Tag 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

 

Advertisements

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.

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.

Rich Garlic Soup with Spinach and Pasta Shells

Last week my dear friend Helen was in town and she came over for dinner.

“What do you want to eat,” I had asked her, in preparation.

“Something that you can write about for your blog, of course,” she responded.

Helen is a vegetarian. She is also British, which means she  grew up eating things like bangers and cottage pie and other euphemisms for … well, let’s not go there. In any case, I’d meant to ask Helen why and when she became a vegetarian but I forgot. I suppose it was because she grew up eating bangers.

In any case, the morning of her visit was cold and wet so I decided to make Martha Rose Shulman’s Rich Garlic Soup with Spinach and Pasta Shells for dinner.

I left the cookbook on the counter, opened to that page, while I started peeling the garlic. The Professor raised an eyebrow when he glanced at the recipe, but I pointed to Shulman’s words and repeated them: “It’s a meal in a bowl.”

“OK,” he replied, still skeptical.

The results were mixed.

For a meatless, creamless soup, the broth really was quite tasty and rich, thanks to the addition of four egg yolks. “It tastes good,” The Professor said. “Though I’d still call it subtle.

Subtle! It has damn near thirty cloves of garlic in it! I thought to myself, and turned my attention to Helen.

But The Professor continued his critique. The soup’s main flaw, to his mind, was the toasted bread, which the recipe calls for putting in the bottom of the bowl, sprinkling with grated Gruyere, and then topping with the hot soup. Inevitably, the bread turns mushy, and The Professor can’t abide mushy.

At the end of the meal, The Professor offered his conclusion: “I guess it’s filling … if you eat enough of it. But a meal in a bowl it is not!”

I think the soup is worth trying again — with the bread simply sliced for dunking into the soup, or cubed for sprinkling on top.

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.