Tag Archives: Pasta

Birthday Spaghetti

It’s a little embarrassing to admit at age 29, but birthdays are still a big deal to me. As an adult, I have tried to dial back my enthusiasm to a respectable level, but as a child, being born the day after Halloween means your birthday is a culmination of a three day orgy of candy, glorious outfits, and presents. My mom, having been raised in a “birthdays are a BFD” household herself, implemented a firm policy of putting the birthday child in charge. The whole family would wake up early to have breakfast and open presents, followed by an afternoon classroom pizza delivery, then dinner and more presents with our grandparents. It’s easy to get used to that kind of celebration.

In keeping with my barely-concealed desire to be lavished with attention on the anniversary of my arrival in the world, this year I invited my besties over for a birthday feast. They brought copious amounts of wine and thoughtful gifts, and I in turn served up a coma-inducing spread of the ultimate in comfort food, spaghetti and meatballs.

It was the perfect menu for weeknight festivities. The meatballs and homemade tomato sauce required a little love and advance preparation on Sunday night, but there was no slaving over the stove on the evening of the party. Instead, I was in the dining room sipping wine and snacking on rosemary marcona almonds with my friends. A salad of arugula and shaved Pecorino Romano, tossed in a bracing red wine vinaigrette, and homemade garlic bread rounded out the meal. And for dessert, the best cannoli in Chicago, with a candle in mine, of course.

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Summer on a Plate

At the lake, I love a dish with a long inactive prep time. Marinades, anything requiring a requiring a rest in the fridge, or ingredients brought to room temperature- these are recipes I lack the patience to make for a weeknight dinner. But on a Saturday at the cottage, I can take care of these tasks after lunch and still squeeze in a full afternoon of floating. Last weekend, I made dinner for some friends and my parents, including an heirloom tomato and corn salad that has been lying latent in my mind since I read it in last June’s Bon Appetit. The corn, still in it’s husk, soaks in a bowl of water for an hour before going on the grill, where it steams in it’s own little wrapper. It is shucked, tossed back on the grill for a little charring, sliced from the cob, and tossed with heirloom tomatoes in a fresh basil vinaigrette. This salad is phenomenal, with the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity, and I highly recommend the full-out version- if you have two hours, a grill, and a mother will asbestos hands and killer knife skills (she offered!).

I knew I needed to recreate this salad immediately, so driving home, I picked up some sweet corn and a few early heirloom tomatoes at a little farmstand in preparation for Round 2. This is the Monday evening, 7 p.m. start time version. Still light and summery, the addition of whole wheat pasta rounds out the dish with an appealing nutty flavor.

Heirloom Tomato and Sweet Corn Pasta
Adapted from Bon Appetit

8 oz whole wheat penne pasta
4 medium heirloom tomatoes
4 ears sweet corn, shucked
1 clove garlic, minced
3 Tbsp white wine vinegar
Olive oil
1/4 cup basil, thinly sliced, plus additional for garnish
Salt

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta until al dente; drain, and set aside to cool.

Core tomatoes, and chop into bite-sized pieces, reserving 1 handful of diced tomatoes with their juices.

With a very sharp knife, slice the corn kernels from the cob. In a large saute pan, heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil and add minced garlic, then corn. Cook over medium-high heat until browned. Turn off heat and add reserved tomatoes to deglaze the plan. Briefly stir, then remove pan from heat and set aside to cool.

To make vinaigrette, combine white wine vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil, basil, and a pinch of salt in a small jar.  Shake vigorously to emulsify.

In a large bowl, gently toss pasta, tomatoes, and corn mixture with the vinaigrette. Salt to taste, and garnish with basil.

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Asparagus, Two Ways

It’s an open secret among everyone who has been there that my family’s cottage in West Michigan is the happiest place on earth. As we head into our twelfth summer season, the dock and boat are officially in the water, I’ve called dibs on a weekend for the debauchery of Cottage Weekend ’11 with my friends, and plane tickets have been purchased for my bestie to join in the annual Fourth of July celebration. It’s going to be a golden three months.

I could look at this all day...

Among the many pleasures of the cottage, up there, food and drink are blissfully simple. If you run out of beer (and shame on you for your poor planning), just drive the boat down to the public beach, and wade in across the park to the store. There is a winery, a honey farm, a working dairy with an ice cream shop, and two excellent butchers, where you have to drive past fields of grazing cattle to reach the retail store- all within a 15 mile radius. But, even amongst that bounty, the produce really is king. Whether you prefer your sour cherries with a side of country-cute tchotchkes and homemade pie at a three-walled farmstand, or like me, shop old school at a plywood bench in someone’s yard with an honor-system lockbox, what to make for dinner is primarily determined by what you can pick up on the drive home from breakfast.

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Smoky, Spicy, Charred: Penne with Chickpeas & Tomatoes

It’s a common theme this time of year in my favorite food blogs and magazines: the final lap through the end of winter and into the growing season. It is a relief to hear others say that they too, cannot deal with the last three turnips in their vegetable drawer, or hear the words “stew” or “braise” without kicking their oven door.  For myself, I have been inundating the Washington Post’s food chat each week with questions tantamount to “I’m booooooooored! What can I cook noooooow?” Spring is so, so close! But while we wait for ramps and asparagus, I am not opposed to the occasional clamshell of mini heirloom tomatoes from Trader Joe’s, particularly in a recipe calling for them to be charred, an effective technique for glossing over any out-of-season wimpiness in vegetables.

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Spaghetti Carbonara with Brussels Sprouts

I love heirloom tomatoes; their lovely summer smell, the way they make a completely satisfying lunch all by themselves.  But truthfully, they stress me out.  A lot.  Leave one on the counter a day too long, and you’re left with purple tomato mush.  Winter vegetables, however, are reliable friends.  Having purchased a bag of brussels sprouts intending to serve them at a holiday sleepover the week after Christmas, they kept resiliently in the fridge until approximately mid-January, quietly waiting for their star turn in a classic pasta dish.

As for Spaghetti Carbonara… it was the first recipe I learned to make from memory, the main course at my first dinner party (back when I used to make everyone sit on Ikea cushions around the coffee table).  And it uses three eggs.  Swoon.  If I made this and gateau au chocolat fondant de Nathalie every week, I could almost keep pace with my CSA egg share.

Spaghetti carbonara and brussels sprouts… it’s like when two friends get married.  You don’t even know which side of the aisle to sit on.

les choux, Le Creuset

Spaghetti Carbonara with Brussels Sprouts

Serves 4 (or 1, for four meals…)

1 lb spaghetti or linguine
1 Tbs olive oil
4-6 slices bacon
1 lb brussels sprouts, washed, discolored outer leaves removed, quartered
3 eggs
1/4 cup grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese
1 Tbs crushed red peppers (or to taste)
Salt 

Equipment: If you own a cast iron skillet (10″-12″) this is the time to use it.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook pasta.

Cut the bacon crosswise into thin strips.  Heat olive oil in cast iron skillet, and cook bacon over medium heat appx. 3-5 minutes, until the fat is rendered.  Push bacon to one side of the pan and add quartered brussels sprouts.  Cook until VERY brown and crisp on the outside, stirring as little as possible.  Truly, step away from the stove and crack the eggs.  Throw in a palmful of crushed red pepper, more if you like some heat, and cook for 1 minute more.  Remove skillet from heat.

In a small bowl, whisk eggs and cheese together.

When spaghetti is al dente, drain, reserving appx. 1 cup of pasta water, and return to pasta pot.  Add the egg/cheese mixture and toss to coat, adding pasta water a little at a time if needed to help coat the pasta.  Add the contents of the skillet, salt to taste, and toss everything together with a pair of tongs.

Serve with extra cheese for passing.

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