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Posts Tagged ‘pasta’

pasta salad red bowl book

Spring is (finally) springing here in Boston, and though the farmers’ markets won’t be open yet awhile, I’m feeling the need to bring a little spring into my kitchen.

We’ve been eating hearty soups all winter, and while I love them, I’m mixing in a few lighter recipes these days. I’m on my annual asparagus kick, and last week I whipped up our favorite pasta salad.

I’m not a fan of most pasta salads – cold, slimy things full of suspect ingredients. But this particular one is warm, light and fresh. It involves several of my favorite things: juicy tomatoes, creamy goat cheese, peppery arugula. It’s quick and easy. And it makes me think of my friend Happy.

His real name isn’t Happy, of course – it’s Craig. He’s a tall Californian ex-hippie who’s lived in Texas for many years. Back when he used to blog, “Happy the man” was his blog moniker, and it stuck. His granddaughters, and lots of his friends, still call him Happy.

One spring when we lived in Abilene, J and I spent a weekend in Austin (during South by Southwest) for a college friend’s wedding. Happy and his wife, Laura, were our hosts – treating us to fish tacos at Wahoo’s and taking us to a couple of fabulous concerts. But we spent one rainy afternoon just hanging out at their house. Happy whipped up this dish, and we ate it from white ceramic bowls, curled up on their sectional leather couch with our shoes off. I felt so warm and taken care of and – well – happy.

Every time I make this for dinner, I remember that afternoon, and a little of that glow comes back. (Plus it’s delicious.)

This is more of a guideline than a recipe, but here goes:

  • Boil a pot of salted water and cook pasta (we like fusilli or bow tie) according to package directions.
  • Slice a handful of cherry or cocktail tomatoes; saute briefly in olive oil if you like.
  • Toss pasta with tomatoes, 2-3 cups arugula, and a small log of goat cheese, crumbled.
  • Garnish with a few grinds of black pepper. If you have some fresh basil to toss in, so much the better.
  • Eat warm, in your favorite bowl. Enjoy!

What are your favorite springtime dishes?

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I wait all year for the weather to warm up and the evenings to lighten, for the fresh tomatoes, zucchini, berries and stone fruits to appear at the grocery stores and the farmer’s markets. I have a deep love for autumn in New England, and spring, once it finally arrives, brings its own delicate, luscious beauty.

But summer is the season of abundance here – utterly bountiful and all too brief. We are luxuriating in it, savoring it, swimming in the golden light pouring through the windows from before breakfast until well after dinner.

summer dinner table

In the winter I make comforting, substantial dishes: enchiladas and manicotti in deep casserole dishes, pots of soup stirred and simmered on the stove. But in the summer, the cooking is easy, quick and light, starring whatever fresh produce I’ve recently brought home.

I eat a handful of berries with my breakfast, tuck a nectarine into my bag for an afternoon snack. We make fruit salad with whatever’s on hand (the only rule: no melons). I alternate between my two favorite summer teas: blackberry sage and ginger peach. They both taste like long-ago mornings at the coffee shop, a hot mug held between my hands on the speckled green counter, the aroma from the day’s first pot of coffee filling the air.

The dinner rotation these days is simple. Some nights I boil a pot of water, throw in some pasta, toss it with tomatoes and zucchini or spinach or bell pepper, grating Parmesan on top or stirring in a swirl of creamy ricotta. We love pasta year-round, but in the summer you barely have to fuss with whatever’s going in it.

pasta dinner patio lemonade summer

On slightly cooler nights we dare to turn on the oven, pulling out the pizza stone J gave me for Christmas, topping a store-bought crust with creamy rounds of mozzarella and bright slices of tomato and vegetables. J opens a package of crumbly goat cheese and dabs it around the edge with his fingers. I grind a bit of pepper on top. We pop it in the oven for 10 minutes, long enough for the mozzarella to melt and the goat cheese to turn slightly crispy.

Some nights, I whip up Jenny Rosenstrach’s yogurt-honey-garlic-lemon marinade, and we stick a few chicken pieces in it overnight. Cooked on the stove and then shredded, it is perfect with warm sheets of naan, topped with sliced baby tomatoes and a generous dollop of hummus. I slice a bell pepper into crisp ribbons and pile them on a plate; we dip them into the hummus too.

And every week, there is some variation on Burrito Night. We make rice in the rice cooker and J chops the chicken, then coats it in chili powder and black pepper. I slice and mash a few avocados with lemon juice and store-bought salsas for guacamole, and then we try not to eat it all while waiting for the chicken and rice to finish.

We carry everything out to the patio, and we drink lemonade and eat chips and burn our mouths with the spiciness. If we are sick of burritos or simply out of chicken, we make zucchini quesadillas, grating the zucchini into a heap and sauteing it with cumin and chili powder.

If we have a bit more time and inclination, we chop chicken and a pile of vegetables to make a curry. Our two favorites: Mango Chicken Curry from Shauna Niequist’s new book Bread and Wine, and an old recipe from Real Simple, featuring jalapenos and peaches. Simple, spicy, still starring fresh produce, and delicious.

What are you cooking this summer?

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Inevitably, my friends who are visiting Boston ask, “Where should we eat?” (My first response is usually, “Can we join you for a meal or two?”)

After three years, I know we haven’t tasted (ha) all the city has to offer, but we do have a few delicious favorites.

il villaggio boston interior

Our favorite foodie neighborhood, especially in the summer, is the North End, which is lined with delicious Italian restaurants. Il Villaggio (above) has amazing fettuccine alfredo; Ristorante Saraceno has the best meat lasagna I’ve ever had. These are both on Hanover Street, the neighborhood’s main drag. Between them is Caffe Vittoria, which offers yummy gelato and various tea/coffee drinks. It’s a nice place to sit, before or after dinner, and watch the world go by (see below).

book juice cafe

Mike’s Pastry, justly famous for its cannoli, is down the block from Ristorante Saraceno. It’s cash-only and usually packed (there are no lines, only a crowd), so most folks take their cannoli to go. (They do serve other pastries, but with a dozen flavors of cannoli, you’re sure to find something you like.)

mike's pastry interior

Salem Street, the North End’s other main drag, has a few tasty restaurants too – we like L’Osteria for a good plate of pasta, and our best friends love La Famiglia Giorgio’s for its enormous portions.

For brunch, we have two favorites: Cafe Luna in Central Square in Cambridge, which boasts delicious omelets, pancakes, waffles, etc. (see below):

cafe luna brunch cambridge pancakes

Our other favorite (more diner-ish but equally delicious) is the Paramount Cafe on Beacon Street, near the Common. Bacon, eggs, fruit pancakes (oh my word, the pancakes). You can also get sandwiches and burgers, but I never have. The breakfast is too good.

Dec 2010 037

For Thai food, we love Thai Basil on Newbury Street, and for crepes, I love the Paris Creperie in Brookline (they also have a roving food truck). I have a number of favorite cafes, and we’re always discovering new pleasures. But these are our tried-and-true places.

Where do you love to eat on vacation? (Or in Boston, if you’ve been here?)

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