End of Summer Pasta Salad

End of Summer Pasta SaladAs summer winds into autumn, I begin to be lulled into a false sense of satisfaction, as crisp nights cause me to begin to dream of sweaters and boots and cooking hearty meals in the kitchen. Then, BAM!, the hot days come back with a vengeance, a t-shirt feels like too much clothing, and there’s no way I’m turning the oven on after all. Happens every year. You’d think I’d learn.

Despite the heat wave, my body has decided it’s pasta time, remembering the chilly mornings before the 100 degree F days. I thought I’d compromise with my cravings by making a cold pasta salad, something assembled, the only heat required being boiled water. I paired dinner with a Red Meritage, enjoying the play of flavors with the different salad ingredients.

End of Summer Pasta Salad

Serves 6-8

1 lb conchiglie pasta
a few splashes of sundried tomato and garlic vinaigrette
4 oz capers
2 roasted red peppers, diced
3 oz kalamata olives
6 crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 basket of cherry tomatoes
1 slicer tomato, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese (I used Pennyroyal Farm’s Pepper Moldune. It gave the salad a nice hint of heat.)

Put a large pot of water over high heat. Cook pasta to package directions.
While pasta is cooking, put mushrooms in a large bowl and drizzle a bit of vinaigrette over them. Toss mushrooms until they’re fully coated. Toss roasted peppers, olives, capers, and sliced tomato into the bowl, mix well, and set aside. This will give the mushrooms a chance to soak in the flavors of everything else hanging out with it.
Once pasta is finished, drain and rinse with cold water until the pasta is cool. Work the pasta through your fingers a bit, since conchiglie likes to nest into clumps.
Add cooled pasta, cherry tomatoes, and goat cheese to the bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Drizzle on a bit more vinaigrette and toss until everything is happily mingled.
You can serve right away, or cover it and leave it in the fridge until the next day, as it will be even more flavorful after a night’s rest.

Eating While Moving

veggiesSelling a house is a new one on me. I wasn’t quite prepared for the moving squared effect of buying a house, packing, moving, and prepping a house to sell. So far, it’s been one heck of a ride, to put it mildly.

While I still haven’t unpacked all of my pots and pans — honestly, most of our possessions are still in boxes — I have been able to keep Charles and I fed on more than just burritos from the local taco joint. Though, those burritos have been the saving grace on many a night. Never underestimate the draw of a good burrito, people.

Here are my tips to having a healthy dinner, even if you’re so exhausted, you feel like you’re going to dissolve into a puddle of goop and pain.

Always have vegetables on hand.
Vegetables can be turned into a salad, a stir-fry, combined with a cheese plate, tossed in an omelet, or added to pasta. Keep in mind, bags of frozen veggies won’t go bad, so it’s always a good idea to have a few bags in your freezer.

Speaking of pasta…

Always have a package of pasta available.
Carbohydrates are good when you’re clocking in tens of thousands of steps a day, carrying boxes up long staircases, or painting walls. I’ve been using dried cheese-stuffed tortellini a lot. It’s available in the bulk department and has so many uses. Toss those aforementioned veggies in your colander, so they get a hot water bath as you drain your pasta — instant soft vegetables. Pasta is also nice to toss into a green salad, or just stir in some cheese with your noodles. Carbs!

Have a couple types of cheese.
I always have a Parmesan in the fridge to dress up pasta, sprinkle on salad, grill into a sandwich. Plus, there’s always the cheese plate! Along with the Parm, I also have one or two soft cheeses on hand at any given time.

Eggs are a must.
Easy protein that can be scrambled, hard boiled (add to your salad), made into an omelette, etc.

Have sandwich fixin’s.
Rarely am I too exhausted to slap some fillings into two pieces of bread. Roasted red peppers and goat cheese? Bread? Boom — sandwich. Scramble an egg, cook it flat, flip, add to bread — egg sandwich. Some tuna with mayo and topped with salad greens and sandwiched between two slices of bread … you get the idea.

This is how I’ve been surviving the chaos of the past two months — a lot of salad, some pasta, a cheese plate or two, sandwiches galore, and honestly, a weekly burrito. Now to get that house sold so we can focus on the new one, and get back to creating recipes!

Baked Pasta with Veggie Crumbs

baked pastaThe words, “pasta bake” have been floating around my head for the past month. Pasta! Cheese! Creamy sauce! How could I go wrong?

While I wanted to make this Mediterranean casserole of gooeyness, it wasn’t until I saw a post on “veggie crumbs” on epicurious that my desire became a must-happen. I mean, it’s easy to find gluten-free pasta these days, if that’s what you need, but an extra serving of vegetables in the form of crumbs? You had me at food processor.

A pasta bake is also an amazing vehicle for vegetables of all sorts. I packed a head of broccoli, 4 cups of baby spinach, and 2 cups of mushrooms into mine, as well as an entire head of cauliflower for the crumbs. Sure, there was cheese in there too, but, vegetables! There were lots and lots of vegetables!

The mushies and light, creamy sauce meant a Pinot Noir was the pairing choice. I chose Husch Vineyards‘ 2010 Pinot. It was scrumptious with the food and amazing on its own.

Baked Pasta with Veggie Crumbs

Serves 6-8
1 package of noodles such as fusilli or rigatoni, cooked to package instructions
1 head of broccoli, chopped into small pieces
2 cups of mushrooms, cooked (I used a variety of mushies.)
4 cups of baby spinach
1/2 cup caramelized onions
1/2 cup roasted red bell peppers
1 1/2 cups of shredded mozzarella
25-32 ounce jar of creamy marinara sauce (I combined Alfredo I made from scratch with a jar of spicy marinara sauce — yum!)

1 head of cauliflower, romanesco, or broccoli, separated into florets
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
In a processor, toss in florets and Parmesan. Pulse until the the cauliflower is the same size of bread crumbs. Drizzle in a little bit of evoo, and pulse until everything is nicely coated.
On the stove top, mix all ingredients together (except cauliflower and Parmesan) in a large pot. Once the cheese begins to melt, turn off heat and run a spoon over the top of the pasta until it’s level. Sprinkle “crumbs” evenly over the top and cook for 22-25 minutes, until hot and bubbly.
Turn on broiler to high and cook about two minutes, until the crumbs have turned a golden brown.
Remove from heat and serve right away.

Avocado Pesto Pasta

avocado pesto pastaToday’s recipe began as a pin on Pinterest. I saw the beginnings of what looked like a pretty tasty – and vegan – meal, only to discover that my pin linked to a different recipe than the image shown. The recipe was not to be found on the blog. Sad face.

Anyone who uses Pinterest on a regular basis knows this is a danger, but dang it, I really wanted that recipe! Since I am who I am, I would not be foiled. I would make my own. And it was successful – and so very, very easy, too!

This concoction was paired with a Sangiovese, just right with the garlic tang and the avocado creaminess of the pasta sauce. The leftovers were a bit homely, as avocado browns quickly, but it was just as delicious as the first night.

Avocado Pesto Pasta

  • Difficulty: super easy
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Serves 4

pinch of salt
1 package whole wheat spaghetti (I used einkorn pasta.)
2 ripe avocados
juice from 1 lemon
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 head of fresh basil, stems removed
½ teaspoon of salt
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
1 package of grape or cherry tomatoes

Set a pot of water over high heat. Add a pinch of salt, and cook spaghetti to package directions. Drain.
While pasta cooks, toss the rest of the ingredients (except tomatoes) in a food processor or high performance blender. Pulse until everything is combined, then run until creamy.
Toss avocado pesto with pasta and tomatoes, and call it dinner.

The Savory Spaghetti Squash

spaghetti squashOne of my favorite things to do is to meander through the produce department to see what’s freshest that day. I go in without a plan and peruse. Based on what strikes my fancy, I proceed to wander the rest of the store, concocting a dish as I go along.

The abundance of summer is over for the year, but there is still so much to be had! I have quite a fondness for winter squash, so I’m never disappointed when autumn begins to show its bright colors and causes us to layer outerwear. Spaghetti squash is a fun one, as it can be used as a substitute for pasta or just tossed with some olive oil and Parmesan for a side dish. I opted for the former this go around the store, and was quite pleased with the result. I added a vegetable marinara sauce, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, chard, and some Italian sausage. It made for a hearty supper.

To pair, I chose a Teroldego. Its light tannins went nicely with the sausage, and the licorice on the mid-palate was delightful with the fennel that had been ground into the sausage. Side note — get to know your butcher. Our local ones at the co-op create the best sausage. A butcher can introduce you to new cuts of meat, and you’ll always find the freshest options. The Teroldego was also rich enough to hold up to the marinara sauce and really brought dinner to the next level.

Spaghetti Squash Pasta

Serves 6

1 medium spaghetti squash*
26-32 oz. jar of high quality marinara sauce (or homemade, of course)
1/2-1 pound of Italian sausage, depending on how meaty you want it
1 bunch of red chard, stems removed and chopped
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut your squash in half. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put it cut side down on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover the squash with either more parchment paper or tin foil and cook for around two hours or until the inside of the squash in tender.

When squash is cool enough to handle, use a fork to scrape the “noodles” out of the squash.

Drizzle olive oil in a saute pan and cook sausage over medium heat until browned. Add chard and cook until the leaves turn dark green and become tender.

Warm marinara sauce and then either toss everything together or layer squash, sauce, sausage, and chard on a plate. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.

*If you plan a little, you can always cook your squash in the slow cooker while you’re at work. Instead of cutting it in half, just pierce it with a fork a few times and cook it on low for about eight hours. In my case, with my commute, it would probably be closer to ten hours. Thankfully, the slow cooker is forgiving.

Garlic Scape Pesto

scapesEach year, for a fleeting spring moment, our produce department carries garlic scapes. These green curly cues are like the promise of warm, lengthening days in food form. Grown from hardneck garlic, this tender delicacy is much sought-after by foodies. It’s a little grassy, a whole lot garlic-y, and conveys the feeling of fresh breezes on a rolling field.

One of my friends looks forward to pickling scapes each year. I, on the other hand, seize the moment and grasshopper-like, devour them all at once in pesto form. Their meteoric burst of flavor is something I look forward to each year.

We paired our spring treat with a Sauvignon Blanc from Selby Winery. The pesto brought out a creaminess in the wine, and the wine’s brightness complimented the grassy garlic flavors of the dish.
scape pesto pasta

Garlic Scape Pesto

serves 2

12 garlic scapes
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup walnuts
about 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Throw everything but the oil in a food processor. Pulse a few times until everything is chopped and integrated. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while the food processor is turned on. Stop drizzling oil when it gets to the right consistency, around the same thickness as a tapenade or dip. Toss with your favorite pasta.

Simple and Fresh

kale-pastaI have been a leafy-dark-green eating fiend since the New Year. It began, of course, with collards. I noticed that I was eating them with an almost frenzied passion, so I figured my body must be in a winter greens mode. I always think it’s a good idea to listen to your body’s cravings — don’t go all “I must have rapunzel or I will die!” or anything, but it’s good to be aware.

Currently, the kale is wonderful — tender with just the slightest hint of bitterness. Searching for a way to incorporate it into a meal that we could eat for a few dinners, I decided to make a simple pasta dish with ingredients I had hanging around. It’s a bit healthier than a kitchen sink casserole, but it was still quite filling and delicious.

Sausage and Kale Pasta

serves 6

1 package einkorn spaghetti
2 links Apple Gouda sausage, sliced into half-inch pieces (I used Niman Ranch sausage.)
1 jar sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, drained and chopped (I threw in a few grape tomatoes, as well, for color.)
1 bunch kale, washed and chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
2 tablespoons butter
7 ounces ricotta cheese
1/2 cup of grated Parmesan
salt, pepper, and roasted red pepper flakes to taste

Terroir_CorbieresBring a pot of water to a boil. Add spaghetti and follow package instructions.
In a large pan, saute sausage until browned. Add kale and cook until leaves turn a darker brown, about five minutes. Toss in garlic and butter and cook until butter is melted.
Take off heat and add the rest of the ingredients, tossing until everything is incorporated. Add pasta and toss again.

We paired the meal with Wine Enthusiast’s 2011 European Winery of the Year, Gerard Bertrand‘s Corbieres. It held black fruit and spicy vanilla notes with a slight touch of Brett. While I’m not usually the biggest fan of ol’ Brett, it was the perfect accompaniment to the kale, and the fruit balanced the sausage and cheeses in a very pretty way.

Celebrating Scapes

One of the things I thoroughly enjoy about the local produce season getting under way is the challenge of the hunt. Since I discovered garlic scapes a couple of years ago, I eagerly anticipate their addition to the produce shelves. They’re only around for a short time, so the scapes have to be celebrated and savored while they’re here.

My favorite recipe for garlic scapes is from Dorie Greenspan’s blog. It’s a lovely, vibrant pesto made with scapes, parmesan, and almonds.

I toss the pesto with some al dente fettuccine, sprinkled some extra parmesan on top, and Kablam – it’s a taste sensation. The intense flavors of garlic and greenness dance upon the taste buds in a very pleasing samba.  We love pairing the pasta with a Viognier. The garlic amazingness brings out pear flavors in the wine that are lovely counterpoints, while the acidity helps the wine hold its own against the strength of the garlic.

One of our local bread bakers is also using scapes right now, in an amazing creation she calls “Armenian Spring Bread.” It’s quite tasty on its own and is an awesome side to pasta.

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