Category Archives: Vegetables

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:

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Zucchini Blossoms

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Fig Tree!

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Garlic Scapes

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Edible Flowers

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Lamb’s Quarters

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Funny Little Orange Eggplants

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Plethora of Peppers

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Bounty of Beets!

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Holy Kohlrabi!

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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.

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Summer Chicken Soup


Final Product

Summer Chicken Soup (Green)

Saturday was one of those days that was so hot and so humid that all I wanted to do was be inside, in a frigid air conditioned space, not thinking about the oppressive heat/humidity of the season. I don’t mind a few hot days in the summer, but it is not my default; I don’t walk out into the summer heat and say, “ahhh, this is perfect.” I like the chill. I like the shoulder seasons – spring and fall. More than anything, I like an excuse to eat soup.

My boo was feeling under the weather on Saturday – hadn’t eaten anything all day by the time I saw him, so when I asked what would make him feel better, I rejoiced when he said “I dunno…chicken noodle soup?” I immediately thought about onions, celery, carrots, some herbs, and big fat egg noodles. Then a trickle of sweat rolled down my back and I remembered – it’s freaking summer, not one of the other three seasons here in Chicago when it is appropriate to eat old fashioned chicken noodle soup.

My mind started racing – what is reasonable here? What can capture that good-hearted feeling without seeming out of place in the heat? I consulted my homecook resources – I texted some of my best friends. What would they do? It took them a little while to respond, and I was hungry, so I had already started the shopping list in my head and on my phone (using the the Clear app, which I cannot recommend enough), but the result was a list of summer chicken soup recipes that shall be the source of inspiration in the next couple of weeks:

  • Asian-inspired, taking cues from Vietnamese pho, using ginger, garlic, lemongrass
  • Tomato-based, with some spice
  • Vichyssoise (not technically “chicken” soup, but I was glad of the reminder to make it)

I ended up doing what seems easy – swapping out the traditional ingredients in the old-fashioned soup for what’s more in season right now – kind of updating an old fave. Leeks instead of onions. Fresh peas and zucchini instead of carrots and celery. Fresh basil instead of thyme.

The result was maybe a little heavier than I wanted, but I think I can attribute that to the stock. I started with store-bought chicken stock (my go to: Kitchen Basics, though I may rethink this) and added bone in, skin-on chicken (two breasts, two leg quarters) to cook through, fortify the stock, and be the protein for the final soup. I probably should have used skinless chicken, since the usually welcome richness of the fat felt like too much for this version. Regardless, the result was delicious.

If anyone is interested in a full recipe, please let me know, but for the time being, here are a few prep notes:

  • Per my friend Crissy’s suggestion years ago, I always cook pasta for soups separate to ensure that the noodles don’t get too mushy in leftovers. This technique also helps to cool down the finished soup as you are serving it so you can eat it almost immediately.
  • To ensure that the zucchini didn’t get too soft in the cooking process, I cut them in generously sized chunks; I think this adds a nice bit of texture to the final soup (see photo, above)
  • Clean leeks are happy leeks, and I can’t reiterate this enough. Once you eat a single pot of soup where you didn’t take time to clean them of sandy grit, you’ll see what I mean. I am here to tell you how to avoid this unfortunate circumstance without having to experience it in the first place.
    • First, trim off the tough, fibrous green tops – you can use these to flavor stocks, but they never really cook up nicely enough to eat in soup or otherwise
    • For this soup, I cut the leek lengthwise and then into quarter-to-half-inch halfmoon slicesDirty Leeks
    • Break up the slices into a colander sitting a bowl of cold tap water – be sure that this combination is large enough to allow the leek pieces to separate and get cleanClean Leeks
    • Let sit for a few minutes and then pull the strainer out of the bowl of water; you’ll probably notice a bit (or a lot) of grit and sand in the bowl of water and NOT in your soup. Hurrah!