Writing about what feeds me.
It is really exciting when planning a simple dinner for friends allows me to discover new and simple approaches.
My friends know I have a tendency (and desire) to make a lot of food or get a little too elaborate. So for a recent dinner, I did a little browsing in a Martha Stewart magazine and planned a vegetarian meal that would be interesting without being complicated, satisfying without being heavy. Best of all, I could enlist the help of my friends and guarantee that dinner was served in a timely fashion. =)
Kale-and-Avocado Salad (with Dates) and Bucatini with Cauliflower, Capers, and Lemon. Both brightened by the vibrant flavor of fresh squeezed lemon juice, seasoned simply with coarse salt and fresh, cracked pepper, and assisted with plenty of shaved parmesan to taste. The salad recipe interested me because it didn’t require making a salad dressing, included avocado (like one of my former, fav go-to’s: a pear, avocado and spinach salad), and called for Tuscan kale, a variety I’d often seen for sale at TJ’s but never tried. I was originally going to make the salad exactly as is, but when I discovered that my dates had “fermented” a bit, I chose to use craisins instead. This substitute turned out just fine and added a different color to the salad; then again, I haven’t had it with dates yet, so I can’t really say if it is comparable. The pasta dish was one of four one-pan/pot recipes featured in the magazine that I just had to try. The opportunity to make the entire dish without a separate pot to boil the pasta and to utilize a cast iron (which was just a personal choice) was one I just had to jump on immediately. To my satisfaction, this dish turned out to be just hearty enough – even in a small portion – with the addition of mushrooms and a side of shallot and butter toasted bread.
[The following copied almost verbatim from “Martha Stewart Living.” My personal notes follow.]
KALE-AND-AVOCADO SALAD (WITH DATES)
Active/Total Time: 15 mins
Serves: 8 to 10
– 1 bunche kale (about 12 oz.) preferably Tuscan, stems removed, leaves thinly sliced
– 1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
– 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
– 3 Tbls fresh lemon juice (approx. 1.5 large lemons)
– 2 ripe but firm avocados, halved, pitted, peeled, and cut into 1/4-inch slices
– 2 oz. Parmesan, shaved
– 8 large or 10 medium dry dates, such as deglet noor or amber, pitted and cut into slivers
(alternately, about 1/2 cup Craisins can suffice)
– coarse salt and fresh, cracked black pepper
In a large bowl, toss together kale, pine nuts, oil, and lemon juice. Add avocados, cheese, and dates (or Craisins), and toss gently. Season with salt and pepper; serve.
* While I usually prefer to purchase my avocados fully ripe and for use the same day, I was lucky to find some that were still quite firm, but not entirely unripe. This was key for the salad so as to avoid mushiness; I will definitely remember this for next time.
* The fresh lemon juice, coarse salt and cracked pepper combination completely blew my mind! While this wasn’t my first time having it, this time definitely left an imprint that will undoubtedly shift my view on how simple salad seasoning and dressings can be.
* This salad is so easy and so texturally satisfying and refreshing, I made it again a day later and will definitely be trying variations from here on.
* Tuscan Kale FTW!!! ‘Nuff said.
BUCATINI WITH CAULIFLOWER, CAPERS, AND LEMON
Active Time: 20 Min. Total Time: 25 min. Serves: 4
– 1 pound bucatini
– 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
– 1 sprig oregano, plus 1 Tbl lightly packed fresh leaves
(alternately, dry oregano or basil or Italian seasoning, if that’s all you got)
– 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, plus more for serving
– 2 1/2 tsp coarse salt
– 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest and 2 Tbl fresh lemon juice, plus wedges for serving
– 4 cups finely chopped cauliflower florets (from 1 head)
– 3 Tbl capers, preferably salt-packed, rinsed and drained
– 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan (1.5 oz), plus more for serving
(Optional: approx. half pack of mushrooms, sliced)
– Heat Broiler with rack 8 inches from heating element. Combine pasta, 5 cups water, 2 Tbl oil, oregano sprig, pepper flakes, and 2 tsp salt in a large, straight-sided ovenproof skillet. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until sauce is mostly reduced and pasta is al dente, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in lemon zest and juice.
– In a bowl, toss cauliflower (and mushrooms, if using) with remaining 2 Tbl oil and 1/2 tsp salt, capers, Parmesan, and oregano leaves. Sprinkle over pasta in skillet. Broil until cauliflower is golden in spots and pasta is heated through, about 5 minutes. Toss to combine. Serve with more cheese and pepper flakes, a drizzle of oil, and lemon wedges.
* Bucatini is a pasta from Lazio, Italy that I’d never head of and honestly didn’t think I would find at a regular grocery. I was ready to buy spaghetti or linguini instead, but got lucky and found out that Barilla makes a special line of pastas and this was one of them. It turned out to be too thick for most people’s tastes, but I wanted to give it a try, thinking that it was necessary to have a thicker pasta to hold up in the process of going from stovetop to oven. I’d give it another try accompanied with a thick tomato sauce instead.
* This simple, vegetarian pasta has really altered my view of simple Italian cooking. Lemon and capers, cheese, and not even butter, but just a bit of oil and enough salt to taste. I am now convinced of the importance of salting the pasta water and allowing the flavors to naturally come together in the pan.