the little reminders

I’m coming off the heels of a delicious week-long break. Our school kindly gave us nine days of freedom between rotations to relax and recharge. For me, that meant a trip home to Miami to celebrate the birthdays of my incredible grandmothers, followed by a couple of days enjoying my dad’s company in Chicago. Although the Miami sun was reluctant to peek from the clouds, I still managed to tan away a bit of my pasty complexion. More importantly, I got to spend a ton of quality time with my entire family and indulge in way too much good food.

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Last Sunday, we celebrated my Grandma Rita’s 80th birthday at an extravagant brunch buffet. I felt like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory as I pranced about the stations of food, doling crab legs and fancy cheeses onto my plate, and ogling over every dainty petit four that graced the dessert room (yes, room!). Let’s just say this was a special occasion for a very special lady, and I was lucky to partake in such an indulgent event! One of the highlights of the buffet for me was something that was tucked away in a little bowl behind the more showstopping rows of sushi. It was a cold soba noodle salad, full of soft chunks of tofu, studded with dried cranberries, and tossed in a light vinegary dressing. I was won over by the interplay of sweet and tangy, and loved how light and fresh the flavors were. I snapped a photo and made a mental note to recreate this as soon as I came back to Chicago.

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Serendipitously, my dad and I dined at a great Korean restaurant last night where the portion sizes were gargantuan. Among the many containers of leftovers I got to take back to my apartment was a brimming quart of cold spicy soba noodles. Although delicious in their own right, I couldn’t help but see the makings of my longed-for brunch buffet soba salad in them. So today, I did some doctoring of a different kind, and gave these soba noodles new life with the addition of thinly sliced cabbage and cucumbers, delicate carrot ribbons, tofu, cranberries, cashews, and a generous dousing of rice vinegar. Infused with the memories of my grandma’s special celebration and my dad’s visit to Chicago, these noodles will be my little reminder of the wonderful vacation had with my family as I take on my next rotation.

Soba Noodle Salad

2 cups soba noodles, cooked and chilled

1/2 head Napa cabbage, sliced in thin ribbons

1 English cucumber, sliced in thin quarters

1 large carrots, cut into long ribbons (use a vegetable peeler)

2/3 block of extra firm tofu, drained and cut into small cubes

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/3 cup roasted cashews, chopped

1/3 cup rice vinegar

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp granulated sugar

1 tbsp sriracha or other hot sauce*

Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl. Add more vinegar/sugar/hot sauce to your liking. Enjoy!

*Note: There was a bit of spicy sauce already on the noodles I used from the restaurant, so you may want to add more or less hot sauce depending on your taste!

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seeking comfort

I read this in the Miami Herald this morning:
“Weather alert: Weekend will be cool and breezy
Cool weather will continue Saturday in South Florida with breezy conditions and low temperatures dipping below 70. Highs will be in the mid-70s.”
 
I chuckled to myself. Now that I’ve spent five falls and winters away from my tropical paradise, the concept of “dipping below 70” is quite laughable. But I shouldn’t be so jaded. I know how freeing it is to feel the oppressive Florida humidity that’s stubbornly hung around since April lift from the air, a cool breeze blowing in its wake. Growing up, the first hint of a chill (i.e. in the 60s) was always a cause for celebration: a reason to don a fleece jacket, make a hearty soup, and try to see our breaths fog up in the air (usually to no avail).  

I remember one of these fall-esque nights quite well, naturally because it was tied to food. I was in middle school at the time and watched Rachael Ray’s 30 Minute Meals religiously. I had recently seen her make pumpkin pasta with sausage and sage. At this point in my life, I had never eaten pumpkin outside of my mom’s Thanksgiving pie, but I was intrigued by both the flavor combination and the seeming ability of this dish to bring a bit of autumn into our kitchen. On the first night that a crisp breeze blew through our palm tree laden yard, my dad and I set out to make this pasta dish, and it was divine: creamy, warm, comforting, and totally fall.
 
Since then, I have had a bit of a love affair with pumpkin. My roommates and grocery shopping comrades know that come fall, I stockpile 28-oz cans of Libby’s pumpkin puree as if I’m preparing for the apocalypse. I put it in just about everything, from oatmeal, to yogurt, to soups. But it dawned on me that I hadn’t made pumpkin pasta—my first foray into the pumpkin world—in quite a while. Tonight, at the end of a very long week of school and the beginning of a busy weekend, I was craving some comfort food, and pumpkin pasta was calling my name.
 I used mushrooms instead of sausage, but added fennel, rosemary, and thyme to emulate the sausage spice profile. Although you could add a touch of cream for a bit of richness, I found that just using some white wine and pasta water gave the sauce a great consistency. True to the recipe from which it was inspired, 30 minutes from firing up the stove, I was sitting down to a steaming bowl of pumpkin pasta comfort, comforted by the fact that my return to Miami fall, family, and Thanksgiving are just days away.
 
Pumpkin Pasta with Mushrooms, Fennel, and Sage
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, sliced thin
1 bulb fennel, sliced thin
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced thin
1 tbsp rosemary, chopped fine
1 tbsp thyme, chopped fine
15 oz. pumpkin puree
1/2 cup white wine
1-2 cups water reserved from cooking pasta
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
3 cups kale, chopped
2 tbsp sage, sliced thin
1/2 lb short pasta (rotini, penne, gemelli, etc.)
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese, for serving
Bring water to a boil in a large pot for pasta. Cook pasta for 9-11 minutes, until al dente.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook for about 5 minutes, until it starts to become translucent. Add fennel and cook another 5 minutes, until onion and fennel start to brown a bit. Add sliced mushrooms and cook for another 7 minutes, until mushrooms soften and onion and fennel get a little caramelized. Add rosemary, thyme, pumpkin pie spice, and a few dashes of salt and allow to cook for 1 minute. Add pumpkin puree, white wine, and about 1 cup of water from the pasta pot (using this water is better than water straight from the tap because the pasta starch in it will provide a bit more thickness to the sauce). Allow to cook for about 3-5 minutes, stirring periodically. Add kale and additional 1/2 cup of pasta water and allow kale to cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add sage and salt and pepper to taste. If you would like to add more pumpkin pie spice at this point, feel free (I’m a big fan of it so I added a couple more dashes!) Add cooked pasta to the pot and mix everything. Turn off heat. Serve with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

slightly sweetened

There’s no denying that it has been a sweet summer in the sugarcured kitchens. First there was my best purchase in recent memory: the ice cream maker. Then came my favorite coffee shop’s decision to put a bottle of simple syrup out beside the milk and sugar and my subsequent conversion from a diehard black iced coffee drinker to the sugary side. And then there’s the fact that Joanna sent me home with a box of brownies on Monday night and I’ve been eating them for breakfast all week, sure that the chocolate will help me cope with the length of my to-do list.

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You readers deserve some savory, I thought, so I decided to share another summer pasta. Then I realized that what makes this particular pasta really special is the sweetener. Eggplant with honey and cinnamon… I have to tell you, it’s “different.” Some of you will know that this word has two meanings in the Midwesterner’s dictionary. In one sense, it’s about the meanest insult certain Iowans can muster. If someone tells me “Kate, that pasta you brought to the church potluck sure was different,” what they mean to say is “you probably shouldn’t even feed the leftovers to the dog for fear that he’ll get sick.” I mean to tell you that this recipe is different in a you-never-would-have-paired-these-flavors-but-they-totally-work sense of the word.

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Up until a few years ago, I definitely would have called eggplant different in the “get it out of my sight before I vom” sense of the word. I eventually came around to the realization that eggplant is right up there with tofu as Best of Show in the flavor sponge department. While a flavor sponge may taste rather disgusting on its own (no judgment for those of you who eat raw unflavored tofu- you know who you are- but i might rather eat an actual sponge), it is a professional at melding interesting flavors. Enter honey, cinnamon, basil, garlic, and red pepper flakes and you have an amalgam of yum.

Roasted Eggplant Pasta (adapted from The Cowgirl Chef)

2 medium eggplants, skins on, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces

3 T olive oil

Sea salt and ground black pepper

2 garlic cloves, minced

18 oz of cherry tomatoes, halved

10 kalamata olives, halved and pits removed

1 t honey

One large pinch of cinnamon

One large pinch of red pepper flakes

2 oz fresh mozzerella, chopped

1/3 to 1/2 lb pasta (whole wheat works well)

1/2 c basil, sliced

Preheat the oven to 450 and line a baking sheet with foil. Toss the eggplant with oil, salt, and pepper and spread out on the pan. Roast the eggplant about 30 minutes, stirring a few times, until the edges are brown and it looks well-done.

While the eggplant is roasting, put a little oil (a few teaspoons) in a skillet and cook the garlic and red pepper over medium heat just until you can smell the garlic, not until it begins to brown. Add the tomatoes, honey, olives, and cinnamon. When the eggplant is roasted, add that too.

Cook your pasta until al dente, drain it, and add it to the skillet with the sauce. Stir until pasta is coated and add the cheese and basil at the last minute. Serve hot or warm.

taste of tuscany/iowa/chicago

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Someday when I write a cookbook, the longest chapter will be called “summer pastas.”

“Why not just make a whole cookbook about summer pastas, then?” you will ask.

“Think of all the cookies that would never get their moment of glory if I did that!” I will reply.

But who has the energy to fire up her oven and bake cookies when it’s hotter than the hinges hanging on the gates of hell outside? Unless it’s for a really really good cause, (ahem, blueberry pieI’d rather not leave my stove on any longer than it takes to boil a pot of pasta water.

My sister and I invented this recipe one summer when we were both in high school and proceeded to make it for lunch at least four times a week until school started up again. We clearly share the gene for “creatures of habit,” nestled on some chromosome right next to the parts that code for freckles and bullheadedness. We call this one summer pasta to rule them all “Tuscan,” but a more accurate name would be “July in Iowa,” since it relies heavily on the bounty of my parents’ garden or the Des Moines farmers’ market. I brought a big bag of produce back to Chicago from my trip to Iowa last weekend and made Tuscan pasta for the first time all summer. Tastes like home to me no matter where I make it.

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It seems strange to me to write out a recipe for Tuscan pasta since it is a decidedly anti-recipe sort of dish. You should use whatever kinds of fresh vegetables and melty cheese you happen to have on hand. At least one tomato and a hearty handful of basil are really the only irreplacable elements.

If I write about summer pastas a fraction as often in the next few months as I cook them, prepare for a deluge of recipes. Happy cooking!

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Tuscan Pasta

1/2 lb pasta, any shape

3 T olive oil

1/2 red bell pepper and two banana peppers, sliced

1 medium zucchini or summer squash, thinly sliced

1 medium onion, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 or 2 medium ripe tomatoes, diced

2 large handfuls baby spinach

1/4 t dried red pepper flakes

1/2 t dried oregano

4 T balsamic vinegar

salt and black pepper, to taste

1/4 c fresh basil, roughly chopped

1/2 c crumbled feta cheese

Put a large pot of water on to boil and cook according to directions on the box

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Saute the onions over medium heat until they just start to get some color. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the peppers and squash and continue to saute until everything is soft but not soggy. Stir in the red pepper, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the tomatoes and cook for 3-4 minutes until they start to release juice. Add the balsamic vinegar and cook down a little until things start to look saucy.  Taste to adjust the seasoning. Just before serving, add the spinach and basil. Mix the sauce together with the pasta in a big bowl. Top with feta

[Ad]dressing my upcoming move

We’re moving apartments in less than three weeks, and while I’ve yet to pack a single thing, I have embarked on the much more delectable endeavor of clearing out the remaining boxes of grains, cans of beans, and bags frozen vegetables that have graced our pantry and freezer for the past too-many months. This dish was inspired by a deliciously lemony, creamy tahini dressing I had made before for this recipe. Combined with the whole wheat rotini and frozen edamame that have haunted my shelves for months, and brightened with the freshness of roasted carrots, yellow bell peppers, and sauteed kale, this was the perfect summer pasta dish. I’d imagine that it’s going to be even better leftover as the flavors meld. Whether you’re looking for a way to dress up pantry remnants or searching for a light, zesty sauce for a summer salad, I highly encourage you to whip up this tahini dressing soon!

Tahini dressing
1/4 cup tahini
2 lemons
1 tsp minced garlic
2 tbsp warm water
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper

Combine tahini, juice of 2 lemons, garlic, water, olive oil, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.

For pasta dish:

1 lb carrots
1 yellow bell pepper
6 oz whole wheat rotini (or any pasta you prefer)
1 cup frozen shelled edamame
1 bunch kale, chopped
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425. Peel carrots and slice on a diagonal. Cut bell pepper into 2 inch slices. Toss carrots and pepper in 2 tbsp olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread on a greased baking sheet and roast for 25 minutes, tossing them halfway through.

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook to al dente. When the pasta has 5 minutes left of cooking, add the frozen edamame. Drain pasta and edamame and transfer to a large bowl.

Return empty pasta pot to stove and add 1 tbsp of olive oil to pot over medium heat. Add kale and cook for 3-4 minutes, until slightly wilted but still tender.

To assemble: In bowl with pasta and edamame add roasted carrots and pepper, sauteed kale, and tahini dressing. Toss to combine. Serve warm or cold.