Thursday, August 4, 2011

What's Fresh

I had a friend over for dinner recently, and did something I never do: I didn't plan the menu ahead. I knew I was going to make some type of pasta dish, because it's fairly quick and very versatile, but otherwise I was going to wait and see what looked good at the farmer's market (which rather inconveniently, didn't open until 3 p.m. the day of the dinner.)

This isn't news to many of you, but if you use what's fresh and delicious, your meal will be too. So even without hours of putting together exactly the right pairings of recipes, and meticulously shopping for specific ingredients, we had the best dinner of the week by using what was most colorful at the market.

In a not-especially-European way, we started with a green salad and cheeses. We had picked up two local cow's cheeses - an aged gouda from Appel Farms and some incredible Pluvius from Willapa Hills Farmstead. Gimme somoooore please! The green salad was from an enormous head of specialty lettuce, of which I don't recall the name but whose leaves were large, arugula-shaped, and slightly bitter. With a diced fresh nectarine, some crunchy green bell pepper strips, sweetened-toasted sliced almonds, and a tangy balsamic vinaigrette, we probably could have ended our meal happy right there.


But that would leave our other produce market treasures longing for their turn in the the limelight - or was it lemonlight?

I have made this lemon-ginger fettucine for guests before, and something about it just seems incredibly unique to me. I don't know why, because lemon and ginger are a classic pair, as are ginger and carrot. Perhaps it's because ginger is such an Eastern ingredient and pasta is such a Western one? Or because carrot "ribbons" are an unexpected format for a usually diced, chopped, or shredded vegetable? In any case, unique or not, it is delicious. And since I've made it before, I know how to play with it, so below is the version I made this time.

For dessert, I made a batch of my plum wine sorbet (see "Middle Eastern Menu" entry for October 3, 2010). I still had some dough in the freezer for date-anise cookies and sugar cookies, so baked a sheet-ful of each of those for delightful and so-simple accompaniments. I love having home-made cookie dough in the freezer, so I can have a fresh-baked dessert for company with practically no effort.

Lemon-Ginger Fettucine with Carrots and Squashserves 4

1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
4 medium carrots plus green tops
1 pattypan squash (5-6 inches across)
8 ounces fettucine
1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Using a vegetable peeler, scrap carrots into thin "ribbon" strips - you can try to make them narrow to match the shape of the pasta, but I like them wide so they are colorful. Dice the sqaush into 3/4" cubes. Chop the carrot greens. (If you aren't able to get the whole carrots with the tops, use parsley instead.)

Melt the butter in a large skillet.
Cook pasta according to package directions. Stir in the zest and ginger. Add the carrots and squash, stirring to coat, and saute about 5 minutes over medium. If the pasta isn't ready yet, reduce heat to low to prevent butter from burning. When pasta is ready, use tongs to transfer the noodles to the skillet and toss with the vegetables. Stir in ricotta cheese, lemon juice, carrot greens, and reserved pasta cooking water (about 1/2 cup) to moisten the mixture. Heat everything through completely and stir to mix well and make a creamy sauce. Season with cracked pepper and serve sprinkled generously with parmesan.

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