It is somewhat ironic that today I am posting a vegetarian recipe, since I started working for a meat and poultry vendor at the farmers’ market last weekend. How’s that for timing?
Answer: pretty bad. But I’ve been trying to cook meatless meals one or two nights a week, and when I do cook with meat, I want it to be fresh, flavorful and ethically raised. Hence, why I’m working for EcoFriendly Foods a few weekends a month; all of their animals are raised humanely on small family farms in the Shenandoah Valley.
When it comes to meatless meals, though, I need a dish that can compete — something that doesn’t make me feel like, “Ugh, it’s vegetarian night again” and wish I were grilling sausages instead. That’s where this pasta comes in.
It’s another Lidia Bastianich recipe, which in her book is paired with a type of homemade pasta called strangozzi. I did not have time to make fresh pasta, so I just used pappardelle — a somewhat random choice, but it’s what I had on hand, and it worked.
The almond sauce is basically a pesto — basil, a little mint, some garlic, toasted almonds and olive oil. You whir it together in a food processor and add it to the cooked pasta with some Swiss chard you’ve sauteed in olive oil with garlic and pepperocino.
Now, I’m pretty fussy about mint. For me, it can go either way. But in this dish it totally works. You can barely taste it — basil is still the predominate flavor — but it adds a bright, fresh element to the sauce. And the toasted almonds add a richness that stamps out any notion this meal is some sort of sacrifice. In fact, there are times I crave the light, fresh taste of this dish more than anything else. (more…)
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There’s no easy way to put this, so I’m just going to come out and say it: I have a massive crush on Lidia Bastianich.
Yes, she is 63 years old. Yes, her show on PBS lacks the glossy finesse of shows on the Food Network. And no, she isn’t afraid of cheese or butter. But I love her approach to cooking, and her latest cookbook is full of so many easy, approachable recipes that I’ve barely touched another cookbook since I bought it.
The opening to each chapter of the book reads like a memoir with a dash of cultural history. This pasta recipe, for example, comes from the Abruzzo region of Italy, and we learn at the beginning of the chapter that it was here that Lidia met the so-called “madman of cheese,” who makes the best pecorino and ricotta she’s ever eaten. Her voice is so conversational and passionate that I eat up her narrative just as fast as I eat up her food.
Not all of the recipes are simple. There’s the Ligurian “Cima” (veal breast stuffed with eggs and vegetables) and all sorts of homemade pastas. But then there are recipes like this one — Farro Pasta with Arugula and Ricotta — that take minimal effort and yield delicious results.
The key to this dish — and many of the recipes in her book — is using top-notch ingredients: fresh ricotta, good olive oil and tender arugula, the latter of which seems to be all over the farmers’ market these days. Another important ingredient is the farro pasta, a favorite in the Abruzzo region, which you can find at some Whole Foods markets and online (I used whole-grain VitaSpelt spaghetti, which is similar to farro pasta).
The dish is so simple — it requires almost no cooking — and yet the results are wonderful. The nutty farro, creamy ricotta, peppery arugula, and salty pecorino come together in what ends up being a filling and nutritious country-style meal. I bet if you make this, you’ll end up having a crush on Lidia too.
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