Weeknight Dinner Series: Squash Ribbon Pasta with Herb Cream Sauce Plus Bye Bye Bittman

The sky this time of year can sometimes take your breath away. #nofilter

The sky this time of year can sometimes take your breath away. #nofilter

Despite loving to cook and spend time in the kitchen, I find I spend less and less time in the kitchen making dinner in the summer. To take advantage of the light as much as I can, after-work time is spent walking, mowing the lawn, reading, writing, everything but making dinner. Which means it gets on the table late, sometimes really late; our usual 8 p.m. dining time has been bumped sometimes to 8:30 and even close to 9 p.m.! With the start of September, I decided to make a new start and to start cooking earlier, which means I’m looking for quick, nutritious and healthy dishes to make on a weeknight.

You’re going to want to make this pasta dish NOW! It’s perfect for late summer, since zucchini, summer squash, and fresh herbs are still plenty. This recipe had three techniques I’d never used before: “wilting” the squash by pouring the hot pasta water on it, softening and tempering the onion flavor by boiling it with the pasta, and making a roux without butter. All worked beautifully and I definitely got this on the table in record time!

I prefer to buy small squashes, so I used two or three of each, because you can never go wrong adding more veggies. Since there is no butter in the sauce, I flavored it with a little bit of white wine, which was perfect. Lemon juice would be a good addition, too. I had some mushrooms in the veggie bin, so I sautéed a few in olive oil to add for a bit more texture to the sauce. Those who eat gluten-free, brown rice pasta can easily be substituted for the fettuccine.

Lots of vegetables, freshly chopped herbs, and one cooking pot for easy cleanup, this is a recipe that will please even those meat lovers in your house—and get on the table quickly. Cook it tonight!

Happy Eating!

squash pastaSquash Ribbon Pasta with Herb Cream Sauce

This recipe first appeared in the September 2015 issue of Cooking Light magazine. Serves 4 (serving size: about 1 1/2 cups)

1 medium zucchini (about 8 ounces)
1 medium summer squash (about 8 ounces)
8 ounces uncooked fettuccine
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chopped fresh tarragon, basil, or parsley
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Shave squashes into thin strips using a vegetable peeler; place in a colander. Bring a large saucepan filled with water to a boil. Add pasta; cook 6 minutes. Add red onion; cook 2 minutes. Drain pasta mixture over squash in colander.

2. Return pan to medium-high heat. Add milk and flour; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute or until slightly thickened, stirring constantly. Stir in cream; cook for 1 minute. Add pasta mixture, stirring to coat. Stir in the herbs, salt, and pepper. Serve immediately.

 

(JooHee Yoon/New York Times?

(JooHee Yoon/New York Times)

MVK’s *Like* of the Week: A Farewell
Or sadly, my dislike of the week. One of my all-time favorite food writers, Mark Bittman, is hanging his The New York Times pen to join a young start-up company. The original Minimalist, for years Bittman’s weekly column introduced readers to healthy eating with quick, easy-to-make recipes. Even years later, I still to this day refer to his tips on salads, grilling, summer cooking, holiday cooking, and more. His style of cooking is what I strive for every time I enter the kitchen, and he makes it look so easy! His opinion piece which began five years ago, educated cooks and readers to the politics of food and frequently made me think about where my food is coming from, and where, ethically, the food industry is going.

While my weekly dose of Bittman inspiration is a loss for me as cook and reader, his presence will still be in the limelight. His newest cookbook, Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix: More Than 700 Simple Recipes and Techniques to Mix and Match for Endless Possibilities, comes out at the end of October. And I still have those dog-eared columns.

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It’s Labor Day Weekend Plus MVK’s *Like* of the Week

This time of year, the front meadow is a sea of goldenrod.

This time of year, the front meadow is a sea of goldenrod.

I always use Labor Day weekend as the benchmark for the end of summer. Kids are back at school, the days are getting shorter and cooler, and the local apple orchard is now open. So this weekend is a perfect time to say goodbye to the season and to invite some friends over for some a delicious meal! I’ve scoured MVK’s archives for some recipes that would be perfect for this time of year. I hope whatever you do this coming weekend, it is filled with good food!

Appetizers

Deviled Eggs
Who doesn’t like deviled eggs? Take this to a party and they will be gone in the blink of an eye!

Baked Artichoke Dip
While this is a little fussy, it is well worth the effort.

Homemade Hummus
Know the ingredients in your hummus by making a batch of your own!

Mediterranean Kebabs
You don’t even need to know how to cook to make this tasty appetizer!

Entrees

Marinated Grilled Chicken Legs
Get the grill going for this flavorful chicken dish.

Linguine with Clam Sauce
If you can find fresh clams, this dish will be phenomenal, but canned work just as well.

Mystic Pizza
Impress your guests by grilling this pizza!

Marinated London Broil
Mmmmm…..

Brazilian Fish Stew
This stew tastes like a professional made it. Show off your skills!

Salads and Such

Potato Salad
I made this over Fourth of July weekend and am still thinking about it!

Kale Salad
Instead of a usual green salad try using kale instead!

Quick Pickles
Because I love these!

And you can never go wrong with a platter of sliced fresh tomatoes with basil and a little drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Desserts

Warm Roasted Peaches with Cream
Pick up some Amish peaches if you’re in the Northeast and roast them with a little cinnamon and nutmeg. You won’t be sorry!

Brownies
You’ll make a friend for life if you make a couple batches of these incredible brownies.

Crumbly Peach Pie
A summer isn’t complete without making my grandmother’s peach pie.

Cocktails

Mad Men Manhattan

Margaritas

Mocktails

sunday dinner

(Photo Steve Cavalier/Alamy/Alamy)

MVK’s *Like* of the Week: Should Sunday Roast Dinners Still be on the Menu?
One of the things I was most excited about when I was in London last year was going out for Sunday Roast, which is basically a full dinner at lunchtime. I have a version of that in my own home almost every Sunday because there is more time to cook; a really nice meal, usually a roast of some sort, to end the weekend and to have a nice start to the work week. Sunday just feels odd if I’m throwing together a stir fry.

So I really enjoyed this pro and con op-ed piece out of The Guardian last week for Sunday roast dinners.  Of course I’m in the “pro” camp; they truly are a comfort blanket meal. You can read the article in its entirety here.

The Lazy, Shorter Days of Summer: Late Season Pesto Plus MVK’s *Like* of the Week

Summertime and the living is easy!

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy!

Vermont in August is one of my favorite times of the year. While the light has quickly diminished in both the morning and evening, the fields are now a bright yellow with goldenrod, a little bit quieter, and the gardens have reached their peaks. While the days can still be quite warm, nighttime is usually perfectly cool sleeping weather. Weekends are spent at the lake, soaking in the sun and making memories that (hopefully) will keep us warm in the winter.

Speaking of gardens, you’ll never see me turn down an offer of free vegetables or fruit from someone’s garden. Which was the reason I was cutting up cups and cups of late season rhubarb for pies a couple of weeks ago, and why I found myself in a friend’s garden one recent evening, pulling all of the basil that she didn’t want. While it was almost past its time, it was still salvageable and all I could see was green, and knew I could make mounds and mounds of pesto.

I can grow tired very quickly if I eat the same thing all the time–leftovers are a two-meal minimum for me–but I think I could eat pesto every day and be completely happy! There is something about the mixture of basil, garlic, nuts, cheese, and olive oil that is heaven on a plate. During the summer I make it just about every Monday night for dinner. Even during my detox I talked about a few weeks ago, I created a dairy-free pesto that was almost as good as the real thing, served over quinoa pasta! For my friend who graciously gave me the basil, I made a nut-free and dairy free version for her.

The word pesto comes from the Italian, pestare, which means “to pound or crush,” and I have certainly made it many times the authentic way with a mortar and pestle, but my blender is a lot quicker when making lots. For nuts, I’ve used almonds, walnuts, or the traditional pine nuts. Or I’ve left them out if I don’t have any on hand. Making batches ahead of time will be a way to bring some summer into the darkness of the cold, winter months!

It's a pesto explosion in my kitchen!

It’s a pesto explosion in my kitchen!

Late Season Pesto

I don’t measure when I make this. Ever. So these are my approximations of measurements. I go by taste, so as you’re mixing, keep tasting to see if it suits your palate. When freezing, I put a little piece of plastic wrap on the top of the pesto to keep it from drying out.

1 large garlic clove
2 large handfuls of basil leaves
A few parsley stalks (preferably flat-leafed parsley), about 2-3 tablespoons
About 3 tablespoons grated parmesan or Asiago cheese
2 tablespoons whole almonds (or substitute walnuts or pine nuts)
Extra virgin olive oil, roughly ¼ cup (you can also use some hot water as a substitute for some of the oil)

With a blender, add the ingredients one at a time, ending with enough olive oil to make a paste. Serve over pasta, veggies, fish, or toasted bread.

movie posterMVK’s *Like of the Week: “That Sugar Film”
Are you like me and think the food you find in a health food store is good for you? Think again. Australian filmmaker, Damon Gameau, has a movie out, based on the movie “Super Size Me,” where he eats only “health foods,” but which are actually filled with added sugar. For two months, he gave up his normal diet of fresh foods for one that contains 40 teaspoons of sugar daily. But he wasn’t eating the obvious sugary foods like ice cream, candy, and soda. He instead focused on those foods perceived as healthy, but which contain added sugars: juices, low-fat yogurt, healthy bars, cereals. The effect of the diet is shocking.

While I think the movie is a bit gimmicky to get his point across, maybe this will be added to the American dialogue we are having about food and how it can help, or in this case hurt, your body. You can read more about the film and watch a trailer by clicking here.

Sizzling Skirt Steak with Asparagus and Red Peppers Plus MVK’s *Like* of the Week

Isn't this farm stand adorable? I stopped on my way home from the lake and picked up some beets, broccoli, tomatoes, and an onion!

Isn’t this farm stand adorable? I stopped on my way home from the lake and picked up some beets, broccoli, tomatoes, and an onion!

For the past few weeks, I’ve been making more and more vegetarian meals. Summer is so easy to fix up some veggies you’ve picked from the garden, the farmer’s market, or tiny farm stands like the one above. August is the month all veggies shine; they are their peak of ripeness and deliciousness, it’s easy to just have a plate filled with some beans, tomatoes, and an ear of corn and be happy. But there are some evenings that I’m dragging, tired, and I know it’s because my iron is low, so I decide to fix a nice steak. When that happens, pull this recipe out! You can let the steak marinate during cocktail hour (or when you run out for an errand, like I did), and with just a few ingredients, it takes hardly any time at all to put dinner on the table!

Remember the Caesar salad and Brussels sprouts recipes I gave you a few months back that called for fish sauce? Still have the bottle? Here is another recipe where you can use it! Fish sauce has something that experts refer to as umami, the “fifth taste”; like sweet, sour, etc., the combined ingredients make foods flavorful. Like MSG without the chemicals. Just a little bit adds a load of flavor–and it’s not fishy at all. The grated onion marinade is perfectly suited for flavoring the meat and the additional sauce with the vegetables adds a nice touch. 

I have never seen skirt steak in Vermont despite many searches, so I’ve substituted both flank steak and sirloin for this recipe. I’ve let the marinade sit longer than 30 minutes with no ill effect, it just made for a more intense onion flavor, which I love. And this would be fabulous if you put it on the grill! And you can substitute some fresh green beans instead of asparagus if you like!

steakSizzling Skirt Steak with Asparagus and Red Pepper

This recipe originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of Cooking Light magazine. Serves 4.

1 pound skirt steak, halved crosswise
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce, divided
2 medium red onions, divided
12 ounces asparagus, trimmed
1 large red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Combine steak and 1 tablespoon fish sauce in a shallow dish. Cut 1 onion in half lengthwise. Grate half of the onion. Add onion pulp to steak; toss to coat. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

2. Cut remaining 1 1/2 onions into 1/4-inch-thick vertical slices. Cut each asparagus spear diagonally into 3 pieces. Combine sliced onion, asparagus, bell pepper, and oil; toss to coat. Heat a large wok or stainless steel skillet over high heat. Add vegetables to pan; stir-fry 5 minutes or until crisp-tender. Add remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons fish sauce to pan; stir-fry 30 seconds. Remove vegetable mixture from pan; keep warm.

3. Scrape onion pulp off of steak. Return wok to high heat. Add steak to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Place steak on a cutting board; let stand at least 5 minutes. Cut steak across the grain into slices. Serve with vegetables.

MVK’s *Like* of the Week: “The Kitchen of Ambrosia”

Last week I told you about my small screen debut and now its ready for the big reveal! A little peek at Vermont in August and blueberry season! Click on the movie poster to enjoy “The Kitchen of Ambrosia!”

 

movie poster