Author Archives: Fignatius

Ingredient: Garlic Scapes

It might be a chicken-egg kind of situation, but it feels like farmers are taking more risks on growing and selling non-traditional produce and more home cooks are willing to buy them and be more adventurous. It doesn’t really matter who influenced whom first – I am just happy to see a surprisingly large variety of unusual vegetables and fruits available. On my latest venture to the Green City Market, I found the following inspiring little things:


Zucchini Blossoms


Fig Tree!


Garlic Scapes


Edible Flowers


Lamb’s Quarters


Funny Little Orange Eggplants


Plethora of Peppers


Bounty of Beets!


Holy Kohlrabi!


Breakfast Radishes

Because I was buying stuff for some specific purposes (more or less), I pulled the trigger on the garlic scapes and lamb’s quarters. Often, using these ingredients (at least at first) can just be a matter of swapping out a more commonplace ingredient for a more adventurous one. In my case, I used the garlic scapes, which are just the tender shoots of the garlic plant, like I would scallions – chopped finely into a salad. (Incidentally, I used the lamb’s quarters raw and trimmed, like mixed baby greens).

When I tasted the raw scapes, I felt like the garlicky flavor was a bit too strong and was afraid that they would overpower the rest of the salad. Therefore, I blanched them along with the green beans I prepared; in retrospect, I would skip this step. The salad ended up falling a little flat, lacking the pleasant bite that the raw scapes would have provided.

But, this is the best part of being adventurous! The process of trial and error allows you to develop a relationship with your ingredients, and I think that’s an important thing to foster. Just as a farmer learns over time how to encourage the growth and fruitfulness of his crops, the cook learns through many attempts how to bring out the best in the produce the farmer provides.  Get out to a farmers market this weekend if you can – always good for inspiration!


Pasta L’estate (Summer Pasta)

Pasta L'Estate

Summer Pasta

This post just goes to show that inspiration for anything can come from anywhere. That includes being inspired to create an Italian pasta dish while dining on vacation in the mountains just outside of Bogotà, Colombia.

Before I embarked on this journey, I was told to take advantage of the fresh fruits and vegetables that are available year ‘round while in Colombia. Once we made our way through the hills from the airport to our apartment for the next week, I realized I was in for a heavenly treat; the climate seems perfect to grow just about anything. Plants that need a little extra heat (tomatoes, basil, cucumbers) might require a greenhouse, but the lush greenness of everything around Bogota seems to invite every seed in the world to settle down there and plant some roots. When it came time for our first meal, I didn’t automatically think, “I want something Italian,” but I was a guest in the country and my basic rule is that, if someone I know and love wants me eat something somewhere (in this case, La Contadina), then I am up for it.

I was grateful to be reading some Italian, actually, as I reviewed the menu. My Spanish is really only good enough to order food and even then I sometimes struggle, especially when it comes to regional fare (try translating ajiaco or calentado into English). Everyone had suggestions (mostly gravitating to the baked macaroni), but I had vegetables on my mind. There were lots of pasta options, which are usually not my go-to, but one kinda stood out to me. Linguine, shrimp, assorted vegetables, no cream. Perfect.

I was so happy when it arrived. There was this plate heaping with perfectly cooked pasta, studded and layered with asparagus, fresh peas, tomatoes, garlic, basil and the most beautiful shrimp. There was considerable plate envy from my dinner mates.

I don’t make pasta very often, but when I do, I usually try to do something new with it. This time, I consulted some recipes on Epicurious and in the Joy of Cooking, but I also tried to remember what made the dish at La Contadina so special. A couple of simple rules: use the nicest vegetables you can fine and the freshest basil known to the kitchen (from your own herb garden). Cheese is optional (I know how finicky some are about fish and cheese together), but I like the way that the parmesan adds salty richness to the dish.

Here’s the basic method:

Get a big pot of salted water going on the stove. Once you have it at a boil, drop in a generous bunch of asparagus (trimmed and cut into roughly one-inch pieces), as well as a few handfuls of sugar snap peas in the pod (cleaned and left whole). The point of this cooking is to blanch them – cook them just enough to enhance their green color and take the raw edge off. It should take no more than a minute. After that minute is up, pull the vegetables out of the boiling water with a slotted spoon or strainer with a handle (some call it a spider) and drop them into a bowl of ice water (more ice than water) to stop them from cooking and becoming mushy.

Next, start the sauce. Drop 3 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil (or whatever combination you like) in a reasonably large pot that will hold a pound of cooked pasta with room for the vegetables and sauce. Add a ton of chopped garlic (5-7 cloves) to the butter and oil when it is hot and bubbling; stir until fragrant. Add a rough pound precooked shrimp to the butter and oil and reduce heat to low (you just want the shrimp to warm up and lend flavor to the fat).

In the meantime, drop a pound of dry pasta (I used linguine because I prefer long pastas to things like penne or fusilli) into the boiling water. While the pasta cooks, halve a good couple of handfuls of grape tomatoes. Drain the asparagus and peas and add tomatoes to the mix. Once the pasta is cooked to al dente, drain immediately; do NOT rinse.

Add all vegetables to the butter/oil/shrimp mixture, along with 3/4 of a cup of chicken, fish, or vegetable stock, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring the mix just to a boil and immediately add the pasta – this is the stage that makes the dish; the starch of the pasta will mix with the vegetables and sauce to create a silky, rich, delicious concoction that will have you asking why you would ever need to add cream.

Just before serving, add some chopped or julienned fresh basil and serve with (optional) grated or shredded parmesan cheese.


Guest Post: Introducing Caitlin

As promised, I am expanding Shallots Web to include a new series of guest posts and I am so pleased to announce that my first one comes from my friend and personal trainer, Caitlin Akey! As you’ll see below, most of Caitlin’s personal philosophy about food agrees with my own, and she’s taught me a lot about how to focus on good food choices and making healthy eating another part of my plan to live better. Enjoy!


My name is Caitlin, I’m a Certified Personal Trainer in Chicago, and I like to eat! My eating philosophy is pretty simple: I eat what I want. I mainly shop for fresh fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. I try to cook the majority of my meals at home. I don’t like to cut whole food groups out of my diet. I make food that is healthy and delicious. And when I want to eat something that may not be the best for me, I do so in moderation. I don’t live my life on a diet, but instead live my life making healthy choices that will have a lasting impact on my health.

My cooking philosophy is simple. Actually it’s so simple that anyone can do it. Two years ago, the only spices I had in my cupboard were salt and pepper. I didn’t really know how to cook anything and figured that, since I was single, there was really no point to cook for one. I ate boring, bland food and didn’t enjoy many of my meals at home. Then one day, I finally pulled out the crockpot that had made three moves with me and decided to try an easy crockpot meal. MIND BLOWN! I bought some basic spices and the rest is history!

So here today I’m sharing one of my favorite simple crockpot recipes, Chicken Burrito Bowls. I don’t know about you, but I like Chipotle, and this homemade version hits the spot!

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
3 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon salt and pepper (to taste)
3 cups low sodium chicken broth
One 15oz can of diced tomatoes, drained
One 14oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed
3 cups instant whole grain brown rice, quinoa, or other grain
1/2 shredded cheese (I prefer low-sodium white cheeses like mozzarella)


  • Place chicken in slow cooker
  • Add chicken broth, tomatoes, olive oil, onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper; stir
  • Cook on low for 4 hours
  • Remove the chicken from the slow cooker
  • Turn heat on high and add brown rice and black beans; cook for 30-45 minutes or until rice is tender
  • Add chicken back into crockpot, top with cheese and let cook a few minutes
  • Add your favorite toppings: greek yogurt, avocado, green onion, tomatoes, etc


For more information on what I like to cook check me out:

❤ Caitlin