Archives for posts with tag: pasta

Dear Readers,

The cozy bedroom.

The cozy bedroom.

I did it! On January 5th I moved from my mother’s house in Kensington, California to Johnny’s rental house in San Leandro. I have been here the better part of a month. I have moved the bedroom furniture about fourteen times (hope I’m done now), mostly seeking places for shoes and a filing cabinet. My stereo isn’t hooked up yet (Johnny’s is) and my backup hard drive has gone missing. Fiona the cat has run away and returned twice: now I only let her out in the afternoon before she has been fed.

After three and a half weeks, the bedroom is close to organized. The kitchen and breakfast nook are further behind and there are still things in boxes and plenty of things in the garage and garden shed. The hold-up in the kitchen is storage space: I need a tall shallow shelf for my spices and I need a china cabinet or hutch of some sort: some of my china is sitting on a former bookshelf and another bookshelf has been pressed into service for cookbooks and dry goods, but my best china remains in boxes in Kensington along with a mixer, a blender and other things I have not been able to incorporate into my new kitchen.

Cookbooks, etc.

Cookbooks, etc.

Nevertheless I hit the ground cooking. I think the first meal I cooked for us here was a dish of broccoli-feta pasta. We have also had Thai green curry, chicken sausages and baked potatoes, plus Johnny’s special scrambled eggs with vegetables, which he once delivered to me in bed! At the end of the first week I made Johnny his favorite red beans and rice from his friend Mike Goodwin’s cookbook, Totally Hot. And so began a tradition of making a legume-based soup or stew every week: we can eat it for a few days and I can freeze any that we don’t eat. I also make other soups, including the butternut squash version of this soup.

Susan of Susan Eats London kindly sent me a box of ingredients, featuring lentils de Puy, the small green organically grown French lentils. First I tried them mixed with red lentils in a Green’s recipe for a curried soup which calls for yellow split peas — I had had this soup twice at a Chanukah party: it was memorable and I had been meaning to make it. The verdict: it was better made with yellow split peas and I need to replenish some of my Indian spices, including cardamom.

Then I solicited recipes on Facebook, confessing that, to me, lentils taste like dirt. I received a lot of the usual suggestions: cook them with potatoes, carrots and celery, etc. Some people mentioned lemon. Then I went to Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite food blogs, and found a lentil and sausage and chard combination. Hmm.

I followed the recipe loosely, using two cups of lentils instead of one and incorporating a quart jar of stewed Sun Gold tomatoes from my  Berkeley Farmers’ Market pal, Tom Gattonelli. I used some Aidell’s sun-dried tomato chicken sausages and ladled each serving over leaves of wild arugula. I did enjoy the soup: the special ingredients ameliorated the dirt flavor and the soup got better and better as it sat. I did not, however, make Deb’s garlic oil garnish.

Baking supplies.

Baking supplies.

The star of the kitchen is a butcher block cart: I traded yet another bookcase to my friend Elaine for it and I use it everyday. Johnny likes to sit at it and eat, but I like to use it to chop and mince and slice. I have made two shelves below the cutting board into a baking pantry, containing my rolled oats, unbleached flour, cornmeal, sugars, baking soda, baking powder, nuts, rice, chocolate and dried fruit. The rolling pin and measuring spoons hang on small hooks and the biscuit cutters, pastry cutter and dry measuring cups fill the small drawer.

Earlier this week I visited Thrift Town, a short walk from the house and scored copper-plated storage canisters and a glass casserole dish without a lid. By fitting a pie plate over the top I had what I needed to cook baked beans, the legume recipe of the week, pinto beans layered with chopped onions and minced bacon, mustard sauce and molasses. Johnny loved them and I said, “They are really simple. Even Johnny could make them.” I told him he had done the hard work of chopping the onions and preparing the bacon, that the oven did most of the rest. Just like a New England housewife of old I used the slow oven to make an accompanying Indian pudding.

Cozy breakfast nook with canisters.

Cozy breakfast nook with canisters.

Next up? I have potato water sitting in the fridge crying for me to make a loaf of bread — did you know that the cooking water from potatoes is a terrific bread ingredient? —  and I have ripe Meyer lemons asking to be turned into a lemon sponge pie. Plus, the sour half and half has accumulated again. From this we make waffles, biscuits, cornbread and muffins: because I got a box of organic pumpkin puree from Grocery Outlet this week we’ll probably have pumpkin-walnut bread or muffins.

Meanwhile, I commute to Berkeley up to six days a week to sing at the BART stations and farmers’ market, do odd jobs for my friend Elaine, try to keep the cat happy and settle into my new cozy life with Johnny (which includes band rehearsals on weekends). San Leandro is sunnier than my Kensington yards so once I have pickaxed the hard pan in the backyard I will get some vegetables going — legumes, of course, so that their roots break up the clumped soil: I’m hoping for sugar snap peas and bush beans, perhaps red or white clover for the bees, too. And Elaine, who giveth all good things, has provided some iris and muscari bulbs so I’ll have to see if I can get them in the ground somewhere before I write the next post.

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.

painting depicts ingredients for pasta with peanut sauce

Thai Pasta with Peanut Sauce 8″x8″ gouache on paper Sharyn Dimmick

The other day I started to think about what I had in common with kale:

1) I am not always sweet — sometimes I am quite bitter.

2) I am not to everybody’s taste: a little of me can go a long way.

3) I am rough around the edges

4) I am somewhat green.

5) I am tough.

Some people like kale in its raw state. Others like it lightly steamed or sauteed in minimalist preparations. For me to enjoy kale, it requires tender care and the presence of other ingredients that I like. Kale will never make the top of my favorite foods list, so I often resort to what I call camouflage cooking, a technique known to mothers everywhere, where you bury a vegetable in so many other flavors that it no longer calls attention to itself. You still get the nutritional value of the mean green vegetable which is very good for you: what you eliminate is what my Dad called “that nasty vitamin taste.”

Two weeks ago I met my friend Cathy at the Farmers’ Market in Berkeley and we began to discuss kale. She told me that she cooks it in a little oil with a little water and throws in walnuts and raisins at the end of the cooking. The raisins sweeten the kale, ameliorating the bitterness and the walnuts add richness and give the bitterness a different edge: it is like forgoing outright cruelty and making use of well-placed sarcasm instead.

Another way to camouflage kale is to turn up the heat: I have chopped kale leaves finely, after removing the ribs and stems, and thrown them into posole — hominy cooked with chiles or salsa, in chicken broth or pork stock, seasoned with lime. Canned Foods Grocery Outlet, Food Maxx and Mexican groceries sell posole in number ten cans: I usually open one, decant half of it into a big jar for the freezer, and throw the other half in a pot. I like to make posole with about half a jar of green salsa (maybe twelve ounces), a pint of chicken stock and the juice of one lime. If I want a sweeter flavor, I add chopped sundried tomatoes to it. The longer you cook the posole the better the kale blends with the other ingredients, melting into harmonious flavor.

The big guns of camouflage cooking with kale are peanut sauce and coconut milk. If you like peanut sauce, you know you can eat it on anything because what you will taste is peanut sauce. I make an instant peanut sauce that I eat on pasta in the following manner:

Put your pasta water on to boil. I like to use short pastas because they catch the peanut sauce (penne, fusilli, farfalle, — also known as twisties and butterflies). I usually use wheat pasta, but you can go authentic and use rice noodles if you want. Get out the bowl in which you plan to eat your pasta. Put into that bowl between two and three tablespoons of peanut butter (Please use natural peanut butter without added shortening). Squeeze one lime into the peanut butter. Add something hot — my favorite addition is Chinese chili paste with garlic, a teaspoon if you like heat, a quarter to an eighth teaspoon for just a hint. Get down your fish sauce or tamari and add a tablespoon. You now have hot, sour, peanut-y and salty. Add some brown sugar: start with a teaspoon and trade up — this will be a matter of taste and opinion about how much sugar you want to consume. We like it sweet. If you want it even sweeter, add some coconut milk from a can — a few tablespoons should be sufficient. To get it right for you, you will have to stir and taste the raw sauce. It isn’t going to hurt you — just don’t eat it all in the tasting phase or you may have to start over.

Before it is time to drain the pasta, I have usually had enough time to julienne some carrots and/or radishes, chop some broccoli or green beans or cucumber. Carrots, radishes and cucumber go directly into your bowl with the peanut sauce. Broccoli or green beans go into the pasta water for the last minute of cooking, after which you drain the pasta and vegetable and add it directly to your pasta bowl. Garnish with basil, Thai basil, cilantro, or chopped fresh mint. Toss madly.

I developed this recipe when I lived and cooked alone. It is an ideal one-person pasta. If I make it for two, I generally stir up two individual bowls of sauce. If I want to make a lot, I start with a big serving bowl rather than individual bowls, use larger amounts of sauce ingredients and might pop it in the microwave for a minute to make sure the peanut butter softens. If you like, make extra: it reheats well if you leave out the cucumber, or it can be eaten cold.

Thai Pasta with Peanut Sauce:

Boil water for one serving of pasta

While water comes to a boil, stir together in pasta bowl:

2 Tbsp peanut butter

1 Tbsp fish sauce

Juice of 1 lime

1 tsp chili paste with garlic

1 Tbsp brown sugar (or more or less to taste)

Julienne 1 carrot and/or three radishes. Chop some cucumber if you want. Add vegetables to bowl of sauce. By now, your pasta water should be ready. Start cooking pasta.

Cut up some broccoli or green beans. Add to pasta water in last minute of cooking.

Drain pasta and vegetables and add to sauce in bowl. Garnish with basil, Thai basil, cilantro or fresh mint. Stir it thoroughly with your fork. Enjoy.

Painting Note: For information about “Thai Pasta with Peanut Sauce” or any other original painting, please contact me here.

Painting depicts ingredients for recipe polenta with peaches

Summer Breakfast. 8″x8″ gouache and watercolor pencil Sharyn Dimmick

My mother went to Reno for a few days, leaving me in the house with our three cats, so I had three days to observe how I cooked for myself while she was gone. When I lived alone I developed a fondness for one-bowl cooking, complete meals that fit in a single bowl. Friday morning I made one of my favorite summer breakfasts, polenta cooked in milk, seasoned with vanilla extract and stirred into a bowl of diced peaches. It was so good that I made it again on Saturday — in fact, it is what I eat for breakfast any time we have fresh peaches in the house, usually from late May through early October.

The secret to this recipe is a fresh, tree-ripened peach. I buy most of my peaches from Frog Hollow Farm at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market. In formerly flush years I would buy them by the flat and we would eat peach waffles, peach bread pudding, peach cobbler. I would freeze peach puree to make waffles in the winter or spring. Now I buy them a few at a time: I bought four last Saturday, two Cal Reds and two O’Henry’s, enough for four breakfasts.

The other secret is cooking polenta in milk, which makes it lovely and creamy. I began cooking grains in milk when I broke my first bone five years ago, started cooking oatmeal in a cup of milk to make sure I would get daily calcium in the food I ate.

To make this dish, go out and pick a peach from your tree or buy a soft, sweet peach from your farmers’ market. Slice it and then chop the slices into smaller chunks. Put this into your cereal bowl. Then film the bottom of a saucepan with a little water, add a cup of milk, a dash of salt and a quarter-cup of polenta. Cook over medium high heat until it starts to bubble, then reduce heat to a simmer until it thickens enough to your liking. It’s a good idea to stir it frequently so that it won’t stick to the pan. When it’s done, remove it from the heat and stir in a capful of vanilla extract. Pour it over your peaches in your bowl, stir and dig in. The polenta warms the peaches. The juice from the peach sweetens the polenta. The yellows and oranges look like summer in a bowl.

 Depicts ingredients for whole wheat pasta with cilantro pesto and green beans

Cilantro Pesto with Green Beans. 8″x8″ gouache and watercolor pencil Sharyn DImmick

At lunch-time on Friday, I looked at the cilantro that I had bought a week before and stuck in a glass on the counter — I needed to use it. Cutting off the stems, I broke each leaf from its stem and tossed it into my blender. I went out and picked a Meyer lemon from the front yard, cut it, and squeezed it into the cilantro. I diced a red onion and minced half a clove of garlic. I added some chopped walnuts from our freezer (new crop has not come in yet). I moistened the mixture with some olive oil and started blending it while I got out some rinds of Parmesan, which I grated with my microplane. You can get a microplane, otherwise known as a rasp, at any hardware store — don’t bother with expensive versions from cooking stores: it is the best tool I know for grating hard cheeses and zesting citrus. I gave the blender a stir and added the cheese and a tiny pinch of salt.

Pesto done, I put on some water to boil and got down a package of whole wheat penne, taking out about a quarter pound (four ounces). While the water heated, I topped and tailed a large handful of fresh green beans and snapped them in half. I cooked the pasta for seven minutes or so, then added the green beans to the pasta water, cooking them for one minute more. I drained the pasta, scooped some cilantro pesto into a pasta bowl and stirred like mad to distribute it. It made a little more than I could eat — measurement is not my forte when I am not following a recipe — so I had a small serving leftover for Saturday’s lunch, which I ate cold — equally delicious. The lemon and onion in the pesto and the bitterness of the walnuts play off the sweetness of the green beans and whole wheat.

For dinner, I ate leftover Greek salad on Thursday and made a sandwich of leftover roasted pork loin with leftover apple coleslaw on Friday

Whole Wheat Pasta with Cilantro Pesto:

Combine in jar of blender for pesto

1 bunch cilantro, stems removed.
1 lemon or lime, zested, than juiced or squeezed
1 small red onion
1/2 clove garlic
2 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Olive oil to moisten

Salt to taste

3 to 4 oz whole wheat pasta per person.

1 large handful of fresh green beans, trimmed and cut in half.

Blend pesto. Cook pasta until almost done: about a minute out, add green beans to pasta water. Drain pasta and beans into a pasta bowl. Add some pesto and stir or toss to mix. If you have leftover pesto, it will keep in the refrigerator for a week, or you can freeze it.

When Mom got back Saturday afternoon she asked if there was any cooked food on hand. Nope. I told her I had eaten all of the leftovers. We ate bread, cheese, grapes (me) and tomatoes (her).

Painting Note: For more information on “Summer Breakfast” or “Cilantro Pesto with Green Beans” or any other original painting, please contact me here.

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