Category Archives: How To

How To Make The Most Delicious Summer Pasta

I don’t have a photo of the finished plate, because I do not have that much willpower.

I love watching food game shows; when people who have staked their reputation on cooking well are challenged to up their game in a public setting, they layer ingredients and flavors and techniques in ways I can’t even imagine. One of the specific things I’ve noticed lately is the tendency to layer sauces: one to dress the bottom of the plate, a second atop the entrée, and a third on the accompaniment. And that new way of thinking inspired the most amazing pasta dish I’ve eaten this year.

First, grill some vegetables.

Sift your CSA share or home garden harvest and pull out three summer onions, a head of new garlic, and six gorgeous peppers. Wrap the garlic in a foil packet, and toss all of the veggies onto the grill. Turn as needed, and when the peppers are cooked through and the onions have some char marks, remove them all to a bowl and head inside to your range. (Unless you have a fabulous outdoor cooktop, in which case you can just move along your gorgeous outdoor kitchen and keep working. But don’t tell me; I’m working to curb my envy.)

Second, make the pasta and a lemon butter sauce.

Throw the fettuccine in a pot of salted boiling water, and toss four tablespoons of butter into a skillet over medium heat. When the butter melts, add a peeled, whole clove of garlic, three gluts of chicken stock or white wine, and the zest and juice of a large, ripe lemon. Simmer, whisking regularly, for 7 to 10 minutes until the sauce thickens, beautifully emulsified and fragrant. Discard the garlic, then toss your drained pasta into the sauce, turning it to coat. Your pasta will be glossy and beautiful, and you will want to dive into it with your bare hands. Resist temptation!

Turn those grilled vegetables into a sauce of their very own.

Cut away the blackened edges of garlic, and squeeze four of the paste-consistency garlic cloves into another skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil. Peel and seed two fist-sized peppers, and dice them and one of the onions, and add them to the skillet. Roughly chop three beautifully ripe tomatoes into the skillet; season liberally with salt, pepper, and herbs like basil, oregano, and marjoram. Cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently, just until the vegetable juices come together and bubble.

Prepare your plates.

Pull warm plates from your oven, and divide the lemony fettuccine between them. Spoon the vegetable sauce over the top liberally – you simply can’t be too heavy handed. If you can’t live without cheese on your pasta add a little freshly grated Parmesan – but keep it light so you don’t miss out on the silky texture of the buttered pasta.

Enjoy.

Sit at the table with your napkin readily at hand, and twirl the lemon-butter-soaked pasta through the glorious vegetables. Every bite tastes like a languid summer afternoon, bursting with the richness of fresh-from-the garden veggies and the velvety, sunshine-brightness of lemon.

Reserve the remaining grilled vegetables so you can make this again tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after. Sun-warmed tomatoes were made for this!

How to Make Salted Sesame Quick Pickles

One of my favorite cookbooks is Amy Pennington’s Urban Pantry: Tips & Recipes for a Thrifty, Sustainable & Seasonal Kitchen

I moved to NYC in 2009 and really struggled to bring what I knew about cooking (big, farm-style kitchens full of enough good things to feed an army) into a single girl’s apartment. This book was a godsend for how to do a lot with a little – like how to make something for the pantry from a quart of damson plums picked up at the greenmarket, rather than renting a car to drive to a farm for a half-bushel of seconds for jam.

I left the city house for our country house nearly four years ago but held onto this slim little book with its many small batch recipes – Amy’s brandied cherries are some of my favorite preserves to share as gifts. But the real value for me is in the few pages about quick pickles – techniques for making brines and cures and soaks with different types of flavorings for different types of vegetables.

Without fail, I make these sesame-flavored cucumber pickles every summer – we eat them from the jar, serve them alongside Thai take-out, puree them as a dipping sauce for lettuce wraps, or make them the main ingredient in a salad accompanying stir-fry. And any time we have a bit of leftover cucumber, we’ll slice it and slide it into the bottom of the brining jar, so as to maintain the supply.

Make The Brine

Since cucumbers are a soft vegetable, I follow Amy’s instructions and don’t use any heat treatment on the brine. Mix together:

  • 2 cups or so of white* vinegar
  • 2 heaping TBSP of kosher salt
  • 1 TBSP sesame oil

Pack The Carton

Slice approximately a pound of cucumbers and place them in a container with a water-tight lid. Sprinkle 1 TBSP of sesame seeds over the cucumbers. Pour the brine over the top, making sure there is enough to cover the vegetables. Place the lid on the container and put it in the fridge.

Enjoy

These pickles taste good within 30 minutes, fabulous within 6 hours, and are still great after being stored for a couple of weeks.

How To Make A Mess Of Squash… and Fix It

I had intended to write about how to make Squash Latkes/Fritters/Pancakes today.

I spent Sunday grating and pressing and drying squash. I collected fresh thyme and chives from the garden and mixed batter on Monday.

Clay painstakingly formed the patties, stuffed with excellent goat cheese. We set up the electric griddle in order to cook the batch uniformly (and quickly).

And wow, were they terrible.

  • I grated the squash too coarsely, so couldn’t get a crisp cook all the way through.
  • The batter – with its specific ratios of flour, egg, leavening, and seasoning to squash – was too thin to form a nice crust around the vegetables.
  • They were blander than bland, and I like squash!
  • I have made these before, and they were amazing – we couldn’t stop eating them. But this effort was a total fail.
  • Sadly, I’m out of summer squash, so can’t try again just yet. When the opportunity arises, though, my plan is to whip up a traditional pancake batter and mix in some squash purée – since that works with butternut and pumpkin in the fall!
  • Other (successful) news: I made a double-veggie zucchini bread that my colleagues devoured in 45 minutes yesterday, and our gazpacho flavors seem to be melding nicely in the fridge – I didn’t get to taste the former, but the latter is tonight’s supper. Stay tuned…
  • What’s your most disappointing kitchen fail?
  • How to Make Mango Salsa

    We decided to observe Independence Day last week with a Mexican-American take on the traditional burger-and-salad fare: we opted for nachos with grilled, spiced beef, roasted corn-tomato-jalapeño salsa, torn CSA greens, and a lime-and-yogurt crema spread over blue corn tortillas.

    It was a fabulous plate, and sourcing ingredients from our local Latino-owned market to make a dish that could not exist without the blending of culture that has always accompanied American immigration felt like an act of great patriotism.

    Our favorite spice market, Penzeys, had a similar idea; on Friday they gave away gift boxes containing Latin American spices: Mexican Vanilla and their own spice blend for Salsa & Pico.

    In gratitude, Clay brought home a large bag of other treats to play with, but our first objective was showcasing the gifts.

    I am dreaming of Mexican Wedding Cookies; they will have to wait for the temperature to drop; we tucked the vanilla away to await that occasion. But the Salsa & Pico blend just cried out for freshness – and we obliged.

    We snowed the spices liberally over a bowl containing a diced ripe mango, charred scallions, chopped tomatoes, crushed garlic scapes, torn cilantro, minced roasted hot pepper, and the juice and pulp of one ripe lime. A quick stir followed by fifteen minutes for the ingredients to get friendly yielded a bright, happy dish just bursting with the flavor of sunshine on a beach.

    We served the salsa inside pulled pork burritos, but if left to my own devices I would have picked up the bowl and a spoon and called it dinner.

    How to Enjoy a Glut of Squash

    Summer Squashes are abundant in July!

    Our CSA share has provided an abundance of squashes for the last two weeks: zucchini, summer squash, crookneck, patty pan, and a beautiful, large green one with striped skin, pumpkin-like seeds, and pale flesh. (I’ll remind Clay to ask Max what that variety is called at today’s collection!)

    We enjoy squash, but it’s easy for any single ingredient to feel overwhelming in our diet if we don’t make the effort to transform it in different ways. This weekend, we focused on transforming squash, and these are the options we’ve come up with:

    Grilled Vegetable Salad with Gnocchi

    Our supermarket puts out a complimentary magazine for loyalty card holders every month. Like all magazines, it’s generally an advertisement-vehicle for specific brands, but I thumb through it for different ideas anyway. This month’s pages were full of salads and tips on grilling vegetables, so we decided to grill up a bunch and toss them with gnocchi and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing for a lighter take on pasta salad.

    1. On Wednesday, when we had the grill fired up, we quartered the unknown squash lengthwise and sliced the patty pans into discs. We grilled them with large slices of vidalia onion, a quartered green bell pepper, and some mushrooms.
    2. We cooked the gnocchi (a cheater package from the frozen section of the market) according to package directions, and drained it very well.
    3. Clay made a vinaigrette of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, dijon mustard, and our instant pot yogurt, seasoned with an herb blend from Penzeys containing green onion, basil, celery flakes, minced garlic, dill salt, chives, and pepper.
    4. When the veg were cooled we chopped them and two gorgeous heirloom tomatoes into bite-sized pieces, added the room-temperature gnocchi, and tossed the whole mess with the dressing. (Clay dove into the bowl and mixed with his hands, so as not to pulverize the vegetables.)
    5. The salad went into the fridge overnight so that the flavors could meld and get happy, and then became fabulous take-along-and-eat-at-room-temperature lunches.

    Crookneck Squash Frittata

    Broiled squash slices, ready for their egg-and-cheese bath.

    We’ve never been led astray by a recipe from Uncle Alton, and this one is particularly good. I chopped both rosemary and thyme from our herb garden to mix with the squash  slices prior to broiling, and substituted a lovely mild chevre from Lost Ruby Farm for the ricotta cheese – and it was wonderful. I almost can’t wait for fall to try a variation of this with roasted pumpkin and butternut squash.

    The finished frittata. I should have pulled it out from under the broiler 30 seconds earlier, but it’s so tasty!

    Zucchini Bread

    I’ve been making the Zucchini Bread recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook since I was 11 years old, and despite trying dozens of alternates championed by Food Network and Food52 members, I’ve yet to find anything as tasty or reliable as this one.

    It’s particularly forgiving if the two leftover zucchini in your fridge that really need to be used up measure out to a cup-and-a-quarter or cup-and-a-half of grated flesh rather than a precise one-cup measure; in that case I sub in a tablespoon or two of whole wheat flour for an equivalent measure of all-purpose, and allow the batter to rest and thicken for ten minutes before putting the pan in the oven. The texture is perfect every time.

    Squash Chips

    How can you go wrong with freshly grated parmesan?

    Samantha stated that her Baked Parmesan Squash Rounds isn’t really a recipe, more a two-ingredient short-cut to snacking. I didn’t believe her when I first read that, but she’s right. And as long as we have squash coming in our CSA shares, I have no interest in buying snacking chips at the market. (That’s saying a lot for me – chips are my favorite snack!)

    I sliced our last crookneck squash into quarter-inch-thick slices, patted them dry, laid them on a baking sheet sized for our toaster oven, sprinkled liberally with salt and pepper, and then grated a chunk of fresh parmesan over the whole thing. Baked at 425 for 15 minutes, they cooked up into divine, chewy little parmesan crackers. Next time I’ll put them in without the cheese for 7 minutes, then add the grated cheese and continue with the 15-minute plan – so they can get crispier without burning the cheese.

    What’s your favorite recipe for summer squashes? I’d love to give it a try – and to hear what you think of these!

    How to Make Vegetable Lasagna

    When I think “vegetable lasagna”, I imagine a rich, hearty noodle dish bursting with the flavor of fresh vegetables. When I search for recipes for “vegetable lasagna”, I most often find thin, watery-sounding meals that substitute thin layers of squash for noodles and skimp out on the chunky fillings that make lasagna such a stand-out meal.

    For our Easter celebration this year, I created a mash-up of lasagna and pasta primavera that was a beautiful, fresh, spring-flavor-filled dish, and it works equally as well for our summer CSA veggies.

    Since Clay and I cook for only two, I generally make lasagna in a small loaf pan; it provides 6 average-sized portions, so there’s plenty for a second helping, or to share with friends, or to pack for work-day lunches.

    Recipe for Vegetable Lasagna

    Start with the Bechamel sauce.

    • 3 TBSP butter
    • 3 TBSP flour
    • 2 cups Whole Milk (the more flavorful your milk, the more flavorful your sauce. This is a dish where organic milk from grass-fed cows really shines)
    • Salt, Pepper, and Nutmeg – to taste

    Melt and brown the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, until it is aromatic and a rich golden brown color. Whisk in the flour to make a roux; then continue cooking for three to four minutes until the roux takes on additional color. Whisk continuously while slowly streaming in the milk, to avoid lumps.

    Turn the heat to medium-low and continue cooking while stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens. Once thickened, season to taste with salt, pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg, then pour into a small glass container and set aside.

    Once the sauce is made, prepare your other ingredients.

    • Half of a package of lasagna noodles, prepared according to package instructions (or fresh, if you’re fancy like that!)
    • One-and-a-half cups of fresh mozzarella cheese, diced and divided into three equal portions
    • One cup of freshly grated pecorino-romano cheese, divided into three equal portions
    • One-and-a-half cups of pesto, divided into three equal portions
      This week we used two parts roasted tomato and one part traditional basil
    • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
    • An 8-ounce bunch of leafy greens (think chard, kale, or spinach), torn into bite-sized pieces, washed, blanched, and drained
      This week we used kale.
    • Approximately one-and-a-half cups of vegetables (think artichoke, asparagus, beets, green or wax beans, snap or snow peas, or summer squashes), diced and well seasoned with salt and pepper
      This week we used peas in their pods and zucchini.
    • Approximately half of one cup of alliums (think beyond onions to leeks, scallions, chives, or garlic), chopped very finely
      This week we used green onions, scallions, and garlic scapes.

    Once your ingredients are assembled, pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, grab a loaf pan, and begin assembly.

    1. Spread a spoonful of bechamel sauce into the bottom of the pan.
    2. Arrange the first layer of noodles over the bechamel, with the edges overlapping slightly. Spread the noodles with one-third of the pesto then one-third of the mozzarella, then a drizzle of bechamel.
    3. Arrange a second layer of noodles over the first, and top them with your greens. Don’t be afraid to really pack the greens into your pan, since they will cook down significantly in the oven. Top with one-third of the pecorino-romano cheese and a generous spoonful of bechamel.
    4. Arrange a third layer of noodles, spread with a second third of pesto and a second third of mozzarella. Scatter your alliums here, and then add a drizzle of bechamel over the top.
    5. Arrange a fourth layer of noodles, spread with the last third of pesto. Scatter your chopped vegetables over the pesto with the second third of pecorino-romano, then drizzle with bechamel.
    6. Arrange your fifth and final layer of noodles, and spread the remaining bechamel sauce over the top. Scatter your remaining cheeses over the top, and grind fresh black pepper generously over the whole.

    Cover your pan with aluminum foil, and place on a tray in the center of the oven; bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until the lasagna is browned and bubbling; remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

    This dish is absolutely satisfying as a one-dish meal, though at Easter we served it alongside kefta and pickled root vegetables. If you make it, I’d love to know what vegetables you choose, and how you present it!

    How a CSA Serves Us

     

    radishes

    Simpaug Farms radishes – June 17, 2018

    Over the past few weeks, I’ve written about how we’ve evolved in our cooking and shopping habits since combining our kitchens, and how we save money at the supermarket in order to have more to spend on delicious little splurges. But there’s one other major way that we both save money on food and splurge for the very best: our membership in a CSA.

    CSA is short for Community Supported Agriculture, and it’s a brilliant business model for small farms to support the communities that exist in the areas surrounding the farmland. There’s been risk involved with farming since the first farmer planted the first seed, but CSA removes some of the risks from farming by allowing the people who eat the food to purchase it before it’s grown. (I did say it was brilliant!)

    Our local farm is Simpaug Farms in Suffield, Connecticut. Nestled on 250 acres – that’s a bit less than half of a square mile – the folks who run the farm use sustainable practices that preserve the land the generations to come, they produce fruits and vegetables free from synthetic pesticides, and they raise animals without hormones or antibiotics. They plant a broad array of fruits and vegetables that come into peak ripeness throughout the season, ensuring both variety and abundance for members.

    We joined the Simpaug Farms CSA back in April, by filling out a form online and making a payment of $800. In return, starting on June 19 and running for the next 20 weeks, we will collect a crate of 10 to 14 different fruits and vegetables, and a carton of a dozen eggs. That works to roughly $35 per week for produce and $5 per week for eggs – all of it local, natural, hormone- and antibiotic-free, and chosen just for us at the peak of fresh deliciousness. (For comparison, at the grocery store yesterday we spent $26 for half that volume of fruits and vegetables from at least several hundred miles away, and $5.99 for a dozen similarly raised eggs.)

    This is clearly a wonderful partnership for me and Clay, but it’s just as wonderful for the farm. I met Megan and Max, who run the business-side of Simpaug Farms, at the Fairfield Farmer’s Market this morning. Max’s answer to my question “So how does having the CSA help the farm?“ is excerpted below.

    The biggest form of help from the CSA is being able to plan better. Today, which is just a day at the Farmer’s Market, started at 5am. We drove from the office in Ridgefield to the farm in Suffield, collected all of the produce from yesterday’s harvest, drove to Fairfield and set up the market, are working here to sell everything we can (and hoping we guessed right on what to bring), and later we’ll drive back to the farm to drop off anything we don’t sell so it can be put to use.

    With the CSA, we know in advance how many people will collect their shares from each location, so know just how much to pack and deliver. But when CSA members purchase shares early in the season, we can plan just how much of a crop to plant because we can adjust for our market. Since the biggest costs in farming come early in the season with seeds and equipment, it’s really helpful to have the capital for that up front, too.

    There are still shares available for the Simpaug Farms CSA, and the first pickups for the season start on June 19. Join us in supporting a fabulous small farm, and in eating well all season!

    P.S. If you want to get to know a little more about the farm and the CSA, their pinterest boards are full of recipes and tips for preparing fresh summer vegetables, and their YouTube channel has some good videos, too.