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!

Simpaug Farms CSA: Week Five

Summertime… and the living will be easy in 19 days, when our beach vacation begins. Until then, we’re motoring along at full speed.

We’ve kept up quite well with the CSA, having used almost everything we’ve received to this point. The exceptions are cabbage and fennel – we just haven’t gotten around to work of processing them as I keep wishing to. That changes this week; my parents are coming back to town on Friday, so I’m planning a bit of a too-hot-for-frying at-home fish-and-chips supper; we will shave all of our fennel bulbs into a fragrant bed over which to grill a variety of lemon-thyme fish, and will turn the now four cabbages (two pointed, one red, and one savoy) into a giant batch of slaw. (We’ll eat some over the weekend, I’m sure, but will then send half of what remains home with Mom and Dad on Sunday.)

We received an additional bounty today, and somehow it seems easier to manage.

What’s In The Week Five Share:

Vegetables

  • Summer Squash, 36.5 ounces
  • Pickling Cucumbers, 13 ounces
  • Zucchini, 11 ounces
  • Peas, 9 ounces
  • Savoy Cabbage, 28 ounces
  • Rainbow Chard, 10 ounces
  • Fennel, 6 ounces
  • Assorted Peppers, 12 ounces
  • Summer Onions, 13 ounces
  • Cherry Tomatoes, 14.5 ounces
  • Rosemary, 1 ounce

Other

  • Eggs – one dozen

Once again, these are all “standard veggies” that are easy to store in a summer kitchen, so there has been very prep work required.

What To Make With This Week’s Share

Salted Sesame Quick Pickles

I turned our cucumbers into quick pickles yesterday afternoon, and they are divine.

Rosemary Oil

I grow my own rosemary, so don’t have need of fresh sprigs on this week’s menu. Instead, I tucked the clippings we received into a bottle, filled it with oil, and will allow it to steep in the pantry for a few months – it will make a perfect flavoring agent for autumn dishes. (Seriously; saute onion and butternut squash in this stuff before making a butternut-pumpkin pureed soup – it’s divine.)

Zucchini Bread

I turned the zucchini into another loaf of the bread I’ve made for the last few weeks, though I tested replacing 1/3 of a cup of all-purpose flour with an equal amount of cornmeal – since squash and corn go together. We’ll see how it turns out when I get to the office and take a bite for breakfast.

Fresh Pasta Saucy-Salad

With onions, peppers, and tomatoes – and a mess of garlic and basil from the pantry – I can’t refrain from making a glorious pasta dish. We’ll roast and skin the peppers, roast and smash the garlic, char the onions, rough chop the tomatoes, and toss it all together with the slightest hint of olive oil. Clay makes a fabulous butter-lemon sauce for fettuccine  – we’ll serve this saucy-salad alongside the pasta in the same bowl.

Squash-and-Greens Casserole

Over the weekend we made a terrific casserole of squash and kale with cumin, black pepper, and cheese. It was fantastic – so much so that we both ate every morsel from our plates. I’d like to try it again, but with a few variations: a cheese sauce rather than grated cheese and slightly smaller pieces of squash. We’ll make that on Saturday, to have with fabulous burgers.

That leaves me with fennel and cabbage (for which I’ve already identified a plan). peas, and eggs. The peas were husked and added, raw, to Clay’s lunchtime crudite container. We never have a problem using eggs – these have been used in bread batter, hard-boiled for take-along breakfasts, and will be Saturday brunch.

The Bonus Round

Back when I first decided to catalog this year’s adventure in a real way, I mentioned that one of the reasons we love our CSA is because spending money on vegetables far in advance saves us from the real-time market in the summer and leaves more room for little splurges. Today was all about those little splurges.

First, I bought the beautiful loaf of bread in the photo at the top of this post from the stand next to Simpaug at the Farmer’s Market this morning, Whole G Bakery. It’s a sesame semolina loaf, and has a stunning texture for toast with salted butter and a little drizzle of jam. For a week when doing “just one more thing” might send either or both of us to the looney bin, buying hand-made artisinal bread was a splurge worth every penny.

Second, I bought a gorgeous (and spendy) bouquet of basil. This has been a tough year for basil – very rainy weather with very high-temperature/high humidity days that yield overcast skies rather than full sun do not make for plump, fragrant basil leaves – so I anticipated an expensive and not-quite perfect treat. But with onions and tomatoes and peppers in the Share box, I couldn’t resist.

Third, I brought home almost a pound of pulled-this-morning fresh mozzarella from our local dairy.

So there will be caprese sandwiches on sesame bread in our lunchboxes tomorrow, and we will be savoring every little bite.

What’s your food plan for the week?

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?
  • Simpaug Farms CSA: Week Four

    Oh, squash. You are an excellent part of summer.

    We’ve reached the midpoint of July – the moment when I routinely trip over the fine line between “this life is manageable madness,” and “OMG its all too much.”

    In our house, July is the busiest and most stressful month of the year, made more so by the summer slow down (e.g. “What do you mean your summer business hours are 9-3 on Tuesday and Thursday?”). Lots of things are more difficult, and feeding us is the last thing I want to think about. Which makes me so thankful for the CSA.

    I walked into the Fairfield Farmer’s Market yesterday morning and Max handed me a gorgeous box just full of vegetables. All I had to do was plan to eat them.

    What’s In The Week Four Share:

    Vegetables

    • Kale – one 12-ounce bunch
    • Peas, almost large enough to shell – 10 ounces
    • Cauliflower, white and purple – 12 ounces
    • Salad Greens – one 8-ounce bag
    • A variety of Cucumbers – 17 ounces
    • Red Cabbage – one 30-ounce head
    • Spring Onions, red – 2.5 ounces
    • A variety of Squashes – 51 ounces
    • Fennel Bulbs and Fronds – 12 ounces
    • Peppers – 3 ounces

    Other

    • Eggs – one dozen

    I was so grateful that everything in this week’s share was familiar to me from past weeks and my non-CSA diet – I had already recorded the storage techniques. Moreover, with one exception, upon seeing each item I knew exactly what to do with it.

    What To Make With This Week’s Share

    Confession: We didn’t cook much last week, so had quite a lot of vegetables left over. We haven’t lost a single item to rot or waste, and I’m hoping to continue that streak! But this week’s plan includes a lot of “extras”.

    Squash Chips

    Two of the summer squash became squash chips. We sliced them 1/8-inch thick with the mandolin rather than 1/4-inch; they crisped beautifully, but stuck to the sheet pan. Next time I’ll try 3/8-inch. Clay has requested a little heat in the seasoning blend, so next time I’ll skip the cheese and use a Moroccan spice blend, and see how we like it.

    Sunday lunch: squash chips are an excellent replacement for potato chips.

    Squash Latkes

    In the summer of 2012, I made fabulous yellow-squash “fritters” stuffed with goat cheese and herbs. Everyone who tasted them likened them to latkes rather than fritters, so that’s what I call them.

    I can’t find the recipe, so I’m winging it: mixing flour, salt, egg, fresh herbs and squash to make a thick batter/thin dough; forming it into balls around a bit of crumbled goat cheese; fry in oil. I shredded the rest of my yellow squashes for this purpose yesterday – they’re currently draining in the fridge.

    Scallop Squash stuffed with Rice and Greens

    I had intended to make risotto with greens last week, but we ran out of time so took the easy way out: Clay pressure-cooked the kale and chard to tenderness and made fluffy, seasoned rice on the stove, then combined them with bits of steak and chicken for a terrific quick dinner.

    We’ll seed and bake the scallop and pattypan squashes, scoop out and purée the flesh, combine it with this week’s kale (pressure-cooked like last week) and more rice, stuff the squash with the mixture, and bake again to crisp the top and warm it all through. (We’re having friends over for dinner on Friday, so I expect this will be a make-it-together dish.)

    Summer “Gazpacho”

    I enjoy cold soup, but prefer the flavor of cooked vegetables to raw ones. True gazpacho fans are reeling in horror, I’m sure, but to each her own. Yesterday we grilled a delicato squash, the peppers, and a handful of red onions; tonight we’ll chop and mix them with tomatoes, roasted garlic, and a mess of herbs and spices, then blend it all together and chill for 24 hours. It will serve as a very light supper for tomorrow night, since we’ll arrive home near midnight.

    My Favorite Dill Pickles

    Yesterday I turned the cucumbers from this week and last week into garlic dill pickles – our haul turned into two pint and five half-pint jars, so we’re set for summer hostess gifts.

    I love that our friends request my pickles as gifts!

    Lunchtime Crudités

    Clay has been digging on raw vegetables with hummus for lunch – it’s simple eat-on-the-train-or-classroom fare. I chopped the peas, non-pickling cucumbers, and cauliflower for him – along with carrots and cherry tomatoes. Lunch, managed.

    Purple cauliflower! It’s so much more vibrant than anything I’ve seen in a shop.

    Egg Sandwiches

    We hard boiled a half-dozen eggs and will slice them for sandwiches, with salad greens and a Dijon mustard dressing.

    Cabbage and Fennel

    We keep intending to make more slaw, but haven’t yet, so have multiple heads of cabbage at this point. I’m planning to shred all of it and toss with different herb and seasoning blends and dressings. That might happen on Wednesday, but it’s more likely a Saturday project – we’ll see.

    As for the fennel, it’s the one item I don’t have a plan for. I’ve been using small pieces, julienned, in salads and as flavoring agents with meats and sauces, but a little goes a long way. Thankfully it stores well.

    What’s your plan for this week?

    The South Shall Rosé Again

    collards Waterlogue.png

    “Are you going to eat these collards, or should we just put them in the compost?”

    She wasn’t making it a personal challenge, just letting me know that she had no intention of doing anything with those greens we’d received in the CSA box.

    It being summer musical writing season—this year I’m working on three shows at once because, I guess, if you want to get something done, ask a busy person—I haven’t put a lot of thought into the lunches I’ve grabbed in the few seconds before I had to run to catch a train. Which meant it was Sunday, I’d just brought home this week’s CSA box, and last week’s collard greens were staring out from the crisper. I was determined not to waste them, and she wasn’t home for lunch anyway, so collards it would be.

    Note to Self: put “prepare lunch” on your morning to-do list so it isn’t the last thing that gets done—or, worse, doesn’t.

    I set the Instant Pot to “Sauté” (sort of like setting phasers to Stun, but tastier) and put in a big dollop of bacon fat from the jar in the fridge. While the pot came to temp and the fat melted, I washed and dried and chopped the greens and a couple of garlic scapes. This would have been a great time to use that ham hock in the back of the freezer, but we didn’t have a ham hock in the back of the freezer, so bacon fat and garlic would have to do.

    Note to Self #2: get a ham hock and put it in the freezer.

    I added the greens and garlic to the now-sizzling pot and stirred to make sure everything got coated, and sautéed the greens for a couple of minutes. This would have been a great time to have some stock defrosted, too. Alas, I hadn’t had that much foresight either.

    I added a dollop of Dijon mustard, a little squirt of sriracha sauce, and a cup of rosé wine, then lidded up the pot and set it to pressure-cook for 20 minutes.

    Now I know perfectly well that no self-respecting Southerner would cook collards with Dijon mustard, sriracha sauce, and rosé wine—if they had those things in the fridge to begin with.

    I never said I was a self-respecting Southerner.

    They were delicious.

    Will I do it this way again? Probably not. Maybe next time it’ll be Swiss chard with orange juice and soy sauce.

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    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.