Lemony Asparagus Pasta

So delicious it might become an all-time favorite – A big claim I’ll stand by!

The farm

.When we moved to the farm there was not a single plant that was there for simple enjoyment;  only edible things like rhubarb, asparagus, horseradish and crops. In the past it was a dairy farm with apple orchards and berry bushes and the family had a small fruit stand.  By the time we got here there were few apples and no berries left. We had a professional landscaper design and plant more ornamental things  to  help reduce the wind effects and add aesthetic beauty.  That was twenty  years ago yet we are still making discoveries – the beautiful crab apple tree that produces real crab apples (a rare find indeed!) and a red currant growth in a dark little valley of old trees and underground springs.  This asparagus was gathered from plants that were here for years before we were.  We built a stone wall along the road, undoubtedly killing part of the patch, yet there are about a dozen plants that bring forth these tasty shoots every Spring.  I harvest enough to play around with new recipes.  One of the best recipes for bringing out the full asparagus flavors is this Lemony Asparagus Pasta.  It’s an easy recipe that also tastes much richer and more fattening than it actually is.  We were surprised that a rich sauce is created from the often discarded stems and the liquid from cooking the pasta.  You’ll just have to try this and see if you don’t agree.  It’s really good! Look at this beautiful fresh picked asparagus:

This is a simple dish, similar to Beans and Greens. You may have most of the ingredients in your pantry.  The pasta you use is important.  The Italians knew what they were doing when creating pasta shapes.  I always thought it was random, but different pasta noodle shapes are designed to hold certain sauces.  Strands are perfect for tomato sauces and for coating with a creamy sauce like alfredo.  When you see pasta with little ridges or twists, those are meant to give the sauce something to “hold” onto.  Cool, isn’t it?  So for this pasta dish a pretty little pasta shape that twists, called “gemelli”, is perfect.  If you can’t find gemelli you can try campanelle, penne, farfelle or some other shape that will hold this amazing sauce.

Ingredients:

Asparagus: fresh, at least 1/2 pound

Olive oil: extra virgin 1/3 cup

1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel

Sea salt: 1 Tablespoon to put in the boiling water

Gemelli Pasta: 1 pound (I use gluten-free)

3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, plus extra to sprinkle on top

1 cup of reserved pasta water

Sea Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Food Processor or blender (it is essential for making a creamy sauce-love my mini-blender)

To Prepare:

Cut tips of asparagus off and set aside.  Cut remainder of asparagus stalks, throwing away the fibrous ends that are too hard to cook. A good technique for this is to hold the asparagus near the base and bend to snap off the delicate edible part from the woody base.   Boil a quart of salted water and add cut up stalk (not the tips), cooking for about 3 minutes until tender.  Then carefully remove them from water (don’t throw water away) and place them in a blender, adding the grated lemon peel and olive oil.  Let this set for a couple of minutes while you take the tip ends of the asparagus and boil them in the same water for about 3 minutes or less until they are bright green and tender.  Remove from the water(again do not discard water) and immediately run the tips under cold water to stop them from further cooking.  Set them aside.  Now back to the blender:

Whir cooked asparagus stalks, olive oil and lemon peel in blender until it is completely creamy, like this: 

Don’t underestimate the power in this process.  It’s hard to imagine that this could make such a rich, creamy sauce..but watch. 🙂

Bring the water that the asparagus was cooked in back to a full boil and add the pasta, cooking until it is al dente (to the tooth), following directions on package.  Before you drain the cooked pasta remove 1 cup of the pasta water and set aside to add back into the sauce.  Don’t forget this, it’s full of tasty asparagus flavors.

Put pasta back in the empty sauce pan, add the asparagus tips,  stir in the blended sauce, add in the parmesan cheese and enough of the spare pasta water to make a nice creamy pot of pasta.  Serve in individual bowls sprinkled with Parmesan, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

You can see that I added some slivered smoked ham to this dish.  It doesn’t need ham or any other meat, but we were serving this as the main dish tonight and the ham added a bit of protein.

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Beans N Greens

Frequently I get a hankering for Beans and Greens. It is earthy peasant fare that meets my occasional need for a simpler life.  I also like that it can be changed by simply using different beans or replacing kale with Swiss Chard or spinach. Kale is considered a “super food”, so when you eat it the world becomes a better place!

Spring is the time to be outside raking winter’s debris from the garden, basking in the sweet sunlight.  Except that this year has been a little crazy with the asparagus ready to harvest alongside the new daffodils blooming. April and May daffodils actually showed up before the late February ones.  The lilac bushes are already sporting purple buds at the end of March instead of their typical May show.  However, last night we had a deep freeze and I had to gather armfuls of flowers and the asparagus to save them from being frozen.  Here, take a look at who came in from the bitter frost tonight.  Pretty pretty.

Ahhhhhhhhh…..breathe in deeply and remember Spring really is here and the cold will pass.

This dish definitely improves and is more filling with a crusty baguette.  Early in my gluten-free life my husband and I were at a fabulous restaurant for dinner, me staring blankly at the menu,  tears in my eyes knowing there was nothing for me to choose from. In frustration I asked my husband to see if he could find something for me to order while  I retreated to the ladies room to cry (honestly I did. Most restaurants are completely unaware of how many of us can’t consume gluten). When I returned he had a big smile on his face and a big glass of red wine for me.  What a guy!  The chef directed him to their famous house specialty: Beans and Greens.  Then he recommended the perfect wine to pair it with – Sangiovese.  This was food for the gods, people!  It was so incredibly delicious and earthy and filling I begged for the recipe – and they gave it to me – but I had to cut the recipe down from feeding 100 to feeding 10 – except for the fact that it feels so good to eat this healthy pile of yumminess that it doesn’t feed anywhere near 10 people.

What to do for this happiness:

Purchase a nice big brilliantly crisp dark green mass of kale. You can also make this from escarole or spinach. Have some garlic and cayenne pepper, and if you like a little rosemary or thyme.  Parmesan cheese is to be doled out with generosity.  Cannellini beans.  They can be canned; they can be dried and prepared, doesn’t matter. You don’t like them?  Okay, try it with northern beans or kidney beans or garbanzo’s.  And you will need some chicken broth and a touch of Sherry vinegar.  I make my broth from scratch. Remember to check the label of store-bought broth if you are gluten sensitive. Serve it with red wine, or white, it’s your preference.  I think red wine is great, like a bottle of Sangiovese, in cool weather.  A Chardonnay with a little oak barrel aging is also a good choice. This dish is sturdy and you don’t want the beauty of the wine to get lost under the garlic and earthiness of this dish.

Kale: 1 or 2 large bunches ( escarole or spinach)

garlic:  3 cloves, thin slivers

Rosemary or thyme, if you like (1/4 teaspoon)

Cayenne Pepper: 1/4 teaspoon or to taste

Cannellini Beans:  2 cans

Olive Oil:  3 Tablespoons

Chicken broth: 3 cups (may not need all 3 cups)

Sherry Vinegar:  2 or 3 teaspoons

Parmesan cheese: 1/2 cup

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

In large saute pan heat oil to smoking point and toss in garlic, cayenne pepper and herbs. Use a wooden spoon to stir until the garlic turns a nice golden color.  Reduce heat to simmer and add the kale by handfuls until each bunch wilts, adding more until it’s all in the pan and wilting. You will have to use a spoon to keep pushing the new leaves under.… Add 1 or 2 cups of the broth and simmer over medium low heat, stirring for a minute.  At this point you will add the drained beans.  Toss them in the pan and stir. Cover with a lid and simmer about 20 minutes or so. You’re not really making a soup, but the broth helps to make it tender and you do want enough broth to soak up with a crusty bread.  Then add Cannellini Beans and toss together. Serve topped with a generous amount of Parmesan. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Spring Carrot and Mint Salad: What shall I do with all that Mint?

Perhaps an Easter dinner accompaniment?

Ever come across a recipe that combines ingredients that read so prettily you have to try it?  Here it is – and it’s easy to prepare for a meal or picnic, yet so yummy it may become your healthy answer when that urge for a crunchy munchy hits.   This salad delights with the surprise of freshly ground pepper and mint.  And it’s economical, especially if you are blessed and cursed with an invasive patch of mint like we have.   Many moons ago a friend gave me a copy of The Silver Palate Cookbook where I found this recipe, called Carrot Rapees (rapees is the French word for grated).  We planned to share many meals together from this book, but our lives turned in different directions and it has been, as I said, many moons. Although this wonderful book has fallen apart it is far too good to toss.

A little background on this dish places it in France: a sort of national food found nearly everywhere in one form or another. While essentially grating carrots and adding a little vinaigrette can do the job….this combination is heavenly.  

What you’ll need:

3 large carrots,cleaned and peeled (I don’t peel mine)

1/2 cup dried currants (can use raisins)

juice of 1 medium sized orange

juice of 1 medium sized lemon

1/4 cup mild vegetable oil (I use canola)

1/2 cup chopped fresh mint

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (the pepper is very important)

Coarsely shred carrots.  I’m going to go ahead and confess here that I actually get kind of itchy when I see people cut off half the strawberry in order to remove the stem.  I feel the same way about all veges and fruits (thanks to my Scottish heritage), wasting as little as possible. A great way to prevent grating parts of your fingers in to the salad is to scrub the carrots well and just take off the tiny end tip.  Leave the top intact and use that end to hold your carrots while grating.  That way you can grate almost down to the end without wasting much carrot.  Easily strip the leaves of the mint from the stems by lightly sliding your fingers from the top of  the stem down, then coarsely chop. For the lemon and orange I appreciate the juicer I inherited from my mother-in-law.  It gets all the juice!

Once all ingredients are assembled, toss together in a bowl, like this:

 

This beautiful bunny bowl was a find at a fair. I knew the woman who had hand-made it.  She was a lovely person and I like that this bowl gets a new life. It always waits patiently. 🙂

This will keep for several days if you make enough of it.  Today I’m taking a bit of culinary artistic license and adding a touch of lemon balm from the garden – as equally invasive as the mint, and using golden raisins because I don’t have currants on the shelf.  Currants are uniquely different from raisins and golden raisins, and I prefer to use them.  It turns out this variation is also nice.  Serves 4-6 hungry bunnies!

Favorite Chocolate-Chip Scones from Plums

I’d like to show you my favorite scone recipe. This is from a wonderful little book by Elizabeth Alston called Biscuits and Scones: 62 Recipes from Breakfast Biscuits to Homey Desserts. Published in 1988, a year after I was born, this book contains delicious scone recipes and can be credited with starting my love affair with scones. As you can see in the note one the recipe in the picture, I have been enjoying this recipe since at least April of 1993. Wow.

There it is. Thanks to technology, that fancy thing called a scanner, my mom sent me the instructions straight from the book.

Not everyone finds the scone to be such an important pastry, and I am convinced that this is because their exposure is limited: they tried a dry, crumbly excuse for a pastry from a chain coffee shop (cough Starbucks cough) and quickly wrote off the entire scone family. What a shame.

I have made it my prerogative to change the scone’s reputation. If, when I die, my friends can say about me that I shared the love of scones, I will be a happy girl.

The thing is, this recipe produces a pastry that is light, somewhat flaky, buttery, and just sweet enough but not too sweet. I usually decrease the amount of sugar I add but make up for it by adding extra chocolate-chips. I have tried both buttermilk and plain yogurt in the recipe, and I think I do like yogurt a little better. It produces a slightly richer, moister scone. However, today I used buttermilk and these turned out to be a real treat next to my Sunday latte.

To try the original recipe, save the screenshot above to your desktop. My modifications are below. It’s basically the same except I use less sugar, more chocolate chips, and bake for less time to keep the scones soft.

Favorite Chocolate-Chip Scones from Plums

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk or plain greek yogurt
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips

Mix flour and baking powder in a bowl. With an electric mixer, beat butter on high until creamy. Add sugar and beat for a few minutes until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each.

Scrape sides of bowl; reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture; mix until only blended. Scrape sides; add buttermilk or yogurt and mix only until blended. Sprinkle chocolate cips over the batter and fold in.

Scoop 1/3 cupfuls of dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet, placing the mounds 2 inches apart. Refrigerate for about 45 minutes (or freeze, and when hard, remove and place in a plastic bag and freeze for up to 6 weeks).

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake scones for 15 minutes. Turn heat down to 325 and bake about 10 minutes longer, or until pale golden brown. Cool, uncovered, on a wire rack.

Best enjoyed on the porch with french press coffee.

Gluten Free Irish Soda Bread (my Scot-Irish-German way)

It is true that everyone and their mother (bless her heart) is making and blogging about Irish Soda Bread this week, so I was thinking I probably shouldn’t.  I am Scot-Irish, my husband German-Swiss, so our kids get the cool mixture of German-do-it-right and Irish-why-bother.

Many people of northern European descent are gluten-intolerant like me. The fact that I made a New Years vow to not let anything rot in my refrigerator and that it would cost too much to go fetch it from the store in my gas guzzling farm truck calls to the frugal Scot in me. Does all this give me the right to make Irish Soda Bread?  You bet! We need this gluten free recipe. And once again, I would like to thank our hens Edith, Agnes and Margo for their contribution of the eggs that I only have to go as far as the barn to obtain.

Traditional Irish Soda Bread is simply made of flour, soda, sour or buttermilk and salt.  I have made it that way and it’s nice, but I don’t waste my time on just “nice” now that I can’t eat most baked goods.  I want spectacular.  Sifting through recipes netted far too many options so I went with what seemed right to me.  I used eggs, sugar, raisins, and caraway seeds, and, since I didn’t have buttermilk, I used a combination of plain yogurt and sour cream.  Oh, and don’t forget the choices in gluten free flour.  We never ever ever know how that’s going to make a recipe turn out. By the way, this recipe did turn out spectacular.  It is heavenly soft and light and just slightly sweet. The caraway seeds added a bit of zest. I used a convection oven for this because it usually nets the best results.

It has occurred to me that many readers might be wondering why some recipes fail. I can’t tell you how many times distraction has caused me to leave out an important ingredient, so I have learned (and most of the time practice) to have measured and ready all the necessary ingredients.  Once I’ve added an ingredient, I move the empty container to the other side of the work area.  See how nicely organized this is?  

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees (if convection, 340 degrees) and butter a pan at least 9″ round.  Have measured and ready to go:

3 1/2 cups flour (gluten free I used 1/2 cup buckwheat, 1/2 cup sorghum, 2 1/2 cups rice blend flour)

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 whole large eggs

8 ounces sour cream

8 ounces plain yogurt

2 Tablespoons caraway seeds (optional)

3/4 cup raisins (optional)

In large bowl blend flour, salt, sugar, baking soda and baking powder.  In small bowl beat eggs.  Add yogurt and sour cream to beaten eggs and blend well.

Pour the egg mixture over the dry ingredients and mix well, using a wooden spoon, until dough is formed. 

Add raisins and caraway seeds to mixture and either with the wooden spoon or by hand, mix until well-distributed throughout dough.

Next place the big glob of dough in the prepared pan and sprinkle a little extra flour over it so that you can shape it into a nicely rounded form.

Once you have shaped it cut a cross lightly into the top with a knife, like this:

Place it in the oven and bake for approximately 50 minutes.  Using the convection oven I had to bake it longer, but the test is when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out dry.  You don’t want a gummy loaf of bread.  It will also start to be golden around the edges and on top.

Once it is finished, place it on a rack to cool a bit before slicing.

There will be some flour on top but, not to worry, you can spread a bit of butter over the warm loaf.   It is beautiful, and, as you can see, it slices into nice wedges.  So often gluten-free flours don’t hold together or end up tasting like cardboard.  This is delightful with a little butter and served with tea – or a lovely dark Guinness for those who can.

Dinner Time Blues

This is my fridge. Don’t be deceived by the over-crowded appearance. None of that food is mine (except the four loko). I live with three teachers, and they have their acts together enough to own cars and go grocery shopping weekly. Yeah, that’s not me.

This blog is all about food, right? And since it’s a food blog, that means we have to share the best of the best, the yummiest, most spectacular recipes ever, right?

WRONG.

You may not like this, but this is my blog, and you probably aren’t even reading. So stop.

Now where was I.

Okay. So let’s talk about what you do when you have nothing in your fridge or pantry to turn into a meal. Usually I start crying. Then I eat a cookie or drink a beer to distract myself. Then I cry a little more, break down, and order a pizza. I’m gross.

But tonight, I decided to combine a few unsuspecting ingredients. I’m creative. I know how to cook. This is totally gonna work!

WRONG AGAIN.

I had rice, frozen vegetables, and some blue cheese. I had other stuff, sure, but I of course decided to combine these ingredients. Who would’ve thought that blue cheese, which I love oh so much, would turn into disgusting gasoline tasting paste when melted into rice? I’m mad. What a waste of precious blue cheese. I want a refund. From myself.

It even looked appetizing! See.


Okay, maybe not that appetizing. Now I get to spend the rest of my night eating cookies to get rid of this taste in my mouth.

I’d love to hear comments on your go-to meals when you have seemingly nothing in the fridge. Please. Help me. All my cookies are stale.

Gluten Free Pasta Primavera: The Meaning of Spring

Primavera literally translates to “The meaning of Spring.”  Bright, beautiful, and fresh, what could scream “SPRING” louder?  ….the Peepers, of course!  We combined the two, added a little background blues music to help the Peepers along, sat under the full starlit sky and dined on Pasta Primavera.  There was a shooting star to match a bottle of Alasia Moscato D’Asti, which tastes like sparkles and honey and perfectly finished off the freshness with more freshness.

That said, I know these blogs make it seem like life is perfect, but the reality is that things don’t always work out the way they should.  The timing of dinner and who dinner was being prepared for didn’t match up, I got all grumpy, then kind of apathetic and then got over it and had to reheat cold Primavera. There. That’s the truth. Sometimes we don’t communicate well, promptness is an issue, and I’m going to stop here. 🙂

It was a beautiful night and all is forgiven.

Look at these vegetables.

A fresh medley of colorful vegetables is what you want. I chose sugar snap peas, yellow squash, petite carrots, cauliflower, onions, and cherry tomatoes for a burst of color and flavor.  Cherry tomatoes do the job better than slicing big tomatoes. Bell peppers come in red, green, yellow and orange.  You can use asparagus, mushrooms, eggplant – the list is endless – and make sure you have more than enough vegetables.  They’ll cook down and you want this to be more vegetables than pasta.  If you use big carrots, cut them in matchstick sizes along with the peppers and squash, like this: 

Once you have the vegetables cut into matchsticks or sliced in big chunks you will place them on a roasting pan (you may need two pans) and drizzle extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and Herbs de Provence over them.  Herbs de Provence can be purchased already prepared but it is simply a combination of  dried herbs commonly used in Provence: lavender, fennel, thyme, savory, sage, basil (but the list can be bigger).  I used a mortar and pestle to grind the lavender and fennel first.Herbs de Provence

Lavender and Fennel Seed

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Place the vegetable pans in the oven and cook for about 10 minutes. Stir. Then cook another 10 minutes or so until the vegetables are softened, golden, and roasted.

Meantime, place a large pot of cold water on the stove, add a few tablespoons of Kosher salt and bring to a boil.  Add 1 pound of good quality gluten free pasta like bow ties or penne and cook as directed until al dente (to the tooth).  Save about 1 cup of the pasta water when you drain the pasta in case you need to add more moisture to the pasta and vegetables.  Toss the vegetables, pasta and about 1/2 a cup of water. Top with Parmesan cheese, serve in bowls and dive in!

Best eaten sitting under the stars on a warm Spring night.

You’ll notice I didn’t offer exact amounts of ingredients.  All I did was go crazy in the produce department, picking out pretty colors and shapes.  It goes without saying that the best ingredients make the best meal.  Olive oil, Parmesan cheese, salt, freshly ground pepper and your choice in pasta will make this what you want it to be: Your own Primavera, meaning of Spring.  Happy Eating!