Spring Pasta with Zucchini Ribbons

 

“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” ~Oscar Wilde

 

I won’t go into the details of why cooking for yourself is a great way to dive into this so-called romance as Mr. Wilde puts it, but I thought this quote might inspire you as it did me.  I also would like to apologize for not having written any recipes for exactly two months.  When it comes to this blog, consistency is clearly is not my strong suit.

I am going to keep it fairly short today, and just give you the run-down with this pasta, a healthy dish that comes together nicely and showcases the prime vegetables of the season.  While I like cooking year round, cooking in springtime is a special treat because I am finally able to cook with fresh produce that is full of fragrance, flavor and texture.  The silky zucchini complements perfectly the crunch of the asparagus and peas, and fresh basil adds the final touch to remind you that better weather really is on its way!

Of course this springtime bliss is only relevant to those living in seasonal areas in the northern hemisphere, but hopefully you will all enjoy making this pasta no matter where you call home.  As with pretty much any recipe on this blog, feel free to change it up as you see fit: replace the peas with fava beans, use fresh mint or cilantro instead of basil, and you may even want to omit the bacon, in which case you would need to use olive oil to cook the zucchini and asparagus. 

One last note: if you have leftover zucchini and asparagus, why don’t you dice or slice everything and cook it in the next few days in a frittata?

Happy spring to every one, may your next meal be absolutely delicious, wherever and whatever you find yourself eating.  And please give feedback/comments/new recipe ideas!  The more the merrier!

Spring Pasta- Serves 1
 
1 zucchini, ends cut off, peeled
1/4-cup lardons, or two slices bacon, cut into small dice
2 ounces papardelle pasta, or any other pasta you want to use (you’re making this for yourself, so go nuts!)
1/2-cup fresh or frozen peas (if using frozen, make sure to thaw them)
3 stalks asparagus, trimmed, sliced thinly on the diagonal
1 garlic clove, minced
1 lemon
4 basil leaves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon freshly grated parmesan, or more as desired
good-quality olive oil (optional)
 
1. Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil.
2.  Using your vegetable peeler, cut the zucchini vertically into pasta-like ribbons.

3.  In a small or medium saute pan, cook the lardons or bacon bits over medium heat, until well browned, about 4-5 minutes.  Once cooked through, remove from heat, leaving the fat in the pan.
4.  Once water is boiling, add pasta and peas and cook pasta to package instructions. 
5.  Return the saute pan to heat and cook garlic in the remaining bacon fat until browned, about 30 seconds.  Add the zucchini ribbons and saute until slightly softened, 2 minutes.  Add the asparagus and cook until asparagus pieces are just slightly tender, 2-3 minutes.
6.  Once pasta is ready, drain in a colander along with the peas.  Add pasta, peas, and bacon bits to the skillet containing the asparagus and zucchini, and toss to combine.  Add lemon juice as desired, probably 1-2 tablespoons. Season generously with freshly ground pepper.
7.  Remove from heat and toss in the basil.  Sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan and drizzle with good-quality olive oil if desired.
 
Booooon appetito!

>Sweet & Sour Eggplant

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“Vivez, si m’en croyez, n’attendez à demain:
Cueillez dès aujourd’hui les roses de la vie”
                                                                    ~¨Pierre de Ronsard, Sonnets pour Hélène, 1587
A quote Ronsard wrote to a lover, explaining that we shouldn’t wait until tomorrow to pick the beautiful flowers of today – a rather irresistable way to tell a girl that she shouldn’t waste another second before being with him.  But of course I appreciate the larger message of living for the beauty of today – when it’s put so simply, I feel stupid for not following this advice – why don’t we always just enjoy what’s great right now, right in front of us? 
I fear that the answer to this simple question will take at least my entire lifetime to answer, if I ever succeed in reaching a conclusion before I die.  I don’t understand the art of living, and while I am working hard at creating a satisfying and peaceful lifestyle for myself, I am constantly aggrandazing my problems and anxieties until they eat up any chance of happiness I may have had.  All the books, tapes, movies and lectures I’ve been exposed to have pointed to the same thing, something which I believe is true but am still unable to fully embrace – in order to sustain any realistic possibility of a content life, we need to let go of everything.  Just avoid the past and the future, which are entirely out of our hands, and be content with the simple pleasure of the present.
As hard as I try to live in this time frame referred to as the right now, I rarely succeed, because my mind immediately races in about 20 different directions – should I check my cell phone for that life-changing email I know I won’t be receiving, or what about that comment someone made to me this morning, what did he really mean by it?  Why does it even matter what he did mean by it? While none of these actions or thoughts matter on any conscious or subconscious level, I am utterly unable to resist allowing them into my mental state of mind, and thereby affecting my tension and anxiety level.  If one day I can control my thoughts to be geared almost uniquely toward this present moment, all with a smile on my face, I think I will have achieved enough for a lifetime – I won’t need much else to feel like a human at its basest level.
So that’s where I am in my life right now, and for some reason I need to share it.  I made this eggplant dish which I like because sometimes I don’t know how to eat eggplant (aside from my two favorite eggplant dishes, caponata and caviar d’aubergines – yummmm).  Please make it.  And if you do make it, PLEASE make a comment.  Even if you’re just reading this, make a comment! what do you think? Do you think it looks good, bad, appetizing, ugly?  I won’t be offended, and I’ll appreciate your opinion, whoever you are, so please keep that in mind.
Bon appétit, bonsoir, beaux rêves.  La vie n’est qu’un aigre-doux, n’est-ce pas?

Sweet & Sour Eggplant- Serves 1

1 small eggplant
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp fresh ground ginger
pinch cayenne pepper
1 tbsp sugar
pinch cinnamon
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tbsp plain yogurt (greek-style preferably)
1 handful sliced basil leaves

1.Wash and dry the eggplant.  Thinly slice it cross-wise and place slices in a colander. Sprinkle heavily with salt, place over the sink, and let sit for 20-30 minutes.  Dry slices with a paper towel, and roughly chop into 1-inch pieces.
2.Meanwhile,  mix remaining ingredients except the garlic in a small bowl.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, taste, and adjust sauce according to your taste, adding more of whichever ingredient you choose.
3. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat; add chopped garlic, and sautée until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
4.Add eggplant chunks, and sautée until browned evenly, approx 6-7 minutes.
5.Reduce heat to medium-low, pour sauce over eggplant, and sautée to combine. Cook until sauce has been well saturated and thickened, about 5 minutes.
6. Put on a serving plate, top with yogurt, and sliced basil. Voilà

>Spicy Vermicelli with White Asparagus and White Wine

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The short and sweet season for asparagus, both white and green, has started!  Sunday was the first time I saw them at the “bio” food market, and I believe they will be available for the next 2 or 3 months.  I don’t have much to add to this post except to say that I hope you try and make this, because it’s easy, vermicelli is awesome, and who doesn’t like some spicy pasta once in a while?

I’ll just give you a few tips/notes: firstly, the vermicelli I bought came in neat little bundles, one bundle being a serving size for one person.  I believe most vermicelli is sold this way, but if not, then you’ll need about two handfuls of vermicelli to make this for yourself.  Secondly, I think white asparagus has a slightly less obvious taste than green asparagus and absorbs white wine better, which is why I used it in this recipe, but I’m sure you could use green asparagus and it would still taste good.  Lastly, I didn’t want to use nuts because I wanted to keep this recipe on the lighter side, but you if you’d like, feel free to add some chopped nuts, maybe walnuts, cashews, or hazelnuts, at the same time as the asparagus – I think that would taste great!

Enjoy the springtime, wherever you may be reading this, and have a fantastic day.

Spicy Vermicelli with White Asparagus and White Wine – serves 1

1 tbsp olive oil
1 round (1 bunch) vermicelli noodles
1 tsp chopped fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, chopped
5 white asparagus spears, peeled and stems trimmed
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1/2-cup dry white wine
1 tbsp sliced basil leaves (optional)
grated parmesan (optional)

1.  Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil, and cook vermicelli according to package instructions (usually between 4-8 minutes).  When done, drain and set aside in a bowl.
2.  Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the olive oil, garlic, and ginger, and sautée until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3.  Add the asparagus spears, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper, and sautée until asparagus are slightly softened, about 5 minutes.
4.  Add the white wine, and simmer until most of the alcohol has burned off and the asparagus pieces have softened, about 5 minutes longer.  If the white wine evaporates too quickly and there is none left, add more in small amounts, until there is about 1/4-cup liquid remaining.
5.  Remove the skillet from heat, add the vermicelli, and toss thoroughly to combine.
6.  Top with sliced basil leaves if desired, and grated parmesan.

>Egg-White Frittata with Sage-Braised Leeks, Goat Cheese, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

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braisedleeksfrittata
So I think this frittata will please most; it’s fairly simple to put together, since all of the fun takes place in the same omelet-sized frying pan, and preparation plus cooking time totals about 30 minutes.  The inspiration for this recipe came partly from the positive feedback for the first frittata I put on this site, which I prepared with caramelized onions, shredded basil, shiitake mushrooms and goat cheese.  You see some of the same culprits here: crumbles of goat cheese float in the egg-whites, topped with some fresh shreds of delightfully fragrant basil.
The other part of my inspiration came from some sun-dried tomatoes I recently bought at La Tête Dans les Olives, an Italian produce store in Paris specializing in Sicilian goods, which also provides lunch or dinner for a grand total of 5 lucky guests per meal.  The owner of this store, Cédric Casanova, is in my opinion a genius: why not install a 5-person table in his boutique which takes up all possible walking space, provide both lunch and dinner consisting only of products he sells (the best endorsement idea ever), and charge 150 euros for the whole meal (Cedric encourages whole groups of 5 to book the table, in order to bring the cost down to 30 euros per person)?   I won’t go into too much detail on the food he prepared, but I will say that if you find yourself in Paris and craving some authentic Sicilian fare, I would stop here for your capers, pasta, dried figs, dried oregano bouquets, tuna bresaola, and choices of about 15 different types of olive oil.  Here are some photos:

 

la tete dans les olives
Needless to say I couldn’t resist walking out with a bag of soft sun-dried tomatoes which had been lightly sprinkled with herbs and seasoning.  I also learned something new:  if you buy sun-dried tomatoes, it’s best to buy them out of olive oil, and then place them in oil directly before serving along with some more fresh or dried herbs.
In terms of this frittata, I had one other inspiration: soft braised leeks, which I cooked in walnut oil along with freshly chopped sage – braised leeks have the silkiest texture and a wonderful, slightly onion-y taste while still being gently to the palatte.  They are delicious in omelettes, served cold as a side, or in a sandwich.  I’m traveling by train today, and I think I’ll prepare more braised leeks and put them in a sammy with goat cheese, toasted chopped walnuts, and basil.  Yum.
I cooked it in a slightly different style from the last one on my site, which I learned from Jamie Oliver: cook one side of the frittata until set, flip it out of the skillet onto a plate, then slide it back onto the skillet to finish cooking the other side.  As long as you use a non-stick pan, this method is a cinch, and guarantees a well-cooked frittata.
Buon Appetito!!

 

Egg-White Frittata with Sage-Braised Leeks, Goat, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes – serves 1

2 tablespoons walnut oil (or olive oil, or any other nut oil)
1 leek, end and dark green parts chopped off
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 tiny garlic clove, chopped (should make no more than 2 teaspoons chopped garlic)
4 egg whites
4 sundried tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 handful crumbled goat cheese
1 lemon (for to squeeze the juice out of)
4-5 fresh basil leaves, shredded

1.  Cut the leek in half cross-wise, then cut it again lengthwise, giving you 4 pieces.  Using your hands, break apart the separate strands in each leek piece, so that you’re left with lots of thin slivers of leeks.
2.  Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a small, omelet-sized frying pan over medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.
3.  Add the leeks, and sautee until leeks are slightly wilted, about 3 minutes.
4.  Add the chopped sage and enough water to cover most of the leeks, about 3 tablespoons.  Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a dash of pepper, bring to a simmer, and cook, covered, 10 minutes.
5.  Uncover and continue to cook until most water is evaporated.  Sprinkle juice from half of the lemon, stir, and remove from heat.  Drain any excess liquid.
6.  Reheat skillet over medium heat and add remaining oil.  Pour in egg whites, sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, and half of the leeks.  Heat until frittata is mostly cooked on the underside, tilting the skillet occasionally to allow uncooked egg-whites to run onto the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes.  When most of the frittata is set (except a runny center), press an upside-down plate over the skillet and invert the frittata onto the plate.  Gently slide the frittata back onto the skillet, and continue to cook until set, about 2 minutes longer.
7.  Top frittata with remaining leeks and the shredded basil.  Voilà.

>Egg-White Frittata with Caramelized Onions, Shiitake Mushrooms and Goat Cheese

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Wouldn’t it be nice to have a lunch like this every day:

While overlooking this?
I for one would relish the opportunity to overlook this great blue body of water while savoring a satisfying and memorable lunch. And while I can’t enjoy this type of luxury every day, I managed to escape the cold for a few days of good food and sun in the Bahamas.
Fortunately for us our resort provided us with a full kitchen, complete with stove, cooking utensils, silverware, wine glasses, chef’s knives, and a cutting board, so I was able to continue cooking right through the vacation.  I decided to make this frittata because, most simply put, it includes the best of what we could find in the supermarket.  Another reason this frittata came to fruition is in part from my mom’s high cholesterol, which she has been afflicted with for the past 25 years.  Her specific dietary restriction recommends cutting out as many high-cholesterol foods (in this case egg yolks) as possible from her diet. So, you can enjoy this frittata thoroughly because it’s quite heart-healthy.
Truth be told, I actually enjoyed the lightness of the egg whites paired with the sweet and crispy onions and the earthiness of the mushrooms.  This dish takes a little bit of time to put together, due to the slow caramelizing of the onions, but you only need one sautee pan for the whole thing and the cooking itself is pretty straightforward.  Enjoy with a crisp glass of white wine, such as a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand or California. 
Egg-White Frittata w/ Caramelized Onions, Shiitake Mushrooms, and Goat Cheese  – serves 3-4
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 sprigs basil
12 ounces shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
8 egg whites
6 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
a large handful fresh basil, thinly sliced
1.  Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat.
2.  Add the onions, the 2 basil sprigs, and sprinkle with a dash of pepper and a generous pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden, slightly crispy, and sweet, about 30 minutes. 
3.  Stir in the brown sugar; remove the basil and pour onions into a warm bowl or dish.
4.  Pour one more tablespoon olive oil to the pan, and raise heat to medium-high.  Add the mushrooms, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, touching only once to turn over halfway through, about 10 minutes total. Sprinkle again with salt and pepper. Remove from sautee pan.
5.  In a measuring cup or small bowl, beat the egg whites and add salt and pepper.  Add the last tablespoon of olive oil to the sautee pan, reduce heat to medium, and add the egg whites.
6.  Cook the eggs without touching, until they are slightly solid in the center and still loose around the edges, about 3-4 minutes.  Sprinkle the onions, mushrooms, basil, and goat cheese evenly over the egg whites. 
7.  Continue cooking, pushing the egg whites towards the center of the pan and tilting it so that the runny parts reach the pan and cook as well, about 7-8 minutes longer. Sprinkle with fresh-ground black pepper if desired.

>French Lentils w/ Feta and Sundried Tomatoes

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My inspiration for making french lentils comes from a visit I made with my sister to Rose Bakery, which is a restaurant and take-out cafe in the Montmartre area of Paris that features delicious, fresh, and creative dishes.  It’s a small and pretty unique place; I love that as soon as we walked in, we saw a counter of the day’s offerings on our right, and a supply of their fresh produce and various products on our left (see photo).



We were pleasantly surprised by the freshness of all the dishes we tried, and the emphasis placed on fresh, local, and seasonal products.  As I mentioned before, the lentil salad stuck with us the most; the creaminess of the cheese mixed with the salty and chewy flavors of the lentils blended so nicely together.  I’ve tried to recreate that here, and I hope you find it satisfying.  Merci!




French Lentils with Feta and Sundried Tomatoes- Serves 1
Quick note: I used sundried tomatoes that weren’t oil-packed, but only because my supermarket didn’t have the oil-packed version – I think the latter would taste better in this salad.
1/2 cup French lentils, dried
2 cups water
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 sprigs thyme
salt
6 oil-packed sundried tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon chopped basil
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
olive oil
pepper
2 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1 lemon

1. In a small saucepan, pour in the lentils, water, thyme sprigs, garlic clove, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 25-30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. Drain the lentils in a colander.


2. In a small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat, then add the sundried tomatoes and 1/2 of the rosemary (if you’re using oil-packed tomatoes, place 1/2 a tablespoon olive oil in the skillet). Cook until the tomatoes are slightly softened, about 5 minutes, then add the lentils and remaining rosemary. Stir everything together, and cook for about 5 minutes longer.


3.  Toss in the basil, season with salt and pepper to taste, and sprinkle with about 2 teaspoons of lemon juice.

4. Pour on a platter, and toss in the feta cheese.

As usual, I would highly recommend eating this with a baguette.
Bon appetit!

>Mushroom Moussaka

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 This should be a dish you make when you have a lot of free time, to keep in the fridge (for up to a week) when you want something soul satisfying.

Although it’s time consuming, you will not regret making it.  The focus of this blog is clearly to write recipes for one person (without leftovers), but I really wanted to include this because it’s so delicious and absolutely worth making; additionally, moussaka keeps very well in the fridge for up to a week, and the flavors blend actually become better as time goes on. The eggplants bake twice, which removes a lot of their moisture and leaves them soft, fluffy, and so easy to break through with a fork.

Mushroom Moussaka – makes 4 servings
2 large eggplants, washed and cut cross-wise into 1/4-inch rounds
1 lb of mushrooms
3 onions, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
7 oz. tomato sauce
3 oz. tomato paste
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
salt
black pepper
1/2 tsp. thyme, chopped
1/2 tsp. basil, chopped
1/2 cup fresh minced parsley
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided in two equal portions
1/4 cup bread crumbs
2 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. flour
1 1/4 cup hot milk
nutmeg for grating on top

1. To get started with, sprinkle the eggplants with salt, and layer them gently on a colander over a sink. Let stand for 20 to 30 minutes (this will allow the eggplant to release a lot of its liquid, so that it doesn’t become soggy and heavy when baked).

2. In the meantime, you can work on the mushroom sauce/filling.  Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and add the onions and 1 teaspoon salt, stirring until onions become clear, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and garlic, stir to combine, and cover, cooking for another 8 to 10 minutes.

3. Next add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, cinnamon (you can add more than 1/2 tsp. if you’re a big fan), a couple sprinkles of pepper, and your chopped thyme and basil. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for another 12 to 15 minutes. This is my favorite part of the recipe, because you get to taste it a bunch and tweak the seasoning!

4. Remove from the heat, and stir in the parsley, the bread crumbs, and 1/4-cup of grated parmesan cheese.

5. At this point, you’ll want to work on your eggplants. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and line a 9 x9 -inch pan with a baking sheet or tin foil. Lightly oil the sheet, and then place your eggplants on it (they will overlap, which is fine). Bake the eggplants until tender, about 20-25 minutes.

6. To make the bechamel sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of the flour. Cook for several minutes, whisking the whole time.

7. Slowly pour in the hot milk, whisking constantly. Your arm might get tired, but you’re almost done! Turn the heat down to low and stir for another 5 to 8 minutes, until the sauce is smooth and thick. Whisk in 1 more tablespoon of flour, and cook for another 5 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Next whisk in the remaining grated parmesan and the ground cloves, and stir until just combined. Remove from heat.

8. If your oven is still on, great; if not, preheat it to 375 degrees fahrenheit. Using a 9 x 9-inch baking pan, oil a baking sheet and place it in the pan. Place a double layer of eggplant slices on the bottom, and spread all the mushroom sauce over it. Lay 1 more layer of eggplant over the sauce, then spread the bechamel on top. Sprinkle some more bread crumbs and parmesan to cover most of the bechamel, and bake uncovered for 25- 30 minutes, or until golden on the top.

Merci beaucoup, a demain mes puces!

>Poached Egg and Prosciutto Open-Faced Sandwich

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To put it out there as simply as possible, sandwiches in France are amazing.

I’ve developed a new appreciation for sandwiches in this beautiful city, where for 2 euros and 50 centimes you can buy a sandwich that will make your mouth water and your taste buds go wild. Every corner you turn you see fresh baguettes featuring anything from tuna and curried chicken to the French staple – ham, fromage, and a good slab of butter. Simply divine.

I get spoiled here, and I buy bread that is almost other-worldly, but in reality if you buy a fresh baguette from your local supermarket you’ll likely be eating something pretty tasty.

To make a sandwich like the one in the picture, slice open a piece of bread and rub olive on each side with a paper towel. Next place some basil leaves, lettuce leaves, a slice of prosciutto, and some grated emmental on each bread slice.

Boil water and 1 tablespoon vinegar in a saucepan, and bring to a simmer. For each egg (if you want two), crack them into a teacup or another small dish. Gently slide them into the simmering water, and move them slowly back and forth with a wooden spoon to make sure the whites envelope the yolk. Simmer for about 3 minutes, then with a slotted spoon lift them out of the water, and place them on each bread slice. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and enjoy. I devoured mine, I’m glad no one was here to witness it.

Of course you can change this however you like – use ham or bacon instead of prosciutto, and parmesan, gruyere, or cheddar instead of emmental. Same with the herbs and the oil, feel free to change up the basil to rosemary, thyme, or parsley, and use mayo or butter instead of olive oil.

Merci, et je vous souhaite une trés bonne soirée!