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Posts tagged ‘quick dinner’

Cauliflower Pasta “Risotto”

The cauliflower at the Portland Farmers Market this winter has been so sweet and beautiful.

The cauliflower at the Portland Farmers Market and Hillsdale Farmers Market this winter have been so sweet and beautiful.

My father always told me not to over promise or over sell or just not be so darn hyperbolic, but I just can’t help myself. My son and husband and I all ate two plates of this last night with such glee that I must write about it today and post poorly lit photos because that’s all I have and I don’t have time to remake the dish in day-light. And there are NO leftovers.

The technique/recipe is inspired by a dish called Dressy Pasta Risotto from Dorie Greenspan’s wonderful book Around My French Table. My addition of a head of cauliflower and liberal grating of fresh nutmeg and the omission of much of the butter and all of the mascarpone has got me thinking about all sorts of other versions. I’m going to try Brussels sprouts and bacon maybe or kale and garlic or winter squash and sage. . .  The possibilities are vast and exciting.

I used tubetti pasta, a favorite shape I use in this chickpea dish and generally have on hand to add to soup–a surefire way to get my son to eat anything even if they’re just a few of them on the plate.

Serve this dish with a salad of arugula and/or chicories or other winter salad green to add some color and contrasting flavors to the plate. My idea of a perfect winter meal.

The ingredients for this dish are shockingly pale compared to my usual rainbow of colors but don't let that put you off.

The ingredients for this dish are shockingly pale compared to my usual rainbow of colors but don’t let that put you off.

Cauliflower Pasta “Risotto”
–adapted from Around my French Table by Dorie Greenspan

Serves 3-4

As Dorie notes, “this is risotto” the way that finely sliced apples are carpaccio, which means not at all. . .” but the technique is just enough reminiscent of risotto that I appreciate the reference and continue to use it.

1 small head cauliflower, washed, trimmed and cut into very small pieces (see photo)
1 medium onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil or 1 tbs butter and 1 tbs olive oil
1 1/3 cup tubetti (or ditalini or other small pasta)
4 cups flavorful vegetable broth (homemade veggie bouillon) or chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or other hard, grating cheese (Asiago Stella is a good, cheaper alternative)
Salt
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
Generous grating (about 1/4 teaspoon) fresh nutmeg

The fastest way to prepare the cauliflower is to slice the head into 1/2- 3/4-inch slabs, top to bottom, and then proceed to cube those. Some pieces will crumble off but that’s just fine. Use as much of the heart/stem as you can if it doesn’t seem to0 tough.

Heat the olive oil, or oil and butter, in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and a few pinches of salt and cook for  7 to 8 minutes until soft and turning golden, stirring often. You  may need to reduce the heat a bit. Now add the broth or stock and bring to a boil. Add the pasta, stirring well and then simmer for about 10 minutes uncovered. Now add the cauliflower, stir well to incorporate and then cover and cook for another 7 or 8 minutes until the cauliflower is tender. At this point add the cream and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Cook uncovered for about 3 minutes until it thickens slightly.

Stir in the parmesan and the nutmeg and adjust salt and pepper to taste. The cauliflower should be soft but not falling apart. It should not be al dente for this dish. Serve immediately.

Cauliflower Pasta "Risotto"

Cauliflower Pasta “Risotto”

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Cook-With-What-You-Have Fried Rice

Leftover short-grained brown rice, peas, eggs, bacon, ginger, onion, carrots and green garlic. . . .made for a very tasty fried rice.

A student of mine turned me onto a classic (as I learned) way of cooking brown rice a few years ago. This method works particularly well with short-grain brown rice and has converted many a brown rice skeptic in my circles. You bake the rice in the oven after adding boiling water, a bit of butter and salt. Tightly covered it cooks away for an hour. And then watch out! I eat too much of it every time. It’s fluffy and buttery and tender and sweet and really just perfect.

In any case, I make a big panful of this brown rice whenever I make it since it also makes a noteworthy fried rice the next day (or week or month since it freezes beautifully). Having some cooked, frozen rice on hand is a gift on a busy day. Rice thaws fairly quickly and when re-purposed into friend rice or added to soup or gratin or even a cold salad with a zippy dressing, is hardly any worse for wear. In fact for fried rice to be good you want to use rice that was previously cooked and cooled so the grains are sure to separate nicely.

In my  kitchen fried rice is another perfect cook-with-what-you-have kind of dish. Whatever bits of vegetables and sometimes meat I have on hand all fry up nicely when cut into small pieces and given plenty of room and heat. Scoot the rice and veggies to the side and scramble a few eggs in the same pan before mixing them in gives it extra heartiness. And any number of fresh herbs tossed in at the end are a bonus. In this case it was basil and mint. Sometimes I add chopped, roasted peanuts and a good splash of coconut milk (unorthodox I’m sure but very good nevertheless).

You can scramble a few eggs in one side of the pan and then mix them into the rice.

So cook some rice, lots of rice, and then make fried rice or rice custard or tell me what your favorite thing to do with leftover rice is . . . Happy Cooking!

Cook-With-What-You-Have Fried Rice

This is the quintessential quick dinner, utilizing whatever bits and pieces you have on hand. Asparagus, corn, turnips, radishes, leeks, chard stems, green beans all work well in this dish. Quantities are all approximations and you can vary them as you like. You just want to be sure you cut the vegetables finely and fairly uniformly and you don’t want to crowd your skillet or wok. To avoid a soggy dish you need to be brave with the heat level and steer away from vegetables that give off a lot of liquid like tomatoes or zucchini, though finely diced zucchini would work well with enough heat!

Serves 4 (more or less)

4 cups cooked, cooled rice (I recommend making short-grain brown rice as described above, if you can)
2 tablespoons coconut, sunflower or olive oil
1/2 a small onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced (or one or two stalks of green garlic, minced–using the whole things except for the ratty tops)
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1-2 ounces of bacon, cut into small dice
1 1/2 cups of peas (fresh or frozen) or snap peas, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 small carrots, cut into small dice
1 Serrano chili, seeded (if you don’t want it very spicy) and finely chopped or 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2-3 teaspoons Tamari or soy sauce
2 teaspoons fish sauce (or to taste)
3 tablespoons roughly chopped basil, mint or cilantro (or a combination)
Salt

Heat the oil in a wok or wide skillet over high heat. Add the onions, garlic, ginger, carrots, Serrano chili, and bacon and cook stirring very frequently for about 3 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the peas and the rice and mix everything very well. Cook for about three more minutes to heat the rice and peas through. Then push the contents of the pan to one side and add the eggs to the empty spot and scramble them until almost set. A few stray peas or rice kernels will make their way in which is just fine. You just don’t want to mix the raw egg into the rice right away since you’ll loose track of it as it just coats the kernels instead of scrambling. When the eggs are almost set, mix them gently into the rice, add the soy and fish sauce, stir well and then mix in the herbs. Adjust seasoning–it may need salt or more soy or fish sauce or a squeeze of lime juice–and serve immediately.

Green Garlic, Butter, and Parmesan

. . . with eggs, or  fresh pasta, or fish or beef or beans, or toast. . .! I can think of few things that would not be enhanced by the combination of these three things. I know I wrote about green garlic here a few weeks go and in fact I do every spring. There’s something about those sweet, fresh, flexible, immature garlic stalks that makes cooking so fun this time of year. It’s the third wet, cold spring in a row for us Oregonians and my robust green garlic crop is one of the few highlights in an otherwise unbearably soggy garden.

In other news, my recent trip to Louisville, Kentucky (beautiful city with excellent food) for the Slow Food National Congress was decidedly not soggy and very inspiring. But I was also relieved to be home again and reminded of how comforting and freeing it is to be able to cook with whatever odds and ends you might find in your kitchen/garden after being away for a week. You can read about that here. And it reminded me why I love to teach cooking classes and in particular my Eat Better Series, which lays the foundation for delicious, healthy eating every day, no matter where you are or what your dietary restrictions may be. So if you sometimes find yourself at a loss for what to make for dinner and no time to run to the store or need, simple, quick recipes to avoid eating processed foods, then this might be your class.

If you live in Portland, Oregon you can buy this fresh spinach pasta at Pastaworks/City Market. It's delicious, beautiful and incredibly inexpensive.

Pasta with Green Garlic, Butter & Parmesan

You use the whole garlic stalk, much like you would a green onion (scallion). The whole plant is tender and delicious so just barely trim it. And if you don’t have pasta you can gently cook fish fillets or shrimp in the garlic mixture, or toss the garlic into scrambled eggs or a frittata or stir it into a bowl of warm pinto beans. You really can add it to most anything.

1 lb fresh pasta (or 2/3 lb dried spaghetti, linguine or other long, skinny pasta)
5-6 stalks green garlic, roots and scraggly tops trimmed, finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or other hard cheese
Salt, pepper and touch of olive oil

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt generously. Have a cup on hand to scoop out some of the cooking water before you drain the pasta.

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped green garlic and stir well to coat. Add a few pinches of salt. Cook the garlic, covered, stirring occasionally until it’s soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Be careful not to burn it.

If you’re using fresh pasta you’ll just need to cook it for two minutes or so. Check frequently so that you don’t overcook it. When the pasta is al dente, scoop out about 1/2 cup of the cooking water and set aside. Drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the garlic (off the heat), then add the grated cheese and some of the cooking water. Stir vigorously to mix. It will take a minute or two for the pasta cooking water to work its magic and combine with the cheese and the garlic to create a sauce that will just coat the pasta. Add more water if it seems dry. Adjust for seasoning and drizzle a bit of good olive oil over the whole thing and add a few grinds of pepper. Enjoy!

I had eaten my whole serving save this bite when I remembered I wanted to take a photo. I'm warning you, this goes down very easily!

Tomato Post # Three

Tomato Paella--a quick, inexpensive, vegetarian version of the classic rice and seafood dish.

I’ve written a lot about tomatoes recently and this will likely be the last post for this year’s crop. Having fresh tomatoes on the counter is a marker of late summer. And there’s nothing like a few tomatoes to inspire a quick meal. They’ve been doing it over and over and I still haven’t gotten through all my favorite tomato recipes. Last night we had BLTs for dinner. The night before we had the above Paella. And tonight we’ll have panzanella or my favorite raw (blended) tomato sauce with lots of basil and olive oil served with pasta (at room temperature) with big chunks of fresh mozzarella. And then maybe I’ll be done. . . . or not quite.

This tomato paella would be the perfect dish for this coming Saturday’s Day of Action–Slow Food USA’s campaign to reclaim the “Value Meal”. Read more about it here with some tips on inexpensive, delicious cooking from yours truly.

Mark Bittman published this recipe in the New York Times five years ago and I’ve been making it ever since, with a few variations. It’s best with really flavorful, ripe tomatoes–and not sauce tomatoes like Romas or San Marzanos but heirloom, slicing tomatoes. Unlike Bittman I cook the whole thing on the stove top instead of finishing it in the oven but with either method it’s a quick one-dish meal with a simple green salad on the side.

The flavorful base of onion, garlic, saffron and pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika) is the foundation of this dish.

You arrange the tomato wedges on the rice once you've added the stock. Once the stock is absorbed you can see the pin wheel of tomatoes on top of the rice.

Tomato Paella

–Adapted from Mark Bittman

This is a delicious, quick, and inexpensive (and vegetarian) twist on a classic paella. It’s perfect this time of year with beautiful, juicy tomatoes. It’s very important to season the ingredients properly as you go. It’s really a shame to under salt this dish. Taste your stock or bouillon to make sure it’s well seasoned.

3 1/2 cups stock, water or veggie bouillon (made with 4 1/2 teaspoons bouillon paste and 3 1/2 cups water)

1 1/2 pounds ripe, slicer/heirloom tomatoes (not sauce tomatoes), cored and cut into thick wedges (about 4 medium to large tomatoes)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 medium onion, minced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Large pinch saffron threads

2 teaspoons Spanish pimentón (smoked paprika), or other paprika

2 cups Spanish or Arborio or other short-grain rice (I use Arborio)

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt (if the stock isn’t very salty or you’re using water)

Warm stock or water in a saucepan. If using water, add a teaspoon of salt to the water. Put tomatoes in a medium bowl, sprinkle with additional salt and pepper, and drizzle them with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Toss to coat. Put remaining oil in a 10- or 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in saffron if you are using it and pimentón and cook for a minute more. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is shiny, another two to three minutes. Add hot stock or water and stir until just combined.

Put tomato wedges on top of rice and drizzle with juices that accumulated in bottom of bowl. Cook over medium heat undisturbed, for 15 -20 minutes. Check to see if rice is dry and just tender. If not, keep cooking for another 5 minutes. If rice looks too dry but still is not quite done, add a small amount of stock or water (or wine). When rice is ready, turn off oven and let pan sit for 5 to 15 minutes. If you like, put pan over high heat for a few minutes to develop a bit of a bottom crust before serving. If you have time you should definitely do this last part. The crust is fabulous.

Happy Cooking and Eating!

Mid-Summer Pizza

Thinly sliced zucchini rounds cook really quickly on a pizza and make for a surprisingly delicious topping.

I love pizza. I teach pizza classes, I go out for pizza but I actually don’t make pizza often enough at home. I make a good pizza dough (Jim Lahey’s recipe from My Bread, my slightly adapted version included below) and sometimes I’m even organized enough to make several batches and freeze the dough so it’s available when I have little time to cook. . . .but not very often.  So when I heard that the local Grand Central Bakery pizza dough was reportedly better than anything I might make myself, I had to give it a try. I bought both the whole wheat and white versions and have yet to try to the white one but the whole wheat lived up to the hype. For the many of you who do not live close to a Grand Central Bakery outpost, the below recipe is really very good and you might check your local bakeries for pre-made doughs. (I have no vested interest in Grand Central but worked there 14 years ago as my first job out of college and have a great fondness for them and their products.)

And if you have good pizza dough, the topping is practically an afterthought. Almost anything tastes good on a yeasted dough that’s baked on a stone in a hot, hot oven. I set my very basic, non-commercial gas oven to 500 (as high as it goes) and preheat it with the pizza stone in it for 30 minutes or so and then slide the dough with whatever topping I’ve thrown together onto the stone. 15- 20 minutes later dinner is done.

Last night  I found a few zucchini in the fridge, half a Walla Walla Sweet, and a bit of bacon. I thinly sliced the squash and sprinkled salt on them and let them sit on a dish towel for 10 minutes to soften up while I prepped the rest of the ingredients.

Sliced sweet onions, diced bacon and zucchini coins

Since my husband is not fond of raw onions and I wasn’t sure just how soft the onions would get in the 15 minutes in the oven I decided to saute half the onions and bacon for just a few minutes to take the edge off.

Pizza about to go in the oven; half with raw onions and bacon and half with briefly sauteed onions and bacon.

I squeezed some liquid out of the zucchini slices and then brushed the dough (that was incredibly easy to stretch and shape) with olive oil, sprinkled it with salt and then scattered on the squash, onions, bacon and just a little grated parmesan. I had generously floured the pizza peel (don’t forget this step) and slid the whole thing with a quick jerk of the wrist onto the hot stone.

Done!

I loved both sides of the pizza as did my husband and son (though he insisted on scraping the topping off and eating it separately). The sauteed side was a bit sweeter but the Walla Walla’s are so tender and mild and kept their shape a bit better lending more texture to that side. So, a toss up, really!

Chances are whatever you have in your garden or from the market will make a good pizza topping. And if you don’t want to use meat here I would add a generous sprinkling of fresh basil and/or oregano and a bit more cheese (maybe feta too).  Generally my pizza advice is go light on the topping (with or without sauce), be generous with herbs and spices and most importantly, make pizza often this summer.

Happy Cooking and Eating!

P.S. New summer and fall Cook-with-what-I-have Improv Classes posted.

Basic Pizza Dough

–adapted from Jim Lahey

Pizza dough freezes beautifully. So if you’re only going to use half of it or want to make a double batch and save some for future use, just lightly oil a 1 qt freezer bag and put ½ a recipe worth of pizza dough in. Thaw it thoroughly and bring it to room temperature before using. Then handle exactly the same as fresh dough.

In Jim Lahey’s original recipe he has you bake the pizzas on a sheet pan. I do that sometimes, especially for his potato pizza because there’s so much topping, but usually I bake them right on a pizza stone which makes them wonderfully crisp. If you’re using a pizza stone you don’t need any oil and just place the stretched out piece of dough onto a well-floured pizza peel (or the back of a cookie sheet if you don’t have a peel) and after you’ve added the toppings you slide it right onto the hot stone.

I have tried this recipe with half whole wheat flour and half white. It turns out fine but is a bit of a different animal—not as crisp a bit nuttier and chewier—as you might expect.

500 grams bread flour (3 3/4 cups)

2 1/2 teaspoons instant or active dry yeast (10 grams)

3/4 teaspoons table salt (5 grams)

3/4 teaspoon sugar, plus a pinch (about 3 grams)

1 1/3 – 1 1/2 cups room temperature water

extra-virgin olive oil for pans

In a medium bowl, stir together the bread flour, yeast, salt and sugar. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until blended, at least 30 seconds. The dough should be able to contain all of the flour, if it seems dry or if there is excess flour at the bottom of the bowl, add water a tablespoon at a time.

Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let sit at room temperature until the dough has doubled in volume, about 2-3 hours.

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.

Getting Comfortable

My son started preschool  a few days a week a little more than a year ago. I used to pick him up late afternoon and would invariable find him with a teacher, observing the other kids playing and clean as a whistle. His school has an enormous outdoor garden and play area and most of the other kids would be chasing each other over and around every structure and plant or digging in the sand-box and muddy from head to toe. He liked school but for many, many months seemed overwhelmed by the outdoor play time and just quietly watched and waited for me to come get him. This is no longer the case. Now he’s so occupied with his friends he often doesn’t want to leave. He wants to add one more room to his stick house or finish collecting rocks and yes, he’s dirty from head to toe and grinning from ear to ear.

Pristine beginning. . .

In the kitchen this evolution usually takes just a few hours–from clean, organized and quiet at the beginning of class to messy, colorful, and animated by the end. I won’t stretch this metaphor too far but the ease and joy I observe in many of my students as they get comfortable chopping and stirring and tasting is remarkable. And the more we experiment and adapt in class the more fun it seems to be. Students generate ideas on how to adapt a dish to suit their child’s or partner’s taste or how to personalize it in some other way.

Full and happy . . .

The "dirty from head to toe" part.

Cooking is as much art as science and I still find myself grinning from ear to ear when I concoct something edible and maybe even memorable out of a few very basic things I have in the house.  And luckily most weeknight meals don’t result in the above level of mess, especially when you have some pre-cooked beans on hand, some tortillas in the fridge and a few sundry items. I’ve been having some neck and shoulder trouble these days and find myself making the simplest possible meals. The below creation was just such a meal. It came together by default but will certainly come together on purpose in the future. I sautéed some Swiss Chard and scrambled some eggs when it had just softened. A bit of  grated sharp cheddar on a whole wheat tortilla was the bed for the eggs and greens, and then I topped it with pinto beans and chickpeas and a drizzle of hot sauce. I briefly warmed the whole thing in a skillet, then folded it up–10 minutes, at most.

Two-bean, egg, cheese and chard burritos

If you’d like a chance to get more comfortable in the kitchen and get your hands on lots of spring greens and other produce you can join me for one of  the new classes I just posted.

Happy Cooking and Eating!

Chickpeas & Pasta

I finished teaching my 3-part Eat Better Series just over a week ago. And I missed my students this Sunday, when they didn’t show up for the first time in four weeks. I didn’t miss cleaning the house but I did miss the dynamic, passionate, and rich conversations about food and food in our regular old daily lives–the likes and dislikes of children and partners; the satisfaction in successfully applying a new skill to dinner prep several nights in a row; the beauty of leftovers for lunch; and the joy of pre-cooked beans in the freezer.

Most of what you need for this dish!

You know I’m a big fan of the latter. Those cooked beans in the freezer are a busy person’s lifeline when it comes to dinner. Canned beans certainly work too but the flavor of those home-cooked ones (not to mention minimal cost, lack of BPA traces. . .) is worth the occasional effort of cooking big batches and freezing most for later use.  I think my new pals from the series are as hooked on home-cooked beans as I am now, in part thanks to this dish, which was definitely a class favorite.

So, if you find yourself short on time and with some already cooked chickpeas on hand, make this for dinner. I realized after the fact that it’s a vegan dish. I tend to think most things are improved by adding cheese but I actually didn’t do so in this dish and was amazed by the richness and complexity of flavor in this meal that takes barely 20 minutes to prepare.

Buon Appetito!

P.S. I will be repeating the series in March and have a wait list going so if you’re interested, please let me know.

P.P.S. I’m also launching lunchtime classes in late February, so if you don’t have time for a weekend class and are interested in a shorter, mid-day stint, sign on up!

Onions, celery, garlic, rosemary and chili flakes. . . this is where much of the flavor comes from.

Pasta e Ceci (Pasta with Chickpeas)

–Adapted from Jamie’s Italy via Dana Treat

Serves 4 (with some leftovers)

This is delicious, fast, easy and nutritious.  I also tend to use the chickpea cooking water for part of the liquid, top it off with water and then add about 4 teaspoons of veggie bouillon to the mix if you have it or just add vegetable stock or just water.

1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 stalks of celery, trimmed and finely chopped (use carrot if you don’t have celery or both)

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced

½ tsp. red pepper flakes

Olive oil

1 sprig of rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped

1 quart cooked chickpeas (keep the cooking liquid they were frozen in) or  2 14-oz. cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained

3 1/2 cups veggie bouillon or vegetable stock (or mix veggie bouillon into chickpea cooking liquid if you have it and top off with water)

5 ounces tubetti or ditalini (Barilla and DeCecco brands both have these. I’ve seen them at Safeway, Fred Meyer and New Season) or other small pasta. 5 oz is about one generous cup if you’re using this kind of small pasta and don’t have a scale and don’t want to guess!

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place a large soup pot over medium-high heat and then pour in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom.  Add the onion and celery (and/or carrot) and sauté just until tender, about 6 minutes.  Add the garlic, rosemary, and red pepper flakes.  Sauté for 2 minutes, then add the chickpeas and the bouillon.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer and allow to cook just until the chickpeas are heated through, about 5 minutes. Remove half of the chickpeas with a slotted spoon and set them aside.

Purée the soup in the pan with a handheld immersion blender, or blend in a blender or food processor if you don’t have an immersion blender.  Add the reserved whole chickpeas and the pasta to the blended part, season the soup with some pepper (it will likely be salty enough because of the veggie bouillon), and simmer gently until the chickpeas are very tender and the pasta is cooked, about 10  minutes. Add more liquid as necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper and drizzle with some good olive oil.

 

Cooking away before pasta is added.

Dig in! It tastes much, much better than it looks!

Improvisation

Sunday was beautiful. The weather has finally turned warm here and we were all hanging out on a neighbor’s stoop Sunday evening. I had planned to make Barley Risotto with Asparagus (still trying to make that Barley Asparagus combo work!) and had actually measured out the broth, cleaned and sliced the asparagus and measured out the barley earlier in the day. Well now I found myself on said stoop with a beer in hand and children happily playing and just couldn’t tear myself away and head inside. So I stayed on the stoop, sampling said neighbor’s fresh bread with butter.

My son "Improvising" . . . since I don't have a photo of the improvised dinner I figured this would have to do!

When I finally tore myself away from the convivial, summer neighborhood fun I knew that the three-year-old, now over-hungry, was not going to wait for risotto. And I had a pastry-chef friend coming over to sample/critique a sample wedding cake after dinner so . . .What is the quickest cooking grain? I think it’s quinoa so that’s what was made. I basically treated it like I would have the rice (sans slowly adding broth and stirring) and we had ourselves the most delicious quick quinoa/risotto. I’m definitely going to repeat this technique and try other veggies as well.

Needless to say I did not remember to take a photo of the prep or the finished dish, so my son doing his version of improv it is!

Quick Quinoa “Risotto” with Asparagus

This technique is actually more like Spanish Rice than Risotto but whatever you want to call it, it’s worth trying.

1/2 medium onion, diced

1 slice of bacon, diced (optional)

1 bunch of asparagus, tough ends snapped off, and cut diagonally into 1-2 inch pieces

1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed and drained

handful of grated parmesan or other hard cheese

3 cups veggies broth or stock (I used my homemade Veggie Bouillon)

olive oil

Heat broth in a small pan. Saute onion and bacon in large saute pan with 2 Tbs of olive oil until onion is translucent and soft. Rinse quinoa well and strain thoroughly. Add quinoa to onions and bacon and saute for a few minutes until dried out and slightly toasty over high heat. Add broth all at once. Bring to a boil, turn down to simmer and cover. After about 10 minutes spread asparagus over quinoa and cover again. Cook until quinoa and asparagus are done–about 3-4 minutes. Add parmesan and some more good olive oil and mix well. Voila!

P.S. I still have a few spots in this Saturday’s Cooking Class on Hearty One-Dish Salads and meal with Grains and Beans and lots of Veggies. It’s a fabulous class! Check it out and sign up if you’re interested.