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Summer Improv Cooking and Pasta Carbonara with Peas

Dull knives, wobbly pans, no pantry to speak of. . . .none of it mattered at the beach last week where I was for the annual family summer outing. My mother, sisters-in-law and I all brought fruit and produce and we feasted, simply (or not so simply on the night we grilled Alaskan Sockeye salmon) and with relatively little time spent in the kitchen. Being able to cook-with-what-you-have is even more useful when you’re on the road and don’t have all your familiar kitchen items so you can pull together something quickly with hungry, sandy children underfoot with minimal stress. With that I should note that I traveled with a mini pantry which included lots of fresh herbs from my garden, ginger, garlic, good olive oil, lemons, dry chickpeas, pinto beans and some cheese. All of this packs easily into a little bag/cooler and makes life in foreign kitchens much more delicious and fun.

My mother shelling the peas she'd brought from her garden.

One night I made Pasta Carbonara with the above peas. This is an inauthentic addition to the classic Carbonara which just includes eggs, cheese, pancetta (or bacon), lots of black pepper and pasta but it’s a mighty good one (recipe below).

I used some of the last of the season’s sugar snap peas, fava and garbanzo beans to make this impromptu three-bean/pea salad. I employed the fava bean cooking technique I’ve discussed here before and it was a winner. Since the peas were getting a little tough, sautéed them for a few minutes and then tossed them with the other beans, some crumbled feta, basil, lemon juice, s & p, and olive oil.

Fava bean, snap pea and chickpea salad with basil, feta, lemon, garlic and olive oil

My mother has one pie cherry tree and she brought enough cherries for a pie. There was an old copy of the Joy of Cooking at the house but oddly it didn’t have one, what I think of as straightforward pie dough recipe. They were either for flour paste pie dough or pie dough with oil or with baking powder. I know the ratio of my favorite pie dough in my head more or less and since we only had  very spotty internet connection I went with my spotty memory. It basically worked well, though I realized I used an extra 1/2 cup of flour so the dough was a little heavier than usual.

Cherry pie

Now life is settling back into routine at home. I’m weeding the garden, getting ready to teach a cooking class tomorrow, working on the fall schedule of classes (some of it already posted) and which will be complete soon. And I’m raiding my kind neighbors’ gardens too. You’ve heard about the enormous bay tree down the street and it got another good pruning from me this morning. Another neighbor’s summer squash is more prolific than mine so I benefitted there too and I’m always shy in the flower department, so thanks to yet another for these beautiful ones.

Neighborhood treasures

Happy summer and happy cooking!

Pasta Carbonara with Peas

Serves 6 as an entrée.

This is fast dinner to make and a very child-friendly to boot. This is a rich dish and needs nothing but a simple green salad on the side. The peas are an inauthentic addition but a very good one. If you want to make this vegetarian, omit the bacon (or pancetta) and add 4-5 cloves of finely grated or minced garlic to the egg/cheese mixture.

3 egg yolks and 1 egg (or 4 whole eggs but it’s richer with more yolks)

1 cup peas (or 1 pint snow or snap peas, trimmed and each pea cut into thirds)

1/3 – ½ cup grated parmesan (or other hard cheese like Asiago Stella)

3 tablespoons of cream (optional)

2 oz of pancetta or bacon, diced

salt/pepper (lots of pepper!)

1 lb spaghetti (or other shape of pasta)

You can cook the peas one of two ways. You can either toss them in with the bacon as it cooks or you can add them to the cooking pasta about 3 minutes before it’s done. Either way is delicious. Fry the bacon (and peas) in a skillet until the bacon has rendered its fat and the peas are just tender. I keep the bacon fat (makes it extra delicious) but you can pour it off or save it for something else if you’d like.

Beat the egg yolks and eggs in a bowl and add the grated cheese, cream, (if using), salt (remember that both the bacon and cheese are salty), and freshly ground black pepper. Boil pasta in generous amount of salted water. Scoop out and save ½-3/4 cup of cooking water and then drain when pasta is al dente. Return pasta to the pan, add peas and bacon, egg mixture and reserved cooking water and mix well. The heat of the pasta will cook the egg and create a lovely sauce. Serve hot with extra cheese if you’d like.  Carbonara is traditionally very peppery so don’t be shy with the black pepper.

Summer (Cherries, Green Couscous, Garlic Scapes)

Dessert in a tree.

My four-year-old son Ellis and I spent a night at my mother’s place last week.  She lives in the middle of nowhere and has neighbors with cherry trees and fruit picking ladders. Ellis climbed right to the top of this rather tall ladder and ate his fill of Royal Ann cherries, gleefully spitting the pits down onto our heads. Actually he mostly missed our heads but cackled with each dropping pit. The setting sun and a sticky, happy kid . . .. Summer, finally here (though absent again today) is so wonderful. And if you have lots of cherries and need a new idea for them, try this wonderful recipe by David Lebovitz for Cherries in Red Wine Syrup.

My cooking has been somewhat sporadic and a bit frenetic of late. We’ve been out-of-town, had visitors, had lots of picnics and barbeques, even a meal or two out. I want to be outside all the time and am spending more time processing berries than making dinner. This means we’ve had a lot of frittatas, salads and artichokes for dinner lately or anything else I can throw together in minutes so I can get back outside.

Green Couscous from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

I have made two dishes worth noting in the last few days. The first comes from one of my favorite cookbooks Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi that you’ve  heard me rave about here before. It’s called Green Couscous and is a herb-heavy, full flavored dish. If you, or you in combination with your neighbors grow mint, cilantro, tarragon, dill, parsley, and arugula, you might be able to make this salad on a moments notice. The recipe calls for toasted pistachios but I didn’t have any and substituted toasted almonds which worked beautifully. This recipe is not super quick. It has a few more steps than most of my dishes but it’s well worth it.

I know our spring here in the Pacific Northwest was cooler and wetter than others so if you no longer have garlic scapes (tops, whistles) in your neck of the woods just file this away for next year. Garlic scapes are the long, elegant stalks that grow up out of a garlic plant. So while the head of garlic is finishing up its growth underground the plant gives us a fragrant, sweet, tender shoot to work with as well. These scapes make a wonderful pesto so if you have some in your garden or see a bunch at the farmers market or in your CSA box, this is one thing to do with it.

Garlic Scape Pesto. Next to the bowl of pesto you see the very tops of the garlic scapes which hold the flower of the plant. You want to use the scape right up to this part but I typically don't include the immature flower in the pesto but come to think of it I'm not sure why. . . .

Garlic Scape Pesto

1 bunch (about 7-8) garlic scapes

generous handful of toasted (or raw) walnuts

1-2 ounces parmesan or Asiago stella

3/4 cup (or more) basil leaves

1/3 cups of good-tasting extra virgin olive oil

salt, pepper

Roughly chop the garlic scapes, with our without the very top, flower part (See note in caption above). Process the nuts and cheese in a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve on toasted bread, with pasta, potatoes, eggs dishes other grains. . . .

Happy Cooking and Eating!

P.S. Two spots left in my August Eat Better Series. Save money, eat well, fewer trips to the store and more fun in the kitchen . . .

Strawberries, Roasted, Baked, . . .

Strawberries: ready to be transformed into popsicles, ice cream, jam and a roasted compote.

It’s been a tough season for strawberries here in the Northwest. The cold and rainy spring has delayed the season and the berries tend to be smaller and less sweet than usual. However, they still are a treat, a long-awaited treat. They are my husband’s favorite berry and they’re really quite versatile. Once you’ve had your fill of them plain, right out of the green cardboard pint basket there are so many options. And if you’re like me and u-pick them or buy them by the flat you’ll quickly realize there really are only so many berries one can eat in the moment before they spoil.

So, this is what my kitchen counter looked like last week after my first real haul of the season. And I’m going back for more later this week since I don’t yet have my quota for plain, frozen berries, jam, etc.

Sliced strawberries waiting to be turned into jam, strawberry yogurt popsicles, roasted strawberries and strawberry ice cream.

I make popsicles all summer and usually add a bit of yogurt and honey to any fruit that’s suitable for popsicles (berries, peaches, etc.). The strawberries I picked last week were not very sweet or particularly flavorful so I decided to roast a bunch of them which is what is in the container on the far right of the photo above. Roasting brings out the sweetness in most any fruit or vegetable and strawberries are well-suited to this technique. I spread about 2-3 pints worth out on a sheet pan (cut in half), drizzle them with about one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and about 1/2 cup of sugar (more if you like them sweeter or the berries are particularly tart), toss well and roast at 375 until they are greatly reduced and the juice becomes syrupy. This can take anywhere from 40 – 70 minutes. They are wonderful over ice cream, stirred into yogurt, mixed with other, fresh fruit in a crisp or cobbler, etc. . . .they are quite intense in this preparation so can go along way.

Baking with strawberries is a bit trickier than other berries. They don’t hold up so well and tend to lose their punch. As you might recall from my wedding cake adventures last summer, creating a concentrated, stable strawberry filling was quite the task. So I was delighted to find this simple strawberry cake recipe on smittenkitchen this spring and have been enjoying it immensely. It’s quick, beautiful and delicious. I have adapted it only in two small ways. I reduce the amount of sugar in the batter to 3/4 cup  and I add 1/4 teaspoon of ground cardamom and 1/8 teaspoon finely ground black pepper to the batter–Makes for a slightly more mysterious cake. And if you’re feeling really adventurous add a little Kirsch to your whipped cream.

Strawberry Summer Cake

And if you really find yourself in a time crunch and need to process berries just freeze them whole in containers or bags. In mid-winter those berries are perfect in a bowl of steaming steel cut oats.

Happy Summer!