In the introduction to the Summer chapter of my cookbook Whole Grain Mornings, I talked about my approach to summer cooking — how it should be easy and effortless. How ironic it is that with all of the beautiful produce and fruit in the markets, summer meals are usually the ones that feel the most haphazard and thrown together. I used to get down on myself about this, wondering why I never took advantage of all the beautiful squashes and tomatoes and fresh herbs, making more complex meals or interesting new recipes. Instead I often rely on simple dinners of sliced tomatoes, cheese and good bread or big leafy salads with homemade buttermilk dressing. Dessert is often a simple bowl of berries or a scoop (or two) of homemade ice cream. I think moving to Seattle a few years ago changed the way I think about summer cooking. I’m no longer hard on myself or set any major expectations for kitchen goals or recipes to tackle. When it’s light until 9 or 10 p.m. and you happen to have the warmest June on record, the picnic table in the backyard is too inviting to pass up and standing at the stove can … wait. Plus, what better way to celebrate all of the beautiful summer produce than doing very little to it and letting it speak for itself?
That’s what this Summer Squash Pasta with Ricotta Pesto and Tomatoes is all about: simple, delicious, summer “cooking.” We’ve eaten this twice a week now for the past few weeks, mixing up the add-ins and the type of pesto — some nights making a cashew pesto, other nights experimenting with a kale and arugula version. This recipe today uses a creamy, summer-worthy ricotta pesto and fresh little grape tomatoes. It doesn’t require any cooking and, this past week, we discovered on a rather impromptu trip to Orcas Island that it’s easy to make on the road, too. And even more satisfying, perhaps. One of the things I most love about this blog is the way I can look back through the seasons and years and glean a sense of what that time felt like for me, judging by the food I was eating, the things I was baking, the stories I was telling. If there is just one recipe that will speak to the way we ate this summer, this is it: We can’t get enough.
I first got the idea for these summer squash “noodles” from Kimberly Hasselbrink’s book, Vibrant Food. She has a recipe for the squash cloaked in a Green Goddess dressing and I bookmarked it and began experimenting with the noodles as more of a template, using different sauces and a variety of vegetables and cheeses. I know many of you are staring down a glut of zucchini or summer squash right about now — or will be in a few weeks — and I can’t imagine a better way to use it up.
As for the pesto in this recipe, it is from Nina Plank’s The Real Food Cookbook that I mentioned in my last post. I’ve been excited to dive into one of her recipes and out of all the simple main dishes and beautiful salads, this creamy ricotta pesto is the first thing that spoke to me. It’s a nut/seed-free pesto which originally had me skeptical, wanting to add walnuts or cashews, but I trust Nina so I made it just as written (except I did use walnut oil in my version instead of olive oil). Pesto purists would likely call it more of a creamy basil sauce than a true pesto — and they’d probably be right. Regardless, it’s a little slice of summer in a bowl.
The pesto is super versatile: it’s wonderful as a dip for fresh vegetables, a creamy sauce for pasta, a spread for sandwiches — we’ve even mixed a little into soft scrambled eggs. And we discovered recently that it also travels well. As I mentioned, we snuck away to Orcas Island mid-week for a little getaway. In truth, the land of wedding planning was feeling a little tense and we needed to get away from our desks and lists and email. We stayed in a little cabin at Doe Bay (I can’t wait to return and stay in a yurt!) where we read a lot on the porch, soaked in the hot springs, and had lazy mornings the likes of which I haven’t seen in some time. They looked a lot like these photos: foggy and cool, coffee in hand.
Around noon, the fog would burn off to reveal stunningly blue skies and we’d pick up and stumble into the day. We hiked Turtleback Ridge, drove to the top of Mount Constitution, and rented paddle boats at Moran State Park. There was ice cream and naps and a lot of quiet. We both settled in so quickly that we ended up booking one additional night because we couldn’t bear to head home just yet.
As for food, our cabin had a little, tiny kitchen and we brought some things along with us: coffee, fruit, eggs, bacon, bread, and ingredients for this zucchini pasta (I told you: dedication!) We also explored a bit on the island: While I’m a loyal convert of the quiche at Cafe Besalu here in Seattle, I think the quiche at Brown Bear Bakery trumps it. And the wood fired pizzas at Hogstone were delicious after a long day in the sun.
But, really the highlight was the noodles and the quiet time away. The picture below is from the picnic table right outside our cabin. We did well with the Prosecco that night, and decided to add bacon to our squash pasta (goooood idea!). I hope you like the recipe and I hope you’re finding a chance to sneak away for a hike or drive or ice cream cone this summer, too.
For the Pesto:
For the "Pasta":
To make the pesto: Place all ingredients in the food processor and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning as you see fit.
To make the “pasta”: Slice the squash into very thin strips using a mandolin, julienne slicer, or spiralizer (see note below). If you’d prefer, use a vegetable peeler for wider, thin strips. Place squash in a medium bowl and toss with salt. Place squash in a colander and let sit for 25 minutes, allowing the excess water to start to drain away. Using a clean kitchen towel or your hands, work in batches to squeeze the moisture away from the squash. Place in a medium serving bowl.
Toss zucchini noodles with 1/2 cup ricotta pesto. Fold in tomatoes and parsley. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if you’d like. This salad is best served the day that it’s made; I like to serve it immediately with crusty bread and cold wine, preferably outdoors.
Note: I broke down and bought a spiralizer last month to help make little veggie noodles. I was hesitant at first because we really don’t need any new kitchen appliances or tools, but it’s relatively inexpensive and we’ve been loving it. Alternatively, you can certainly use a mandolin or julienne slicer.
Winter Comfort Food
I intended on baking holiday cookies to share with you today, but when I sat down to brainstorm all I could think about, truly, was the morning porridge I've been making and how that's really what I wanted to send you away with. The holiday season always seems to zoom on by at its own clip with little regard for how most of us wish it would just slow down, and this year feels like no exception. We got our tree last week and I've been making a point to sit in the living room and admire the twinkle as much as possible. I have lofty goals of snowflakes and gingerbread men and stringing cranberries and popcorn, but I'm also trying to get comfortable with the fact that everything may not get done, and that sitting amongst the twinkle is really the most important. That and a warm breakfast before the day spins into gear. This multi-grain porridge has proved to be a saving grace on busy weekday mornings, and it reheats beautifully so I've been making a big pot and bringing it to work with some extra chopped almonds and fresh pomegranate seeds. While cookies are certainly on the horizon, I think I'll have this recipe to thank for getting us through the busy days ahead.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
If I asked you about what you like to cook at home when the week gets busy, I'm willing to bet it might be something simple. While there are countless websites and blogs and innumerable resources to find any kind of recipe we may crave, it's often the simple, repetitive dishes that we've either grown up with or come to love that call to us when cooking (or life in general) seems overwhelming or when we're feeling depleted. While my go-to is typically breakfast burritos or whole grain bowls, this Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard would make one very fine, very doable house meal on rotation. The adaptations are endless, and its made from largely pantry ingredients. I never thought I'd hop on the cauliflower "rice" bandwagon, but I have to say after making it a few times, I get the hype.
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
It's been a uniformly gray and rainy week in Seattle, and I'd planned on making a big pot of salmon chowder to have for the weekend, but then the new issue of Bon Appetit landed on my doorstep with that inviting "Pies for Dinner" cover, and I started to think about how long it's been since I made my very favorite recipe from my cookbook, Whole Grain Mornings. I'm often asked at book events which recipe I love most, and it's a tough one to answer because I have favorites for different moods or occasions, but I'd say that this savory tart is right up there. The cornmeal millet crust is one of my party tricks; when we need a quick brunch recipe, this is what I pull out of my back pocket because it's so simple and delicious. This is a no-roll, no fuss crust with a slightly sandy, crumbly texture thanks to the cornmeal, and a delightful crunch from the millet. In the past, I've used the crust and custard recipe as the base for any number of fillings: on The Kitchn last year, I did a version with greens and gruyere, and I teach cooking classes that often include a version heavy on local mushrooms and shallot. So if you are not keen on salmon or have some vegetables you're looking to use up this week, feel free to fold in whatever is inspiring you right now. Sometimes at this point in winter that can be hard, so hopefully this recipe may help a little.