Lizzard Loves Blue Sky Snow Covered Vail

Sunday, March 16, 2014

I love "springing forward" and spring food

I love the first signs of spring. 

Lizzard Loves signs of spring
Daylight Savings Time is one of those signs; the light in the evening has been such a mood booster for the past week. Our 50+ degree days with sunshine haven't hurt either. Admittedly these days have been interrupted with snow and overnight lows in the teens, but I am not letting that get me down!

It makes me laugh every time I see Chicagoans wearing shorts when the mercury rises above 50 degrees for the first time each spring. I tell myself "only in Chicago" but I wonder - do other Midwestern cities react with similarly misplaced joy?? Please note, I am as thrilled as the next person to have the sun shine on my bare face - but 52 degrees does not shorts weather make :)

Lizzard Loves signs of spring
Another sure sign of Spring? My favorite little monkeys busting out their bikes (while one was wearing snow pants- but that is not getting him down- so why would I worry about it?)

The running around the city without coats on is another surefire way of knowing warmer weather has arrived (see top of the post for that photo :). I love spending time outside with my nephews; but the polar vortexes made it pretty difficult to enjoy the outdoors in January & February. Thank goodness March has brought weather warm enough to play outside!
Lizzard Loves signs of spring

Perhaps the best indicator of impending springtime is seen in my kitchen. I am quick to look for recipes that are brightly colored and chock full of fresh veggies like peas and asparagus. Admittedly, my desire to celebrate the first signs of elusive springtime weather in Chicago precedes the availability of local asparagus and other delicious spring veggies at the farmers market. Sometimes I need to buy produce from California. There, I admitted it.

Last week's effort at a new recipe was a success. I adapted the recipe below from Veggie Num Num (find their delicious recipe here). Neither Chris nor I are vegetarian or vegan , so it wasn't important to me to follow the recipe exactly as it was written. The adjustments I made were both for flavor & our current eating habits. Feel free to omit the chicken for a vegan recipe! I know we will eat this dish in a meatless version at some point; whether for a Meatless Monday or a Friday during Lent, or just because we often make an effort to eat less meat.

Pasta with Spinach, Avocado & Pea Pesto
Makes 5-6 servings
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
2 cup English peas (I used the ones in Trader Joe's refrigerated case)
1.5 avocados 
3 cup baby spinach
4 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt & black pepper, to taste

10 oz package penne, rotini, or pasta of your choice. I used buckwheat spaghetti because its what I had in the pantry.

12 oz fresh haricot verts (French green beans). I bought them at Trader Joe's, Costco also sells them. Feel free to substitute (or just add) peas, asparagus, or other veggies you like. Regular green beans would be just fine here- I like how thin the haricot verts are.

2 cups reserved cooking liquid from the pasta (just in case)

1/8 - 1/4 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped  (for garnish)

1/2 cup baby spinach leaves (for garnish)

8-10 oz cooked chicken breast (I didn't have time to prep the chicken the night I made this- so I bought the precooked chicken breast at Trader Joe's. I don't like it nearly as much as chicken cooked at home, but I was in a bind & used what was available. This recipe would be a great way to repurpose leftover chicken from another meal!)

1. Set a large pasta pot with at least 6 quarts of water on the stove to boil.

2. While you wait for the pasta water to boil; bring 3 cups of water to boil in a small pot. Add the peas, cook for 1-2 minutes. Drain & set aside to cool.

3. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Scoop out your 2 cups of cooking water before you drain the pasta. Dump the pasta back into the cooking pot to keep it warm. Or use this kind of pot (I have it & love it).

4. Cut the haricot verts in half or thirds, depending on your preference. Place the beans in a steamer basket. Cover the bottom of a pan with an inch or 2 of water. Add the steamer basket to the pan, cover & turn the heat to medium high. Steam the beans for approximately 8 minutes, turn off the heat and leave the pan covered to allow the beans to finish cooking.

5. While the beans are cooking, you have time to make your sauce. (I used my VitaMix to make the sauce, but a regular blender should be able to do the trick too!) Toss the spinach, roughly chopped walnuts, peeled garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, avocados, and a generous pinch of kosher salt into the pitcher of your blender. Pulse until the mixture turns to liquid and then puree until it is smooth. If you are struggling to get it to blend, add more lemon juice & olive oil in small increments until it is loose enough to puree. Should you have a VitaMix, feel free to toss a 1/4 of a lemon in instead of just the juice. I removed the outer peel because I didn't feel like scrubbing it. I picked out the seeds I could see before adding it.

6. Add the beans, cooked chicken, and sauce to the pasta pot (where your cooked pasta should be patiently waiting). Turn the heat to low and toss the ingredients to combine them. If the sauce is too thick to coat the pasta well, add the reserved liquid 1/4 cup at a time until you reach your desired consistency.

7. If you are feeling fancy, pour the pasta into a serving dish & garnish with the walnuts & spinach leaves. If it is a regular weeknight; portion the pasta into bowls & garnish it there :) The walnuts do add a nice crunch - so don't skip this step!

8. Once you've enjoyed the fruits of your cooking labors & are cleaning up the kitchen - cover & refrigerate any leftover cooking liquid from the pasta. If you plan to eat this dish warm again; add a couple of tablespoons of the liquid before you warm it up to ensure it doesn't dry out! I assume this would be a delicious cold dish, but given the snowstorm that visited Chicago the day after I made this dish; I ate the leftovers warm.
Lizzard Loves the color, texture and taste of this pasta.

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