Posts Tagged ‘pasta’

Beautiful Broccoli


Any honest gardener will admit to a lot of disappointments, small disasters, and unfulfilled ambitions. Heat waves sizzle delicate plants to a crisp. Hail happens. Or, maddeningly, a particular plant that’s supposed to be easy sizes you up and drops dead rather than be bothered with you.
You get hooked, though, because something always does so well that you can hardly believe it. This year, supposedly heat-loving exotics like winged beans and chayote refused to grow, but broccoli, which likes cool weather, is producing better than ever before. I’ve gotten heads almost a foot across and side shoots as big as my fist or bigger. When picked twenty minutes before dinner, broccoli has a delicate flavor and none of the funk that can develop when it sits around. There are hundreds of good ways to cook it, but one of my favorites for a fast healthy meal is a pasta with broccoli cooked in the pasta pot.

For two large servings and good leftovers, you need:
1 large head of broccoli or two smaller ones
8 oz of dry pasta (whole wheat pasta tastes pretty good in this dish)
1/4 cup olive oil
3 large or 5 medium cloves garlic, sliced thinly.
one anchovy fillet, mashed (optional but gives depth)
half a teaspoon (or more) hot red pepper flakes
1/2 cup red wine
half a lemon
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
a scant cup of best Parmesan cheese, grated

Start a pot of salted water boiling. Cut the broccoli into slender “branches” by splitting the stems. Slice the garlic cloves. When the water comes to a boil, put in the pasta. Heat half the olive oil in a small skillet and saute’ the garlic cloves until cooked through over medium heat. Add the anchovy and red pepper, saute’ another minute, then add the red wine and boil until it’s reduced to half. Add salt to taste. Keep checking the pasta, and about 3 minutes before it’s done, put the broccoli in the pot. Make sure it’s submerged and the water returns to a boil, then check the pasta in 2-3 minutes, and as soon as it’s perfectly done, drain the pot and return the drained noodles and broc to the pot. Toss in the remaining olive oil, then the skillet contents, then toss in all but a little of the cheese and promptly plate the pasta, remembering to leave enough in the pot for lunch the next day. Squeeze a little fresh lemon juice over each serving. Toss the pine nuts over the top along with the remaining cheese, and eat while hot. Elapsed time: about 15 minutes from the time the water comes to a boil to the table, if you’re reasonably quick and deft about splitting up the broccoli.

Don’t forget to scatter your vegetable garden with some flowers. It benefits the bees and it benefits your spirits.

Kitchen Staples: Pasta and Eggs, and notes on what makes a good egg.

If you’re a lover of pasta carbonara, you know the rich and lovely taste of egg yolks on pasta. This time of year, if you don’t have chickens yourself (I don’t yet), the farmers markets are full of beautiful eggs with deep orange yolks, and wonderful impromptu meals can be made from them. This one is warm and comforting, but has a little zing to it. You can have it on the table in 30 minutes or less. If you always have pasta, high-quality olive oil, good Parmesan, and anchovies around, you’re never more than 30 minutes (tops) from a good meal. Good eggs in season send the combination over the top.


You will need a small, heavy skillet or clay dish (my preference) with a cover. Clay needs to be heated slowly, so if you’re using it, start heating it over low heat about 15 minutes before you want to start cooking the eggs.

Ingredients: for 2 very generous servings, start with 4 very good eggs, about 6 oz. of spaghetti or linguini, 2 small anchovy fillets (very necessary for the bold flavor of the dish), 3 tablespoons of good olive , 2 cloves of garlic chopped, a few tablespoons of chopped parsley (plus more for garnish if you like,) an ounce or two of the best Parmesan you can find, and half a teaspoon of red pepper flakes (more if they’re mild.)

Start cooking the garlic slowly in the olive oil, over medium heat, while the salted water for the pasta is coming to a boil. Meanwhile, chop the anchovy fillets very finely or pound them in a mortar until they’re paste-like. Stir them into the saute’ing garlic and cook the mixture until the garlic is soft through but not browned. Lower the heat under the skillet and stir in the red pepper. Break the eggs into the skillet a few minutes after you add the pasta to the boiling salted water. Splash a couple of teaspoons of water into the skillet (this makes a little steam to lightly cook the top of the eggs,) cover the skillet tightly, and let it sit over low heat until the eggs are done to your liking. Make sure the yolks stay soft. When done to taste, take the skillet off the heat. Heavy iron or clay will keep them hot. Open the cover so that they don’t overcook.
When the pasta is ready, drain it, toss it very quickly with the cheese, another tablespoon or so of olive oil, and the chopped parsley. Put in warmed bowls and top each with two of the eggs. Pour the garlic/anchovy/red pepper mixture left in the skillet over the top.
At the table, break the yolks, stir them into the pasta a little, and revel in simplicity and ease.
This dish accomodates whole wheat spaghetti if you like it.

Regarding those eggs, I advise buying at the farmers market whenever possible. To have a good life and make good eggs, chickens should run around outside and have access to plants and bugs, not run around a giant stinking building with a tiny outdoor yard, mostly unused by the chickens, that allows the manufacturer (and I use that term advisedly) to call its product “free range.” Don’t support a CAFO with the misimpression that you are getting truly good eggs. Really good eggs come from small producers and backyard growers and are not found at the grocery store. Be sure to bring the cartons back when you empty them, because the small growers pay too much for them and are usually eager to reuse them.

The Greens of Spring: Broccoli Raab, and a brief note on spring flowers

This is a good time of year to eat some broccoli raab from the store, because you may well be convinced to plant your own while there’s still time. You may find the seeds sold as broccoli rabe, broccoli raab, or rapini. This is a vigorous grows-like-a-weed kind of vegetable, but it won’t tolerate hot weather, so get it in the ground now. Direct seeding works well as long as the ground is well prepared and you keep it weeded until it’s big enough to compete. Harvest as soon as it shoots to seed; you’ll notice broccoli-like heads which can vary from the size of a nickel to 3 inches across, depending on variety and weather conditions. Harvest while the buds are still tight, before any blooms appear. Just whack off the top 6-8 inches, leaves and all, compost the rest, and you have time to grow another crop in that space. It’s a close relative of the turnip, but instead of the pronounced (some would say extreme) earthiness of turnip leaves, it has a lovely clean flavor with a slight bitterness that makes it the perfect companion for mellow pasta.

Usually I like greens in mixtures, but I prefer this one by itself. My favorite way to cook it is so simple that it isn’t really a recipe, and it’s on the plate within fifteen minutes of the water coming to a boil. The various steps fit in so well with one another that I prefer to write this as a brief kitchen story rather than a recipe. Read it through before beginning, so that the kitchen logic and logistics will be clear.

You will need: half a pound of good dried pasta, a large bunch of broccoli raab, good olive oil, red pepper flakes, a couple of ounces of good ham, Italian sausage, or pancetta (a small handful when chopped into cubes), an anchovy fillet if you like them, and a few ounces of good cheese, either Parmesan or part Parmesan and part Romano. Toasted pine nuts can be added as a bonus of you have any on hand.

Put on a pot of water to boil for the pasta. Don’t forget to salt it.

While the water is coming to a boil, chop up a small chunk of ham, or some good Italian sausage, or some pancetta, or a little slab bacon if it isn’t too smoky. Chop two large or three small cloves of garlic. Throw them in a small hot skillet with some olive oil, probably 2-3 tablespoons. Stir frequently. As soon as the garlic and meat are cooked, put in half a teaspoon of red pepper flakes and, if you like, a chopped rinsed anchovy fillet or a dash of colatura. Add a tablespoon or two of water, just enough to stop the cooking, and take the skillet off the heat. Wash a bunch of broccoli rabe, using a bunch as big as you can hold in two hands, and set it in a strainer to drain a little.

Meanwhile, the water should have come to a boil. Put in half a pound of good dried pasta. I think penne goes especially well with chunky greens. If you like whole wheat pasta, this is an especially good place to use it. Don’t reduce the heat. Keep it at a hard boil until after you add the greens.

While the pasta is boiling, cut the bunch of rapini in cross section across the bunch, slicing about every half inch. Discard the stem ends if they are more than half an inch in diameter. Five minutes after the pasta went in the water, put the chopped rapini in the water to boil with it. Once the water returns to the boil you can turn it down a little, but be sure to maintain a boil, not a simmer. Grate about 2/3 cup of good Parmesan and 1/3 cup of good Romano, or use all Parmesan if that’s what you have. These measurements refer to loosely packed measuring cups. My trip to Florence convinced me that Americans over-sauce and over-cheese their pasta. Personally I don’t meaure grated cheese in any formal way, and prefer to think in terms of two loose, scant handfuls of grated cheese.

When the pasta is ready, pour out into a strainer, return to the pan, toss with a glug of good olive oil, toss in the meat mixture and half the cheese, plate, sprinkle with the rest of the cheese, and toss some toasted pine nuts on top if you like. Eat and savor this splendid green.

By the way, I estimate that a “glug” is about two tablespoons. But in a dish like this, use kitchen sense rather than measurements. How much olive oil do you need in the skillet to keep the meat and garlic from sticking, and how much olive oil do you need to give a light delicious sheen to your pasta and greens? Your eyes are a better guide than a measuring spoon.

My garden is intended as a food garden, but there’s no reason why it can’t be a treat for the senses as well, and nothing lifts my spirits in late winter like bright crocuses blooming away in whatever appalling circumstances the season hands them. I strongly recommend at least a dozen bulbs of the cream-yellow Crocus crysanthus “Cream Beauty.” It’s always the first to bloom for me, and if you put it in the warmest part of your yard it will bloom in February in the Albuquerque area, a visible harbinger that your garden, like you, has survived another winter.

Fava Beans, and Oyster Mushrooms

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Fava beans are a chic ingredient these days, but they’re more versatile than people realize. I learned this when I came across the leaves being sold at the beautiful farmer’s market in San Francisco as a salad green. I bought some and loved them, so this year I set out to grow my own.

In February I planted eight seeds of Broad Windsor fava beans in one of my large containers, about six inches apart. All of them sprouted, and I let them grow unchecked until they were nearly a foot high. At that point, I cut two of the plants and used all their leaves for an early salad, along with some romaine lettuce. The leaves are very mild in flavor and have an appealing tender texture. They marry well with a wide variety of other salad ingredients, including the delicate ones like butter lettuce, mache, and pansy leaves. Vinaigrettes that aren’t too strong and contain a little nut oil or a light, flowery Provencal olive oil work well.

I let the remaining plants grow until they had bloomed and set small pods. At that point, I cut off 6-8 inches of the tops of those plants, above the pods, and used the leaves in salads, which did no discernible harm to the maturing pods. As soon as the pods were filled out and I could feel beans inside about half to three quarters of an inch across, I picked the pods. A traditional Italian way to eat them is by themselves, raw on the plate, with thin slivers of young pecorino. It’s very good, but I thought they were great in this mushroom pasta. It’s vegetarian but has a substantial, meaty quality, and the slight delicious bitterness of the raw young fava beans is just what’s needed to give dimension to the flavor.

During the winter I grew my own oyster mushrooms but while the farmers markets are open I get them from Exotic Edibles of Edgewood, which is a good deal easier. You can find Scott and Gail, our local mushroom mavens, at the Downtown growers’ market on Saturday mornings.
Click here for the recipe! Continue reading

Arugula, my favorite weed

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At times I’m very surprised by what grows well in my high desert garden. I wouldn’t have guessed that arugula would not only grow well but would naturalize and happily spread itself about. Arugula is my favorite salad green, and I’ve learned to love it for cooking too. Something about its tender nutty sharpness is like watercress gone to heaven. It likes cold weather, and manages with surprisingly little water.

First, get your seed. I don’t recommend the wild-type often sold as “sylvetta” because the leaves are small leading to low yield, and in dry conditions it can get too sharp to be pleasant. Try to get the type designated as ‘cultivated” or the named variety Apollo, although the latter lacks the frilly leaves that make such a nice show on the salad plate. In winter or very early spring, scatter the seed in drifts on prepared ground and rake them in lightly, or scatter them in prepared containers and scratch the seed in a little with your fingers. Water occasionally and keep an eye out. Early in the spring, you’ll notice the little plants struggling up bravely. Give them a little water when the soil is dry, and thin them out to stand about 4-6″ apart. Throw the washed thinnings in your salads, of course. When the plants are about 6″ tall, harvest them heavily for salads, but don’t cut the crown or pull the roots up. Use dressings containing nut oils and good olive oil. Never dress the arugula more than a couple of minutes before eating, because it wilts easily. Eventually the plants will start to bolt to seed. Do nothing to stop them. The next phase of the arugula season is starting.

The maturing plant will now stand about 2 feet high, with small clusters of buds. It’s perfect for cooked greens now. Leave one or two plants to bloom and make seed, and cut the rest down to about 3″ high, and bring the cuttings into the kitchen. Pull off and save all leaves, and break the bud sections off wherever the stem will snap without resistance. These are your cooking greens. Wash them carefully. If you want to use the large stems that are left over, cut them in cross sections no more than 1/4 inch long, because they contain strong  stringy fibers. I compost them instead of eating them. blanch the washed greens in a large quantity of rapidly boiling water for 1 minute, no more. Drain and proceed as desired toward dinner. They have a flavor a little like broccoli rabe, and I love to eat them with pasta. See recipe below, and for other recipes see my website, www.localfoodalbuquerque.com, go to the “recipes” page, and click on “greens.”

Now, what about the plants you left alone? They will develop into great wispy clouds of small white flowers, a little like annual baby’s breath. Bees adore them. Then they’ll set hundreds of tiny seed pods. When these dry out, let some spill around the mother plant (which can now be pulled up, and should be, because it looks pretty scruffy by now) and toss the rest around wherever you want more arugula. Usually these seeds will be dry and ready for seeding in late summer, will sprout by September, and will be in the salad stage by late October. Leave them over the winter, and the cycle continues.

clich here for the recipe