Orecchiette with Greens and Beans

One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about motherhood so far is introducing our daughter to new foods. It’s been so much fun watching her take a tentative bite, have an initial look of shock or horror, suck on her thumb for comfort while she pieces it out whether she likes the taste or not, then signalling that she’s willing to give it another try by popping her little mouth open. We soon know whether it’s met her approval when she smiles broadly and leans forward, eager for another bite. So far, the only thing that she has flat-out, consistently refused is cauliflower, and being a recent but still wary cauliflower convert myself, I can’t blame her.

Being foodies ourselves, I hope that we can continue to cultivate her palate, but I know that in all likelihood, this openness to eating green, leafy vegetables and trying new things is sadly unlikely to last. In the meantime though, I’ve had fun experimenting with some of the techniques and suggestions from What Chefs Feed Their Kids, a cookbook with ideas for meals that both parents and kids at all stages can enjoy together. This dish is inspired by that book’s Wild Greens Puree, a delicious mess of wilted kale, collard greens, spinach, basil and parsley. Our daughter runs hot and cold for that puree, although lately, she eats it more consistently when blended with a white bean dip. On the days when she refuses it, John and I don’t mind, scooping it up with tortilla chips while sipping some pre-dinner martinis as we complete her bedtime routine. Yeah, it’s just that good.

Recently, I found myself with a bunch of leftover greens and an extra can of white beans in our cupboard after we made some purees for her meals. The cookbook suggests thinning the greens puree into a soup for the adults, but I liked the idea of making a heartier meal and using the greens and beans in a pasta dish with some crumbled sausage. The one issue was that I felt like just mixing sautéed greens into the pasta would mean stringy, difficult to eat pieces of vegetables, so I decided to cook down my mix of green vegetables, then puree them into a slick sauce to coat the pasta. I browned some crumbled, spicy Italian sausage then sautéed some shallots and garlic in the rendered fat. I then piled on the green vegetables– kale, mustard greens, and spinach. Once wilted, I added the mix to a blender with a splash of chicken stock and pureed it until I had a bright green sauce. This went back into the pan with the sausage, some cannellini beans, and the pasta, then mixed to coat. A sprinkle of fresh basil added some brightness. This was delicious, and I love the fact that we were eating a combination that our daughter loves to eat too. Next attempt on this front: pureed, roasted eggplant for her; baba ganoush for us!

  • 1 lb dried orecchiette pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lb bulk Italian sausage (sweet or hot)
  • 2 large shallots, halved and sliced
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 bunch each: kale, spinach, and mustard greens, leaves removed from stems and roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 15oz can cannellini beans, drained
  • 1/4 cup torn basil leaves

Cook pasta about 2 minutes shy of package directions in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Reserve about 1 cup of pasta cooking water when ready to drain.

While water for pasta comes to a boil, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add sausage and cook until browned and caramelized, about 7-8 minutes. Remove sausage from pan, leaving rendered fat behind. Add the shallots, garlic, and red pepper flakes and saute until shallots are softened, about 2-3 minutes. Add the chopped mixed greens in 1/3 batches, wilting down one batch before adding another. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. When the leaves have all cooked down, add all the contents of the pan to a blender with the chicken stock and puree until greens are finely chopped and you have a smooth sauce. You might add some of the pasta cooking water to achieve your desired consistency. Adjust seasoning to taste. Add the pasta, the cooked sausage, drained beans, and the puree to the pasta cooking pot and mix until combined. Add more reserved pasta cooking water if mixture gets too dry. Spoon onto plates and garnish with torn basil. Serve with grated cheese if you wish.

Makes 6-8 servings.

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Rainbow Chard & Pea Carbonara

Spaghetti carbonara has been eluding me. In the past, things would go wrong: not enough egg to create a silky sauce; too high heat so the pancetta burned; wrong kind of cheese so that the whole dish tasted funky.

Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis should know that when I find something to be culinarily challenging, I’ll keep returning to it until I’m satisfied. Plus, who wouldn’t want to master spaghetti carbonara– eggs, cheese, bacon, so delicious not to mention that it’s a super fast meal to throw together when pressed for time.

The other challenge to spaghetti carbonara for me? Trying to find a way to make myself feel a little better about eating it. In this case, I had rainbow chard and shell peas from the CSA. I thought that the bright burst of green vegetables would not only make this a dish as pretty to look at as it is to eat, but that it’d be a great way to punch up the nutritional value of this meal. It turned this pasta dish into a one pot meal since the fresh vegetables mixed in meant that I could skip out on making a side salad… or at least so I convinced myself.

With three eggs, 4 slices of bacon, some garlic that sizzled in the bacon fat, and 6 oz of ground up Parmesan cheese, I achieved the right balance for a silky sauce and the chard and peas brightened up the flavors. Fast, seemingly healthy, filling, yet light– perfecto!

  • 3/4 lb spaghetti, cooked according to package directions, reserving 1 cup of pasta cooking water
  • 4 slices thick cut bacon, diced
  • olive oil
  • 3 eggs beaten
  • 6 oz Parmesan cheese, ground in a food processor
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1/2 bunch rainbow chard, chopped
  • 1/2 pound shell peas
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Boil water, salt it, and cook pasta according to package directions. While pasta cooks, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until crisp then remove to a paper towel lined plate with a slotted spoon. While bacon cooks, beat eggs in a large mixing bowl and grind cheese in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add cheese to the eggs along with 1 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon black pepper. Mix until combined. Add garlic to the bacon fat and cook for 30 seconds or until aromatic. Add the rainbow chard and peas and cook until chard is wilted and peas are bright green. When spaghetti is cooked to al dente, drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water. Quickly toss spaghetti in egg and cheese mixture, tossing to coat each noodle in the sauce. Add pasta water as needed to achieve sauce consistency. Mix in cooked vegetables. Plate and serve immediately, topping with parsley and more cheese as desired.

CSA Count: 4

Rainbow chard, shell peas, garlic, parsley

Fresh Pea Pesto Penne

A couple of weeks ago, we got our first batch of shell peas of the season from the CSA. I wanted to try something new with them, other than sautéing them, adding them to a stew, or making a spread. After seeing a post on fresh pea pesto on another food blog, I thought I’d try making a pasta sauce out of the peas too.

I dutifully started shelling peas, a task that I oddly enjoy but has become a game of sorts lately– how many pea pods can I get through before the baby needs a diaper change or needs to be nursed? In any case, there’s something oddly satisfying about splitting open that crispy, green shell, running your finger along the peas to release them from the pod, and hearing the plinks of each pea as it falls into the bowl. The one downside is seeing how much work you did for a relatively little yield. I took this picture to show how much I’d be tossing in the compost compared to how much I’d actually use for this dish. In this case, I think I shelled 1.5 lbs of peas to get about 1.5 cups of peas.

But the work is worth it. I took those peas and blanched them before adding them to a food processor with some toasted walnuts, garlic, lemon zest, fresh mint and dill and salt and pepper. I then took some of the water in which I cooked the pasta and streamed that in while processing until I had a smooth, pesto like puree. I added my pesto to the cooked linguine and mixed in some marscarpone cheese and a splash more of that pasta water. The noodles were soon covered in a slick, pastel green sauce. How did it taste? The sauce was sweet and creamy with an underlying grassy taste from the peas and fresh herbs, yet warmed through from the toasty, nutty taste of the walnuts. This was a fast, refreshing, and relatively healthy meal. The only heat generated was from water boiling on the stove, so definitely a dinner to keep in mind during high summer heat and peak shell pea season.

  • 12 oz whole wheat penne pasta
  • 1 cup walnut halves, toasted
  • 1.5 lbs shell peas (or 1.5 cups fresh peas)
  • 2 medium cloves fresh garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons each fresh dill and mint, chopped
  • 6 oz marscarpone cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Bring a small pot of water to boil then add the peas. Simmer for 4-5 minutes or until peas are bright green. Drain and submerge under cold water to stop cooking. Add the peas, toasted walnuts, garlic, lemon zest, mint and dill to a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process while streaming in pasta cooking water until you have a smooth paste, about 1/3-1/2 cup of water. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the pea pesto mix to the hot pasta along with the marscarpone cheese. Splash in more pasta water until you get a sauce consistency to your liking. Serve immediately.

Yields 4 servings.

CSA Count: 3

Shell peas, fresh garlic, dill

Garden Count: 1

Mint

Yogurt Spaghetti & Lamb Meatballs

Yogurt spaghetti? Really? Yes really.

Well, not really, if you think I mean spaghetti made from yogurt. I mean a spaghetti tossed in a sauce made from thick, creamy, tangy Greek yogurt. Mixed with fresh baby spinach and topped with sweet, spicy, and savory lamb meatballs, and you have my post for May’s trip to Greece on My Kitchen, My World.

Let’s start with the meatballs. I took ground lamb meat and mixed it with grated onion, garlic, toasted pine nuts, fresh mint and parsley, and to add sweetness and take some of the edge off of the gamey flavor, some honey. Since this is a Greek inspired dish, I also tossed in plenty of cumin, cinnamon, and oregano to try to mirror the flavors of a good gyro too.

To make things a little easier, I browned the meatballs on the stove top before setting them on a wire rack set in a baking sheet to bake the rest of the way through while I cooked the pasta and made the sauce. Choosing a whole wheat pasta for its nutty flavor, I cooked the pasta according to package directions for al dente then reserved a half cup of the starchy cooking liquid. This was mixed into 2 cups of Greek yogurt and plenty of sharp Romano cheese. Fresh baby spinach added some nice crunch while topping everything off with plenty of fresh mint and parsley made this creamy, hearty pasta bright in flavor. If I did this again, I’d probably take a tip from an Amy Sedaris recipe for yogurt spaghetti by adding a ton of caramelized, sweet onions. That way, the pasta itself would have more flavor. As this recipe that I’m about to give you will be written, you have to take a bite of the meatball with each bite of pasta and spinach to maximize the flavor, but oh what flavor! If you’re looking for a twist on spaghetti and meatballs, give this a try for its balance of sweet, spice, tang, and fresh green flavors.

Note: You can use any grated, sharply flavored cheese here, be it Parmesan or of course, a Greek cheese like myzithra; Romano is just what I had on hand. If you wanted to add onion to the yogurt, I’d take a large, sweet onion, finely dice it then cook it over low heat in a tablespoon each of olive oil and butter with a pinch of sugar to help the caramelization. Stir occasionally to keep from burning, and cook until golden, yellow-brown, probably about 35-40 minutes.

  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, grated on the large holes of a box grater
  • 2 medium cloves of garlic, grated
  • 1 tablespoon Montreal steak seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • olive oil
  • 1/4 cup each chopped fresh parsley and mint (taking out 1 tablespoon from each to put into meatballs)
  • 1/2 pound whole wheat spaghetti, cooked to al dente according to package directions, reserving 1/2 cup of cooking liquid
  • 2 cups plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach
  • salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and prepare a baking sheet by lining it with foil and placing a wire rack on it. In a large bowl, combine the ground lamb, grated onion, grated garlic, steak seasoning, cumin, oregano, coriander, cinnamon, egg, bread crumbs, pine nuts, honey, and 1 tablespoon each of the chopped fresh mint and parsley. Mix together with hands until just combined, then form into 1 inch meatballs. You should get about 18-20 meatballs.

Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium high heat. When oil ripples, add half of the meatballs, browning on each side before removing to the prepared baking sheet, about 2 minutes per side. Repeat with second batch of meatballs then place in oven, cooking for 15 minutes or until cooked through.

While meatballs bake, cook  and drain pasta, reserving a half cup of the cooking water. Mix the yogurt, grated cheese, and pasta water together until you reach a sauce consistency. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper or to taste. Mix the sauce together with the cooked pasta and spinach. Plate pasta with 3-4 meatballs then top with a sprinkle of reserved fresh mint and parsley.

Yields 4-5 servings.

Chorizo & Clam Fettuccine

When my parents come to town, it’s usually late-ish on a Friday night. They haven’t eaten, having waited until they see us to grab dinner, so where do we go? People may not normally think about hanging out in a hipster-filled bar with their parents, but there’s one in West Seattle that is usually our best bet for a good, late night dinner.

One of the things I love to eat there is a dish of Manila clams, steamed in a peppery tomato broth, spiked with pieces of chorizo and slightly thickened with starches from grains of farro that add such a nice texture contrast. Since John and I love the simplicity of a steam clams and loaf of bread meal at home, I thought about how I could change up the flavors of that meal with something inspired by that farro and clam dish.

I started by browning some spicy chorizo sausage, then sautéed some onions, garlic, jalapeno for heat, and fennel in the rendered fat. For added color and sweetness, I added some sliced red bell pepper before throwing in the clams and some chicken stock then closing the lid to the let the clams do their thing. After the clams opened, I tossed the whole mixture with some undercooked pasta to let the pasta finish cooking in the mix of clam juice and stock. For some fresh flavor, I sprinkled some parsley, cilantro and lemon zest before serving. The clams were tender, the peppers were crisp, and I loved the balance of heat and sweet in the pasta sauce thanks to the vegetables. If you make this at home, don’t forget to indulge in carbs, and serve with some toasted garlic bread for sopping up the extra sauce!

Note: As I look back on this, I think I would have played up on the Spanish influences a bit more by swapping out the lemon zest for some freshly grated orange zest instead. For more of an acid taste, substitute a good dry white wine for half of the chicken stock if you wish.

  • 1 lb ground chorizo
  • olive oil
  • 3/4 lb dried fettuccine, cooked about 2-3 minutes shy of al dente
  • 1 medium white onion, halved and then sliced from pole to pole, about 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced into 1/4 inch thick pieces
  • 4 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons
  • 1 medium jalapeno, halved lengthwise, then sliced cross-wise into 1/8 inch thick half-moon pieces
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into 2 inch long, 1/4 inch thick pieces
  • 1.5 lb Manila clams
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • chopped fresh parsley and cilantro
  • zest of 1 medium lemon, grated

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta while you cook the clams. Heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet that has a fitted lid over medium high heat. Add the chorizo and brown thoroughly, about 8-10 minutes. Remove chorizo to a plate, then add onion, fennel, garlic and jalapeno to skillet. Saute until onion is softened, about 5-7 minutes. Season with a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of pepper and the red pepper flakes then add the red bell pepper. Continue to cook until bell pepper softens a little, about 3-4 minutes. Add the clams and the chicken stock then cover with lid. Cook until clams have opened, about 10-12 minutes.

Drain pasta and return to pot. When clams have opened, pour the contents of the skillet into the pasta pot and toss to coat. Cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes or until pasta has absorbed some of the clam and chicken broth and is al dente in texture. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper then sprinkle in lemon zest, some parsley and cilantro. Serve in a big bowl topped with additional cilantro and parsley.

Lemony Chicken Meatballs & Cavatappi

I know that when it’s cold and rainy outside I tend to post comfort food ideas. Comfort food is comforting, of course, because it tends to be rich and fatty. As John likes to say, “Why does fat taste so good?” Here’s an idea for a meal that’s comforting, yet light and healthy.

It starts with chicken meatballs. I took ground, white chicken meat and combined it with bread soaked in milk, garlic, spices, and lemon zest before baking these in the oven. I ended up with soft and tender meatballs, bright with citrus flavor, and even better– hands and stress free since they bake instead of browning in a pan of oil.

Those meatballs were then combined with creamy white beans, chopped escarole and radicchio, chicken stock, and some butter before being spooned over whole wheat cavatappi. The greens gave some texture along with an undercurrent of bitterness to pair with the nuttiness of the whole grain pasta. With parmesan cheese running throughout and some extra for sprinkling on top of bowls of warm pasta, here you have a pasta and meatballs that provide warmth and comfort from the variety of flavors, but won’t weigh you down.

Meatballs

  • 13 oz ground chicken meat
  • 2 slices white sandwich bread, trimmed of crusts and soaked in 1/2 cup whole milk
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (about 1.5 teaspoons)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • cooking spray

Pasta

  • 1 lb whole grain cavatappi or pasta shape of your choice, cooked according to package directions and reserving 1/2 cup of cooking water
  • 15 oz can cannellini beans, drained
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 medium head escarole
  • 1 small head radicchio
  • 1 small white onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1.5-2 teaspoons)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan plus additional for passing at table
  • salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Squeeze excess milk from bread then combine bread with ground chicken and remaining meatball ingredients, except the cooking spray. Mix with your hands until combined but do not over mix. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place a cooling rack on top. Lightly spray cooling rack with cooking spray. Form meatballs, about 1 inch in diameter. You should have between 24-28 meatballs. Place meatballs on cooling rack and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until meatballs are cooked through, flipping meatballs and rotating tray about half way through cooking time.

While meatballs bake in the oven, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet. Add onion, garlic, escarole, and radicchio and saute until onions are softened and greens have wilted. Add the beans and butter and cook until butter has melted. Add chicken stock then stir to combine, cooking until chicken stock reduces by about 1/2. Add in 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese then adjust seasoning to taste. Combine with meatballs and cooked pasta and slowly stir in reserved pasta water until sauce is a consistency to your taste. Serve with additional parmesan cheese grated on top.

CSA Count: 3

Onion, escarole, radicchio

Forever Summer Gnocchi

When asked what my favorite season is, I always feel a little conflicted: here in Seattle, it’s summer, but anywhere else in the world, it’s autumn. I love the warmth of fall colors, the more temperate climate, and the start of sweater season, but here in Seattle, fall depresses me for the most part. This is the time of year from which we get our bad reputation for non-stop rain. As I’m writing this, it’s a cold, grey, and pouring first day of November, and if this month is anything like the last few years, I can expect the weather to stay like this every day for at least the next three weeks.

But I can’t totally complain about a Pacific Northwest fall. In one very important way, our autumn is better than anywhere else– the mad rush of late summer produce that keeps showing up at markets throughout September and even into October. It’s not uncommon to see produce stands stocked high with ears of corn and tomatoes (well, ok, not this year as this was a rotten summer for tomatoes here) alongside piles of apples and winter squash. It’s my foodie dream and nightmare as I am so excited to have such a variety of produce to play with but also a little overwhelmed by so many options.

For me, this gnocchi represents that transition from summer to fall. I was inspired after John and I had dinner at one of our favorite local ale houses. John ordered their special: a plate of tender chicken and gnocchi enveloped in a rich brown butter sauce. That’s fall comfort food at its ideal, if you ask me. Back at home, however, I had a refrigerator full of summery produce from the CSA: yellow and green squash, red ripe tomatoes, crisp Roma beans, and sweet corn. I wanted to recreate that ale house gnocchi but with the bright, fresh, and crunchy flavors of my summer vegetables. In the end, it was perfect: I had shallow bowls of pillowy gnocchi, specked with bright colors, sweet vegetables, and a light sauce made from browned butter and chicken stock. It’s the perfect reminder of summer to combat the rainy days of November.

Two 9 oz packages of prepared gnocchi, cooked according to package directions

  • 1 store-bought rotisserie chicken
  • 1/2 lb Roma beans, cut into 1/2 inch wide squares
  • 3 ears of corn, kernels removed from cob
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1/2 large red onion, cut in half and sliced thinly
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 4 baby yellow squash
  • 1 medium green squash
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh savory or thyme
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus more for garnishing at the table
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
  • 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • salt and pepper

Shred the chicken breasts from the rotisserie chicken and remove the skin. Reserve the rest of the chicken meat for another purpose.

Bring a medium pot full of water to a boil. Add about 1 tablespoon of salt then add the corn and Roma beans. Boil for about 5 minutes then drain and run cold water on top of the vegetables to cool them down and slow the cooking. Meanwhile, heat the canola oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. Saute the onion and garlic until the onion is softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add the squash and cook until tender, about 10-12 minutes. Mix in the corn, Roma beans, and savory then season with salt and pepper to taste.

While the vegetables cook, cook the gnocchi according to package directions. Add the butter to a medium skillet and heat over a medium flame. The butter will melt and foam up. Once the foam dissipates, stir the butter frequently and keep a close eye on it, removing it from the heat as soon as the butter turns a nutty brown color and is fragrant. Add the drained gnocchi to the vegetable mix. Over medium heat, add the butter, chicken stock and grated cheese, tossing gently to coat. Cook over a medium flame until the sauce thickens slightly and is absorbed into the gnocchi. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Plate the gnocchi topped with chopped chives and tomatoes with additional cheese to pass at the table.

CSA Count: 7

Roma beans, corn, red onion, baby yellow squash, green squash, chives, tomatoes

Garden Count: 1

Savory