la primavera
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green thoughts

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Finally.

We’ve finally made it through what felt like the longest winter ever. I spent the better part of it housebound with a newborn and a very cooped-up 2-year old, cursing the weeks upon weeks of blustery weather, most days too dangerously cold to venture out with the little ones.

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Despite being stuck at home so many hours and days in a row, I found little time or energy to cook anything of note, or to write much at all.

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This past winter was a particularly hard one. I feel blessed to have had my mom here with us for a few big chunks of time, and she and some dear neighbors took great care of us, feeding us well in the weeks and months after Mira’s birth, but even with that help I have struggled. I bounced back so quickly after Julian was born, and expected the same this time around, but things could not have been more different between my first pregnancy and my last. I’m battling nerve pain and other physical issues, still, at 6 months postpartum. And the depression that I was so afraid of, and that I managed to avoid the first time around, has reared its ugly head again. I’m trying hard to drive it off, to keep the worst at bay, but it’s not been easy. I wake up, and I am working at it, every single day.

Writing helps, and planning meals, and cooking, and I’m trying to do all of those things more often.

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It was a long winter, but we made it through. And each day is a little longer, a little lighter, a little better.

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Green is all around now, from trees in bloom in our Brooklyn neighborhood, to the first spring vegetables at our farmers markets. It feels like a celebration, and I have never been so grateful, so eager to partake. I’m ready to send our trusty friend the potato on a long hiatus, to get back in the kitchen and cook something a little fresher, a little lighter, a little better.

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Winter is finally behind us. Here’s to a new season, and to embracing the green.

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Green Rice

I’ve been working on a “green” rice for a few years, as a simple and kid-friendly vehicle for lots of tender spring vegetables. You can add whatever young green vegetables and herbs you like, but the below includes our favorites.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped green onion, spring onion, or scallions (green and white parts)
kosher or sea salt
1 cup uncooked long grain rice
1 1/4 cups water (you can substitute chicken or vegetable stock)
1 lb. fresh fava beans, shelled and peeled
1/2 lb. blanched, shelled peas (or an equal amount frozen/thawed)
1/2 bunch asparagus, tips and stalks separated, stalks sliced into very thin rounds
1 can artichoke hearts, drained
1/2 cup very finely chopped fresh herbs (parsley, chives, tarragon, or a combination)
1/2 cup finely grated pecorino romano

Heat the oil in a wide sauté pan until shimmering, then add the onion and a pinch of salt, and cook just until soft. Add the rice and stir to coat with the oil. Add the water and cover, reducing the heat to low. Cook for 10 minutes. Uncover and gently fold in the favas, peas, asparagus, and artichoke hearts. Add another pinch of salt and re-cover, continuing to cook until the rice is cooked and the vegetables are tender, another 10-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the herbs and grated cheese. Use a fork to gently fluff the rice and stir the herbs and cheese through.

Simple Fare

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The month of May has not been great for planned dinners in our little household. Between work commitments, appointments, preparing for our move across town, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-us trip to Detroit for my Grandma’s 90th birthday, my attempts at shopping for and sticking to a meal plan have mostly been a big fat flop.

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I’ve also had difficulty improvising, of late. I’ve been tired and finicky, and cooking down the pantry and freezer pre-move has been less than inspiring – it doesn’t help that it still feels like March outside. I’m in a bit of a rut, but restless, eager for simpler, lighter fare (and the weather to match, please).

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Mike had to turn around and head down to NYC right on the heels of our Detroit trip, but he returned with some goodies from the Union Square Greenmarket that perked me right up, among them a beautiful bunch of asparagus that made its way into our dinner last night. We’ve missed the first couple weeks of the local stuff, so this was very welcome, and I wanted to treat it fairly simply.

Dinner: May 11, 2011

I gave it a good rinse, snapped off the ends, and roasted the spears until they were just tender, serving them on a bed of creamy, cheesy polenta. I topped each plate off with a pastured local egg, fried in olive oil until the edges were crisp, and sprinkled with coarse grey salt and lots of freshly ground pepper. This may not have been the light spring dish I’ve been dreaming of, but it was perfect for the damp, chilly night, and it was just the kind of simple meal that always satisfies me.

Rethinking Weeknight Dinners

Anita’s Dinner on a deadline post is still percolating in my brain, and it has been interesting to follow the responses her post has received so far. This last week has been a bit of an anomaly for us in the kitchen, with Mike fine-tuning his pizza recipes for food52’s Week 47 challenge, and me working on some cooking and recipe-testing projects of my own, but we’ve still had to get dinner on the table, and when it hasn’t been pizza or one of my works-in-progress, it has most often been something as simple as pasta. And as much as I’ve griped in the past about how I can’t bear to post another darned pasta dish, I’ve decided that I’m really okay with pasta being something we eat as often as we do, whether it makes it to the blog or not.

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I am a home cook. I’m not a writer or a culinary professional, I’m just a girl who works long days, comes home exhausted, and looks forward to sharing a meal with her husband. And whether he’s cooking dinner, or I am, or it’s a joint effort, by and large I want what we eat at home to be good, honest, real food, even if it’s just a simple bowl of pasta and vegetables. I have to be okay with that, because ultimately, the point isn’t posting stuff to this blog – it’s about feeding ourselves well. Being able to do that in the time it takes to boil a pot of water and cook some orecchiette is something I shouldn’t take for granted.

Boston Benefits

Commuting to Boston for work during the week can be a challenge. It certainly makes for some very long days, but the upside is that I can take advantage of the shops and markets in not one but two cities.

I was delighted to stumble upon the Boston Public Market in Dewey Square last Thursday evening on my way to South Station, and while I didn’t bring anything home with me that day, I made plans to head over on Tuesday during my lunch break to see what good things would be available. And there were many.

green garlic!

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Among the things I picked up: strawberries from C.N. Smith Farm for Mike’s mixological tinkering, green garlic and a bouquet of radishes from Kimball Fruit Farm, and a package of smoked pork loin chops from Spring Brook Farm.

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While Mike grilled the chops and a bundle of Simmons Farm asparagus, I got some potatoes boiling indoors and prepped the ingredients for a quick sauce for the chops. We had a few fresh morels to use up, which I sauteed in butter with chopped shallot and plenty of flowering thyme. I added a splash of vermouth, some dijon mustard, and I finished the sauce with a dollop of creme fraiche just before serving. Not bad for a quick weeknight dinner.

The Time of the Season

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It seems everywhere I turn on the internet these days, I see a mouthwatering recipe featuring pasta paired with the vegetable of the moment, asparagus. And frankly, the combination is so perfect for a quick meal this time of year it’s not surprising that asparagus pastas are all the rage.

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My version was inspired by a dish I had recently at La Laiterie, which contained grilled asparagus and a fresh, bright spring onion soubise. The flavors were wonderful together, and while that dish partnered them with halibut cheeks, I loved the flavors of the asparagus and creamy spring onion so much that I thought I’d spin the two components into a sauce for pasta.

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I started by blanching a couple of cups of spring onion, sliced into segments an inch or two long, then pureeing them in the food processor with a little bit of water. I added a dab of butter to a skillet while my pasta water bubbled away on another burner, and I gently warmed the puree in the butter. I added the juice and zest of half a fat lemon, a sprinkle of sea salt, and then melted in about half a cup of tangy crème fraiche.

tips and ribbons

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I had separated my asparagus into tips and stalks, using a vegetable peeler to shave the stalks into long, thin ribbons. As the pasta boiled (I used a farro fettucine, which needed only 5-6 minutes in the pot), I cooked the asparagus just briefly in the sauce, adding a bit of starchy pasta water to smooth it all out. I transferred the pasta to the pan with the sauce, tossing it gently to coat the noodles, then spooned it into shallow bowls, finishing our plates with a grating of Pecorino Romano and more lemon zest.

The flavors worked as well together as I had hoped, with the spring onion puree, lemon and crème fraiche melding into a light but luxurious sauce, but the thing that was most fun about this for me was that with each twirl of my fork, silky ribbons of asparagus were entwined with the pasta, providing a pretty pop of color and fresh flavor in every bite.