Fettuccine with Fresh Peas & Asparagus

Now that summer is officially upon us, I felt the need to celebrate the beginning of fresh local veggies. Asparagus, peas, radishes, kale, chard, and salad greens are just a few popping up in my local co-op's produce section. I had some fresh asparagus from a member of our local food co-op and picked up some fresh sugar snap peas from Honey Creek Farm. I had seen a recipe which combined these two early summer ingredients with fettuccine, fresh local basil, and Parmesan and I decided to make my own version. I had some extra time this evening, so I chose to make my own fettuccine. I've provided a link to the recipe I used (subbing semolina flour for all-purpose flour), but you can also use purchased fresh or dried noodles. Making your own pasta can be very simple, and if you have a little extra time I recommend giving it a try. (Note: if you have a good rolling pin and a pizza wheel, and are willing to put in some elbow grease, you don't need a pasta maker for long noodles such as these).

To try something else new, use a chiffonade technique with the basil garnish. Chiffonade is an easy knife skill that can add a simple yet elegant touch to your plate. To do this with basil, stack several leaves on top of each other and roll them up the long way. Using a sharp knife, slice the roll of basil the short way. From this, you get fine slivers of basil perfect for sprinkling atop any pasta or salad.

The result of this beautiful summer vegetable combination is a deliciously light dish with a slight citrus note on the asparagus and nuttiness added by the shaved Parmesan. Use purchased pasta (fresh or dried) to make this an easy mid-week meal. Pair with a chardonnay that has a good balance of butter and citrus, which will play up the two undertones of this dish.


Fettuccine with Fresh Asparagus and Peas
Serves 4

1 bunch fresh asparagus (about 10 spears), not too thick
2 tbsp butter or olive oil
Minced zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon
Salt & pepper
3/4 c freshly shelled Sugar Snap or English peas
1 lb fresh fettuccine (or 8 oz dried)
Several leaves of fresh basil
Shaved or grated Parmesan

With a sharp knife, cut the asparagus on the diagonal into pieces about 1-inch thick. In a small saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the asparagus and saute for 2 minutes.* Reduce the heat, add the lemon zest and juice. Combine, then add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the peas and cook for 30 seconds. Add the pasta and cook until the pasta is tender and rises to the surface (the timing here will depend on if the pasta is fresh or dried, anywhere from 30 seconds to 6-7 minutes, so keep a close eye on it). Stir occasionally so that the noodles cook evenly. They will be done when they begin to occasionally float to the surface, but also use your fingers or a fork to test doneness. Drain the pasta and peas, then return to the pot.

Add asparagus mixture to the pasta and pea mixture and toss thoroughly to combine. Taste, then adjust salt and pepper if necessary.

Scoop the pasta onto four plates. Top with Parmesan and basil and serve immediately.

*To make this dish extra indulgent, reduce the butter to 1 tbsp add 2/3 cup heavy cream at this point in the recipe, before adding the zest, juice, pepper, and salt. Heat the cream through and then add the remaining ingredients, being sure to not let the mixture boil.


Caramel-Walnut Chocolate Chunk Granola

I actually wasn't planning on doing a blog post tonight. I was baking up a fresh batch of my homemade granola (a recipe which I am still perfecting) and ended up having a lot of oats left over. I remembered that I found a granola recipe that included caramel and chocolate and, after wondering if I was overdoing it on the granola, decided to give it a try. I found the recipe in The New Whole Grain Cookbook by Robin Absell. This book is a beautiful collection of unique recipes for all kinds of whole grains - from the everyday (like oats) to the very unique (like teff). While granola is hardly something unique to my repertoire, this particular recipe caught my eye. The buttery smooth caramel mixture combined with the oats and walnuts smells like oatmeal cookie dough prior to baking. I did not have chocolate chunks around, but instead chopped up a Dagoba 74% cacao chocolate bar. While chunks would have been tasty, I enjoyed the delicious randomness of the hand-chopped chocolate.

This recipe makes the perfect addition to a special brunch or breakfast, or is equally delicious with cold milk as a late night snack (and much better for you than the ice cream you may have had otherwise).


Caramel Walnut Chocolate Chunk Granola
Makes 9 cups

4 c rolled oats (not quick)
1 c walnuts, roughly chopped
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 c water
1 c sugar
1/4 c butter, sliced
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 c (about 4 oz) dark chocolate, chopped (or dark chocolate chunks)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Line one large or two small rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper, and spray the parchment paper with vegetable oil spray (a non-stick baking mat works well here, no spray needed).

In a large bowl, combine the first three ingredients. In a 2-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan, stir together the water and sugar. Over high heat, bring mixture to a boil, moving the pan to keep it mixed rather than stirring. Cook until the syrup turns a medium amber color; remove from heat. Add the butter carefully (it will foam and bubble). Stir the butter, then add the vanilla and stir to combine. Pour the caramel into the oat mixture and stir immediately. The caramel mixture will start to harden and clump up, but it will melt while baking.

Spread the oat-caramel mixture onto the prepared pan(s). Bake for 15 minutes, then stir and bake for 15 minutes more.

Cool granola completely, then break into chunks and mix with chocolate (don't be impatient here; if the granola is not completely cooled the chocolate will melt). Store in an airtight container.

Adapted from The New Whole Grain Cookbook by Robin Absell, page 31.


Thoughts on Food

This week I received the most recent publication of Food and Wine magazine. I love this magazine for the unique recipes, the sometimes over-the-top comments, and the awesome travel articles.

Chris and I were perusing this magazine together, pointing out recipes we wanted to try, places we wanted to travel, and gadgets we wanted but never knew existed, which prompted a discussion on why we, as individuals, loved food and what we sought when it came to food. Was it the eliteness of trying the fanciest, most expensive new restaurant, to say we had traveled to a food mecca, or was it the sharing of food with each other and our friends and family, regardless of what we're eating or where we are? This discussion was interrupted by dinner being ready, but left me contemplating what it is I love about food.

I have come to the conclusion that I love food because I can share it with others. I also love food because it can be incredibly beautiful; because it can be an experience. The excitement I get when I go to a farmers' market or am presented with a dish composed of local ingredients is hard to explain. It is a giddiness I often cannot contain. I will cut Chris off mid-sentence to appreciate the flavors of a bite of house-made pasta tossed with local peas and how it combines with the locally produced Chardonnay I chose. I danced in my living room the first time I made cheese. But I also love food because I can share it with Chris, and so many other people in my life. Because sharing food makes it special beyond measure.

I'd love to hear what it is you love about food. Not only because I am really interested, but also because it could shape the future of this blog!


Thanks to Amanda for the photo. It is from her 2007 European tour, and she was so nice to share the pictures with me!


Homemade Granola Bars

I am a big fan of making things myself. Not only does it provide new kitchen challenges and a feeling of "hey, I can do this myself," it also provides you complete control over the ingredients in your food. Case in point, the granola bar. These are a very popular snack, yet even the presumed healthy, all-natural, or organic ones have a lot more ingredients than really need to be in them, most of them processed in some way. Making your own helps you avoid these icky additives and stick to what is tasty about a granola bar.

I've been wanting to make my own granola bars for some time now, and after picking up Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce, I gave her recipe a try. It contained rolled oats, flax, raisins, and a brown sugar syrup mixture. While I enjoyed it, I decided I would much prefer to have a refined sugar-free recipe, and try to stick to all-natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup for my next round of granola bars. I also wanted to diversify the ingredients, which is very easy to do with the recipe below should you not like the combination I've put together (or not have access to these ingredients).

I found this mission for the great granola bar a perfect way for me to experiment with new and interesting grains, something else I have been trying to do in my cooking. I picked up some rolled rye, rolled barley, and quinoa flakes from my local co-op. Rolled rye and rolled barley look very similar to rolled oats, and quinoa flakes look similar to instant oatmeal, but are much lighter in weight and texture. If you don't have access to these ingredients, or don't like them, just replace them with organic rolled oats. (Note: if you just use oats, use 2 cups of oats and 1/2 cup of flax seed meal or wheat germ.)

I also chose to replace the raisins with organic dried blueberries and organic dried cherries for a flavor (and antioxidant) boost. Adding flax seed meal to these dried fruits is essential because it prevents them from clumping when you mix them, and ensures that you'll get a good even mixture for fruit in every bite. If you don't have access to flax seed meal (or if you don't like it), you can use wheat germ instead. The flax (or wheat germ) also gives the bars a nutritional boost. If you're weirded out by either of these ingredients, I recommend trying them in this recipe, since you won't taste them at all but will still get the nutritional benefit.

These granola bars are a perfect quick breakfast or a good pick-me-up snack in the afternoon. And best of all, you know everything that's in them. :)


Homemade Granola Bars
Makes 9 square bars or eight long bars

4 tbsp (1/2 stick) butter, plus more for your hands and for the baking pan
1 c rolled rye
1 c rolled barley
3/4 c quinoa flakes
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c honey
1/4 c molasses
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c dried cherries, chopped
1/4 c dried blueberries
1 tbsp flax seed meal (golden or brown is fine)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Generously butter an 8x8 or 9x9 pan.

Melt the butter in a large heavy bottom saucepan over medium heat. Add the rye, barley, and quinoa and toast for about 6 minutes, stirring every minute or so. The mixture should be about two shades lighter than when you started, so keep the ingredients next to you to compare the shades. Transfer the toasted ingredients to a large bowl. Add the cinnamon and toss to combine.

Combine the honey and the molasses in a microwave-safe measuring cup or bowl and microwave for about 30 seconds to make a syrup. Add the salt and stir to combine. Pour this mixture into a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until evenly boiling, about 6 minutes. Resist the temptation to remove from heat early; boiling is what will make the bars chewy.

While the syrup is cooking, put the dried cherries, blueberries, and flax seed meal in a small bowl. Stir to coat all the dried fruit with the flax meal; as you stir the pieces they should separate as they are coated with the flax. Add this mixture to the rye, barley, and quinoa mixture; stir to combine.

Pour the syrup over the rye, barley, quinoa, and dried fruit mixture. Stir until everything is coated with the syrup. Pour into the prepared pan and, with butter fingers or the back of a silicone spatula, press the mixture firmly and evenly into the bottom of the pan.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, rotating halfway through baking. The outer edges will be darker and the bars should have a nice sheen to them. When baking is complete, remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes. Cut into bars and remove from pan. Cool completely before eating (cooling will help solidify the bars, as they may appear flaky or crumbly when you first take them out).

These bars are best the day they are baked, but will keep for up to a week in an airtight container. If they get stuck together, a quick run in the microwave (10 seconds or less) will soften and detach them quite easily.

Adapted from Granola Bars, p. 128, from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce