that it could finish cooking in the sauce.

Then I peeled shrimp, reserving the shells in a small plastic container to freeze for future stock.

Eventually, Mom returned, bearing cilantro and bread. While I cooked the shrimp, she chopped cilantro and sliced bread and heated bowls. The resulting pasta was piquant, pleasantly hot, with a distinct grapefruit aftertaste. The sauce reminded me of cioppino and was great for soaking up with bread.

Shrimp Diablo (modified from a camping food recipe, originally published in the Contra Costa Times)

For four servings you will need a pound of jumbo shrimp and half a pound of whole wheat pasta. If you will not be satisfied with that quantity, go ahead and adjust the recipe for more pasta or more shrimp

Nuke 1 large dried red New Mexican chile in a glass bowl with a little water for one minute. Cover said chile with plate while you continue with the recipe.

Measure 1 cup diced tomatoes into your blender or food processor (or use 1 large tomato during tomato season).

Peek 5 cloves of garlic and slice or chop roughly. Add to tomatoes in blender

Mince 2 jalapenos or toss in 1 Tbsp of pickled jalapeno rings

Zest 1 grapefruit. Add zest to blender

Now juice the grapefruit (which should yield 1/2 cup juice) and set juice aside for now.

Slice 5 scallions into small pieces. Set aside

Peel 1 lb jumbo shrimp. De-vein if necessary.

Chop 1/3 cup cilantro and add it to blender

By now, your dried chile should be pliable. Tear it into small pieces and add to blender. Whir contents of blender to get a thick, chunky paste.

Put pasta water on to boil for 1/2 lb whole wheat penne

Now assemble next to your stove your tomato-pepper-garlic paste, your reserved juice, your reserved scallions, your peeled shrimp, some olive oil.

Get your pasta cooking before you make the shrimp and sauce, which only takes about five or six minutes.

Heat some olive oil in a good-sized skillet. When oil shimmers, cook the onion. Then add the shrimp and cook until just opaque.

Add the contents of blender and the reserved grapefruit juice. Cook until it simmers and add your drained pasta just until heated through.

Serve in bowls with some good sourdough bread for cleaning up the sauce.

Food Notes: If you don’t like spicy food, cut down on the chiles. If you don’t like chiles at all, skip this recipe. If you don’t like cilantro or are allergic to it, choose some benign herb of your liking. I can imagine tarragon or summer basil. Please make this with fresh grapefruit, which has an incomparable flavor that you just don’t get in a can or frozen. And, yes, you can make it with “regular” pasta, but I don’t know why you would, unless you are out of whole wheat.

By the way, my sister-in-law was here for lunch, just so you know that Mom and I did not eat two bowls apiece. We each had a bowl and there is a small bowl left with two lonely shrimp.

How ’bout that: fresh grapefruit juice and zest makes this fit for a little citruslove, the wonderful January blog hop. #citruslove. Go check out some more citrus recipes here.

Painting note: I did this painting with pigments and brushes only. No watercolor pencils for a change.

Painting of turkey, noodles and ingredients.

Turkey and Noodles. 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

My Grandma Carroll, who contributed the rolls to so many of our holiday dinners, was famous for her chicken and noodles — it was probably the best dish she made and the one everybody wanted the recipe for — but she didn’t want anyone to best her at her star food. When my mother asked her how she made them, she said, “Oh, you just take an egg and a cup of flour.” She neglected to mention the other two eggs or extra egg yolks she always added. So Mom went home and made them and they were impossibly dry.

The next time we went over to Grandma’s house, my Mom said, “Mother, do you only put one egg in your noodles?”

Grandma turned her head to the side and started giggling.

“Well, if you have another egg…,” she said.

My mother finally figured out that the correct ratio was three eggs to one cup of flour, or an egg and as many extra egg yolks as you had from some other cooking project.

You add the flour (seasoned with 1/4 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of paprika) to your eggs or egg and yolks and knead it for awhile until it is spongy. Then you roll it out as thinly as possible on a floured cloth.

Now you have a choice. You can cut your noodles and have them “soft,” or you can let the rolled out sheet of dough dry out for a day, depending on how much advance planning you have done. Our family prefers noodles that have dried for a day — that’s what Grandma made.

I watched Mom make these yesterday. She cut the dough in half before she rolled it out, so, one cup of flour and three eggs make two sheets of noodles. Then she set them on a tea towel to dry with a sheet of paper over them. Several hours later she replaced the paper with another tea towel. Grandma used to hang sheets of noodles over the top of her swinging door and I have seen Mom hang them in ingenious ways in the past, but she doesn’t do that anymore — now she dries them flat (If you hang your noodles they may dry better because they’ll get better air circulation). This time we let them dry overnight.

Whenever you cut them, roll each sheet of dough up like a jelly roll and cut them in thin strips: remember that noodles expand in the broth that you cook them in, so cut them thin.

Grandma most often made chicken and noodles cooked in chicken stock: she would cook a chicken in water, bones and all, remove the chicken, take some of the meat off the bones, boil down the cooking stock and cook her noodles in it. But if she had turkey leftovers, she would boil up the turkey carcass, neck and giblets for stock, reserving some turkey meat, and cook her noodles in that. When we make stock, we add in ends of carrots and celery for extra flavor. We strain the stock and remove some of the fat.

Mom says it is important to leave some fat in the stock so that you will not have a flat flavor. I say you have to have some salt in the stock to avoid the same flat flavor — if the noodles taste flat I either add salt at the table, or eat them with Tabasco sauce. Mom says that Grandma also added some butter to her stock before adding the noodles. For best results, heat the strained stock to a full rolling boil, drop noodles into it a few at a time and cook the noodles in the turkey (or chicken) stock until they are soft (from fifteen minutes to half an hour. At this point, season with salt and pepper to taste, add 1 Tbsp of butter and then add your reserved meat until it is just heated through in the noodles.

These noodles improve over the next few days: you might consider them to be second generation leftovers.

painting shows ingredients for pasta: broccoli, lemons, feta, fresh basil, dried pasta.

Broccoli-Feta-Basil Pasta. 8″x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

This week I got a big bunch of fresh basil in the farm box. Fresh basil in October? I’ll take it. I used some of it to make a quick pesto to eat on Portobello mushroom “burgers” last night. I used the rest to make my favorite quick pasta dish: pasta with broccoli, feta and basil.

This is almost a non-recipe.

1) You put your pasta water on to boil

2) You get out a box of pasta — I like short pastas with this: farfalle, fusilli  or penne. I use half a pound for two people because I like leftovers and because when we eat this pasta we eat it as a one-bowl meal.

3) While the water heats and the pasta cooks, wash and chop your broccoli into bite-sized pieces. How much broccoli? I can’t tell you that. How much do you have? How much do you like broccoli?

4) Crumble some feta cheese into a large serving bowl or two individual pasta bowls (You can make this for one, too — just use less of everything). I’m going to say four ounces of feta for two people, but if you want to use more, use more. The more cheese, the better it is, really.

5) Squeeze the juice of one or two lemons over your cheese.

6) Grind some black pepper over  the cheese if you like pepper.

7) Do a quick chiffonade of basil leaves into the cheese.

8) Throw your chopped broccoli into the pasta water in the last minute of the pasta’s cooking. Cook one minute only.

9) Drain pasta and broccoli

10) Toss with feta and basil mixture, or put in individual bowls and stir like mad with a fork to distribute cheese. The cheese melts a little on the warm pasta, releasing the perfume of the basil.

Food Notes: This is best to eat in late spring and early fall, whenever you have the intersection of fresh basil and broccoli and lemons, but I make it in deep winter, too, substituting dried oregano and red wine vinegar for the basil and lemons. It’s good with roasted red peppers or bits of sun-dried tomatoes added to it, too, which add color contrast and winter vitamins. I make this pasta with fresh green beans if I don’t have broccoli — that’s good, but the broccoli version is better. What you don’t need is any salt or olive oil: feta is plenty salty on its own and provides enough fat. Keep it simple.

This is really good made with whole wheat pasta, too, which I buy whenever I find it on sale.

Please come back on Friday for a Halloween surprise.

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