Mushroom & Truffled Ricotta Pasta Salad

It’s been unseasonably warm here in Vancouver these past few weeks. I like it, but I have some concerns about what this weather means for us down the road. Anyways, a rant about global warming isn’t appropriate here, but what I thought would be good to share is a little pasta salad I threw together the other night when it was too hot to cook. Usually this happens in July so I was totally throw off my game in terms of ingredients for a no cook meal.

I’ve seen this mushroom pasta salad on the menu at Tractor, but haven’t ever gotten around to trying it, so I figured I’d just make my own version. My IGA is pretty limited in terms of fun pasta shapes so I settled on the most exotic thing I could find which turned out to be  orecchiette, you know the ones that look like little hats?  But penne rigate or any small tubular pasta would work well with this.  Cause let’s face it, it kinda all tastes the same (I know, I just made a thousand Italian Nonnas cry).

I went for a mix of shiitake and cremini mushrooms, but if you can get your hands on chanterelles or something more exotic go for it!  Saute the mushrooms in some butter and olive oil (I like to mix the two for flavour), and then after they release their liquid and start to brown I added a splash of white wine and seasoned with salt and pepper. Set the shrooms aside.

Use the best quality, full fat ricotta you can get for this. Add a couple tbsp of chopped herbs, whatever is in season is fine. I used mint, rosemary, oregano and basil (all from my new container garden thank you very much!) and to that I added some lemon zest.

Cook the pasta according to the directions and rinse it under cold water when it’s done to stop the cooking and cool it right down. Add the mushrooms, ricotta and a splash of good quality olive oil and then drizzle as much, or as little truffle oil over the top as you like.  Toss and serve at room temperature.

Although delicious the next day, this pasta salad looks its best when it’s fresh. The mushrooms tend to make the ricotta turn a brownish colour that isn’t super pleasing to the eyes after a night in the fridge.

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I served this up with a kale caesar to make it a meal and was pleased with the result. I’m sure you will be too!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb. cooked pasta (small shapes or tubes)
  • 4 cups diced mushrooms, sauteed
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 tsp lemon juice + zest
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp white truffle oil

If you want a bit of a kick I feel like you could get away with adding some chili flakes to this, but if it’s terrible I take no responsibility.

Bon appetit!

 

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2013 in My Kitchen

As I sit at my desk, counting down the minutes until I can legitimately leave the office on New Years Eve, I can’t help but think back on everything that’s happened in 2013.  It has been a year of change, adventure, and reflection on life; all positive!

At the very end of 2012 I bought a bike.  It changed my life, I love it and it has made my carless world so much bigger.  I’m healthier, more active and so happy I got to start 2013 with new wheels!

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My husband and I started the year off realizing that we could use my mom’s US Netflix account, so we began watching documentaries of all sorts.  After getting depressed about the state of the world from too much Zeitgeist, we started watching food docs…and decided to become vegetarian. The husband has been stricter about this than I have, but since last February I can count the number of times I’ve eaten meat on both hands.  For him it would be meat and fish on one hand.

I’ve learned to cook wonderful new foods and our diet now consists mostly of beans, lentils, kale (and other dark leafy greens), cauliflower, squash and pretty much any veggies that can be oven roasted.  I’m no longer afraid to try new things in my kitchen and I’ve hosted several successful dinner parties with brand new recipes.   I’ve also embraced new flavours to the point where my spice drawer is completely over flowing.  At the suggestion of my mother, who wouldn’t touch a lentil if her life depended on it, we both went to the doctor to confirm that our new diet wasn’t killing us.  I’m happy to report that we are both healthy and getting all the required nutrients from vegetarianism, and our cholesterol is fine, despite a more than modest increase in cheese consumption…HOORAY!

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I spent my birthday this year on a plane to Reykjavik, where upon arrival I was wished a happy birthday by a very nice Icelandic customs official.  I showed my passport to about 20 other people in the Vancouver and Seattle airports and got no love, so Iceland was off to a good start for me!  We spent 2 weeks in Scandinavia having a wonderful adventure. The highlight was the first 3 days in Iceland, which started at the Blue Lagoon, included numerous waterfalls, the cute seaside town of Reykjavik, walking between the continental plates, and a hike on a 1,000 year old glacier.  After that we spent a week in sunny Denmark, fell in love with the beautiful, cyclist friendly island of Bornholm, and experienced the beauty and expense of Norway.  No joke people, $15 for a pint!

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We ate great food throughout the trip, 90% of which was in simple cafe style restaurants where you order at the counter and your food is brought out when it’s ready.  We developed an obsession for Icelandic hot dogs (all bets are off on holiday!), had an amazing roasted celery root veggie burger in Copenhagen, bravely tried pickled herring, and had one of the best Indian meals of our lives in Oslo.

After an amazing trip, I  came  home to a beautiful and long sunny summer in Vancouver that was filled with bike rides, picnics on the beach, and just about every other weekend spent in Whistler with various friends.  I realized the importance of just saying ‘yes’ sometimes, and not over thinking how much something will cost, or what it will involve. Sometimes you have to just do things!  I also was reminded that my backyard is pretty awesome!

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I also discovered a love for all things bitter this year.  Move over IPA, ESB is now my brew of choice.  And although I do dearly love an Aperol spritz on a hot summer day, I have a new appreciation for the broader spectrum of Italian bitters.  My favourite new cocktail of 2013…the negroni!  Who says your palate can’t change!

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After a busy fall, I’m ready to enter 2014 energized and open to new experiences and challenges.  My resolutions for the New Year include reading more (and playing Candy Crush less), continuing to try new recipes and experiment with new flavours in my kitchen, and taking up photography as a new hobby (with my sweet new Canon EOS camera!). So look for great new photos, which I will no longer have to pinch from google for my posts, new recipes as I start to formulate my cookbook, and tales from another adventure that will likely happen mid year (destination TBD at this point).

I hope you all have a Happy New Year, and will leave you with one of my favourite recipes from 2013.

Spaghetti Puttanesca 

  • 1 package spaghetti, spaghettini, or penne (or really any pasta that makes you happy)
  • 1 jar strained Italian tomatoes
  • 2 anchovy fillets, minced (or 1 T anchovy paste)
  • 3 T capers, drained, rinsed and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup kalamata olives, halved
  • 1 T dried chili flakes (or less if you can’t take the heat)
  • 1/4 cup shredded basil leaves
  • 2-3 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 T dried oregano
  • 1 medium onion, diced

Cook the onion in a bit of olive oil over medium heat until soft, then add the garlic and simmer for 1 minute (don’t burn the garlic).  Then add the tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients, except the basil.  Let the sauce simmer for 20-30 minutes over low heat (or longer if you have time).  Add the basil right before you serve it over your cooked pasta. You can finish it with a little Parmesan cheese if you want, but I don’t think this is traditional.

Buon Appetito!

 

My Spice Jars Are Empty

It’s been 9 months since I became vegetarian.  It was a slow progression, but over that time I have eaten less and less meat. And my desire to consume once loved foods like bacon, salami and burgers has also diminished greatly.  I’ve realized that you can find substitutes or alternatives that take the place of all these things.  Although part of me will always miss these foods, and I may slip from time to time (all bets are off on vacation), I have to say that I am much happier on my new clean eating program.  I also find that I’m discovering new flavors, ingredients and cooking methods that have improved my overall cooking a ton!  My husband, friends and co-workers will all concur on that.  My mother still thinks it’s weird that I eat lentils, but I’ll make something that will win her over one of these days.

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So that brings me to a conversation I had this morning with my co-worker about how when you cook vegetarian you can’t rely on the meat to flavor your dish, you have to do it through spices.  It used to take me ages to go through one of those little spice jars; getting to the point where I was basically cooking with dried flavorless dust.  Most people don’t know that the shelf life of dried herbs and spices is really not more than a year or two at most.  Not very economical if like the old meat eating me, you only go through a tablespoon of allspice annually when making your Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.

But the new me is going through spices like crazy, so much so that I notice my spice jars are often running on empty.  My kitchen is global, so I don’t really lean towards one type of cuisine over another, but I find the spices I’m using the most these days are: nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, turmeric, cumin, coriander seeds and chili powder.  Other items have also recently become essential in my fridge/pantry that used to seem foreign to me, such as: jalapeno peppers, capers, anchovies (yes, I am aware they are not vegetarian), creme fraiche, miso paste, ginger, tahini, artichoke hearts, caramelized onions, and roasted peppers (the latter two items I always make myself).

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Maybe it’s because I’ve broken out of my shell, or I’m older and more confident now, but I feel like nothing can hold me back in the kitchen anymore.  I’m not afraid to try new flavors, experiment with a crazy recipe, or go completely off the rails and try something that’s all mine.  My successes far outnumber my flops, and nowadays I’ll even make something I’ve never done before for a dinner party, which is about as risque as I get.

I’ve raved about Deb Perleman’s blog Smitten Kitchen a ton, but I’ve recently discovered Sprouted Kitchen, which is equally as wonderful.  Both offer a ton of vegetarian recipes, or give you the option to add or omit meat which I love.  So giving full credit to these amazing ladies who I would love to have in my kitchen one day, here are some of my recent favourites.

From Smitten Kitchen: Miso sweet potato and broccoli bowlKale salad with pecorino and walnuts (goes great with a simple pasta), One pan farro with tomatoes (which I modified, my version here), Warm butternut squash and chick pea saladDeb’s Three Bean Chili.

Unfortunately most of the Sprouted Kitchen recipes I’ve been trying are from Sara Forte’s book, so I can’t share them with you, but buy her book, you won’t regret it!  I did make a big winner from her blog last night though: Pasta with fennel, arugula and lemon.

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And lastly, for a bit of middle eastern flavour try Yotam Ottolenghi’s mejdara, a mixture of lentils, rice, caramelized onions and divine spices.

These are all things that a year ago I would have probably considered making, but would have never pulled the trigger on.  I’d have thought, oh my husband won’t get enough protein from that, or I don’t know how to use miso, or even, fennel…I’m not sure I like that. So my advice to you is to try new things, you don’t have to become vegetarian to experiment with new flavors.   And over time you’ll start to learn what flavors go (or don’t go) with others, what you like and what satisfies you…and then your spice jars will be empty too!

Italian Tomatoes (and why they are the best)

When I was a kid we had a garden and grew fresh tomatoes.  We would pick them and eat them without even thinking of washing them.  And they tasted amazing.  My dad, a former science teacher, had some seeds that apparently had been on some sort of NASA mission to outer space and so we grew those for a couple summers and enjoyed ‘space tomatoes’. Then I moved out on my own.

Once I got to University I couldn’t afford tomatoes, and then I began my condo life and was stuck with the un-ripe flavourless tomatoes that city folk get.  I got to thinking that hothouse tomatoes that looked all pretty and perfect were the norm and for the past 10 years have been thinking that’s what tomatoes taste like.

And then I went to Italy…and it all came back to me.  While in Florence I decided to pick up stuff to make a caprese salad for an afternoon snack.  We found a little market across from our apartment that looked basic, with just the essentials.  They had a 6 pack of decent looking tomatoes for 2 euros and I thought what the heck, let’s try these.  Honestly I wasn’t expecting much.  They looked different than my hothouse tomatoes, a bit spotty on the top and a lighter red colour than I’m used to.  The flesh inside was also different, darker red than the outside and less seeds.  It was love at first bite.  I turned to my husband with my eyes as wide as saucers and said “oh my gosh, I forgot how good tomatoes are”!  We had the same experience with bruschetta in the Cinque Terre.

Most of the food we ate in Italy was tomato based. In Lombardy and Tuscany where we spent most of our time red sauces, pizzas and bruschetta are a staple.  I was in heaven and of the many things I was sad to leave behind tomatoes were at the top of the list.  I do a lot of tomato based cooking, and because in Vancouver getting fresh tomatoes is either expensive or impossible most of the year, I buy canned tomatoes in bulk at Costco.  Aylmer is the brand, and they’re ok, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go back to them now.

Tonight I decided to splurge on a can of Zia Rosa San Marzano DOP tomatoes direct from the sun soaked hills of Tuscany and am attempting to re-create one of the best pastas we had on our trip; a very simple rigatoni from Trattoria 13 Gobbi in Florence.  I have no idea how they make theirs, but here’s my recipe that tastes quite similar.

Sauce:

  • 1 can San Marzano DOP tomatoes, crushed
  • 1 small onion diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1 tsp dried red chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 3/4 cup shredded Asiago cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Saute onion and garlic in 1 TBSP olive oil over medium heat until translucent, about 7 min. Add tomatoes, wine, herbs and bring to a simmer. Add cheese gradually until melted and incorporated.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and let simmer for 30-45 min.

Add rigatoni cooked al dente to sauce over med-low heat for 1-2 minutes until sauce is fully incorporated.  Top with some additional cheese and serve pipping hot.

Next time you’re making a red sauce try a can of San Marzano tomatoes and see if you can tell the difference, I’m pretty sure you won’t regret your choice!