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

Riffs on avocado toast

Avocado toast with different topping ideasWhat can possibly be written about avocado toast that hasn’t already been written elsewhere? Along with smoothie bowls, poke, cupcakes and pizza, it’s one of the most popular foods on Instagram. Avocado toast also been named the most annoying food in Instagram 😉

At it’s most basic, you just mash or slice half an avocado onto a slice of toast. Boom. To prevent the avocado browning too quickly and to brighten up the flavor I like to squeeze in the juice of half a lime, Maldon sea salt, pepper and a tiny splash of good olive oil. Maybe some red pepper flakes if I’m feeling spicy.

basic avocado toast

  • Servings: 1 piece of toast
  • Time: 5 minutes
  • Difficulty: ridiculously easy
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Ingredients:
Your choice of toasted bread
1/2 ripe avocado
1 lime
1 tsp good olive oil
Salt (preferably Maldon sea salt) & Pepper (preferably fresh ground black pepper)

Directions:
1. Scoop the avocado flesh out of the skin (remove the pit)
2. Squeeze in as much or as little lime juice as you like, I like mine fairly citrusy so I usually use the juice of half a lime
3. Add the olive oil, sprinkle of salt and pepper
4. Mash the avocado with a fork – as smooth or as chunky as you like
5. Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed
6. Spread on hot toast (or bread or crackers)
7. Add additional toppings – see topping ideas below

Different ideas for avocado toast toppings
If you’re an avocado toast aficionado, here are a few topping suggestions to take your toast to the next level. And of course, you can easily combine toppings – red onion, tomato and cayenne and you’re almost at guacamole toast!

Avocado toast topping ideas (from left to right by row):
1. Slices of red fresno chili
2. Sprinkle of cayenne pepper
3. Sliver of jalapeno
4. Diced red onion
5. Sweet cherry tomato
6. Maldon sea salt and pink peppercorns
7. Drops of sriracha
8. Extra lime juice
9. Crunchy red radish

Did I mention avocado is good for you? Half an avocado contains around 150 calories but most of that is made up of heart-healthy, cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated fat.

And….because it’s Cinco de Mayo tomorrow and maybe you’ll have a few avocados laying around after making your toast, here’s a bonus recipe – my favorite chunky guacamole recipe:Chunky fresh guacamole with hot chile

Think of this as a loose starting point. If you’re a huge onion fan, add more! If you can’t stand cilantro (me!), then skip it. If you like a mild guacamole, skip the fresh chile or maybe just add a little mild anaheim chile. If you like it hot then graduate to a jalapeno or even habanero. Check out the range of heat in various chiles here.

Quick and Chunky Guacamole

  • Servings: 4 as a snack
  • Time: 10-15 mins
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:
2 perfectly ripe avocados
2 limes (ideally at room temperature for more juice)
1-2 garlic cloves – crushed in garlic press or finely sliced
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp finely diced red onion
1 tomato diced
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Your choice of fresh chile – anaheim, serrano, jalapeno, habanero
Small bunch of cilantro (if you like it) – washed and finely chopped

If you want a more authentic approach then you’d want to get your hands on a molcajete (a large pestle and mortar made of volcanic rock) to grind your garlic, salt and onion into a paste, but this is the quick and easy version so…

Directions:
1. With the palm of your hands, roll the limes back and forth on the counter a few times, this will give you more juice. Cut the limes in half and squeeze all the juice into a bowl.
2. Cut the avocado in half lengthways, remove the pit. Scoop out the avocado flesh and add it to the lime juice. You’ll have giant chunks of avocado at this point. Toss in the lime juice to prevent browning.
3. Add the minced garlic, diced tomato, red onion, cayenne pepper, salt, and cilantro (reserve a little cilantro for garnish)
4. Finely chop the fresh chile if using. Use gloves if you have them or even a fork to hold your chile while you chop it (if you have chile oils on your fingers and then touch your eyes or mouth you will be in pain!), remove the seeds (unless you REALLY like heat) and add to bowl.
5. Toss ingredients and then use a sharp knife to loosely chop the avocado while in the mix, I like fairly big chunks, if you want a smoother guacamole you can use a fork to mash.
6. Taste the guacamole and adjust to your taste – more salt? more cayenne? Transfer into serving dish and sprinkle with extra cilantro.

Serve with warm corn tortilla chips. Ideally you’ll want to eat the guacamole immediately. If you need to eat it a little later you can cover the surface tightly with plastic wrap and store in the fridge. Note that the heat from the chile will intensify the longer you leave it. You can also save one of the avocado pits and add it to the guacamole to (allegedly) reduce browning, remember to remove it before serving!

Quick and easy chunky guacamole with warm corn tortilla chips

Perfect with a cold cerveza or margarita!