Early Summer Pasta with Creamy Walnut Basil Sauce

Early Summer Pasta with Creamy Walnut Basil Sauce

 

IMG_0096

 

This post was going to be about how I have the greenest green thumb and my peas won’t stop producing (my mom would be so proud) so I have to keep finding new ways to eat them that don’t involve stir-fry because I don’t often crave the flavors of Asian food. What is actually on my mind, however, is that I don’t do a lot in our garden. The peas basically grow themselves. I harvest and water, occasionally fertilize, smash bugs with glee and generally curse at them, but our outdoor space is more William’s domain.

Instead, I’ve been spending my time not showing up in key relationships, being “too busy” trying to cross everything off my to-do list, trying to get to work on time, complete grad school classes successfully, commute, run, maintain my blog, volunteer and stay active in community groups, and generally do everything I do to the highest standards I can aspire to, while accomplishing more things than are humanly (for me) possible.

 

IMG_0101

 

I sat at a table for a non-profit board I’m on last weekend and as we went around sharing what we were looking forward to this summer, my mind couldn’t think of a single thing other than getting to the end of the season so I could breathe and have some free time.

It became evident I needed to let things go. While I feel a lightened load from taking items off my plate, I’m also experiencing increased guilt at committing to projects and events and then not following through. I debated back and forth for hours, days, weeks about dropping a class and waited until the last day to finally admit I can’t find 15 more hours in each of my July weeks.

In the name of self-care, sanity and medium/long term health, I’ll be doing less this summer than I aspired to. I’ll be focusing on just being, breathing, enjoying the moment and experience and whatever these months bring more.

I’d rather not get to the beginning of September and wonder where summer went. So today, with my mile long list needing shredded, I’m going to go shell favas in the kitchen, prep an early summer vegetable hash, contemplate making a berry pie with the cache of boysens from Sunbow for William, and generally work on setting down my high standards for now because I get to give myself a break.

 

IMG_0130

 

Early Summer Pasta with Creamy Walnut Basil Sauce, serves 4

This pasta came about through my walnut experiments and out of needing to use what the little plot of land we care in south west Eugene is producing now. Feel free to use whatever vegetables you have. 

8 oz. pasta of choice

1/4 cup raw walnuts, soaked at least 4 hours and drained

2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

3/4  tsp. sea salt

1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

4 cloves garlic

a large handful of basil leaves

1 cup water

1/4 cup chickpea flour

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

1 Tbs. olive oil

1 bunch broccoli, diced into 2-inch pieces

1 medium zucchini, diced

1 medium onion, diced

a medium handful of snow peas, tops removed and cut into 1-inch pieces

minced basil, to serve

additional salt and pepper, to taste

  • Begin making the pasta. While the pasta is beginning to cook, bring together the sauce.
  • Place the soaked walnuts in a food processor or blender. Add the lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic, and basil. Puree until semi-smooth and then set aside.
  • In a small saucepan, whisk together the flour and a small amount of the water until no clumps remain. Then whisk in the remaining water and turn the heat to medium. Whisk for about 5-7 minutes until the mixture resembles a nice thick pudding. Remove from heat and carefully pour it into the food processor with the basil-walnut mixture. Blend it up until completely smooth.
  • In the last minute of cooking the pasta, toss in the broccoli to quickly blanch it. Then, drain it along with the pasta and run under cool water while cooking the remaining vegetables.
  • In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high and then lightly sauté the onion, zucchini, and snow peas until nicely soft and golden, about 5-7 minutes. Into the sauté pan, pour the pasta and broccoli, sauce, and additional salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve topped with a little extra basil for garnish.

Pomegranate, Kale + Pancetta Spaghetti

 
IMG_5155
 
“Go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to the question of whether you must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you.”
                                                            – Letters to a Young Poet, Rainier Maria Rilke 
 
IMG_5191
 
The truth is, the beginning is blurry. When I squint back into the depths of my childhood, my thoughts were not long off of food. I would take cookbooks to bed at night, squinting into the flashlight-shadows, long after my sister had demanded I put our shared, bunk-bedded room into darkness. Looking back at the shy, quiet, anxious little person that I was then, I recall only that I felt most at home in the kitchen. I still do.
 
It began then, I think, with playdough. My mom mixed up homemade playdough. I remember seeing the recipe on a worn index card in her gray metal recipe box, a box that to this day holds her most cherished recipes. There were two recipes in that box that were beyond intriguing to my child-mind:  elephant ears and playdough. The first was something that I had never considered could be made outside of a hot, steamy, trailer-kitchen at the county fair. The second was the only non-food recipe that I’ve ever known my mom to have on hand. I must have asked her, and she mixed up a batch for us. I don’t remember much after beyond the whirl of the mixer blades, and the fact that my mom brought me into the kitchen, handed me the measuring cups, and taught me fractions.
 
IMG_5138
 
From that moment when I learned to turn on the mixer, to scoop flour into the measuring cups, to follow recipe instructions, up to now, nearly 20 years later, I’ve been most at home in any place surrounded by food. It fascinates me in its cultural symbolism, use as a socio-economic tool and weapon, as a draw to family gatherings and entire holiday celebrations, and, most importantly, in its most simple form as basic sustenance for the hunger in all of us.
 
IMG_5151
 
In those simple childhood days, those most-remembered foods symbolize the dearly loved and oft-hated. My favorites from that gray box included our neighbor’s recipe for honey-cinnamon swirl rolls,  my mom’s homemade bread, and leftover-oatmeal cookies with just the right amount of spice. There was my favorite breakfast, dad’s “stinkbug porridge”, which was a simple concoction of raisins and brown sugar. And then the fresh milk from our cow, Betsy, with flakes of cream floating amongst my morning cheerios. I had to plug my nose to get the milk down after staying an extra hour at the table gathering the resolve to drink it. Now looking back, I realize what a precious experience to have been raised in a place where our milk came right from the cow.
 
IMG_5179
 
In this new year and new beginning of sorts, I am reminded of how I am drawn to food as a means of communication and connection. I am reminded of the beginning, how I learned in the kitchen with my mom and the whirl of the blender blades that are still in her cupboard today. I am reminded that food is special, and that when I go into myself, as Rilke suggests, the only answer I come back with is, yes, I must create.
 
Though I can no longer enjoy thick slices of my mom’s bread, or partake in flecks of cream floating in the cow’s milk, I hold in my heart and in my cooking a focus on good, simple, nourishing food, in whatever way it can be most enjoyed. I am looking forward to this year to come, and the creations it will bring.
 
IMG_5150
 
Pomegranate, Kale & Pancetta Spaghetti, serves 3
Pomegranates have been often in our kitchen this winter, more than ever before. This creation happened spontaneously and naturally, out of ingredients we had on hand one evening. It will become a favorite, I’m thinking, in the many wintery days ahead. If you have not used pomegranate molasses, it can be found at a well-stocked grocery store, online, or you can make your own by reducing pomegranate juice in a sauce pan. Don’t leave it out in this dish; it will be missed.
 
6 oz. brown-rice spaghetti (or any type that you prefer)
4 oz. pancetta, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large bunch kale, chopped (I prefer Tuscan but any type will do)
1/4 tsp. salt
3 Tbs. pomegranate molasses
1 Tbs. orange zest
seeds from one pomegranate
salt and black pepper, to taste
  • Cook the spaghetti according to package directions in a large pot. 
  • While pasta is cooking, heat a large sauté pan to medium-high. Add pancetta and cook until almost done. Add the onion and continue to sauté until transculent, about 8 minutes.
  • When onion is very soft, add kale and cook down until wilted, about 5 minutes.
  • Drain spaghetti when cooked, and mix it into the kale and onion mixture.  
  • Add salt, orange zest, and pomegranate molasses. Toss the pomegranate seeds on top and stir them in gently. Add additional salt and pepper to taste, and serve.
 
 

Eggplant & Olive Caponata Pasta

IMG_4803

I grew up eating a lot of meat and potatoes. Both sides of my family have strong Irish heritage, and spilling over from generations who cooked to feed many on less, those meat and potato dishes didn’t come with much by way of seasoning. My dad refused to eat rice without first spewing a gazillion complaints. Spicy food meant a dab of medium salsa and worldly cuisine meant eating tacos with corn tortillas (instead of flour) from the taco wagon, a feat that did not happen until high school.

During my sophomore year in college, the first year alone and off a meal plan, armed with loads of curiosity and roommates willing to branch out, I learned much of cooking, seasoning, and by trial and error, how to eat healthily. I learned to eat and cherish vegetable meals without meat. I discovered new cuisines.

IMG_4800

It was then that I stumbled on a recipe in the food section of the Oregonian for Sicilian Caponata. My love for eggplants, kalamata olives, and Italian cuisine was firmly cemented.

Over the years, this slightly unusual take on caponata has become my favorite pasta dish. It’s the one I talk about when people ask me what to do with eggplant. It’s the one I think about in February when tomatoes and eggplants are all out of season, but the rich combination of heat-loving vegetables, balsamic vinegar, cinnamon and cocoa, capers and olives all stewed into a lovely sauce make me long for summer again. This is the dish I have made over and over this summer, eating it day after day, skipping a week, and then making it all over again. And it is perfect in this month when the garden (and markets) are teeming with eggplants and tomatoes in their end-of-summer glory.

My parents have come a long way since those adolescent days, and though I haven’t made this dish for them, I know they too, would eat it right up.

Caponata Pasta, adapted from the Oregonian, serves 4
olive oil
1/2 a large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. raisins
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbs. cocoa powder
1 tsp. fresh minced thyme
3 to 4 very ripe tomatoes
1/4 cup pitted and sliced kalamata olives
2 Tbs. capers, rinsed and drained
2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
8 oz. tubular pasta (I used Ancient Harvest Gluten-Free rotelle)
  • In a large pan, saute onion, garlic, raisins, and pepper flakes for about 10 minutes or until the onions are soft.
  • Stir in eggplant, sugar, cinnamon and cocoa powder and cook 5 to 10 minutes more over medium-high heat.  You may have to add a drizzle of water to soften the mixture up.
  • Add the thyme, olives, capers, tomatoes, and vinegar.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes more.
  • While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta, taking off the heat and draining just before it is done.
  • Toss pasta with sauce until thoroughly combined and the pasta is al dente.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve!