Tag Archives: pasta

plenty: color splash

The long blank wall behind the couch has had me stumped for the 11 months Andrew and I have lived in our suburban condo. Of course we all find things when we’re not looking (like yesterday when I hunted 10 minutes for my ipod that was smack in the middle of the empty kitchen table). I spent last week catching up Mom and Pops in Delaware, and the hot weather had us exploring air-conditioned antique stores throughout the week—the very place I found Mastisse’s “The Parakeet and the Mermaid”, framed decades ago in Belvedere Square where the hubs and I spent much time in Baltimore. The print is my perfect mix of sophisticated and quirky. Hello, wall funk.

Matisse, Parakeet and the Mermaid, Living Room

Pasta is another blank canvas enriched by bright color, and plenty of it. It’s the perfect excuse to return to our Plenty reader’s series, where I interpret select recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s enchanting new cookbook.

The printed recipe calls for deep-frying zucchini and whipping up a homemade herb puree. Time limitations and nutrition concerns had me adapting this recipe to a faster, lower-fat version well worth sharing with friends this summer.

plenty, yotam ottolenghi, pasta and friend zucchini salad, crate and barrel bowl, sweedish

Please, if you can, pick up some beautiful buffalo mozzarella (in brine) for this one—it’s where the magic resides. I accidentally grabbed Burrata mozzarella, which has a creamy center, and is easily the last cheese I ever need eat on this good earth.

Pasta and (Not) Fried Zucchini Salad

from Plenty, serves four

3 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch slices (a mandolin makes this a breeze)

1  1/2 tbsp. red wine vinegar

3/4 cup frozen edamame

1 cup basil, shredded coarsely

1/4 cup pesto (I used storebought)

9 oz. strozzapreti or penne (I used rotelli)

grated zest of 1 lemon

7 oz. buffalo mozzarella, torn by hands into chunks

1  1/2 tbsp. small capers (optional)

1 cup heirloom baby tomatoes (my addition)

squash, yellow squash, mandolin, crate and barrel cutting board

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Heat a grill (or stovetop grill pan) to medium high—heat a cast iron/heavy skillet over high heat if you do not have a grill. Using a pastry brush, brush both sides of the zucchini slices with vegetable/canola oil. Grill the thin zucchini slices two minutes on each side, or until charred and slightly tender. Transfer the grilled zucchini to your serving bowl, pour over the red wine vinegar, stir, and set aside.

staub, staub grill, french blue, grill pan, zucchini

Blanch the edamame for 3 minutes in boiling water; drain and toss into the zucchini and vinegar bowl. (I only had frozen shelled edamame, so I blanched, cooled, and then popped the beans out of the pods into the zucchini).

Cook the pasta until al dente; drain and rinse under cold water. Add the pasta to the zucchini, vinegar and edamame; add the pesto, lemon zest, capers, tomatoes (if using), and mozzarella. Stir gently together, then taste and season with  coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Before serving, stir in the torn basil.

basil, plenty cookbook, mozzarella, zucchini, pasta saladStick around and check out another of Yotam Ottolenghi’s exquisite recipes: Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce. You’ve never seen anything like it.

What is the best cookbook on your shelf?

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five out of five

My college dining hall had very few vegetarian entrées, and I ate vegetable lasagna at least four days a week in my undergraduate years. It was one of those carrot-zucchini lasagnas with white sauce and cheese, and it was so comforting. The Mongolian grill installed during my senior year increased the variety in my dining hall diet, but I couldn’t resist the creamy lasagna every once in a while still.

I have always been intimidated by lasagna—making it, that is. The layers and the prep and the waiting all that time for it to bake just seemed like too much work—this from the gal willing to make homemade pasta. But I’m conquering all kinds of new dishes these days. You can, too.

Here’s what makes my adaptation of this lasagna simple in preparation: use packaged artichoke hearts, no-boil lasagna noodles, and pre-trimmed leeks. Trader Joes even has pre-chopped leeks in their freezer section! (Click here to watch a demonstration on cleaning and slicing leeks).

I came across this 5-star recipe and said to myself, This sounds amazing. and it’s screaming to be simplified. and I wonder if it would work with mushrooms?

The Ultimate Vegetable Lasagna

simplified a smidge from williams-sonoma.com

serves 8-10

1 box no-boil lasagna noodles

2 cups ricotta cheese

3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

2 Tbs. olive oil

5 leeks including 1 inch of  green, rinsed well and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 cup artichoke hearts (frozen or jarred), chopped

about 10 baby bella mushrooms, brushed clean, stems removed, and sliced

5 garlic cloves, minced (on a microplane)

3 cups milk

4 Tbs. unsalted butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

a pinch of nutmeg

1/2 lb. shredded mozzarella cheese

Make the vegetable filling

In a fry pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the leeks and sauté until very soft and lightly golden, about 15 minutes.

While the leeks are cooking, heat 1 tbsp. butter in a medium pot (large enough to use for white sauce) over medium-high heat. Sear the mushrooms by adding them in batches, leaving plenty of room between the slices. Set aside.

Once the leeks are tender, drain the artichokes and add to the fry pan with a pinch of salt and pepper. Continue to cook over medium heat until the artichokes are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.

Add the mushrooms, stir, and transfer the mixture to a bowl. Set aside.

Make the cheese filling

In a small bowl, stir together the ricotta, parmesan, salt and pepper; set aside.

Make the white sauce

In the buttered saucepan (from the mushrooms), melt the remaining 3 tbsp. butter over medium-high heat.

Whisk the flour into the butter and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. It should look like this.

Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the hot milk. Set over medium-low heat and cook, stirring, until thick and smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Remove the sauce from the heat.

Assemble and Bake

Position a rack in the upper third of an oven and preheat to 375°F. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with olive oil.

Cover the bottom of the prepared dish with a layer of the noodles. No-boil lasagna noodles just go into the pan straight from the box; it’s fabulous. Spoon one-third of the ricotta mixture over the noodles—this doesn’t need to be neat.

Top with one-third of the leek-artichoke mixture and then with one-third of the sauce. Repeat the layering twice.

Sprinkle the mozzarella evenly over the top. Bake until golden and bubbling, 40 to 50 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes (painful, I know!), then cut into squares and dig in.

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the perfect party dish

I cannot describe how grateful I am for the women with whom I share a classroom. Besides that we get along splendidly, we linger daily—after the students have been bussed away—to talk and talk and talk food. Yesterday, Brennan and I shared an intense conversation about feta that left us both breathless… and running to the grocery store. And then calling each other from the feta aisle. I’m serious. My week is building towards a feta-jalepeno puree.

While I was planning my birthday bash menu, I wanted a budget buffet of unique, memorable food. I knew this would involve feta. Affordable proteins (shrimp, chickpeas), a three-course dinner with simple hors d’oeuvre, and filling starch allowed me to

feed 17 people

for less than $100

with enough leftovers to act as party favors.

My sister-in-law brought cake, guests contributed their favorite beverages. Entertaining demystified. We don’t have a microwave, so I needed a dish without need for reheating and attention during the party. We’ll talk about the rest of the menu another time. My absolute favorite dish of the night without further adieu:

Roasted Shrimp and Orzo

from Ina Garten, serves 6

Kosher salt

Good olive oil

3/4 pound orzo pasta (rice-shaped pasta)

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (3 lemons)

Freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds (16 to 18 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 cup minced scallions, white and green parts

1 cup chopped fresh dill (I used generous pinches of dried dill)

1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (fresh is crucial here)

1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and medium-diced

1/2 cup small-diced red onion

3/4 pound good feta cheese, large diced (I used Dodoni; definitely use imported)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Fill a large pot with water, add the orzo and simmer for 9 to 11 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it’s cooked al dente. Drain and pour into a very large bowl (or ceramic casserole, whatever you will use for serving). Whisk together the lemon juice, 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Pour over the hot pasta and stir well.

Meanwhile, place the shrimp on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to combine and spread out in a single layer. Roast for 5 to 6 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked through. Don’t overcook!

To avoid watery cucumbers: slice the cucumbers in half both directions. Drag a small spoon through the seeds and discard. Slice the hollowed halves lengthwise, and dice.

Add the shrimp to the orzo and then add the scallions, dill, parsley, cucumber, onion, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Toss well. Add the feta and stir carefully. Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour to allow the flavors to blend, or refrigerate overnight. If refrigerated, taste again for seasonings and bring back to room temperature before serving.

The second day, I tossed in a little more olive oil and freshly ground pepper before serving. Taste first! This is just as lovely without the shrimp, for finicky vegetarians like me.
 j
Yes, this is an affordable, easy and guaranteed dish for entertaining, but just as lovely weeknight with a platter of pita and olives. Enjoy them, as we did, with homemade foolproof-falafel!The leftovers are even better.

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best of 2011

Drumroll please… the most delicious, memorable, must-make dish from our kitchen in 2011…

Asparagus Ravioli with Brown Butter Sauce

 

In case you didn’t catch it the first time around, here is the post again. Here’s to a healthy and delicious 2012!

 

There are things only some of us can do. Things that require unique talent and skills few possess (unless you’re my friend Mark, who actually has one of these rings at home).

Homemade ravioli is not among these feats.

A Pear to Remember is the place, after all, for deliciously do-able cooking. Homemade ravioli is impressive, elegant, divine in every way, but not impossible. Not even hard. Not even hours of work.

Pasta from scratch?? Not today. Won ton wrappers are these magical pre-cut pasta sheets Giant stores carry adjacent to the bagged salads. They are ever more common at grocery retailers, and Asian specialty stores would surely carry them, too. You can also make this without a food processor so it’s not such a fussy equipment endeavor. There are several steps, but few take more than a minute and a half. With a friend, these could easily be ready to go in 40 minutes. (Trader Joes, where speciality cheeses are not overpriced, also makes this an affordable meal).

This marks our most special meal to date. And, in my book, the most delicious by far. Here’s to memory-making on Monday nights!

Asparagus Ravioli with Brown Butter Sauce

Fine Cooking (April/May 2011), serves 4

1 lb. thick asparagus, trimmed, spears cut into 1-inch pieces, tips reserved

6 tablespoon marscarpone

1/3 cup whole milk ricotta

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano; more for serving

1 tsp. anchovy paste (optional)

cut the tips at an angle for topping at the end

1/2 tsp. minced garlic (must be fresh, the jarred stuff is too harsh)

Pinch cayenne pepper

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

36 wonton wrappers

4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

1/2 cup blanched almonds, chopped

finely grated lemon zest to taste

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat (using this same water for the pasta later maintains nutrients!). Have ready a medium bowl of ice water (if you have a colander to rest inside, this is one less draining step). Boil the asparagus tips until tender but still bright green, about 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon (thanks, Kathy!), transfer to the ice water. When cool, transfer with the slotted spoon to a small bowl and set aside. Cook and cool the asparagus spears in the same manner; dry them on paper towels.

In a food processor (or by hand), chop 1-1/2 cups of the spears very finely and transfer to a medium bowl. Add the remaining spears to the tips.

Add the marscarpone, ricotta, Parmigiano, anchovy paste, garlic, and cayenne to the chopped asparagus; mix well. Season to taste with coarse salt and fresh pepper.

Let’s stop for a sec to talk minced garlic.

I knew nothing about fresh garlic growing up; if this is your first encounter with it: welcome!

To mince garlic well, whack a single clove with the side of a wide knife—makes peeling a snap. To chop the garlic very, very fine, slice the clove a few times, sprinkle with a big pinch of coarse salt, and chop away. Just keep running over the clove with your knife; the salt will help mash it into a paste to blend beautifully into your dish.

You can also rub your garlic clove on a microplane for the same, quicker, effect! (Use the same zester for the lemon at the end; no need to clean between).

Arrange 18 wonton wrappers on a work surface (a cookie sheet is perfect for both prepping and post-boiling) . Put 1 level Tbs. of the asparagus filling in the center of each wrapper (don’t get too caught up in measuring).

Using a pastry brush, moisten the edges of each with water. Top each with another wrapper and press the edges firmly to seal, expelling any air bubbles as you seal. If you don’t plan to cook the ravioli immediately, cover them with a damp cloth.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a rolling boil over high heat (ideally, the same pot with the blanched asparagus water).

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat and add the almonds, shaking the pan. Cook until the butter turns light brown, about 6 minutes, and then immediately transfer to a small bowl.

Add the ravioli, about 5 at a time, to the boiling water (I lowered the boil so the pockets would not explode; it worked). When they rise to the surface, after about 1 minute, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to warm plates or pasta bowls. Spoon the brown butter mixture over the ravioli. Top with the reserved asparagus pieces, a grinding of pepper, a sprinkle of Parmigiano, and a little lemon zest, and serve.

Thanks to the Bitten Word for inspiring me to try (and conquer) this recipe!

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I’m not in right now, but if you leave a message…

I’m a guest writer! You can find my latest recipes and post over on Anilia’s health and home blog: A Little Inspiration. Today, I’m writing about pistachio pesto, a 5-minute plum salad, and sharing the yellow roma tomatoes I submitted to the 2011 Virginia Grown farmer’s market photo contest! Click over to read, and see you back here soon 🙂

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we can do this

There are things only some of us can do. Things that require unique talent and skills few possess (unless you’re my friend Mark, who has one of these rings at home).

Homemade ravioli is not among these feats.

A Pear to Remember is the place, after all, for deliciously do-able cooking. Homemade ravioli is impressive, elegant, divine in every way, but not impossible. Not even hard. Not even hours of work.

Pasta from scratch?? Not today. Won ton wrappers are these magical pre-cut pasta sheets Giant stores carry adjacent to the bagged salads. They are ever more common at grocery retailers, and Asian specialty stores would surely carry them, too. You can also make this without a food processor so it’s not such a fussy equipment endeavor. There are several steps, but few take more than a minute and a half. With a friend, these could easily be ready to go in 40 minutes. (Trader Joes, where speciality cheeses are not overpriced, also makes this an affordable meal).

This marks our most special meal to date. And, in my book, the most delicious by far. Here’s to memory-making on Monday nights!

Asparagus Ravioli with Brown Butter Sauce

Fine Cooking (April/May 2011), serves 4

1 lb. thick asparagus, trimmed, spears cut into 1-inch pieces, tips reserved

6 tablespoon marscarpone

1/3 cup whole milk ricotta

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano; more for serving

1 tsp. anchovy paste (optional)

cut the tips at an angle for topping at the end

1/2 tsp. minced garlic (must be fresh, the jarred stuff is too harsh)

Pinch cayenne pepper

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

36 wonton wrappers

4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

1/2 cup blanched almonds, chopped

finely grated lemon zest to taste

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat (using this same water for the pasta later maintains nutrients!). Have ready a medium bowl of ice water (if you have a colander to rest inside, this is one less draining step). Boil the asparagus tips until tender but still bright green, about 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon (thanks, Kathy!), transfer to the ice water. When cool, transfer with the slotted spoon to a small bowl and set aside. Cook and cool the asparagus spears in the same manner; dry them on paper towels.

In a food processor (or by hand), chop 1-1/2 cups of the spears very finely and transfer to a medium bowl. Add the remaining spears to the tips.

Add the marscarpone, ricotta, Parmigiano, anchovy paste, garlic, and cayenne to the chopped asparagus; mix well. Season to taste with coarse salt and fresh pepper.

Let’s stop for a sec to talk minced garlic.

I knew nothing about fresh garlic growing up; if this is your first encounter with it: welcome!

To mince garlic well, whack a single clove with the side of a wide knife—makes peeling a snap. To chop the garlic very, very fine, slice the clove a few times, sprinkle with a big pinch of coarse salt, and chop away. Just keep running over the clove with your knife; the salt will help mash it into a paste to blend beautifully into your dish.

You can also rub your garlic clove on a microplane for the same, quicker, effect! (Use the same zester for the lemon at the end; no need to clean between).

Arrange 18 wonton wrappers on a work surface (a cookie sheet is perfect for both prepping and post-boiling) . Put 1 level Tbs. of the asparagus filling in the center of each wrapper (don’t get too caught up in measuring).

Using a pastry brush, moisten the edges of each with water. Top each with another wrapper and press the edges firmly to seal, expelling any air bubbles as you seal. If you don’t plan to cook the ravioli immediately, cover them with a damp cloth.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a rolling boil over high heat (ideally, the same pot with the blanched asparagus water).

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat and add the almonds, shaking the pan. Cook until the butter turns light brown, about 6 minutes, and then immediately transfer to a small bowl.

Add the ravioli, about 5 at a time, to the boiling water (I lowered the boil so the pockets would not explode; it worked). When they rise to the surface, after about 1 minute, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to warm plates or pasta bowls. Spoon the brown butter mixture over the ravioli. Top with the reserved asparagus pieces, a grinding of pepper, a sprinkle of Parmigiano, and a little lemon zest, and serve.

Thanks to the Bitten Word for inspiring me to try (and conquer) this recipe!

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the american way

I don’t know if there is a more unifying substance in our country’s history than mayonnaise. Pivotal for shrimp salad, ‘tater (that’s potato –> tato –> tater) salad, chicken salad, tuna salad, shrimp salad, macaroni salad. Shame on me to forget cole slaw!

You know how I feel about using mayo as a pasta sauce (even writing this post in rebuke), but sometimes one has to be patriotic. Sometimes cooks must compromise for nine guests not interested in said cook’s love for funky vegetables and fresh garlic.

But before we get to classic macaroni salad to start off your summer, a jaunt down Memorial Day memory lane.

There was the salad of my life: mango and avocado over butter lettuce with queso fresco and pine-nut lime dressing—hold the bacon—at Agave in Lewes. Then, boardwalk pizza with friends (a must), though I chose Gus’ fries soaked in vinegar.

  Did I mention the bountiful servings of pure Awesome at Touch of Italy in Lewes? Yes, we did eat our way through much of the weekend and came across some lovely beach finds like these luscious soaps from Little Egg Harbor Soap company, tucked away on the Rehoboth boardwalk…

and you might imagine my amusement at this greeting (which falls under my life principle of citing one’s sources):

Classic Macaroni Salad

tweaked from America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook, serves 8-10

coarse kosher salt

1 lb. elbow mac

1/2 small red onion, minced

1 celery rib, chopped fine

1/4 cup minced fresh herbs (I mixed fresh flat-leaf parsley and chives)

1 lemon, juiced plus ½ tsp. lemon zest

1/8 tsp. garlic powder

½ tbsp Dijon mustard

pinch of cayenne pepper

1  1/2 cups mayo

ground black pepper

Soak the chopped red onion in ice water while boiling the pasta (this reduces the raw bite of onion if you find it too strong).

Boil pasta in well salted water (a few tablespoons of salt) until nearly tender, just al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water until cool, then drain briefly (but not all the way). Transfer to a large bowl.

Stir in the onion, celery, parsley, lemon juice, mustard, garlic powder, and cayenne and let sit until flavors are absorbed about 2 minutes. Add mayo and let sit until the salad is no longer watery, about 5-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Can refrigerate up to 2 days. If making ahead, stir in a little warm water to loosen before serving.

Best enjoyed outdoors at sunset with good company.

If you think your friends will Like this recipe, it’s also on Facebook, just click here! And if you’re up to braving homemade mayo—incredibly worth it—here’s my own attempt.

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fit for family: part one

Though we got to see my parents last weekend, we spent Mother’s Day with Andrew parents (meaning Sneaky Lindsey Insists on An Excuse to Cook). On the menu for my Alice-in-law and the rest of the family:

Springtime Casareccia with Basil & Fresh Ricotta

Lemon Salad with Frico

Grilled Chicken Breasts

Maggie’s Brownies with Vanilla Ice Cream and Strawberry Chips

Easy Grilled Chicken

I rarely buy premade salad dressings as personal preferences—sometimes for sodium and preservative content, often because they just never compare to lemon and olive oil. But I tell you, I love using quality bottled dressings for last-minute meat marinades. Italian is versatile, especially for chicken that may be sliced over pasta.

for 4 servings

1 bottle Italian dressing

4 large chicken breasts

Marinate the chicken in a large freezer bag, pouring the entire bottle of dressing over the meat. I added empty lemon halves and a clove of extra garlic—any additional onion slices or fresh citrus you may have on hand only enhances your marinade. Seal and refrigerate at least an hour, and keep at room temperature about 40 minutes before grilling.

Remove your chicken from the marinade, pat dry very well and place over a medium-high grill for about 10-12 minutes until cooked through.

I certainly did not invent the notion of tossing vegetables with pasta, but I did create some fun combinations for maximum flavor in this dish. Can one ever go wrong with caramelized onions??

Springtime Casareccia with Basil & Fresh Ricotta

serves 8 as a main course

1 lb. casareccia pasta

1 shallot, sliced into rings

1 bunch petite asparagus, cut on a bias into 1-inch pieces

3 zucchini, diced (click here to see how)

1 small container ricotta (about 12 oz., fresh if you can get it)

1/2 tbsp. butter

2 tbsp. olive oil

a few large basil leaves

grated parmesan cheese, optional

Shallots are easy to find these days, though the challenge can be finding a fresh one. Like any other onion, feel for firm texture and avoid discoloration. Shallots are often near the fresh garlic at the grocery store, but mild onion cousins. Peel and slice into thin rings.

Set a very large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. Salt the water well, since the ricotta is very mild.

Caramelize the shallots

Over medium-low heat, add the shallot slices to half a tablespoon of butter in a large skillet. Add a pinch of coarse salt and stir occasionally until the shallots are caramelized.

Sear the veggies

Set the shallots aside, and add a tablespoon of olive oil into the skillet. Raise the heat to medium-high. Add the diced zucchini (in batches, if necessary) so it is not crowded in the skillet. Add a pinch of coarse salt and stir occasionally until the pieces are tender and brown, about 4 minutes. Add the sautéed zucchini to a very large serving bowl, along with the onions.

Into the hot skillet, add the asparagus (in batches, if needed) so it is not crowded in the pan. Add a large pinch of coarse salt and stir occasionally until the asparagus is golden brown and slightly tender. Add the asparagus to the other veggies in the serving bowl.

Toss it together (and even impress grandma-in-law)

Boil the pasta for the time al dente indicated on the box, and reserve about a cup of pasta water when draining. To the bowl of veggies, add the entire container of ricotta along with a pinch of salt and a generous grind of fresh black pepper. Toss the hot pasta into the bowl and top with basil, chopped just before serving. Stir in pasta water by the tablespoon to help melt the ricotta and smooth out the sauce—you will not need to add much, but it makes a big difference. Serve with parmesan on the side, if you like.

Mmmm, so creamy. I love simple, light dishes with fabulous finds at the farmer’s market. My heart just leaps at the abundant asparagus out there right now! Stay tuned for part two with some adventurous additions: frico and strawberry chips.

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out of our (walnut) shell

Not that it lessens the shame, but it turns out I’m not the only one. Often I go to the grocery store and think, “I hope I don’t see anyone I know, I look/feel [self-deflating comment here] today.” Why one’s self-esteem drops upon stepping into the flourescent lights is beyond me; I never have this thought at the post office, the shoe store. Certainly not at Trader Joes.

Sure enough, upon shopping for this celebratory meal, I see two women reuniting in front of the napa cabbage. The first, with her back to me, motions her palms down her body shaking her head apologetically. The other, I can nearly hear by now, reassures, “It’s great to see you. Oh, but really, you look fine.”

Why do we walk about feeling so terrible about ourselves when there is so much to enjoy, certainly in the produce section? I wish I could say this fear of ours is irrational, but I encountered my favorite teacher (of all time, I might add) at Whole Foods before Thanksgiving. I came straight from the doctor, had not showered, my skin the shade of bitter onion. We caught up on each other’s lives and menus, and exchanged e-mail addresses; I guarantee no trauma ensued.

All the energy on our looks, fear of lengthy recipes, feelings of inadequacy, is more efficient for creating something wildly memorable in the kitchen. What better way to end the day than take loving pride in a wonderful dish you cooked?

Something new with 5 ingredients in 10 minutes? Now that sounds do-able.

Creamy Walnut Sauce

mostly from Fresh Flavor Fast, serves 4-6

tell me you would also fall for this darling orecchiette ("small ears") pasta?

1 lb. pasta (your favorite kind)

1 cup heavy cream

1 garlic clove

2 cups walnuts, toasted

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

(1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley or chives, optional)

Toast the walnuts in a dry skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant (just a few minutes).

Bring a pot of water to boil, then add a generous amount of salt (there isn’t much elsewhere in the dish). Cook the pasta until al dente according to the package. Drain pasta and return to the pot.

While the pasta is boiling, combine the cream, garlic, and 1 cup of the walnuts in a food processor. Process until smooth, and season with coarse salt and fresh pepper to your taste. (If you don’t have a $2 pepper grinder, pick up one in the spice section next time).

Transfer to the pot along with (at least) 1/4 cup parmesan, chives (if using), and remaining 1 cup walnuts. Toss to coat the pasta. Serve with additional cheese.

Since this is a simple and inexpensive dish, maybe the $2 for fresh chives won’t break the bank??

On the side? The first time I made a walnut pasta dish, I made this incredible fried bleu cheese arugula salad.

Tonight, I made a very, very basic panzanella. You may remember my first Greek panzanella, an inspiring salad experience. I recommend panzanella to every person who a) claims they can’t cook anything and b) needs to impress dinner guests. No bowls, no baking.

Panzanella requires day-old bread, so it’s a great use for a leftover dinner loaf, or any nice bread abandoned in the freezer.

There are a number of ways to transform your nearly-stale bread into remarkable croutons. You could bake them—now cut into two-inch cubes—in the oven, but I find it simpler to flip them around in a medium-hot skillet with some nice olive oil. Really toast the bread until you’re concerned it’s rock hard. This won’t take ages, maybe a little more than five minutes.

In your serving bowl, combine equal amounts olive oil and red wine vinegar (or balsamic). Stir in a little salt and pepper. For a medium-sized salad bowl, 2 tbsp. of each is a good amount. Add your veggies. I kept it to tomatoes and cucumbers, chunks of feta and fresh basil. (It was less expensive to purchase a big pot of basil at the store than a single serving, so I set it in our sunny window with abundant prayers).

Of course, red onion, white beans and all kinds of other wonderful ingredients can grace your panzanella. There is no one way to create this rustic bread salad—an overwhelming thought to some cooks. You really can’t make this incorrectly. Toss your veggies around in the oil and vinegar, and taste if it needs salt or pepper. Once your happy with your seasonings, add the bread and serve it… anytime! I don’t like the bread too soggy, though this is the point of the salad. Let it sit about twenty minutes, or even hours in the fridge. The bread absorbs deep flavors and makes this salad a substantial accompaniment. Add your basil or chives just before serving.

Finish off with this delightful dessert.

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weeknight wonders

If I had been working late tonight and Andrew was on his own, he’d probably be content to bake a frozen pizza and enjoy the relief from my disastrous kitchen messes.

But me? On the rare night Andrew’s working late, I go to town. Oh yes, something carefully and beautifully prepared all for me. In my book, that’s a great end to a long day in second grade.

I made this salad once before, and even featured it in the very first post of this blog. Tonight’s photos came out better than those from the dinner I shared with Andrew, Maggie, and Elijah a year ago. Though I made some substitutions tonight (spinach, pears, pomegranate seeds), I’m going to post the original recipe because it’s just that great.

Confession: While on a post-work stop at Target for household essentials, I did purchase this mandolin for $6. I’ve read these inexpensive little guys work just as well as the $100 versions, and cannot wait to use it for prepping tarts, onion rings, and money sandwiches!

Citrus Salad

a beloved recipe from January 2010 Vegetarian Times

serves 4

Dressing

2 Tbs. agave syrup

1 1/2 Tbs. lime or lemon juice

1 Tbs. low-sodium soy sauce

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

Salad

2 oranges or blood oranges

1 grapefruit

1/2 cup coarsely chopped arugula

1 shallot, peeled, thinly sliced crosswise, and loosened into strands (1/4 cup)

1 Tbs. coarsely chopped mint leaves

2 Tbs. crushed roasted peanuts or dry-roasted almond slivers, for garnish

1 Tbs. toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

To make Dressing: Mix all ingredients together in bowl. Taste for balance of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy, adjusting seasonings as necessary. Set aside.

To make Salad: Slice ends off oranges and grapefruit. Stand fruit on cutting board, and slice away skin and pith from outside with knife. Cut fruit segments from membranes, and transfer to bowl; toss lightly with arugula, shallot, and mint. Toss with Dressing. Serve garnished with peanuts and sesame seeds. Lots of them!

While I really thought I was in an unusual mood for “salad night”, I got so hungry in my mental preparations (and grocery store excursions), I decided to whip up this divine pasta side. I told myself it was really so I would have leftovers for Thursday’s lunch… but I ate a few forkfuls from the pot before packing it up. After a plateful to accompany my salad.

The Danger of Eating Alone.

I hope you never encounter a shortage of pasta, olive oil, and fresh garlic in your pantry. You’d be amazed what intense luxury results…

Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Romano and Roasted Garlic

a regular Linvention

whole-wheat angel hair or thin spaghetti (as much as you want)

one head of garlic

freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese

a few tablespoons of olive oil

red chili flakes

Start boiling your water in a big pot (so it will be ready whenever you need it). Place the garlic head in a sheet of aluminum foil, and drizzle olive oil over it. Seal into a little foil package and place on a baking sheet at 400 F. This is best in a toaster oven if you’ve got one (what a pain to heat an entire oven for this teeny thing). In about 15-20 minutes, poke a small knife though. When the garlic is roasted through, the knife should meet no resistance and come out cleanly. Set aside to cool.

Cook the pasta and drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water. With your hands or a fork, squeeze all the pulp out of the garlic skins. Mash it with a few tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch of coarse salt and freshly ground pepper. Combine roasted garlic oil with pasta, a pinch of chili flakes, and a good sprinkling of the grated cheese. Add a bit of pasta water to melt the cheese. Top with more fresh black pepper. That’s it, but darn if it’s not simple and satisfying.

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