Last week, Andrew came home with the most incredible surprise for me. A fresh bouquet? Nope. Diamond earrings? Nope. A brimming sack of fresh farm vegetables? You bet. Of course, it included all of these luscious items like fresh mushrooms and asparagus and yams—foods that hardly entice my husband, to say the least.
When my friend Kerie came over last Friday, I was really excited to spend time with her. I also admit how thrilled I was to share my veggies with a friend! (Besides, I’ve been dying for an excuse to tell you about deglazing—my favorite cooking technique).
With some special De Cecco spinach linguine in the pantry, and those essential gotta-have ingredients around (olive oil, garlic cloves, parmesan), we made a superb meal together.
Andrew brought home seven large, ripe tomatoes on the vine. And since this was a surprise, I just happened to purchase several small roma tomatoes earlier that day. What to do with all these tomatoes?
Roasted tomatoes sounded fantastic for my light sauce, but this wasn’t planned early enough for my favorite slow-roasted tomatoes. Though my slow-roasted tomatoes are great in pasta, I wanted rich and juicy tomatoes for this dish. There’s no stipulation for these tomatoes: even a short roasting time enhances the flavor so much, it’s worth popping them in the oven while you’re working on the rest of dinner.
I sliced my romas in half (this would work for any ripe, medium tomatoes), arranged them face-up on parchment paper with a light drizzle of olive oil and salt. I put them in a 350 F oven for about 30 minutes, which was perfect timing while prepping my other veggies and pasta.
I started the water at this point, so it would be ready by the time my veggies were all cooked. At this point, Kerie grated about 1/2 cup parmesan reggiano, and crumbled 2 oz. of feta for a cheesy finishing touch.
Ker and I agreed that mushrooms are such a treat when you’re married to men who loathe them. I had never had such fresh mushrooms before, and with this abundance of flawless veggies, I didn’t want to overcook or overwhelm any of these beautiful flavors.
I still have many questions about mushrooms myself, but here are a few helpful things to know. When the stalks are tough and woody, it’s best to break them off and save for veggie stock—or your compost bin, should you be so responsible. Now mushrooms tend to be dirty, and none dirtier than this fresh trio; resist the urge to rinse them. Mushrooms, a bit like eggplant, are sponges—among many great qualities—so they absorb water when rinsed. If you have a pastry brush, this is a handy tool to brush all the dirt from the nooks and crannies. I don’t have a pastry brush, so a damp paper towel works as an effective wipe.
I removed the stems, and sliced the caps. Into a hot (not nonstick) skillet with one tablespoon of olive oil, I seared the mushrooms about 3-5 minutes. It’s ideal when the veggies start depositing brown bits onto the surface of the skillet—there would be nothing to deglaze otherwise!
As you see in the photo, the mushrooms have darkened in color and are cooked through. Before removing, however, I poured about 1/4 cup chicken broth into the super-hot skillet (with the exhaust fan on high!) and scraped the skillet gently to release the brown bits stuck to the pan.
It’s simple to deglaze with any clear liquid—water, broth, wine, sherry vinegar, etc. Be sure, however, that the flavor complements your meal.
Oh my beloved asparagus. Absolute favorite vegetable, without doubt. It didn’t even help that this was the most delicate and exquisette asparagus I’ve ever laid eyes on…
In case you’ve wondered for some time how to keep your asparagus cute and perky for a few days in the fridge, it’s imperative to store the stems vertical in a few inches of water.
I chopped off the woody ends of my asparagus and cut the bunch in half. Next time I would probably cut into 1-inch pieces, to fit easier into forkfuls.
After removing the mushrooms from the skillet, I set them aside. Even in a large skillet where these veggies would all fit, I prefer cooking them separately to ensure each is cooked thoroughly. And, like roasting, a crowded pan doesn’t allow for ideal cooking. It may sound like more trouble to saute veggies separately, but it’s more efficient when each veggie is cooking in just 3 minutes.
Between removing the mushrooms and adding the asparagus, I deglazed the pan.
All the asparagus goes right into the skillet, with the mushrooms hanging out on a plate nearby. Asparagus sears well when all of the pieces make contact with the surface of the pan, but this was a large bunch. I added in all the asparagus, covered the pan for a minute or so, and added chicken broth every once in a while to prevent the spears from burning to the pan.
You can see in this second asparagus photo that the pan continues to brown even more. This is excellent. Be wary, at this point of browning, high heat will burn all that goodness to the pan. Turn the burner down to medium or even low heat (since the pan is very, very hot by now) to avoid burning the sauce and the asparagus.
COOK THE PASTA at this point!
MINGLING THE VEGGIES
Since it’s already time to add it all together, turn the heat all the way down to low or warm at this point. If you also love garlic, this is the point to add it so it doesn’t burn. Add the tomatoes, then a clove or two or garlic. You can see in the photo why you want the heat down. These tomatoes start to seep their juices, making a rich sauce for the pasta. Adding these tomatoes to a warm skillet prevents these juices from evaporating.
I mince my garlic directly into the skillet with a microplane so it incorporates evenly into the dish. The garlic should golden in about 30 seconds, then add in the mushrooms and asparagus.
With tongs or a pasta fork, bring the linguine right into the skillet. The pasta water clinging to the linguine is important for the sauce, so don’t worry about drip-drying. Drizzle olive oil into the pasta, until there’s just enough to make the pasta slick. Toss the pasta with the veggies and oil, crushing the tomatoes.
If you are using feta, add this just before serving, whereas the parmesan can melt into the mixture. You can see I reserved a lot of cooked pasta on the side. Because this is a light pasta with little sauce, best to add a little pasta at a time. Too much pasta would be bland, providing a veggies only every 5 bites 😦
This dish turned out wonderful, especially with fresh parsley and plenty of basil on top. But do consider experimenting with the veggies you have on hand—toss a little parmesan or feta on top for a sprinkle of decadence.