Spring vegetable pasta

Let’s talk about zoodles. Also known as zucchini noodles. Or courgette noodles if you’re from the UK. Does that make them coodles? Coodles don’t sounds as cute as zoodles amiright?

To make zoodles, you simply run zucchini through a spiralizer to produce vegetable noodles shaped like spaghetti. Looks like pasta but no carbs. But here’s the thing, unless you have absolutely no taste buds, there’s no way you’ll eat a bowl of zoodles and think “Mmmm, pasta”. I’m all for healthy eating but why not just say you’re eating a bowl of zucchini vs. pretending you’re eating a bowl of spaghetti carbonara or fettucini alfredo.

That said, I’m not averse to using zoodles alongside pasta. When zoodles and real spaghetti join forces it’s a win-win. You still get to enjoy a little pasta (60 million Italians can’t be wrong…) with the added bonus of vegetables, more fibre, less carbs. Spring vegetable pasta reminiscent of pasta primavera by MainelyEating.com

Back in the 70/80’s there was a controversial (chefs hated it, diners loved it) dish known as pasta primavera that combined pasta with vegetables and a bunch of cream and pasta. Like a LOT of cream. With my haul of fresh asparagus, green beans, broccolini and of course, zucchini I decided to steal the idea of blanching the vegetables but skip the cream for a garlic and red pepper flake infused olive oil.

Not pictured – frozen peas (because I couldn’t find any fresh English peas) and green beans (forgot to take them out of the fridge for the picture but you’ll see them being cooked below!) Ingredients for pasta primavera

Cliffnotes (full recipe below): Gently heat garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil. Blanch vegetables until they’re a few minutes away from being done, cool rapidly. Add fresh chopped tomatoes to oil. Cook pasta (and peas). Combine pasta, veggies and oil with a knob of butter, a generous handful of grated cheese and a splash of reserved pasta water and lemon juice to bring it all together.

Spring Vegetable Pasta

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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When figuring out the amount of vegetables you need, guestimate how much one person would eat and then multiply by four e.g. I would eat maybe 5-6 asparagus stalks so buy 20-24 depending on the thickness.

Ingredients:
6-8 oz pasta (see notes below)
~ 24 asparagus stalks (1-2 bundles depending on how much you like asparagus)
4 zucchini (spiralized or cut into thin noodles)
~ 1/2lb green beans
~1/2lb broccolini
2-4 tomatoes
3 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
1 tsp red pepper flakes (more or less according to your heat tolerance!)
1 cup frozen peas or fresh shelled peas
1 tbsp butter
~3 oz Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan cheese)
1/2 lemon
Salt & Pepper

Optional to serve: a few halved cherry tomatoes, radish slices, chopped fresh herbs such as basil, flat leaf parsley, chives

Directions:
1. In a large pan (must be able to hold all vegetable and pasta), gently warm the olive oil.
2. Crush or finely mince/slice the garlic and add to the olive oil with the red pepper flakes, 1/4 tsp salt and a few twists of fresh black pepper, continue to cook over a low heat.
3. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Blanch the vegetables in batches, cooking until they’re almost done (don’t overcook, they’ll finish cooking in the sauce at the end). The exact times will depend on the size/thickness/age of the vegetables. As the vegetables are almost done, scoop them out into a colander to drain and run cold water over them (or use an ice bath) to stop the cooking process. Set each vegetable aside to drain on paper towels.
4. In between cooking the vegetables, dice the tomatoes and add them to the garlic/red pepper oil and cook over a medium heat with a generous pinch of salt and pepper.
5. Rinse vegetable pan, fill with fresh salted water and bring to the boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions. If using frozen peas, add to pasta water 90 seconds before the end. Before draining, carefully dip a mug into the pot to reserve some of the starchy cooking water. Drain pasta.
6. Add the drained vegetables, drained pasta, butter and cheese to the garlic infused oil and gently toss. Add a generous squeeze of lemon juice and a splash or more of the reserved pasta cooking water. Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed.

Serve with fresh chopped herbs, grated cheese and radish slices in warmed bowls or plates.

Pasta primavera without the cream, a light spring vegetable pasta dish

Helpful notes:

Serving sizes/servings per box should be indicated on the pasta packaging. Reduce the servings by as much or as little as you like. I usually allow 2oz of dried pasta per person. If I’m combining with zucchini noodles then I’ll allow 1 zucchini per person and reduce the pasta to 1oz per person.

If you don’t have a spiralizer, you can use a potato peeler to make zucchini ribbons which work well with pappardelle or tagliatelle.

You don’t *have* to blanch each type of vegetable separately but doing so enables you to pull them just before they’ve cooked. You could stagger the time you add them to the boiling water but only if you’re pretty good at estimating cooking times which will vary with the thickness/size of each vegetable.

Beware the viral videos going around showing you “one pot pasta primavera”, yes you can cook your pasta, water, vegetables, cream and butter in one pan all together but only if you want a mushy and starchy vegetable mess.

If you want the real pasta primavera experience or something more luxurious, add a big splash of heavy cream to the butter and cheese.

You can mess around with the vegetable content – fresh shelled peas are way better than frozen peas, consider sliced mushrooms, carrot batons, a handful of arugula or baby spinach or whatever is fresh!

Add sauteed shrimp or chicken if you want more protein with your dinner.

Serve on warmed plates/in warmed bowlsPasta with peas, asparagus, green beans, tomatoes and zucchini noodles

Tuna Poke

Remember when you used to poke people on Facebook? That seems kind of strange now. Maybe 10 years from now, people will look back on Instagram or Snapchat and be all “What?!??!”.

Anyhoo, this isn’t a blog post about the Facebook type of poke. Nope, it’s poke as in pokē the Hawaiian verb for “section” or “to slice or cut” or “to cube”. Think of bright red jewel-like cubes of raw tuna in a subtle marinade of soy and sesame oil with just a hint of crunchy onion. Mmm, are you hungry now??!? And I should mention, it’s pronounced poh-kay (to rhyme with okay).Ahi tuna poke - sushi grade tuna in a light marinade of soy, sesame oil with scallions by MainelyEating.comLegend has it that Hawaiian fishermen would take the off-cuts of their daily catch, cube them, add a little seasoning and enjoy as a snack (what a job perk – tuna on demand!). Poke seasonings are heavily influenced by Japan (hence the soy and sesame) as well as the local Maui onions. Poke can be made with tuna, salmon and even cured octopus.

Right now, poke is THE food to eat and here are some reasons why. Just a few weeks ago I was in Ohio (of all places), checking out the best places to eat on yelp and I enjoyed the most unexpectedly-delicious bowl of tuna poke by Hai Poke at a pop-up location in the Short North area.

I’ve written before about the wonders of being able to buy sushi-grade tuna from Browne Trading Company and when I stopped by this weekend and saw the beautiful red tuna loin in the seafood counter, I figured I’d try making a poke-inspired dish at home.

Assuming you can get your hands on top quality fish, it couldn’t be easier! Mix up a marinade of soy sauce and sesame oil (Ponzu is my secret weapon for a non-authentic but delicious citrus twist), add the cubed tuna, a handful of scallions and a sprinkling of sesame seeds and you’re done! Add jalapeno, chili flakes or a little sriracha if you’re feeling spicy.

To make your poke into a more substantial lunch or dinner, make a poke bowl which strays into chirashi territory (chirashi means scattered in Japanese and so a chirashi bowl is basically a bowl of scattered/decontructed sushi).
Ahi tuna poke bowl with brown sprouted rice, seaweed salad, edamame and radish by MainelyEating.com

I started with brown sprouted rice which I left to cool to room temperature while I prepared the poke (instructions below) 

Tuna Poke

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients:
1lb of sushi grade tuna (allows for 1/2lb per person for a substantial lunch)
2 tbsp soy sauce (low sodium)
2 tbsp ponzu
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp sesame seeds (a mix of black and regular makes for prettier poke!)
4 scallions (sliced) or 1/4 Maui onion (diced)
Optional: red chili flakes if you like it spicy

Directions:
1. Combine soy sauce, ponzu, sesame oil, sesame seeds, scallions or onion to make marinade.
2. With a super sharp knife, slice tuna into cubes. Discard any sinewy pieces.
3. Place diced tuna into a bowl. Gradually add marinade, you want the tuna to be glistening vs. drowning. Store in refrigerator (covered) for up to 12 hours.

Enjoy! And/or use the poke to top a bowl of your favorite rice and vegetables like seaweed salad, avocado cubes, cucumber cubes, radish, edamame etc

I had a little poke left over so thought I’d try out poke appetizer spoons (read about other tuna appetizers including tuna tartare cones and spoons here), these would be good for a health concious gathering. Make up the poke according to the above recipe and then fill each spoon with a little brown rice, a cube of tuna poke and top with a scallion slice or edamame bean (because I like edamame more than scallion!). Look for shoyu soy sauce without gluten if you have a gluten-free diet.

Ahi tuna poke appetizer spoons with brown sprouted rice and edamame by MainelyEating.com

How To Cook Fiddleheads

Fiddleheads! They’re everywhere right now! At the farmer’s market, on farmstands and even in grocery stores. The arrival of fiddleheads signals that summer is almost here in Maine and soon…so soon…it’ll be warm enough to swim in the lake. My swimsuit is on high alert…

Fresh fiddleheads cooked in a lemon butter draped with prosciutto by MainelyEating.com

I remember our very first summer in Maine and coming across these somewhat freaky looking green things at the farm stand and having no idea how to cook them. If you’re a fiddlehead first timer, here’s what you need to know:

Fiddleheads are the furled (not yet opened) fronds of a young fern, specifically the Ostrich fern (a good source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as well as iron and fibre) vs. Bracken (carcinogenic and toxic if not fully cooked!).

Back in the 1990s, raw or lightly cooked fiddleheads were implicated in a food-bourne illness outbreak and so it’s important to prepare and cook them safely.

How to cook fiddleheads:
1. Remove any residual brown papery husk
2. Wash in several changes of cold water
3. Discard any unfurled or discolored fiddleheads, they should be tightly curled and bright green
4. The official guidelines say to boil them for 15 minutes. I’m not a fan of mushy fiddleheads so I usually boil them for ~8 minutes but you should use your own judgement here in terms of risk vs. taste.

Fiddleheads have a similar texture to asparagus but without the funky asparagus taste. My favorite way to enjoy fiddleheads is to boil them and then lightly saute in a little butter with a very generous squeeze of lemon juice and pair with salty prosciutto.

Fiddleheads in Lemon Butter with Prosciutto

  • Servings: 2 people as a side or light lunch
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:
1/2lb of fiddleheads
1 tbsp butter
Juice of 1/2 lemon
6 wafer thin slices of prosciutto (~2-3oz)
Sea salt and pepper

Directions:
1. Remove any brown paper husk from the fiddleheads and discard any discoloured or unfurled ferns
2. Place a pan of water on to boil. Wash the fiddleheads with multiple rinses of cold running water
3. Add the fiddleheads to the boiling water. Boil for 15 minutes (according to health authorities) or for less time at your own risk (I usually boil for ~8 minutes but I’m not advocating this risky behaviour). The water will turn a weird brown color. I like to rinse the fiddleheads with fresh boiled water from the kettle.
4. Drain the fiddleheads in a colander. Rinse out the pan and return it to a medium heat. Add the butter, the drained fiddleheads, the lemon juice and lightly toss. Add a few good grinds of black pepper and a few pinches of sea salt (preferably Malden).
5. Place the fiddleheads on a warmed plate and drape a few slices of prosciutto alongside. Add an extra squeeze of lemon juice.

Have you ever cooked or eaten fiddleheads? What did you think? I’m also super excited to see ramps at the market and plan on pickling them to last through the summer! Fiddleheads cooked in a lemon butter with prosciutto by MainelyEating.com