Spring Green Pasta with Asparagus and Peas Recipe

spring green pasta with asparagus and peas | pamela salzman

Pasta has come a long way since I was a child, especially in the last few years.  There used to be limited options beyond typical durum wheat pasta.  Possibly you could find whole wheat, but that was about it.  Now there are so many choices including spelt, quinoa, brown rice, gluten-free blends, corn and, miraculously, grain-free.  I have had all of the above and whereas I think they are all good, Cappello’s grain-free pasta recently blew my mind.  My daughter was home for spring break and she bought some for dinner one night.  I’ll tell you the truth, I wouldn’t have even tried it because I would assume a grain-free pasta would be a mess plus it’s crazy expensive (I mean CRAZY.)  But if you have to be grain-free, pasta is a food that you might kill for.  Anyway, it was fantastic.  Or maybe I just wanted to love it after I found out how much she spent.

spring green pasta with asparagus and peas | pamela salzman

I grew up eating pasta 3-4 times per week.  Monday it was often in a soup, Tuesday or Thursday was baked ziti, Friday was linguine aglio e olio, and Sunday was either ravioli or my grandmother’s homemade pasta with her sauce.  We are Italian, so no one ever complained or thought it was strange that we ate so much of it.  But now I consider pasta an occasional treat because I believe it is a processed food with a significant amount of carbohydrates.  There is nothing wrong with complex carbohydrates, i.e. those paired with fiber and/or protein.  Complex carbs, as opposed to simple carbs, are good for you and we need them for energy.  But it is quite easy to overeat pasta, especially if you consider that a serving size is 1 cup of cooked pasta.  Overeating carbohydrates is what gets us into trouble.  When our blood sugar spikes, insulin is released to scoop it all up and let me repeat myself, insulin is a pro-inflammatory, fat-storage hormone.  What’s the moral of this story?  Don’t go crazy with pasta.  Eat a small portion, and even better, stretch it out with lots of nutrient-dense vegetables.

spring green pasta with asparagus and peas | pamela salzman

This is a lovely pasta recipe which utilizes the new spring produce coming out in the markets.  I love the combination of asparagus, peas, mint and lemon.  It’s so bright and fresh.  According to Eating Well, asparagus is a very good source of fiber, folate, vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells.  Peas and grains make a complete protein, so if you wanted to serve this without any additional protein you could.  My whole family, including the picky one, loves this pasta.

spring green pasta with asparagus and peas | pamela salzman

I think this would be nice for Easter lunch with poultry, lamb or ham.  It’s easy enough though that you could whip this up for a weeknight dinner, too.  For those of you not eating pasta, the vegetable mixture is terrific mixed with cooked brown rice or quinoa.  I have also added a leek to this recipe.  Just clean it really well, thinly slice it and sauté it before adding asparagus.  A handful or two of spinach leaves would also be delicious.  Adding dark green leafies is never wrong.  And a few toasted pine nuts would add some nice crunch, if desired.  Why didn’t I write all these suggestions into the recipe?  Because I know people don’t like recipes with a lot of ingredients.  This dish tastes excellent as is written, but feel free to improvise.

spring green pasta with asparagus and peas | pamela salzman

Whatever you do, don’t forget to save some pasta water before draining the pasta. That starchy, flavorful water is so valuable!  It is the key ingredient to keep this from being dry, otherwise the inclination might be to add oil to the pasta to moisten it.  If you are dairy-free, feel free to eliminate the cheese altogether, but do add a little extra salt.  The pasta I used in these photos is Trader Joe’s gluten-free quinoa and brown rice fusilli.   Check out this post here for how to perfectly cook gluten-free pasta!

spring green pasta with asparagus and peas | pamela salzman

Spring Green Pasta with Asparagus and Peas
Author: 
Serves: 4-6 as a side dish
 
Ingredients
  • 2 Tablespoons unrefined, cold pressed, extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound medium asparagus, tough ends trimmed, stalks cut into 1 ½ -inch pieces
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • pinch of crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • kosher salt for the pasta water
  • ¾ pound pasta, such as penne
  • 1 ½ cups peas (frozen is fine)
  • 3 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter or organic Earth Balance
  • ⅓ cup grated Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the asparagus and sauté, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest, garlic, red pepper, sea salt and pepper and sauté until garlic is fragrant to heat through, 1 minute. Set aside.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Add the pasta and cook until just before it reaches al dente. Remove 2 cups of the pasta water and set aside. Add the peas to the pasta pot and stir. Drain pasta and peas.
  3. Return skillet to medium heat. Transfer pasta and peas to the skillet with the mint. Add 1 cup reserved pasta water and stir everything to combine well. You may need a little more with gluten-free pasta. Simmer until pasta is al dente, about 3-5 minutes. Add additional pasta water if desired. Stir in butter and cheese and taste for seasoning. If you don't add cheese, you may need a little extra salt.
Notes
In the summer, you can substitute chopped zucchini for half the asparagus. Halved cherry tomatoes are also nice sautéed with the vegetables. See my notes in the blog for other ways to change up this recipe.

 

How to perfectly cook gluten-free pasta

how to perfectly cook gluten-free pasta | pamela salzman

I was chatting with a few ladies in my class the other day about cooking for their gluten-free children.  Whereas it is certainly easier to find gluten-free alternatives today than it was 10 years ago, apparently cooking gluten-free pasta is still tricky for many people.  So I promised them that I would write a post ASAP.  Voila!

save the pasta water

As you know, I am not gluten-free and neither is my husband nor my kids.  BUT, because gluten is a pro-inflammatory protein (found in many grains like wheat) and usually in a lot of processed food,  I do limit our gluten to no more than one serving a day.  I also think it’s important to have as much variety in our diet as possible to expose yourself to the benefits of many different foods, so that’s another reason I try to mix it up a little in the pasta department and work some gluten-free options into our meals.

the secret to perfectly cooked gluten-free pasta | pamela salzman

I grew up eating a lot of pasta.  My father is from Italy and my mother is Italian-American.  So I know how to cook traditional durum wheat pasta with my eyes closed.  But gluten-free pasta is not the same.  It can be starchy, sticky, clumpy and lose it’s shape if you cook it the same way as regular wheat pasta.  So I wanted to share my technique that I have used successfully for many years.  Keep in mind that different brands and especially different flour blends will take different amounts of time, but the technique is the same.  Here goes:

Boil plenty of water.

Add 1 Tablespoon of kosher salt. (This is to flavor the pasta.  No need to waste expensive sea salt here.)

Add pasta and stir often. (This is so that the pasta doesn’t stick to each other.)  You do not need to add oil to any pasta, gluten-free or otherwise.

When you add the pasta, set your timer for the least amount of time that the package directions indicate.  For example, with Trader Joe’s Brown Rice and Quinoa spaghetti, it says to cook for 7-10 minutes.  I set my timer for 7 minutes.

Lower the heat so that the water simmers, and is not raging boiling.  This is important.  Rapid boiling is what causes the pasta to lose its shape.

MOST IMPORTANT STEP:  When the timer goes off, turn off the heat and let the pasta remain in the hot water.  Taste the pasta.  It should still be a little hard.  Scoop out a little pasta water and reserve.

Allow the pasta to sit in the hot water with the heat off until you have your desired tenderness, which means you may need to test it every 30 seconds.

Drain and immediately toss with your sauce, pesto or whatever.  DO NOT RINSE PASTA, unless you want to use it in a cold dish.  The starches on the outside of the pasta will help sauces, etc. stick.  Use the reserved pasta water to add extra moisture to the pasta as needed.  Keep in mind, gluten-free pasta does not sit as well as regular pasta, so try to serve immediately or at the least, keep that reserved pasta water on hand in case.

My last post on Friday highlighted my favorite GF pasta of the moment, Trader Joe’s Organic Quinoa and Brown Rice pasta.  There are others I like too.  I wrote a post on my favorites a few years ago here which included brands like Tinkyada and Bionaturae.

Vegan mac and cheese recipe

Vegan Mac & Cheese|Pamela Salzman

If someone tried to coax me a year ago with a “vegan mac and cheese” recipe, I would have politely said, “no, thank you.”  First of all, I actually don’t really like mac and cheese.  Not the boxed kind and not even the homemade kind.  Weird, I know.  And sad for my husband who looooooves it.  I used to have to make him the famous “Ronald Reagan’s favorite mac and cheese” recipe all the time when we first got married.  Tons of butter, cheddar cheese, milk, stomach ache for me.  Just not my thing.  It’s now the 21st century, and we’re both eating differently and I am open minded to alternative recipes.

potatoes, carrots, shallot, onion cook the veggies in water, but cover them everything into the blender"cheese sauce"

Although open minded or not, I’ve always felt if I’m not going to like the real deal, why would I like something pretending to be the real deal?  And most vegan mac and cheese recipes call for fake processed cheese or nutritional yeast and they’re just not that tasty, in my opinion.  Are you with me?  Well, according to myself and according to Mr. Picky who still doesn’t like cheese except Pecorino Romano in some soups and on pizza crust, this mac and cheese is the bomb.  I think it’s better than mac and cheese and he likes it because he has watched me make it and is confident there is not a morsel of cheese, real or fake, anywhere in this dish.

bread crumbs

 

You may have seen on a month ago a picture I posted of “vegan nachos” I made for the kids.  Here it is below.  That’s the same sauce for this!  You may have also seen a strange looking bowl of yellow stuff on my baked potato bar.  Same vegan cheese sauce!  Do you see the potential here?  What about as a dip for steamed veggies?  I might even make a soup out of this.  We are not just talking about a mac and cheese recipe.  We are talking about a life-changing delicious not-cheese sauce.   This sauce is a miracle.  It is made from potatoes, cashews, carrots, onions and a bunch of other completely natural foods blended into creamy, cheesy deliciousness.  Completely digestible (unless you are nut-free, in which case I am so sorry.  Buggers.)  I know I sound crazy.  I wouldn’t believe me either.

vegan nachos | pamela salzman

vegan mac & cheese|pamela salzman

vegan mac and cheese | pamela salzman

The only trick with this recipe is that you have to follow it exactly!  No eyeballing measurements.  No leaving things out.  Anytime I have guesstimated an amount with this recipe, it hasn’t worked quite as well, especially with ingredients like cayenne, lemon juice (you can leave this out, but just don’t add more than indicated) and garlic.  Some of the images on this post were taken of light spelt macaroni and some of whole spelt macaroni.  My family much prefers the light spelt pasta with this sauce, but you should use whatever suits you.  I have also tried this with brown rice pasta and a corn-quinoa pasta — both super!   Once I threw some small cauliflower florets into the pasta pot two minutes before the pasta was done and made a cauliflower mac and cheese.  (See above.)  I’m sure broccoli and kale would be great, too!  Can you see how much fun we are going to have with this??!!

vegan mac and cheese | pamela salzman

Vegan Mac & Cheese|Pamela Salzman

4.8 from 13 reviews
Vegan Mac and Cheese
Author: 
Serves: 6 as a side dish
 
Ingredients
  • 8 ounce package elbow macaroni pasta (I like spelt.)
  • 2 slices bread, torn into large pieces (whole grain works!)
  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter (not vegan) or organic Earth Balance (vegan), divided
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped shallots
  • 1 cup (about 7 ounces) chopped Yukon gold potatoes (you can leave the peel on)
  • ¼ cup chopped carrots (about 1 small carrot)
  • ⅓ cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ cup raw cashews (soaked for 1-5 hours and drained if you your blender is weak)
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt (use 1 ¾ teaspoons if using Earth Balance)
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic, minced (about 1 medium clove)
  • ¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
Instructions
  1. In a medium saucepan, add the shallots, potatoes, carrots, onion and water and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook, covered, for 15 minutes, or until vegetables are very soft. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente, drain and put back into the pot.
  3. Put the bread pieces, 1 Tablespoon of butter and paprika in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process until combined to a medium-fine texture, set aside.
  4. Place the cashews, salt, garlic, 5 Tablespoons butter, mustard, lemon juice, black pepper, and cayenne in a blender or food processor. Add the softened vegetables and cooking water to the blender or food processor and process until perfectly smooth.
  5. Pour the “cheese” sauce over the cooked pasta and combine until completely coated. Spread the mixture into an un-greased 11 x 8 casserole dish, sprinkle with prepared breadcrumb mixture. Bake for 30 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling and the top is golden brown. If you add veggies (such as 1 or 2 cups of blanched cauliflower or broccoli) to the macaroni, cook in a 13 x 9 dish.
Notes
I actually don't make the vegan version for us because we can eat butter.   But I have made this with Earth Balance (which is vegan) many times and it has always turned out great.  I have never made this without the bread crumbs, though.  I think they provide a nice contrast in texture to the soft and creamy macaroni, but if not everyone will eat the bread crumbs, I am sure you can leave a square of the baking dish free of them.

Roasted vegetable lasagne recipe

I feel like my universe is in a state of transition right now.  Although I’m sensing this shift in energy in lots of people, not just me.  We’ve transitioned from vacation to school, about to move from summer to fall, and we’re starting to change what we wear.  It’s natural for us to adapt from warmer to cooler weather by adding an extra layer or wearing warmer clothes.  We can think of food in the same way.  It has the ability to warm us up or cool us down.  Even the way you cook or don’t cook your food can change how “warming” or “cooling” it is.  The most cooling form of a vegetable is its raw state, which is why I favor lots of salads and raw soups like gazpacho in the summer.  But today we had the first break in our heat wave and as I scoured the farmers market feeling a little chilly in my short sleeves, I had a hankering for roasted vegetable lasagne.

But before you think of the lasagne you eat in the dead of winter — the heavy, cheesy, carb-y, stick-to-your-ribs-and-thighs kind — think again.  Let’s call this one “Transition Lasagne.”  It’s warm, flavorful and satisfying, but it’s mostly vegetables with a mere couple of ounces of pasta in the entire pan, so it’s super light too.  I also use mozzarella only on the top layer and no one seems to have noticed the difference.  If you’ve made lasagne before, you follow the same basic steps of layering except here we use thick slices of roasted vegetables in place of sheets of pasta.  There’s still one layer of pasta, though.  I tried this with all veggies and it was a little too watery.  The top layer of blanched collard greens is really pretty too.  I got the idea from NY Times columnist, Martha Rose Shulman, who published a beautiful “Lasgana with Collard Greens” a few months ago.  Just like Ms. Shulman’s, not only is this lasagne lighter and fresher than the traditional, but no doubt more healthful too.

This is exactly what I wanted on a day like today and my family was pretty psyched when they came to the table, too.  Mr. Picky psyched about vegetable lasagne?  Ok, no, he wasn’t.  He picked it apart, scraping the cheese off both the pasta and the zucchini so that it was more palatable to him and the eggplant came over to my plate.  This is actually progress.  Last year he wouldn’t have eaten any of it!  Does this make me crazy?  Not really.  Because I know that transitioning to being a good eater doesn’t just happen with a change in the weather.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Roasted Vegetable Lasagna
Author: 
Serves: 6-8
 
Ingredients
  • 1 medium eggplant, about 1 ¼ pounds
  • 1 ½ pounds of zucchini, about 3 medium, trimmed and cut lengthwise into ½-inch slices
  • Olive oil for brushing on vegetables
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 large collard green leaves
  • 3- 3 ½ cups of marinara sauce (depending on how saucy you like it)
  • 15 ounce container whole milk ricotta
  • 1 large egg (helps to bind the ricotta)
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, divided
  • 4 sheets no-boil lasagna noodles or your favorite gluten-free pasta, cooked and drained
  • 4 ounces grated mozzarella cheese, about 1 cup
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with unbleached parchment paper.
  2. Slice the stem off the eggplant and with a vegetable peeler, peel a few strips off the eggplant so that you don’t get 2 end pieces that are all peel. It will be hard to cut through the lasagne otherwise. Slice the eggplant lengthwise into ½-inch slices. Arrange the eggplant in one layer on one baking sheet and the zucchini in one layer on the other. Brush both sides of the vegetables with oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Roast until tender, about 30 minutes. Then lower the temperature to 350 degrees.
  3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a tablespoon of kosher salt and the collard leaves. Pull them out after 2 minutes.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, egg and 6 Tablespoons of Parmesan cheese.
  5. Spread ½ cup of marinara sauce on the bottom of a 13 x 9 baking dish. Arrange the roasted eggplant slices on top of the sauce in one layer, squishing them together a bit so there aren’t too many open spots. Take ⅓ of the ricotta mixture (about ⅔ cup), and with a spoon gently spread it over the eggplant slices. Spread ⅔ - ¾ cup of marinara sauce over the cheese mixture.
  6. Next, spread half the remaining ricotta mixture over the pasta sheets (I usually hold the pasta in my hands to do this.) Arrange the pasta in one layer over the eggplant/cheese/sauce and top with another ¾ cup of sauce.
  7. Repeat with the zucchini slices, remaining ricotta mixture and ⅔ - ¾ cup of sauce.
  8. Finally, place the collard greens in one layer on top. Spread ⅔ - ¾ cup of sauce on top of the greens, then sprinkle the mozzarella cheese and Parmesan over the sauce. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, uncover and bake another 15-20 minutes until cheese is bubbly and golden. You can broil the top if it doesn’t brown enough. Lasagne is easier to cut (use a serrated knife) if you allow it to sit for a few minutes.
Notes
You can replace one of the layers of vegetables with a layer of pasta, if you prefer. You can also make this “cheesier” by adding a sprinkle of mozzarella in between each layer.

Vegetables can be cooked the morning of or the day before to save yourself some time.

Pasta with 5-minute cherry tomato sauce recipe

Mr. Picky and I had the most glorious week on Long Island visiting my parents.  My sisters and their kids came to be with us too, so it was quite a full house.   It kind of felt like summer camp with lots of old fashioned fun outdoors from morning til dusk except for the brief break to watch a few games of Euro Cup soccer.  Even though the kids were always playing ball, swimming or taking turns on the hammock, I felt as though we were always eating.  Italians tend to linger at the table for quite a bit, so breakfast morphed into lunch, and lunch lasted for hours, although I surmise that was due to the daily wine.  I finally realize why my parents drink so much espresso.

Whenever I come into town, I am in charge of organizing and cooking all meals, which I don’t mind one bit.  The deal for the week is that whoever cooks, doesn’t have to clean up, so I think I have the better job.  It isn’t difficult to cook for my family.  They are so appreciative, easy going and I’m the only one with a child named “Picky.”  My sisters’ kids are the most fantastic eaters and they are all younger than mine!  I still kept it simple, making frittatas, tacos and salads for lunch and grilled chicken, roasted salmon and more vegetables for dinner.  My father’s garden is loaded with a variety of berries, herbs and greens right now, which was such a pleasure for me.

Besides cooking for the family, one of my other favorite things to do when I go visit is to check out the local natural foods stores.  Yep, that’s a fun outing for me.  I love to see what the Long Island stores carry that mine don’t.  This time around I was pleased to see many new sprouted grain products on the shelves.  I was able to buy Shiloh Farms sprouted spelt flour for pancakes and a sprouted wheat pasta for one night’s dinner.  There’s only so much quinoa and millet my father will eat.  Soaking and sprouting grains, nuts and seeds helps to neutralize phytic acid, which binds with certain minerals and prevents them from being absorbed by the body.  Soaking and sprouting helps to make the grains more digestible and the nutrients more absorbable.  It’s a much more healthful food that way.  I promise to do a post on this soon!

Even though I was happy to cook this week, I didn’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen when I could have been on the hammock with a book or chatting with my sisters.  So I thought spaghetti with 5-minute cherry tomato sauce would be perfect and it happens to be my favorite pasta dish too, and not just because it’s a quickie.  Sweet cherry tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil — how can you go wrong?  I even like it better than pasta all checca, which is essentially the same thing, but raw.  I love the silkiness of the barely cooked tomatoes and how it coats the pasta.  You get a little more depth of flavor when you cook the garlic and tomatoes even just a little.  The key is to halve the cherry tomatoes or you can use peeled and seeded beefsteaks, so that you get a nice juicy sauce.  I never simmer the tomatoes too much, though.  You don’t want it all to evaporate on you.

 If your garden or market has some new summer tomatoes that you’re anxious to use, do try this recipe.  All the kids slurped it up and asked for seconds.  It’s such a classic, as well as fresh and easy.  In fact, after you make it once, you’ll see how this sauce can be the basis for many other dishes including chicken and fish as well as beans with vegetables for a summer vegetable ragu.  The tomato season is just getting started and so are my recipes with my favorite summer vegetable (fruit, if you must), so look out for more of those.  If there are any gardeners out there, please share what’s coming up in your backyard!

5.0 from 2 reviews
Pasta with 5-minute Cherry Tomato Sauce
Author: 
Serves: 6
 
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 pounds cherry tomatoes (about 2 ½ -3 pints), stemmed and halved
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ½ cup basil leaves
  • Kosher salt for pasta water
  • 1 pound whole grain pasta, such as whole wheat or spelt
  • Grated parmesan or pecorino-romano cheese (optional)
Instructions
  1. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium low heat. Add the sliced garlic and red pepper flakes and swirl over medium until fragrant. When the garlic just starts to turn golden around the edges, increase the heat to medium and add tomatoes and 2 big pinches of salt plus pepper to taste. Cook tomatoes, stirring, until they start to lose their shape, about 5 minutes. Check seasoning and remove from heat. Tear or slice basil leaves and stir into tomato mixture.
  2. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add a tablespoon of kosher salt. Cook pasta until al dente. The time will vary depending on the type of pasta you use. Remove a ladleful of pasta water and reserve.
  3. Drain pasta and transfer to the skillet with tomato mixture and toss gently to combine. Add a little reserved pasta water if mixture seems too dry. Serve with cheese, if desired.

 

 

Pasta alla checca recipe

pasta alla checca (raw tomato sauce)

When people tell me they don’t know how to cook, I know what they really mean.  They mean to say they don’t know how to cook well off the fly or they don’t have a deep repertoire of dishes that they can prepare with ease.  I say if you can read, you can cook.  Furthermore, most people can cook something they ate as a child, if nothing else.  If I learned zip about cooking and never stepped foot in a kitchen after I left home, I would at least be able to make Pasta alla Checca.

I actually got a little choked up in a class last month when I reminisced about how I ate this pasta dish weekly during the summers of my youth.  Pasta alla Checca is nothing more than pasta with a raw tomato and basil sauce.  Sounds simple, but the success of the dish relies on the quality of the tomatoes.  If you have divine tomatoes, the pasta will be fabulous.  If not, it will be forgettable.  Therefore, I implore you only to make this dish in the summer when tomatoes have a chance of being splendid.  If you make this dish in January with pale, dreary tomatoes and email me that you don’t know why this didn’t taste like very much, I might just direct you back to this post.

We always had beautiful, tasty tomatoes and basil growing in the backyard and this was an easy weeknight dish for my mom to pull together after a day at the beach or if was too hot to do too much in the kitchen.  My mom was not one for creating extra work for herself, but she always insisted on peeling the tomatoes for this dish.  I have made it both ways and she is totally right — peeling the tomatoes is worth every minute of the 5 minutes it will take you.  When the tomatoes are without their skins, they release more of their juices and flavors and everything just tastes so much richer and more…tomato-y!  My mom used to buy that atrocious plastic-wrapped Polly-O mozzarrella, cube it and marinate it in the tomato mixture while she was cooking the pasta.  When the hot pasta hit the cheese, it melted ever so slightly and yours truly would fight her sisters for it.  If you decide to go this route, keep in mind the garlic cloves are crushed in the sauce and tend to look very much like melted mozzarrella, so you might want to pull out the garlic before serving.

 

pasta alla checca (raw tomato sauce)

If you are not eating tomatoes right now, you’re missing out.  Even if you don’t eat pasta, make the tomato mixture and put it on top of any number of things — steamed green beans, grilled eggplant, grilled bread, poached or grilled fish or chicken.  The season is short and fleeting and nothing says summer like a real sunkissed vineripened tomato.  To this day, just the aroma of this tomato and basil mixture immediately makes me think summer.  The good news is, you still have plenty of summer left to enjoy it.

pasta alla checca (raw tomato sauce)

Pasta Alla Checca
Author: 
Serves: 4-6
 
Ingredients
  • 2 pounds ripe tomatoes, about 6 medium (or more if you like a high ratio of tomatoes to pasta)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • ¼ cup torn or sliced fresh basil leaves
  • ¼ cup unrefined, cold pressed extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt to taste (I think ¾ teaspoon is about right.)
  • 1 pound dried pasta (I like a pasta which catches the tomatoes, such as orrecchiette or conchiglie. My mom always made it with spaghetti.)
  • Kosher salt to season the pasta water
Instructions
  1. In a pot large enough to fit the tomatoes, fill ¾ with water and bring to a boil ("instant hot" from your sink won't work, already tried it.) Cutting through the skin, make an “x” on the bottom of each tomato with a knife. Turn the heat off and submerge the tomatoes in the water for 20-30 seconds, depending on the size of the tomatoes. Remove the tomatoes from the water with a slotted spoon and place on a cutting board. Peel (non-negotiable), core, seed (if you want) and chop the tomatoes.
  2. Place the tomatoes in a serving bowl. Add the garlic, basil, olive oil, and a few healthy pinches of sea salt to taste. Toss to combine.
  3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 Tablespoon kosher salt. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions or until al dente. Remove 1 cup pasta cooking water and reserve (you won't need it if your tomatoes are juicy.) Drain the pasta. Immediately add to the serving bowl with the tomatoes and toss to combine, adding reserved pasta cooking liquid if necessary to moisten the pasta. Remove garlic before serving, if desired.

 

Guide to gluten-free pastas

I meet many people in my classes who are sensitive to gluten, a hard-to-digest protein found in wheat, rye, barley, farro and spelt.  Perhaps you aren’t gluten-intolerant, but are wisely monitoring your intake of it.  I’m a big advocate of “include a wide variety of foods in your diet” and “everything in moderation,” especially when it comes to eating gluten, which is very inflammatory to the body.  However, one food that is tough for many gluten-sensitive people to give up is traditional wheat pasta.  The good news is that there has been an onslaught of gluten-free products on the market in the last several years, although many of the new foods are processed and no better than their wheat-based counterparts.  Regardless, if you can’t eat wheat, it’s nice to have a few good choices for gluten-free pasta.  I’ve experimented with many of them and I’ll give you my take right here.

The main trick to tasty gluten-free pasta is in the cooking.  It has a tendency to stick together if you don’t stir it regularly, especially immediately after pouring it into the water.  Also, it can go from al dente to mush very quickly, so test it earlier than the package directions indicate.

Bionaturae pasta:  Available at Whole Foods and amazon.com, this organic pasta is made from a blend of rice flour and starch, soy flour and potato starch.  This is the closest to real pasta of the whole lot and my favorite.  Unfortunately it is also one of the most expensive at about $4.59 for 12 ounces (less by the case at amazon.)

Brown rice pasta: I like the Tinkyada brand and the house brand from Trader Joe’s. Both are organic and are a close second to Bionaturae.   Do not go by the package directions on the Tinkyada bag!  Start testing the pasta after it has been cooking for 8 minutes, but it should not take longer than 10 minutes.  Tinkyada is about $3.69/pound and Trader Joe’s is about $2.00/pound.  There’s also another brand of rice pasta called Notta Pasta, which has an almost cult-like following, but it’s not organic.  I have see it on Amazon.com.  Believe me, there are many more brands, but some are so ridiculously expensive that I’d rather eat plain rice.

Quinoa pasta: I have tried Ancient Harvest and Andean Deam, both organic and available from Whole Foods or  amazon.com.  Ancient Harvest is made from a mixture of a corn flour and quinoa flour.  Andean Dream is a blend of rice flour and quinoa flour from royal quinoa, a variety that is very high in protein. These brands cook at different rates and different shapes have different cook times, as well.  I prefer Andean Dream over Ancient Harvest because I don’t love the corn flavor from AH.

Rice noodles or sticks: These translucent rice flour noodles are delicate and versatile. I’ve seen them in Asian grocery stores and some supermarkets in the Asian section.  You need to reconstitute them in warm water for about 20 minutes and then cook for another minute in boiling water.

Soba noodles:  Most soba noodles are made from a blend of wheat and buckwheat flours, but you can find 100% buckwheat soba noodles by Eden Organic.  They can be very tricky to work with if you aren’t attentive.  Be careful of the pot foaming over and the noodles sticking together.   I love the earthy, almost mushroomy flavor of all-buckwheat soba noodles, but I use them mostly in Asian noodle salads or soups.  Very expensive, about $7 for a half pound.

Ready to try some out?  Here are some great recipes already on my site:  Basil-Parsley Pesto; my childhood favorite, Pasta alla Checca; or clean out your fridge with Pantry Pasta.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with gluten-free pastas.  Favorite brands?  Good tips?

 

Pantry pasta recipe

My father called me the other day.  My father never calls.  He always jumps on the phone when I’m speaking with my mother, but he is not in a habit of actually dialing my number unless there is something that is nagging him.  “I have looked at your website, and I want to ask you a question.”  Here it comes.  “I think you do not have enough Italian food represented.  You are Italian!”   That’s not a question, but a partially true statement nonetheless.  I am definitely Italian (and proud of it), but I wouldn’t say the majority of the recipes on my website are Italian.  I have, however, eaten and cooked more than my share of Italian food in my life.  Growing up, we probably ate pasta four times per week with crusty bread on the side.  It’s a wonder we aren’t all gluten-intolerant!  Or are we?  Hmmm…

The food I teach in my classes is very representative of the food I make for my family and those recipes are making their way to my website.  I love Italian food and I love pasta, and a satisfying pasta dish is one I can whip up even if I have nothing more than salt, olive oil and garlic.  However I don’t consider pasta a “health food” that I want to be eating regularly.  So I have come to rely on it as a weekly lunch box staple with pesto for the girls and something to make when I need to clean out the fridge.  Very often at the end of the week and before a farmer’s market shop, I have a few stray vegetables lingering in the crisper.  Last night I found a few mushrooms, 1 1/2 zucchini, a couple of carrots, a red bell pepper and a handful of kale or chard.  When I pair these with a few pantry staples such as canned chick peas, jarred tomatoes, onion and garlic, I’ve got the makings of “Pantry Pasta!”

As you can imagine, I’ve never made Pantry Pasta the same way twice because it’s really just a way of using up what I’ve got.  But it always manages to be tasty and a more healthful way to eat pasta since the dish ends up being half veggies & beans and half pasta.  Even better is that everyone loves it, even Mr. Picky who will just pick out any color that is out of favor at the moment.  I love Pantry Pasta because I feel good that I am using my food efficiently and I can pull together an easy dinner in very little time.  Chop your vegetables first, put the pot of water on for pasta and then start sauteing the vegetables.  The key to this recipe is saving a good cup or two of the pasta cooking water just before you drain the pasta.  This is a valuable ingredient in many pasta dishes since the starchy liquid can add a nice richness for the foundation of a good sauce without having to add extra oil or cream.  When I had more time to exercise, I used to add a pat of butter to the pasta just before serving and before I had Mr. Picky, I would stir grated cheese into the pasta at the same time as the pasta water.  He claims he doesn’t like parmesan cheese.  Would it do any good if his grandfather reminded him that Mr. Picky himself is half Italian?  Of course, you can make these delicious vegetables and serve them atop cooked millet or quinoa instead of pasta.  Just don’t tell my dad.

Buon appetito!

Pantry Pasta
Author: 
Serves: 6
 
Ingredients
  • 1 pound whole wheat or other pasta of your choice
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 Tablespoons unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • Vegetables in the fridge, such as last night's lot:
  • 2 carrots, julienned or roughly chopped
  • a handful of mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1½ zucchini, roughly chopped
  • 1 sweet bell pepper, sliced
  • 6 leaves of black kale, stems removed and discarded, leaves coarsely chopped
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 jar or half a jar chopped tomatoes or whole tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 ½ cups cooked beans, such as chickpeas or Great Northern
  • A couple tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, parsley, thyme, mint or a combination
  • Grated Pecorino-Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Instructions
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  2. In the meantime, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until tender and translucent. Stir in remaining prepared vegetables, except the leafy greens. Season with two pinches of sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper and sauté until just tender, about 5 minutes.
  3. To the pot of boiling water, add kosher salt and pasta. Cook pasta according to package instructions.
  4. Into the skillet pour in the chopped tomatoes and beans and simmer ten minutes. Sprinkle with another pinch of sea salt. Stir in chopped greens and fresh herbs and cook until wilted.
  5. When pasta is cooked until al dente, remove two cups of pasta cooking water and reserve. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet with the vegetables and toss. Add enough pasta water to coat the vegetables and the pasta. Taste for seasoning and serve with grated cheese if desired.
Notes
Other additions: chopped celery, cauliflower florets, peas, chopped Swiss chard, beet greens or baby spinach leaves instead of kale

Notes: You can also add a splash of white wine to the vegetables as you are sauteing.

Do ahead: chop your vegetables in the morning and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.