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

No-Bake Chocolate Easter Nests

Chocolate Easter Nests? But Leah, you don’t bake!!! Relax, there’s no oven involved and you don’t have to be super accurate about measurements so this is acceptable not-baking for me 🙂  I was listening to a Bon Appetit podcast about how the most potent ingredient in any recipe is nostalgia i.e. food you ate when you were growing up. Which got me thinking about the little chocolate nests we’d make as children at Easter.

3 ingredients, 10 minutes, no actual baking (except a little help from the microwave to melt the chocolate) – this is a great recipe to make with little ones who will get a kick from making the nests, not to mention their tiny fingers are helpful when putting the chocolate eggs in the nest!
Easy Chocolate Easter Nests with shredded wheat and mini eggs
The little yellow fluffy chicks are optional but I picked up mine at one of those Party City stores for $1.99 for 12 chicks because they’re cute.

There’s a recipe AND a step-by-step video at the bottom of this post but if you’re looking for the cliffnotes:
– Take out any frustration and stress you have by punching and crushing a bunch of shredded wheat (you can also use other cereal like rice krispies or cornflakes but it won’t look as nest/twig like)
– Melt chocolate
– Mix melted chocolate and crushed shredded wheat
– Drop into cupcake cases and top with mini eggs. Let cool so chocolate hardens (you can use the fridge if you like).
Quick and easy chocolate Easter nests with Cadbury's mini eggs
You don’t have to use semi-sweet chocolate, dark chocolate or white chocolate works too! If you want to make mini chocolate nests you can use jelly beans in place of the chocolate mini eggs, Cute little chocolate Easter nests made in 10 minutes with just 3 ingredients

And…if you’re in the mood for a more elegant, shall we say adult Easter nest then try swapping out the shredded wheat for salted pretzel sticks and dark chocolate. Stop by your favorite chocolatier and pick up some fancier eggs and make dark chocolate salted pretzel nests for the grown ups!Elegant dark salted chocolate Easter nests

If you use the pretzel sticks you’ll want to put a little more effort into building the nest so the egg stays securely in place.
Dark chocolate covered salted pretzels made an elegant Easter dessert.

And I made a little 60-second video so you can see the nests being made. Paul suggested that I post this at a quiet time of the day in case I break the internet, he’s so sarcastic supportive.

Chocolate Easter Nests

  • Servings: 6 large nests or 12 small nests
  • Time: 10 minutes plus time in the fridge
  • Difficulty: a small child could do this with a little help melting the chocolate
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Ingredients:

2 cups of shredded wheat (~4.5 biscuits)
11 oz semi-sweet or white chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli)
18 Cadbury’s mini eggs (or your choice of chocolate/candy eggs)

Directions:

  1. Crush the shredded wheat. Post Shredded Wheat comes in handy little envelopes containing 3 biscuits. Punch the envelopes to crush the cereal without making a big mess.
  2. Melt the chocolate. Get all fancy with a bain marie (put a bowl over a simmering pan of water) or just blast in the microwave for 30 second increments giving it a good stir in between each blast. If your microwave is super powerful, try 15 second intervals.
  3. Stir in 2 cups of crushed shredded wheat into the melted chocolate.
  4. Divide the mixture between 6 cupcake cases. Use a small knife or teaspoon to make a little hollow in each nest
  5. Place 3 mini eggs upright in the hollow of each nest. Allow to cool and chocolate to harden (faster in the fridge)
  6. Leave in cases if you’ll be transporting to an Easter party or peel off the cases and set out on a platter with fluffy chicks!

Grown Up version:

Swap the chocolate for your favorite dark chocolate (I used Ghirardelli 70% dark chocolate) and use salted pretzel sticks in place of shredded wheat. You’ll likely use closer to 3 cups of pretzels as they don’t soak up the chocolate like the shredded wheat. If your fancy eggs from the chocolatier are larger, flatten out the cupcake cases to make larger nests. Place a spoonful of chocolate covered pretzel sticks in as a base and then add the egg. Carefully move around the nest adding the sticks to hold the egg in place.

Enjoy! Did you make anything similar growing up? What’s your nostalgic baking recipe?

How to make turkey stock


With all of the turkey meat used up in our Thanksgiving sandwiches and Thanksgiving turkey pie, I was left with a rather ginormous turkey carcass. I used to think making stock was complicated or there was some kind of mystery to it but it couldn’t be easier and once you’ve made your first batch of stock you’ll likely become a stock convert. There’s something strangely gratifying about taking a bunch of bones destined for the trashcan and turning them into a rich savory and nutritious liquid that’ll add so much depth and flavor to other dishes.

Here’s all you need to know:

1. Put meat bones in pot, add vegetables of choice (usually a peeled carrot, a stick of celery and a peeled and quartered onion), cover with water, simmer gently for as long as you like.
2. Strain, cool, remove fat from top if necessary. Season. Enjoy alone or in other dishes. 

And speaking of stock, is it stock? Broth? Bone broth? What’s the difference between broth and stock? Here’s the skinny thanks to the guys at Epicurious:
Broth – water simmered with vegetables, aromatics and meat for 45-2 hours. Results in a light, flavorful liquid, perfect for the base of a soup.
Stock – water simmered with vegetables, aromatics and bones (may be roasted, may still have meat on them) for 4-6 hours. Used to deglaze pans or as a base for a rich sauce or gravy.
Bone broth – somewhat of a hybrid of broth and stock. Water simmered with roasted bones (may still have meat attached) for a long time, up to 24 hours to extract the collagen, gelatin and nutritious minerals.

One final word about making stock – don’t think you can throw any old crap into the pot and boil away. Garbage in = Garbage out. So peel your carrots and onions, don’t use rotting vegetables and simmer it gently!
[Edited: there are also schools of thought that the peel on the vegetables adds to the flavor – try it both ways and see which you prefer!]

Here’s how I made turkey stock from our Thanksgiving turkey:

We had a 17lb turkey so that was a pretty big carcass, I didn’t want my stock to taste of the residual stuffing still inside the bird so I used just the legs (meat still attached), wings and breastbone. With a chicken, smaller turkey or non-stuffed turkey I would have just put the whole thing in the pot. I added a couple of carrots (peeled and cut in half), two celery sticks, a peeled and quartered onion, added enough water to cover the bones, popped on a little parchment paper lid (to prevent my stock from escaping) and left the whole thing on a low heat overnight.

Waking up to the rich scent of the broth made me want to eat soup for breakfast! Here’s what was waiting for me in the pot after around 10 hours of simmering on a low heat:

To strain the stock I find it’s easier to fish out as much of the solids/bones/vegetables as possible (otherwise your sieve gets stuck). You’ll see all of the stuff I removed (with tongs) on the left and what was left in the pot on the right. Some people would use the meat but I feel like it’s had all of the flavor and goodness cooked out of it at this point so it usually goes to the dogs.

Cheesecloth-lined sieve used to strain the stock, just ladle it in. As your cheesecloth or sieve starts to collect all of the little bone fragments and other stuff you might want to use a spoon to gently push them aside to let your golden stock filter through.

The stock went into the fridge to cool for a couple of hour and when it came out it was the consistency of wobbly jell-o (you can reduce it down further to make intense stock for soup dumplings but that’s another blog post for another day). You can see the little layer of yellow fat on the top which easily scrapes off with a spoon.

And that’s it! I ended up with about 6 cups of intensely rich turkey stock. 2 cups went in the freezer for future use and I used the remaining 4 cups to make a loosely-Asian-inspired soup (adding reserved shredded turkey meat, cooked ramen noodles, beansprouts, soy sauce, ponzu) served with more beansprouts, lime wedges and hot sauce on the side.

Tips for making stock:
– If roasting a chicken, buy a few extra wings or even a couple of legs to add to the pot with the chicken carcass for a richer stock
– Don’t boil your stock on a high heat, simmer it gently. At higher temperatures more volatile aroma and flavour compounds will be released, leaving a flatter-tasting stock
– You can add any aromatics to your stock – garlic, lemongrass, lemons, ginger, bay leaves, juniper, thyme or other herbs depending on what you plan to do with it.
– A fatty bird like a duck will likely give you quite a fatty stock. When you remove the thick layer of yellow fat from your cooled stock don’t throw it away! Roast a few peeled potatoes in it (you can also keep the fat in the freezer if you don’t have any potatoes on hand)
– Freeze your stock in recipe-appropriate portions, I usually have baggies of 1, 2 and 3 cups of stock in the freezer so I can grab the right size and not have to defrost too much.
– When freezing, lay your baggies flat until frozen, you can then store them upright and they don’t take up too much room. You can also snap off a piece of frozen stock if you don’t want the whole bag
– Consider skipping the final seasoning when freezing stock (just label it “unseasoned”), if you’re using it at a later date with other salty ingredients (bacon, parmesan etc) then you don’t have to worry about having an over-salted final dish.
– Use your flavorful stock for soups, sauces, stews, risottos and more.