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
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • 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

Lemony Ricotta Salata Pasta with Blistered Cherry Tomatoes and Pea Shoots

As the days get lighter, I find my cooking does too. During the cold dark days of winter, I can be found hunkering down in the kitchen, braising short ribs, simmering rich ragu, making hearty stews and soups and eating indulgent creamy pasta dishes. With the warmer weather and lighter evenings, I’m less inclined to spend hours in the kitchen and I want to take advantage of the colorful spring vegetables that appear at the farmers market.
Light summer pasta with blistered cherry tomatoes, pea shoots and ricotta salata in a lemony brothI spotted these delightful still-on-the-vine cherry tomatoes and started thinking about a light pasta dish with fresh spring/summer flavors. I saw ricotta salata on the cheese counter and that reminded me of Amanda Hesser’s lemony pasta recipe. I picked up fresh basil and pea shoots and headed home excited to see how they’d all come together.

The cherry tomatoes were carefully roasted in a blistering hot oven and as soon as they were cool enough to handle I slipped the skins off (you don’t have to do this but they’ll melt into the sauce easier and taste juicier). Chicken stock was bubbled to reduce down with a couple of smashed garlic cloves and lemon juice and a knob of butter swirled in to make a light and refreshing sauce. The pea shoots didn’t even see the inside of a pan, the heat of the pasta wilted them (arugula would also work well here) and the whole dish was showered with wafer thin slices of ricotta salata.


If you’ve never had ricotta salata you’re missing out. Ricotta salata is a hard white cured and pressed version of fresh ricotta with and a mild salty, nutty and milky flavor. It can be shaved or grated over salads, pastas and vegetable dishes.

Light summer pasta with blistered cherry tomatoes, pea shoots and ricotta salata

  • Servings: two
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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Very loosely adapted from Amanda Hesser

Ingredients:

2 servings of your favorite pasta, I used Cipriani tagliatelle, it’s so light and thin
3 cups unsalted chicken broth
2 cloves of garlic – squished but not minced or completely crushed
Wedge of ricotta salata 2-4 oz
8-12 Cherry tomatoes, ideally on the vine
Splash of olive oil
1 large lemon or 2 small lemons
Bunch of basil – finely chopped (chiffonade) or torn
Pea shoots (can substitute in fresh peas or arugula or even baby spinach)
1 tbsp butter
Optional; thinly sliced radish for a crunchy garnish

Directions:

 

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet (ideally rimmed as the tomatoes can leak juice while cooking) with foil or parchment paper for easier clean up. Place cherry tomatoes on baking sheet, drizzle over a little olive oil and season.
2. Bake cherry tomatoes until blistered and skins are just starting to turn black. 10-20 minutes. Optional – once cool, gently slip the blistered skins off for a more elegant presentation.
3. While tomatoes are baking, over a high heat, bubble the unsalted chicken stock with the garlic until reduced by half. Reduce heat to lowest setting.
4. Put pan of salted water on to boil for pasta.
5. With a sharp knife or mandolin, slice the ricotta salata into paper thin slices (or crumble)
6. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and add to the reduced chicken broth. Squeeze in the juice of the lemon and the butter. Add the basil. Toss vigorously. Taste and add as much or as little salt and pepper as you like. I season this dish fairly agressively as it’ll really bring out the lemony flavors.
7. Line the warmed bowls with the pea shoots, add the pasta/pea shoots and add a couple of spoons of the broth. Add the ricotta salata, the cherry tomatoes and the sliced radish if using.. Enjoy!

Helpful info:

It’s a quick and easy swap of chicken stock to vegetable stock to make this dish vegetarian.

You don’t have to serve the cherry tomatoes on the vine, I just thought they looked prettier this way! Once I’d taken the picture, I popped them off the vine and smushed them into the sauce. Yum.

If you can’t find ricotta salata you could substitute parmigiano regiano or pecorino but it would be a completely different dish with much more cheese flavor.

If pea shoots aren’t in season you could add frozen peas to the pasta water for the last minute and then drain them with the pasta.

If you’d like a little more protein, add grilled shrimp (especially good with the lemony broth) or grilled chicken.

What do you enjoy eating to signal the start of summer? Fresh and light summer pasta with blistered cherry tomatoes, pea shoots and ricotta salata in the lemony herb broth

Fragrant Lamb Shanks

A selection of colorful herbs and spices for a fragrant lamb shank recipe - inspiration from Morocco and North AfricaI recently read that the average American consumes just 1lb of lamb vs. a whopping 61lb of beef each year and up to 50% of Americans have never even tried lamb! I guess if I was a member of the sheep family I’d let out a grateful bleet at this news.

Growing up in the UK, we would quite often have roast lamb for Sunday lunch and my home-town dish of scouse wouldn’t exist without lamb. Here in Maine, we have fabulous local lamb available to us and when I saw the lamb shanks from North Star Sheep Farm I couldn’t resist buying them to make this flavorful Morrocan-inspired Fragrant Lamb Shank Braise.
Fragrant and fork-tender lamb shanks on a bed of lemon cous cous

Lamb is super tasty, rich in iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin B-12 and niacin, AND grass-fed lamb is loaded with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, an important omega-3 fatty acids), in fact lamb contains 5 times as much healthy ALA as beef!

Lamb shanks are one of my favorite cuts of lamb, braise them slowly (similar to beef short ribs), and they’ll transform into fork-tender, melt-in-your-mouth shreds of juicy meat. Lamb also holds up well to bold flavors so I decided to look to the countries bordering the Mediterranean sea – Greece, Turkey, Morocco and North Africa.
Raw ingredients including Maine lamb shanks for a Moroccan-inspired lamb shank recipe

Za’atar (Zahtar) is Middle Eastern mix of up to 90% toasted sesame seeds and dried sumac with the remaining made up of a mix of other herbs including thyme, oregano, marjoram, cumin. Great to mix with olive oil for a tasty dip with fresh bread or coat a chicken before roasting.

Ras El Hanout is a North African spice mix of ginger, paprika, cassia, coriander, cumin, sugar, salt, tumeric, chili, black pepper, cardamom, coriander, rose petals, nigella, allspice, nutmeg, galangal.

I generally like to make this fragrant lamb shank braise the day before I want to eat it, the flavors improve overnight and I can chill, defat and then reduce down the braising liquid but most lamb shanks aren’t too fatty so in a pinch you could make and serve it on the same day. The last time I made these I ended up with ~6 cups of braising liquid (this includes the onions, tomatoes, eggplant etc) which I reduced down to about 3 1/2 cups the next day. Here’s the lamb and the braising liquid after a night in the fridge – you just scrape off the layer of yellow fat:

Cliff notes for the experienced cook: Just brown the lamb shanks for extra flavor, add in all of the vegetables, herbs and spices, and cook until the lamb is falling off the bone. Chill and defat the braising liquid, reduce it for a thicker sauce, add back the lamb and brighten with a little lemon juice. Great to make ahead when entertaining, also freeze well!
Step-by-step guide to making a fragrant lamb shank braise recipe

Fragrant Lamb Shank Braise

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 30 minutes active, 3+ hours cooking
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

4 lamb shanks (~3lbs)
1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
1 large onion, half-moon slices
2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely sliced
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 tsp each cayenne, ras el hanout, za’atar, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, pink peppercorns.
~3oz medjool dates, chopped
Cinnamon stick
1 large eggplant or 2 small. Peel skin and chop into 1 inch squares
14.5 oz can of Muir Glen fire roasted tomatoes
32 fl oz chicken or vegetable stock (low sodium)
1/2 lemon
Fresh cilantro (or flat leaf parsley if you’re not a cilantro fan!)
Salt and pepper.

DIrections

  1. In an oven-safe casserole dish over a medium high heat, sear lamb shanks in the butter and oil, remove from dish and set aside
  2. Add a little more oil if dish is dry, over medium heat, add chopped onion, crushed garlic and grated ginger and stir well to combine.
  3. Add 1/2 teaspoon each cayenne, ras el hanout, zaatar, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, pink peppercorns, stir well to combine, cook 5 minutes, your kitchen will start to smell amazing.
  4. Add chopped dates and the cinnamon stick, diced eggplant/aubergine and the can of fire-roasted tomatoes and stir well to combine.
  5. Nestle lamb shanks back in and pour over just enough stock to just cover. If your carton of stock doesn’t cover the lamb, add water.
  6. Cover and pop in a 325 degree oven for about 3-4 hours. Gently turn the lamb shanks every hour or so. The exact time will depend on the size of the shanks and your oven. Check them after 30 minutes, you want a simmering/little bubbling but not frantic boil. Adjust the oven temperature as necessary. If the shanks are particularly large, you might need to cook for up to 4 hours. They’re done when a little poke with a fork makes the meat just flake off.
  7. Take out of oven and put shanks in a shallow dish (handle them carefully, the meat will fall off the bone), pour over a little cooking liquid to keep them moist, cover tightly and pop in fridge. Remove the cinnamon stick. Cool cooking liquid overnight in fridge.
  8. The next morning, remove the thin layer of yellow fat that’s collected on the top of the braising liquid. Put the braising liquid back in the oven (uncovered) at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes until it has more of a sauce-like consistency. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Squeeze in the juice of 1/2 lemon to brighten the flavors.
  10. Reduce oven to 350 and gently add back lamb shanks, cook until piping hot.

To serve, you can take the meat off the bone if you think bones will freak out your guests but I like to serve a whole shank per person on a bed of lemon couscous (cook couscous according to directions, replacing liquid with juice of 1 lemon and unsalted chicken stock, stir in lemon zest and a spoon of butter) or quinoa. Sprinkle over the fresh cilantro or parsley.

This is a very forgiving dish. If you skipped all the herbs and spices it would still be a tasty meaty dish, just not with the same fragrant depth. Although I’d try to at least get your hands on the Za’atar (because you’ll definitely use it again with a little olive oil as a dip).

You can also really make it your own recipe. If you want to add a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas in the last 30 minutes of cooking, go for it! Throw in a bunch of chopped carrots in the last hour – why not? Feel free to substitute zucchini/courgette instead of eggplant/aubergine – try it! It also adapts well for the slow cooker, just reduce the amount of stock as it won’t reduce down as much.

The cooked lamb shanks and sauce will freeze well so I usually make 4-6 servings and freeze half. Just defrost thoroughly and heat in the oven at 325-350 degrees until piping hot.
Lamb shank casserole with North African, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern herbs and spices. So delicious!