Category Pasta

Pasta with Gorgonzola and Spinach … and Pear and Walnuts

One afternoon last week I opened the fridge, looking for inspiration. I didn’t have a dinner plan and didn’t feel like going to the store. Moreover, having put a lot of effort into cooking a new recipe the night before, I wanted something quick and easy. I found a hunk of creamy blue cheese, left over from a dinner party, and some fresh spinach and thought, why not make a pasta? A Google search led me first to The Passionate Cook and her recipe for pasta with gorgonzola, spinach, walnuts and … single malt.

I didn’t follow her recipe per se — The Professor is serious about his single malts and I didn’t think my four-something would appreciate the flavor in any case — but it convinced me that the idea wasn’t insanity. And I liked the idea of adding walnuts, both for their nutty flavor and for the crunch that they would add to what might otherwise be a rather soft, dare I say “mushy,” meal. One thing I’ve learned about cooking vegetarian meals for meat-lovers is that you can’t ignore texture.

I also decided to top each bowlful of pasta with diced pear. The cool, crispness would, I thought, add yet another texture. And as for taste, blue cheese and pears are a classic combination.

Bringing it all together was delightfully easy. While the pasta was cooking, I wilted the spinach in a saute pan with a touch of olive oil and some salt. Meanwhile, I tossed the blue cheese into a saucepan with some milk, stirring it occasionally as it melted. When it had, I poured it into the saute pan with the spinach, added the cooked pasta, mixed and served, topping each bowl with chopped walnuts and crisp cubes of pear.

The Professor, in his reserved way, was enthusiastic. Though he suggested trying the dish again with Gorgonzola, a sharper blue than the one I had used. The Cambozola, a sort of “blue brie,” was a tad too creamy and subtle (if you can use the word “subtle” to describe a blue cheese).

So last night, I tried again, this time using a Gorgonzola, and the dish earned an A-. The Professor, in agreement with conventional wisdom, thought the flavors worked well together. And the crunch of the walnuts and the crispness, not to mention sweetness, of the pears added welcome texture and complexity to what otherwise would feel like, as The Professor put it, “pasta with cream sauce.”

Even better, my picky four-something ate it. Or most of it — she picked around the spinach but gobbled up enough of the unused diced pear to make it a vitamin-rich meal.

Ingredients

1 lb pasta

1/3 lb gorgonzola

1/4 cup whole milk

5 oz baby spinach (or more)

1/2 pear, diced

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

 

Directions

1) Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta

2) Put Gorgonzola and milk in a small sauce pot set to medium-low

3) Toss spinach and a tsp of olive oil and a pinch of salt in a large saute pan over low heat.

4) If you haven’t already diced the pear and chopped the walnuts then you could do that now.

5) Don’t forget to stir the Gorgonzola

6) When it is melted to your liking (some prefer a creamy sauce, others like to to keep a few bites or bits of solid cheese) pour it into the saute pan with the spinach and stir

7) Add the cooked and drained pasta to the saute pan when it is ready.

8) Divide the pasta into bowls and top each with chopped walnuts and diced pears

 

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The River Cafe’s Pasta with Kale and Lentils Earns an A-

The River Cafe comes to my rescue! The short days and downright cold nights of the last week reminded me that autumn in New England is really two seasons: it begins as the glorious end of summer, with blue skies, brilliantly colored leaves, and warm temperatures; and ends as the beginning of winter, with dark, gray afternoons. Afternoons that make me long for a warming dinner like this pasta with kale and lentils.

The recipe comes from Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray of the River Cafe in London (not to be confused with The River Cafe in Brooklyn, NY, where a handsome assistant professor once wooed me). And to be accurate, the recipe is for “Pappardelle with cavolo nero and lentils.”

Cavolo nero, as my “Italian” mother would call it, is a green with many names. It is also called Tuscan kale and lacinato kale, or dinosaur or black kale. And while I love this kale variety, you could use most any dark leafy green. When I cooked the dish last night, I used baby red Russian kale, because that’s what had arrived in our weekly CSA box, and, natch, I nixed the pancetta.

I also used black beluga lentils rather than the Castelluccio or Puy lentils that the recipe called for. All are members of the prized family of small lentils that tend to hold their shape through cooking.

And …. drum roll … The Professor gave the dish an A-!!!

In terms of taste, The Professor liked the combination of flavors. The garlic and onions did some of the heavy lifting, he thought, but the lentils helped too, adding a “not quite meaty” taste.

He thought it was more satisfying than my kale pasta, where the kale and garlic were doing all of the work. And more interesting: “Sometimes vegetarian pastas are too one-dimensional,” said The Professor. “But each ingredient in there is adding flavor to the dish.”

I’m sure you’ll hear about this dish again as I try to improve its grade from A- to A+. But in the meantime, happy Thanksgiving.

Ingredients:

3 heads cavolo nero, stalks removed, blanched and roughly chopped

1 small onion, peeled and finely sliced

1/2 head celery, stalks and leaves chopped

1 tsp rosemary leaves

1 garlic clove, peeled

1/2 cup Chianti Classico wine

2/3 cup vegetable stock

1 cup cooked lentils (see note below)

1 1/2 pounds fresh papardelle

1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan

Directions:

1. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot and the stock in a small saucepan.

2. Add the onion and celery and cook until they begin to color. Add the garlic and cook for five minutes.

3. Add the wine and cook briefly until it is reduced.

4. Add the lentils, stir, and cook to combine for 3-4 minutes.

5. Add the cavolo nero and enough stock to liquefy the mixture. Season with salt and pepper and heat through.

6. Cook the pappardelle, drain well, and add to the lentil mixture along with the parmesan.

NOTE: Rogers and Gray boil their lentils in water for 35 minutes, with a celery stick for company. I’ve come to like Cook’s Illustrated’s approach, developed to produce lentils that maintain their shape and “firm-tender bite”: The most important step in making a lentil salad is perfecting the cooking of the lentils so they maintain their shape and firm-tender bite. There turns out to be two key steps. The first is to brine the lentils in warm salt water. With brining, the lentil’s skin softens, which leads to fewer blowouts. The second step is to cook the lentils in the oven, which heats them gently and uniformly.

AND ANOTHER NOTE: I’ve just realized that I never wrote a post about Cook’s Illustrated‘s Lentil Salad with Carrots and Cilantro! I must have made it during my blog sabbatical. More on that soon!

Pasta with Cauliflower, Walnuts, and Feta

For a couple of months now I’ve been fiddling with a recipe for pasta with cauliflower, walnuts, and feta that I came across at Smitten Kitchen. Deb, that site’s cook and author, had initially found it in Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables.

It almost seems like a dish born of necessity — as if Alice Waters, in the midst of a snow storm, had opened the refrigerator to find a head of cauliflower and some feta, pulled the last walnuts and some pasta from her pantry, and  made a meal of it. Of course, Waters lives in Berkeley, California, where it doesn’t snow, and even in a storm her kitchen would surely be well-stocked. In any case, The Professor and my preschooler both like pasta, cauliflower, walnuts, and cheese, so I figured it was worth a try.

And indeed, The Professor never failed the dish. Though he has, shall we say, offered constructive criticism.

First, the recipe calls for whole wheat pasta, which he just couldn’t get behind. The next time I made it with white pasta, which was, all agreed, too bland. Most recently I made it with a fresh cilantro lime pasta. The quality of the pasta matters a lot in a vegetarian pasta dish, we decided, and the high-quality fresh fettuccine definitely improved the meal. But any cilantro-ness just disappeared into the sauce.

Yes, the sauce. That was the second big change. I decided we needed something to bind the ingredients together. So I whirled some some feta, walnuts, and a touch of olive oil in the food processor; and tossed that with the pasta before adding the cauliflower, onion, and walnut mixture. The Professor liked the sauce.

“Even if you take a bite of pasta alone, without the cauliflower and other stuff, it doesn’t taste bland,” he said. “I’d like even more of it next time.”

He continued the critique with a few more suggestions. First, the dish needed some heat — and, indeed, The Cook had forgotten to add the red pepper flakes. Second, it needed some color: “Thin strips of jalapeno, which would add spice and color?” he offered. “Or chopped parsley?” And, finally, although it hurts to type it: “The cauliflower itself didn’t have much flavor. Some spots were nicely caramelized. But maybe you could cook the florets with some spices.”

I ignored the comment about the cauliflower. I had to. I’d been working on this dish for months. I’d been trying to perfect roasted cauliflower for more than a year. I’d served The Professor cauliflower in myriad forms over our years together and now … now he was suggesting that the cauliflower tasted too much like, well, cauliflower?!

Instead, I heard “heat” and “green.” And next time he’ll get that. Although I may wait until autumn — peak cauliflower season. I think The Professor needs a  break.

Udon Noodles with Soy-Ginger Sauce

I realized, as I was writing about grilled salmon yesterday, that my recipe for Udon Noodles with a Soy-Ginger Sauce was buried in a post about tofu! I could hardly find it and I knew it was there. So I decided to re-post it.

(Note to self: Make this again soon so you can re-photograph it with your new camera!)

 

Ingredients

1 lb udon noodles
4-6 portobello mushrooms (depending on size and how much you like mushrooms), halved and then sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
2 1/2 cups shredded cabbage (green, Napa, or Savoy)
1/2 to 2/3rds of a bunch of scallions, washed and chopped (use most of the scallion, cutting the whites into fine slices, the green ends into 1/4 inch pieces, and throwing away the fibrous middle)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 inches ginger, chopped
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sweet mirin (a cooking wine sold in the Asian foods section of any well-stocked supermarket)

(A quick note about the sauce: you can make and add more or less sauce depending on how juicy you like it. Just remember the 2:1 ratio of soy sauce to mirin.)

While a big pot of water is heating up, prep the garlic, ginger, scallions, mushrooms and cabbage.
Make the sauce
When the water is boiling, add the udon and a generous handful of salt and set the timer for 6 minutes.
Heat a wok or frying pan, then add oil to coat.
When the oil shimmers, add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring frequently for 30 seconds.
Add the mushrooms and toss to coat with the oil. Sprinkle with salt and cover. Take off the lid every minute to stir and check the mushrooms. If they are done before the noodles, turn the burner off.
When the timer goes off, rinse the noodles in cold water. They should be a bit undercooked — chewy but not crunchy.
Push the mushrooms to the sides of the wok or pan, add the sauce and turn the heat to high. Add the noodles and the cabbage and toss for 1-2 minutes or until the cabbage is warmed and the noodles are coated in sauce and fully cooked. Turn off the heat and mix in the scallions.

A Bittman-inspired Pasta Primavera

A few weeks ago, The New York Times‘s Mark Bittman wrote a column called “Pasta Primavera: The Remix.” Bittman explained the back story of the dish, how the name means “spring pasta” and that it was invented in the 1970s by Sirio Maccioni, the owner of the New York mainstay Le Cirque. And he, Bittman that is, goes on to offer several new and more interesting approaches to the dish.

I should say now, that I’ve never liked “pasta primavera” and wouldn’t have considered serving it to The Professor, who doesn’t really like the concept of vegetarian pastas.

But one night last week, I came down to the kitchen without a solid plan for dinner. I opened the refrigerator, rifled through the drawers, and found a bunch of kale and some asparagus. I knew I had peas and walnuts in the freezer. So, with Bittman’s inventive spirit in mind, I served a “pasta primavera” made of peas, roasted asparagus, and a pesto of kale and walnuts. And, of course, pasta — I served it with a short, shell-like pasta that would catch the pesto and other yumminess.

The Professor loved the mixture of flavors and textures. The nutty, earthy richness of the pesto. The sweet pop of the peas. The bright crispness of the asparagus.

The result: The Professor gave the dish a B+, saying, “I like it better than other vegetarian pastas we’ve tried.”  He loved the taste and “interestingness,” faulting it only for it’s ability to completely satisfy.

What can I say? I’ll work on it!

I’ll also keep track of the measurements next time so that I can post a recipe.

Roasted Beet Risotto

This blog, as many of you know, was named for Martha Rose Shulman’s beet risotto. I’ve usually made it with red beets, but last night I used a combination of red and golden and it was beautiful.

Baked Tofu

The search for a vegetarian version of my udon noodles with a soy-ginger sauce continues. A quick recap: The pescatarian version of my udon noodles — topped with roasted salmon — earns an A from The Professor.

But I’ve been trying to develop a vegetarian version.

Photo by Chris Wells

For my first attempt, I used fried cubes of tofu bought at Whole Foods, but the cubes were too big and required cutting. Early in our marriage, when I was still passionate about our wedding presents, I would have jumped at the opportunity to use the new steak knives. But, while I still love the knives (thanks again, Ruth and Andras!), using them to re-cube the tofu mid-meal was a drag.

I decided to fry my own. So next time, I sliced a brick of tofu in two, pressed out the water, and cut the halves into perfectly bite-able cubes. But things went downhill from there … and I decided to try baking

Again, I sliced the brick of tofu in half the long way and pressed out the excess water. I let it sit in a marinade of soy sauce, mirin, garlic and ginger. And then I baked it at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. And then another 5 minutes. And another five. I kept hoping that the tofu would start to crisp!

Eventually I gave up and served it. The result: the tofu was definitely tasty and brought more flavor to the dish than the unseasoned fried versions I’d already tried. But it was also spongy. It lacked any crispness.

“If you’d never served me the noodles with salmon, I might have thought this was great,” said The Professor. “But it’s definitely not as good as the version with fish.”

So the search continues. But I am optimistic, in part because my friend Joanne, who doesn’t cook, offered up her fiance, who does. I’m hoping to get a lesson in frying tofu from Sean soon.

Fried Tofu … A Tale of Woe

Last night I made soy-ginger udon noodles with mushrooms … and tofu. I have often served the Asian noodles topped with roasted salmon, and that’s been a hit.

Udon Noodles topped with Salmon

But because my ultimate goal here is to find or develop great vegetarian (rather than pescatarian) dishes, I’ve been trying to create a version with fried tofu.

Sigh.

For my first attempt I bought cubes of fried tofu from my local Whole Foods. They were tasty and not too fried, so they didn’t sit like lead in your stomach. But they were also big — so big you couldn’t comfortably get some noodles and a whole cube of tofu into your mouth at the same time.

For my second attempt, I thought I’d just fry up the tofu at home. I diligently pressed the tofu to squeeze out the water, sliced it, heated up a few tablespoons of peanut oil, and tossed the little cubes into the pan. “It will take a few minutes for the tofu to turn golden,” Deborah Madison had advised. So I cleaned some mushrooms while they began to fry. When I turned back to the stove to flip the cubes, I found they were sticking to the pan. Hot oil was spattering, the baby was crying, and eventually I ditched my tongs for a metal spatula and began scraping the little cubes off of the pan’s surface.

My first attempt to fry tofu

Was the pan too hot — or not hot enough? Had I not dried the tofu off enough? Or should I have just used a non-stick pan? I don’t yet know.

On the positive side, the slight crunch of the somewhat overcooked tofu added a nice texture to the dish. That said, next time I think I’ll try baking it.

Rice and Beans

Last night I cooked rice and beans, though I didn’t realize it until after the fact. And neither did The Professor.

I’d decided to try a recipe from one of the cookbooks I’d borrowed from my mother. The cookbook was Risotto: More than 100 Dishes for the Classic Rice Dish of Northern Italy,by Judith Barrett and Norma Wasserman. The recipe I’d picked out was called “Risotto con Fagioli,” and when asked what was for dinner, I told The Professor that I was cooking a bean risotto.

Risotto, one of the cookbooks pilfered from my mom's collection.

“It’s an experiment,” I added, as I saw his brow begin to rise.

“So I see,” he replied.

Though it was only an experiment in that I’d never tried the dish before. And somehow the idea of “bean risotto” sounded novel. But it wasn’t really. The dish could just as well have been called “Beans and Rice, Italian-style.”

The recipe called for a “soffritto” (Italian for the things you saute that will add flavor to the rice) of onion and tomato. I skipped the tomato and used onion, garlic, carrots, and celery. I also added a whole can of cannellini beans, roughly double what the recipe called for.

The result? See for yourself.

Risotto con Fagioli, aka "Rice and Beans, Italian-style"

“It had more flavor than I expected,” The Professor admitted. He suggested increasing the amount of onion next time, and adding something crisp — perhaps slices of zucchini, tossed in at the last minute — to play against the soft texture of the beans and rice. But all in all, he was satisfied. Since he doesn’t grade first-time dishes, I’ll have to wait until next time to find out whether it was satisfying enough to earn an A.

Superfood, super delicious: Pasta with Kale Pesto

Superfoods. If you’re into eating well, then you’ve likely already heard all about these ridiculously nutritious, often cancer-fighting grains, fruits, and vegetables. Many are fairly ordinary: oatmeal, blueberries, and spinach. Kale is one of the less common superfoods, at least in American kitchens. That might be because curly kale, the variety most often found on grocery shelves in this country, is a bit tough and slightly bitter. Tuscan kale (aka cavolo nero, dinosaur or lacinato kale) is sweeter. Though as part of the kale family, it’s passed over by most home cooks and greeted with suspicion by most American eaters.

In short, it’s the kind of vegetable that The Professor would resist on the theory that anything that healthy can’t possibly taste good.

Which brings us to the difference between wives and mother-in-laws. While The Professor has limited veto power at home, when we go to my parents for dinner he eats what he’s served with a good-son-in-law smile on his face. And so it was that one Easter Sunday, The Professor came to eat kale or as my mother called the dish, “pasta with cavolo nero.” (She thinks she’s Italian, remember?)

“That was actually pretty good,” The Professor said on the drive home.  I filed his comment in a mental folder and, a few weeks later, made the dish at home. He ate it, and within a few months, Mom’s kale pasta had become a semi-regular meal. If I got the kale/garlic balance right, even Ella, my three-something, ate it.

Yet … The Professor didn’t love it. It still left him wanting … something. He gave it a B.

So I thought about what I could add that would make the dish a more satisfying meal. Nutritionally, the dish lacked any substantive protein, so I decided to try adding nuts and cheese. I dug out my Mom’s pesto recipe, and replaced the traditional basil and pine nuts with blanched kale and walnuts. And last night, I cooked it.

It was, indeed, better than the original recipe for kale pasta. But a home run it wasn’t. I knew the grade before The Professor even said it: B+.

“Some people might like it with some sliced cherry tomatoes,” he offered. “To add a different texture and color.”

I may try that come tomato season. But in the meantime, I told him, “You don’t get a grade A meal every night. Some nights you’re lucky for a B+.”

If you have thoughts on how to make the dish an A, post a comment or email me at jessie at boingboing.net. Here’s the recipe:

2 bunches Tuscan kale, stemmed and washed

2 cloves garlic (one blanched with the kale, one tossed into the Cuisinart raw)

1 cup parmesan cheese (plus more for sprinkling)

1/2 cup walnuts

1/2 tsp salt (+ more to taste)

1/2 cup olive oil

1 lb pasta

Bring a big pot of water to boil and blanch the kale and 1 clove of garlic for about three minutes.

Use tongs to remove the kale and garlic (you’ll be using the water to cook the pasta) and drain well. When it is cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess water.

In a food processor puree the kale, both garlic cloves, the walnuts and the 1/3 cup of olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

In a bowl combine the kale mixture with the cheese and add salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the pasta, drain, and toss with the kale pesto

Serve with parmesan cheese.