pasta with cutting-board parsley pesto

 ”If you should ask me to name a dish that a bit of parsley would fail to improve, I might be startled as by an impertinence.” – Angelo Pellegrini; The Food Lover’s Garden

“The food processor separates you completely from the pleasures of physicality and from the sensual delight of working with your hands. ” - Viana La Place; The Unplugged Kitchen

This week felt like turning a corner. I can almost see the shabby coattails of the uninvited guest who’s been hanging around for months, flapping in the spring breeze as she scurries down the sidewalk of my street, around the block and then far away.

I haven’t told you this before, but for too many days this winter I’ve felt dreadful – I mean literally full of dread. We all go through stressful stuff sometimes that can be…well, draining. It’s not an unfamiliar feeling, and most of the time things turn around sooner rather than later. You recover and pick yourself right up.

But for me, this time it went on for so many weeks which turned into months,  that my body developed an imbalance.


I didn’t believe it at first. I mean, I’ve been aware of nutrition, healthy cooking and lifestyle choices for almost half my life. But no matter how much fresh, whole, naturally vitamin-packed food I was feeding myself and all the yoga breathing I tried to stop my heart racing and bumping in my chest, stress hormones kept up in an endless cycle, leaching my reserves, tapping out all the good stuff I had in storage. Drained. And feeling like I might die.

I’ve always believed that food is the best delivery system for nutrients – better than a bunch of pills, supplements or protein shakes. Eating whole food is the optimal way to stay healthy, but sometimes we need a little help. Now that I’ve had a number of doctor visits, tests and vials of blood drawn that ruled out serious disease, I’m on my way back to myself again. I’m taking a few supplements to replenish what I’m missing, and finally feeling ready to start a new chapter.  [Read more...]

rigatoni and roasted delicata squash

About two months ago my entire kitchen  – along with every other room in the four bedroom Colonial Revival home I’d lived in for the past 10 years — was packed into a seemingly endless pile of boxes and loaded onto a long distance semi trailer truck, headed for New Jersey.

It took a few professionals less than a day to wrap and pack it all, but here I am, these many weeks later still sliding razor blades, sticky from packing tape, along the tops of the few remaining boxes.

Settling into a new space is a process. As I unpacked pots, pans, dishes and so many spoons, spatulas and whisks along with them I also found things that I didn’t know I had and had no idea I needed. Like about a thousand bamboo cocktail skewers, for example. And 3 dozen souffle cups.

“Why do I have all this stuff?” I wondered over and over…the whole experience left me a more than a little traumatized. I made a promise to myself that from now on I need to imagine the inevitable exit of every single thing I bring into my house.

Cooking in my new kitchen has progressed from the baby steps of basic survival meals. I’ve been inspired by food shopping. There are fantastic markets here, so well-stocked I have to restrain myself…all I need to do is remember how I gave away my pantry while we were packing a few months ago.

One night I riffed on a recipe from Heidi’s 101 Cookbooks, a roasted delicata squash, chile and mozzarella salad. Delicata is only around for a few months (right now) and I’m always glad to see it. The beautiful, striated green and sunset yellow skin is tender enough that there’s no need to peel it — I sometimes just scrape the skin randomly here and there to remove blemishes — and the flesh roasts up tender and very sweet.

[Read more...]

pici pasta with ramps and dandelion greens

pici pasta with ramps and dandelion greens

Right around this time last year I read a cranky rant (well, okay, I guess you could say rants by nature lean toward the cranky side), can’t remember where. Someone complaining about those crazed foodies who seemed to be suffering from some kind of trendy spring fever, everywhere strewing ramps onto every inch of their food and posting pictures of the resulting culinary mayhem all over the Internets.

Now here I am offering up my gratuitous ramp post. You could call me a crazed foodie I suppose, but it has to be said that there’s a reason people go nuts for these stinky undomesticated onions.

ramps

Ramps are alliums, members of the onion family. They’re wild relatives to leeks and garlic, possessed of a certain mysterious something that makes them exciting to be around, their aroma a presence of musky funkiness that somehow makes you lean in closer, provocatively.

Like your second cousin once-removed who shows up at Sunday dinner just home with his Eurail pass; sporting long ungroomed hair and a 5 o’clock shadow a good month exposed, still shaking out sand from a longer-than-planned sojourn on that beautiful but undiscovered beach located somewhere on the coast of the former Yugoslavia.

Untamed, but something you would very much like to get to know, or better yet devour hungrily with no words spoken. I’m talking about ramps here, remember. This is a family channel.

Dandelion greens are another spring thing that pops up, gets foraged and scattered over food but dandelion greens don’t have quite the sexy cachet that a few bunches of ramps do. Could it be it’s that they don’t have that delicious dirty smell? They are also admittedly bitter and a little tough, especially closer to the stems.

dandelion greens

My grandmother would cook dandelion down to a murky brown, then saturate them with garlicky olive oil. They went on the table once the smaller people had long departed with bellies full of macaroni, meatballs and assorted pastries. It was the comfort food of her generation, and her grown children too.

I can now appreciate – and even crave – all things on the bitter taste spectrum, greens included. I prefer not to cook them down to mush, although I recognize that long, long cooking removes a bit of that. The dandelion greens you can buy in the produce section aren’t wild but cultivated, definitely milder than wild ones from the backyard.

This combination of strong greens is a good match with pasta of the same character. I love these dried thick hollow noodles from Tuscany called pici  - I found a bag recently at An Olive Ovation, a boutique olive oil store in St. Louis.

Chef Jacob Kennedy describes pici in his fantastic book The Geometry of Pasta as “almost brutish in their diameter and lack of uniformity; they go with brutish sauces…”

pici pasta

pici pasta with ramps and dandelion greens

pici pasta with ramps and dandelion greens

Yield: serves 2 - 4

Substitute bucatini or perciatelli pasta for the pici, which are similar long hollow-shaped pasta.

Ingredients

12 ounces pici, bucatini or perciatelli pasta

1 bunch ramps, root ends trimmed

1 bunch (about ½ pound) dandelion greens; washed

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, thinly sliced lengthwise

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Kosher salt

1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or dried crushed chili

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil with 2 tablespoons kosher salt.
  2. Rinse the ramps to remove any dirt or mud. Separate the green leafy tops from the root ends; slice the greens into thin ribbons and slice the ramp stalks and bulbs thinly crosswise.
  3. Slice the woody stems off the dandelion greens until only about ½-inch remains.
  4. Heat the oil and garlic in a sauté pan until the garlic becomes fragrant and starts to sizzle (but not turn brown). Toss in the ramps and greens and move them around in the pan. Cook partially covered until the greens are wilted and softened, about 5 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente – it will take a bit longer to cook than spaghetti or thinner long pasta shapes. Just before draining scoop out 1/3 cup of the pasta water and whisk into the eggs.
  6. Add the drained pasta to the sauté pan off the heat; drizzle in the eggs and toss everything together. Sprinkle with the chili and taste for more salt.
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