Posts Tagged ‘pasta’

A homemade tomato sauce, spring vegetables, and garden beginnings

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Spring Pasta by lkwm on dRc

“I would like to have a garden,” my husband said to me shortly after we were first married.

“Whatever for?” I thought to myself; “There is a grocery and a farmer’s market less than a mile down the road where I can easily buy anything we need, and I have little interest in tilling the ground in my spare time.”

So, like the congenial newlywed I was attempting to be, I said little, and figured this too would pass, as well intended ideas often do.

Cabbage in sunlight

However, come early spring of that first matrimonial year, lo and behold, Brian went out and bought stacks upon stacks of seed starting trays, a pile of organic starter soil bags, and a whole host of seeds – many of which I had never heard nor seen the likes of in all my days.

Yellow pear tomatoes, purple okra, champagne bell peppers, and the most delectable yellow cucumbers, were just a few introductions made.

He pulled out old, dusty card tables and set up camp in the basement, since he was duly cautioned against “starting seeds” in the proper living spaces of my our new nest, with large florescent lights clipped to the innards of our floor joists, lit to nurture and grow the nascent seedlings.

Spring pasta

“What is it that makes you want to start the plants from seed?” I asked, all the while thinking to myself, “The nursery down the street is full of perfectly happy little plants already weeks ahead of these babies, ready and waiting for someone to give them a loving home in the fertile soil of their garden.”

It’s fun to watch things grow,” Brian replied, “Isn’t it amazing that we put the tiniest little seeds in the soil, gave them light and water, and now they are already seedlings? Look at how they lean towards the light. Don’t you just love them?”

Garden broccoliGarden broccoli

Before long, the weather was warming and the seedlings were growing impatient for a new, roomier home in the great outdoors. I still have vivid memories of standing out in our yard that first spring, virgin soil beneath my feet, shovel in hand, fighting back tears as I painstakingly tried to “turn” the dirt beneath.

It is important to know how to grow your own food,” I could hear Brian saying.

Since that time, we have grown wiser, and now Brian rents an actual tiller each spring to help with the hard labor. He calls the garden “Laura’s garden,” but really it is his, and always has been.

Sure, I make trips to the nursery with him, pick the heirloom seeds I want, and the ten new varieties of tomatoes I am compelled to try each summer, I pick some produce, but mainly, I eat the garden – which is why Brian says it is mine.

Garden broccoli in hand

The garden expands each year, last year covering a good 750 square feet with radishes, turnips, corn, tomatoes, eggplant, okra, oodles of hot peppers, mustard greens, lettuces, onions, potatoes, carrots, squash, green beans, bell peppers, sunflowers, all the herbs you could dream of, butter beans, kale, Swiss chard, honeydew, strawberries, watermelon, peas, broccoli, spinach, cucumbers, zucchini…even luffa.

We still have plants growing from the seedlings of that first garden – Greek oregano, sage, cayenne peppers, yellow and orange pear tomatoes.

It’s taken time and perspective to grow on me, but our garden is something I now cherish and eagerly anticipate each year as the last frost of winter gives way to warm sunny spring days. This year we were surprised with forgotten carrots, broccoli, and cabbage emerging from beneath the winter leaves. I have never tasted such sweet carrots, such tender, mild broccoli.

Brian is right, there is nothing like the taste of food from your own garden.

Garden carrotsGarden carrots

With so many spring vegetables coming into season, and planning to take a meal to a friend who just had a baby, I decided to make a pasta with homemade tomato sauce and spring vegetables.

The sauce is a simple saute of onion and one lone carrot in a good glug of olive oil, followed by a gentle simmer with satiny smooth textured San Marzano tomatoes. You could stop here and have yourself one beautiful homemade tomato sauce. But since it is spring, and spring’s bounty is at hand, why not add fresh artichokes, asparagus, spinach, fava beans, and young English peas, simmer another quick spell, and toss it all with a favorite pasta and gratings of fresh parmesan? It just seems like the “fitting” way to do tomato sauce this time of year, as my grandma Ruth would have said.

This sauce tastes bright from the carrot, tomatoes and vegetables, but still maintains a full bodied flavor due to the infusion of olive oil into the onions. I loved it, and I hope you do as well.

Spring pasta

Tomato sauce with olive oil, onion, and carrot

1 28 oz. can whole Itailian Roma style, plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzanos*
1 medium onion finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
sea or kosher salt to taste

Saute onion and carrot in the olive oil till soft and onion is translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add Tomatoes and simmer for at least 20 minutes, or until sauce is thickened to desired consistency, breaking tomatoes apart with a wooden spoon. Serve over warm pasta with freshly grated pecorino romano cheese

Pasta with spring vegetables
Adapted liberally from Williams Sonoma’s Savoring Tuscany

1 lb. pasta, preferably rigatoni*, cooked according to package directions to al dente, adding 1-2 tablespoons coarse or rock salt to boiling water, pasta water reserved
1 recipe for Tomato sauce with olive oil, onion, and carrot
1 or 2 large fresh artichokes, tough outer leaves pulled off and cut down, hair removed, and heart cut into slices (optional)*
1/2 cup of shelled English peas
1/2 cup young, tender shelled fava (broad) beans or lima beans
1 1/2 cups stemmed spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
12 asparagus spears, tough ends removed, cut into 1 inch pieces
Sea or kosher salt to taste
freshly ground Parmesan cheese

Prepare the tomato sauce according to the above recipe, adding the artichoke pieces (if using) into the simmering sauce at the same time you add the tomatoes. Begin cooking the pasta, taking care to salt the water and reserve at least half a cup of pasta water once pasta has finished cooking.

Once artichoke slices are tender (10-15 minutes), add the other vegetables and cook in the sauce another five to ten minutes, or until vegetables are cooked and tender.

Toss the sauce with the warm pasta, using small additions of the reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce and achieve desired consistency. Wait to season with salt and pepper (I prefer this sauce without pepper, as the vegetable flavors seem to stand out more this way) until finished adding desired amount of pasta water, as the water should be somewhat salty itself. Serve with the cheese sprinkled on top.

Notes: You may use any pasta for this recipe, though rigatoni or other “forkable” pasta is preferable to the spagetti you see in my pictures. I made it with rigatoni the first time, but was too rushed to take pictures, and only had spaghetti noodles in the house the second go round.

Look for Italian San Marzano tomatoes in the specialty Italian section of your grocery store. I have tried many Italian Roma tomatoes, and none break down and create a smooth, satiny sauce as well as the San Marzanos.

The fresh artichokes are nice in this dish, though they take a bit of work, so you may omit them if desired. I would not substitute canned, since canned artichokes are preserved in vinegar and would alter the entire flavor profile of the sauce. I did add some mushrooms in at the same time as the artichokes the first time around, and they were very good. Really, you could add just about any vegetables you like – or chicken (I added lemon rosemary chicken in the first batch) or shrimp, for that matter.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Main Courses - Vegetarian | 26 Comments »

Farfalle pasta with Oven dried tomatoes

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Farfalle pasta with oven dried tomatoes by LKWM on dRc
I told you last week how I went gaga over these oven dried tomatoes, so I created a pasta to give them a stage to show off their stuff. But as it turns out, there are so many zippy flavors and satisfying textures here that it seems unfair to give accolades to any one character over another, but here’s my go at it: There are the tomatoes, yes, but also cubes of fresh mozzarella that get all soft and melty when tucked into the warm pasta, and I can’t forget the basil, olive oil, garlic, parmesan, and pine nuts that create a type of deconstructed pesto sauce, picked up by the addition of balsamic vinegar and lemon zest. And the heart of palm…Do you know about this delicate artichoke-esque vegetable harvested from the core of certain palm trees? So wonderful.
Asparagus tips in light by lauraWM on dRc
What I love about pasta is that while you set water out to boil and let your farfalle bobble away in that pot of boiling water, you can use this 20 minutes or so to prepare a couple of ingredients, make a quick sauce – and by the time the pasta is a perfect al dente – Voila!  Dinner is complete.
Heart of palm by lkwm on dRcSliced tomatoes by lauraWm on dRCAsparagus with ends cut by lkwm on dRc
If you’ve ever wondered how much asparagus’ ends to cut off (the ends are quite tough), here’s a quick tip:  hold a stalk at the cut off end with one hand, and hold the middle of the stalk with the other hand, and bend to break. Where the stalk breaks is where it begins to be tender for eating. Use this length as a guide to quickly cut off all the rest of the stalks to the proper length.
Parboiling asparagus by lkwm on dRcDraining pasta and asparagus by lkwm on dRc
If you want to consolidate pots and prep time (who doesn’t?), parboil the asparagus with the pasta in the last couple of minutes of the pasta cooking time. Then simply drain the pasta and vegetable together at the same time. If you are not familiar with the term parboil, it simply means to partially cook, or quickly boil a veggie for 1-2 minutes, lightly cooking it while retaining crispness. Sometimes the veggie is then cooked further (as in a stir fry or risotto) or at other times parboiling is enough.  I like my veggies crisp, so in this dish, I think a quick parboil is just right. Classic parboiling calls for a rinse in cold water to retain color and completely stop the cooking, but I do not like to rinse my pasta, so in this case, I forgo this step for the asparagus in the name of convenience – but you may cook them separately, if desired.
Shitake mushrooms by lkwm on dRcSauteing shitakes with garlic by lkwm on dRcAdding parmesan to pasta by lkwm on dRc
This is a relatively simple dish, and though I adore the oven dried tomatoes here, I have to concede that if you are pressed for time, oil packed sun dried tomatoes would likely work as an acceptable substitute. It makes enough for 6-8 people, so it could easily serve as a beautiful all inclusive company meal.  Or, you might be like my husband and myself, and be happy to have leftovers that do not grow tiresome even on the third night and still taste fresh enough to serve to the unexpected guest – such as S., who showed up on leftover night #3, on a rather predictable spontaneous whim.

Perhaps many things remain seen, or tasted, through rose colored glasses when there are pregnancy hormones coursing through a woman’s veins, but my inspiration for this pasta came from two different dishes around the time of J.’s birth – the first at the baby shower S. threw for me, and the second brought to me directly postpartum. One had olives, peas, and sun dried tomatoes, and the latter – grilled chicken and more olive oil than I have used here – but both delicious, and both nourishing to more than just my physical body.
Oven dried tomatoes in light by LKWM on dRc
Farfalle pasta with oven dried tomatoes
Serves 6-8, may be halved
16 oz. farfalle pasta (I used whole wheat), cooked al dente, with 1/4 cup pasta water reserved
1 bunch of asparagus, (about 30 stalks), tough ends trimmed off (see post) and stalks cut into 2 inch pieces
5-6 oven dried tomatoes, using this recipe (you could substitute 1 jar oil packed sun dried tomatoes, drained)
1 14 oz can of heart of palm, drained and diced into third inch circles
1 large bunch of fresh basil (about 15-20 leaves) sliced into thin strips
3/4 cup + 1/2 cup fresh grated hard Italian cheese – parmesan, pecorino romano (if you use pre-grated cheese, start with 1/2 cup and add more to taste)
8 oz. fresh mozzarella or fontina cheese, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
4 cloves garlic minced, or finely chopped
1 – 1 1/2 cups rinsed and sliced shitake or baby portobello mushrooms
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil
1/8 cup + 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
.6 oz package pine nuts, toasted (2 – 3 minutes in toaster oven or skillet – they burn quickly so keep watch)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt (to taste)
zest from 1/2 lemon
several cracks of freshly ground black pepper
1. Prepare oven dried tomatoes beginning two and half hours before serving time.
2. Start boiling water for pasta according to package directions to cook pasta al dente.
3. While pasta water is heating and pasta is cooking, slice asparagus, heart of palm,  basil leaves, and mushrooms; mince garlic, zest lemon, grate hard cheese, cube soft cheese, and toast pine nuts.
4. When the pasta has two minutes left to cook, add asparagus to the boiling pasta and water (this is called parboiling, see post). After 1.5 to 2 minutes, drain pasta and asparagus together, reserving 1/4 cup of pasta water (I like to drain my pasta over a wide bowl and then use the “caught” water later, if needed). Drizzle and toss 1 tablespoon olive oil with the pasta and asparagus in the colander to keep moist and prevent the pasta from sticking together.
5. Heat olive oil in large pan till shimmering, add minced garlic and cook for about 30 seconds (do not brown), add mushrooms and cook until just softened through- about two minutes, depending on size and thickness of mushrooms.
6. Add warm pasta with asparagus to the pan.  Add balsamic vinegar, 3/4 cup grated cheese, lemon zest, salt and pepper to taste, and toss to cover pasta.  If pasta needs more moisture, add pasta water 1 teaspoon at a time – or additional olive oil and balsamic vinegar to taste.  Discard unused pasta water.
7. Add rest of ingredients, minus extra grated cheese and basil for topping – or arrange pasta in individual dishes and place remaining ingredients attractively on top.  Top each serving with a spoonful of the grated cheese and sliced basil. May also be served cold or at room temperature.
* If reheating leftovers, its nice to sprinkle the pasta with a few drops of water, bit of extra balsamic vinegar, and a dash of kosher or sea salt to bring it back to five star status.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in pasta | 9 Comments »

Oven dried tomatoes

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Oven dried tomatoes by LKWM on dRc

Whenever I try something new and it turns out wonderful, whether in the kitchen or elsewhere, I find myself in complete confusion as to why I had either a.) not known about it sooner, b.) not tried it sooner, or c.) let my “fear of the unknown” issues get the best of me. Oven dried tomatoes definitely fall into category A. Where have you been, you amazing, delectable – able to resurrect even the saddest out of season tomatoes to glorious vibrancy – all the winters of my life? But before I wax on any more poetically about my newfound perfect savory winter treat, I must back up for a moment and tell you a tale about resolutions, working out, and the irony of how I stumbled upon this wonderful discovery.

Roma tomatoes by lkwm on dRc

I’ve never done new year’s resolutions. Making resolutions feels like a recipe for failure, for which perfectionists and OCD types like myself have an innate strong distaste. I’ve always tried to work on new and old goals throughout the year, so new year’s resolutions seem like a carryover of what wasn’t accomplished in December, or the fall, or 2009 – or maybe the last decade. Besides, I tend to like challenges better anyhow.

Sliced roma tomatoes vertical by lkwm on dRcSeeded roma tomatoes vertical by lkwm on dRc

Perhaps simply a matter of semantics, but a challenge feels like something I am competing against myself to conquer, rather than a resolution, which feels so insipid, flatline, and mocking to my internal personal interpreter. Resolutions tend to remind me of one of Albert Ellis’ infamous therapy quotations – “Don’t ‘should’ on yourself.” Good mental health is certainly promoted when we shed a few “shoulds” in our lives.  But I have digressed.  This is really a story about how I started going to the gym last fall to work on getting back into shape after having my son, J.

Olive oil being poured on tomatoes

You see, I have made no new year’s resolutions in this regard, but am still plodding along faithfully showing up at my local YMCA three times a week to move my arms and legs semi-rythmically in mouse wheel fashion beside several dozen other homo sapiens on the modern contraption known as an elliptical machine. I hate it.  Except for the one thing that makes it bearable – Ina Garten, the Food Network and my white earbuds that connect me to the 12 x 12 screen attached to the machine.

Olive oil being poured on tomato slices

So there I am, every other day, faithfully showing up to burn my minimum of 300 calories (I know, hardly a brownie’s worth of a workout), eating up all of Ina’s tips on how to cook everything in the oven, make simple dinners, and most recently, these fabulous oven dried tomatoes.  And since Ina comes on at 5:00, right before I go home to make dinner, hunger pains are a regular side effect. But we don’t have cable at home, and if Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten is what it takes to get me motivated to go get on the mouse wheel, so be it – just don’t work out behind me if you think it might have the opposite effect on you.

Tomatoes with balsamic vinegar being poured on top by LKWM on dRc

I know these tomatoes in their original form in these pictures look lovely and perfect, but actually they were your typical winter tomatoes – orangey red, strangely mealy textured, and lackluster in flavor.  But after sitting patiently in a 200 degree oven for a couple of hours, drizzled in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and a sprinkle of sugar, it’s like these poor, bedraggled winter tomatoes suddenly found themselves.  They emerged bright, tangy, a little juicy, and overall just plain amazing.  I could not believe it. I feel like its my own personal little discovery and now I can have delicious tomatoes in the winter for the first time ever.  Woohoo!

Oven dried tomatoes on baking sheet vertical by LKWM on dRcOven dried tomatoes on baking sheet by LKWM on dRc

You can pair the tomatoes with any number of items – a caprese salad (as Ina did), use on top or in a quiche, make a regular old sandwich or grilled cheese amazing, sit on top of chicken or fish, or add to a pasta – as I did.

Whole wheat pasta with oven dried tomatoes in light by LKWM on dRc

Oven dried tomatoes

Inspired by Ina Garten.

5-6 Roma or plum tomatoes, sliced into 1/3 inch circles, seeds removed
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1.5 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
few cracks of freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
2. Place sliced and seeded tomatoes onto a baking sheet or pan covered in aluminum foil being careful to leave space between each slice.
3. Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt, sugar, and few cracks of freshly ground black pepper.
4. Bake for two to two and a half hours.  The tomatoes will still be moist, but have concentrated flavor. You may leave them in the oven longer if you would like them to be less moist, and eventually (after many hours) I imagine they would completely dry and be tasty in a different way, though I have not tried it this way. These tomatoes may be added to salads, pasta, sandwiches, quiches, sauces, fish, chicken, dips, cheese, or eaten just as is. My batch did not last long enough to test out in the fridge, but I hear they store well for a good length of time.

*For a simple caprese salad, alternate oven dried tomatoes with slices of fresh mozzarella, top with a drizzle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar (if desired), a dash of sea salt, and sliced fresh basil leaves.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Tomato | 10 Comments »