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.
Healthy Comfort Food
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.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)