The Weekend Dish – Promenade Pasta

What’s the best compliment you ever got in the kitchen?

One night J sat at the kitchen table watching me try to invent a pasta dish from the random pickings of a quick farmer’s market trip.  When I’m in creation mode he knows better than to ask how he can help, but he stays nearby in case I forget he’s home and starving.  I figured he must be wondering what he’d gotten himself into, marrying this oddball who doesn’t cook like normal people do by reading from a cookbook or recipe box.

My process is more, hmmm, shall we say, kinetic?  I open the pantry door, retrieve ingredients, stare, return a bag of dried cherries in exchange for a tin of pine nuts. Maybe my hand swirls in the air as I waft imaginary aromas toward my nose. I close my eyes and air chew, trying to imagine exactly what I want. I twirl to the refrigerator for a lemon maybe, or a vegetable. My hip bumps the fridge door closed as I pivot to the island countertop, hands full of spinach.

“You cook like you’re dancing,” he said and I melted. I pulled him up off the chair for a quick waltz around the table before returning to the skillet heating up on the stove.

I was pretty happy with how that night turned out, yes for the dancing, but also for the pasta.

The surprise of the dish is squash blossoms.

I’ve eaten squash blossoms in salads where I find them beautiful, but a little out of place. Squash blossoms overpower gentle lettuces like butter and get lost in hearty greens like kale.  But heat these babies up – and yes technically the stork doesn’t bring zucchini to your garden, it begins life as a seed and then a squash blossom – and something symphonic happens, sort of like how the drudgery of an ordinary weekday meal prep can turn into a kitchen waltz.

I call this dish Promenade Penne with a nod toward how the pasta pot and squash blossom skillet waltz together toward the grand finale of a meal culled from a stroll through the farmer’s market. Also, there’s a little sweet kiss of honey in it, and all good proms end with a kiss.

Promenade Penne
3 large sweet potatoes
One bunch fresh squash blossoms
olive oil
3 T pine nuts
3 T honey
1 lb. penne
4 C washed baby spinach leaves
Freshly ground parmesan and fresh ground pepper to taste

– Peel sweet potatoes and slice into 1/2 inch circles.
– Heat a large skillet over medium-high flame.  Add enough olive oil to coat skillet.  Let it warm up, then sauté pototoes until slightly browned and soft. Stir now and then to prevent burning.
– Meanwhile, in a separate pot, heat water for pasta. (This is a fine time to dance.)
– Right about the time the water begins to boil, the potatoes should be tender.  Toss pine nuts into skillet with potatoes and allow to brown just a bit.
– Add pasta to boiling water and cook according to package directions.
– Turn potatoes down to low. Add squash blossoms and stir.  If necessary, add a dash more olive oil.
– When the pasta is al dente, drizzle the honey over potatoes and squash blossoms.  Stir to coat and heat evenly.
– Drain pasta in a colander.  Place spinach in empty pasta pot and after pasta is finished draining add back to the pot so the pasta heat slightly wilts the spinach.  You may toss with a little more olive oil.
– Place pasta and spinach in a large bowl. Spoon sweet potato and squash blossoms on top. Garnish with fresh parmesan and pepper if you like.Light the candles.  Good night.

With heels kicked up,
~ Catherine


The Weekend Dish – Fresh-Tomato Dishes

I have a bit of a problem. Though many, myself included, might say it is a good problem. We all should be so lucky to have “problems” like this. It has its roots in the spring. In April, when it began warming up here in southern California, the eco-warrior turned his thoughts to planting the vegetable garden. The past few years or so, he decided to focus on tomatoes. We love tomatoes and the ones sold in supermarkets just don’t hold a candle to homegrown ones. The entire garden is dedicated to tomatoes. First, he came home with about 30 plants, then, a few days later, about 20 more. For a while there, it seemed like every time I turned around he would be walking across the yard carrying a six or eight pack of tomato plants. Our garden is fairly large, but it was filling up fast.

I inquired if all these plants would fit and was constantly reassured there would be room and we would be so glad in the summer. The first tomatoes began ripening in mid-June and since then, we have had a patio table full of tomatoes and a few more on the counter in the kitchen. 

We have shared with family and friends and scoured cookbooks and the internet for recipes as well as trying to create a few of my own. We have been eating so many  tomatoes every day, I’m surprised we aren’t turning red!  It has been a never ending cycle of using the ripest and then, just as the table top is starting to be visible again, it fills up from another harvest. Like I said, we love tomatoes and  I do enjoy the challenge of trying to incorporate them in as many dishes as possible and creating some new ones as well, but I feel guilty if we fall behind and some get overripe. These tomatoes are delicious, sweet and flavorful. However, I feel like I am bailing the Titanic with a pail. I recently came across this article on some of the surprising benefits of tomatoes and felt  re-invigorated by the thoughts of all those vitamins and “good for me” nutrients just waiting to be devoured in our backyard.  One of our favorite ways to use the tomatoes is in a salsa fresca.

Salsa Fresca

15 tomatoes
½ sweet onion
1 clove garlic
½ bunch of cilantro
1 jalapeno seeds and membrane removed
juice of 2 limes
½-1 tsp salt

Chop the tomatoes and onion and add to a large bowl. Finely mince the garlic,cilantro and jalapeno and add to bowl. Add the lime juice and salt. Stir, then taste. Ingredients can be adjusted to taste preference. Add more or less jalapeno for spiciness preference, etc. Serve with tortilla chips or put in tacos, burritos, refried beans or anywhere you want a little spicy tomato sauce.
Makes enough for a party!

For breakfast, I have been making Salsa Fresca Poached Eggs. Add a splash of olive oil to a pan, heat over medium high heat, then add about 2 cups of salsa. I let that simmer and thicken for about 10-15 minutes, sometimes shorter,  (depending on how hungry I am). Then, add 3 or 4 eggs put a lid on the pan and let them poach for about 4-5 minutes; time can be adjusted to how done you like your eggs.  I serve it with warm corn tortillas.

For the Italian version of the above dish, Tomato Italiano Poached Eggs: add chopped sweet onion and a clove of chopped garlic to the pan with the olive oil and cook until softened then add about 1 tsp sage and 1/2 tsp rosemary, this can also be adjusted to your taste preference. Next, add  6-8 tomatoes chopped and simmer until thickened a bit 10-15 minutes. Salt and pepper to your taste, then add about 6 oil-cured olives, halved, and 3-4 eggs. Put the lid on the pan and cook 4-5 minutes, or to your liking. Serve with a good Italian bread toasted.

I think next year I will suggest staggering our plantings but for this year,  here’s to lycopene, and salsa, and bruschetta, and oven-roasted garlic and basil tomatoes, and …

I know I’ll miss you in the winter.