Tag Archives: Pasta

Penne con la zucca

People ask me: “Why do you write about food, and eating, and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way the others do?”… the easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry.
~ M. F. K. Fisher

Penne con la zucca. I love it. Everything about it. Its name, for one – “zucca” (Italian) sounds so classy and exciting – everything its English equivalent, “pumpkin”, is not. I don’t know about you, but the only time I’ve thought the word “pumpkin” sounded remotely exciting was when I was a kid reading “Cinderella” – and even then, it only got to be her coach for a few precious hours.

I discovered this magic recipe for penne con la zucca through the equally magic Google today, while looking for ways to dress up my pumpkin wedge for lunch. I hadn’t read even half of François-Xavier’s post before I ran into the kitchen with my laptop…

The rain coursed down the kitchen window like a slow tear running down a woman’s cheeks as I wiped my wet eyes (from working with a potent onion) and chopped the pumpkin into clumsy matchsticks.

It was very easy to cook, even easier to eat… the epitome of comfort. I like it best when food makes you at once alert and entirely caught offguard… this did exactly that for me.

Think warm, soft and caramelised pumpkin strips; sweet, lightly browned onion; wintry cinnamon and nutmeg; melting parmesan flecks; fresh black pepper and pasta al dente. It reminded me of a monkey’s wedding. Abstract, I know :-)

I modified the recipe a little, omitting the cream, adding garlic and cinnamon, and I loved it. I have no doubt the original version of this recipe is delicious too! This dish took around 30 minutes to cook, including preparation time.

On his blog, François-Xavier says that penne con la zucca is one of his “10 best pasta recipes”… I think it may just become one of my favourites too.

Happy Easter, everyone!

    Penne pasta, or any short, tubular, dry pasta – 1 serving
    1 tbsp butter, or 2 tbsp olive oil
    1 large onion
    2 cloves garlic
    350g fresh pumpkin (approximately)
    Parmesan cheese (I used grated)
    Nutmeg (fresh if possible, I used packet)
    Black pepper
    Peel and cut the onion in half, then slice thinly. Smash, peel and mince the garlic cloves. Set aside.
    Peel the pumpkin and remove the soft flesh and seeds in the middle. Chop into thin matchsticks.
    Heat the butter in a skillet, add the onion and sauté over medium-high heat until the onion is soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and the chopped pumpkin, and mix.
    Lower the temperature to medium-low and cook for approximately 20 minutes until the onions and pumpkin are well soft. Adjust the heat as necessary. When it is nearly cooked, add in the cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper. Mix and leave aside.
    In a very large pot, throw in some salt and pour in some water – bring the water to a rolling boil, then add in the penne and cook for a minute or two less than the cooking time stated on the box or packet.
    Drain the pasta, replace it in the hot saucepan and add in the pumpkin sauce. Mix well – the heat from the saucepan and sauce will finish ‘cooking’ the pasta. Add in the parmesan and extra seasoning if needed. Serve immediately.
    Yields one serving.

Pasta spirals with leek, mushrooms, and buffalo mozzarella

If only we’d stop trying to be happy we could have a pretty good time.
~ Edith Wharton

Hi. Cooking inspiration levels have been low, as you may have picked up from the lack of cooking posts on this blog – but a crack of sunshine rained down on me at my first walk to the supermarket here. I came home and made something that was not scrambled eggs or yoghurt in a bowl! Also, I bought my first ever tub of buffalo mozzarella and I fear there may be a repeat of this incident in the not-so-distant future :-O

Tonight’s dinner was simple, but nice nevertheless – and I do feel better than I did yesterday… cooking must do for me what shopping does for some people! I now look forward to hosting a dinner party or something sometime soon…

Anyway, my eyes are hurting from a long day of staring at the screen at work… so bye and hope you are all having a great Monday there!

PS. My friend Rosie has started a yummy blog! Yay! Go check it out

    Pasta spirals with leek, mushrooms, and buffalo mozzarella
    Olive oil
    2 cloves garlic
    100ml white wine
    1 leek
    2 flat mushrooms
    1/2 lemon
    1 tsp sugar
    Dried basil
    Chilli flakes
    Buffalo mozzarella – however much you want, sliced into circles
    Tri-colour pasta spirals, or pasta of your choice
    Heat a saucepan of water over medium-high heat, and add in a few teaspoons of salt. Bring the water to a rolling boil, then add in enough pasta for you.
    Meanwhile, smash, peel and chop the garlic cloves. Separate the leaves from the stem of the leek, discard the leaves and slice the stem into rings. Clean the mushrooms with a damp cloth and slice them. Zest the lemon half and retain the lemon for use later.
    Dribble some olive oil in a small skillet, set it over medium-low heat and swirl the pan around to spread the oil around the base. When the oil is sufficiently warmed, add in the garlic – watch it sizzle. Once you can smell the garlic, add in the leek rings and white wine and saute for 2 minutes. Add in the mushrooms, a spoonful of sugar, a shake of chilli flakes and the lemon zest, and continue to fry – adjust the heat if necessary. Add in a pinch of dried basil, rubbing it between your fingers as you go. When the vegetables are cooked and the wine has nearly evaporated, squeeze in the lemon juice and turn off the heat. You can add in the buffalo mozzarella at this point, though I chose to decorate my plate with it instead!
    When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain it and put it on a plate. Add the vegetables and buffalo mozzarella (if you haven’t yet added it into the pan), and serve immediately. Great with a shivering glass of white wine!
    Yields one serving.

It’s pasta weather

Life is a combination of magic and pasta.
~ Fellini

Image from here

I didn’t plan for this, but I am having a Week of Pasta. Lots and lots of pasta. Yes, even for breakfast. Penne, fusilli, spaghetti… don’t you love the fact that pasta comes in all shapes and sizes? I sure do. This is also one reason I sometimes think pasta is more fun than rice.

The other night, 8 us partook of pizza, wine and pasta at Cosa Nostra. Some of us were meeting for the first time (brought together by G coming to visit and hosting this dinner) – but we duly introduced ourselves and had a jolly time. It was too good to sprinkle dainty shreds of parmesan on my plate, twirl spaghetti alla puttanesca around my fork, taste the salty anchovies and olives in a sweet tomato base… it was a huge plate of spaghetti and I was regretfully unable to finish it.

Since then, though, I haven’t wanted to stop cooking pasta. Pasta has been present on my stove, in my bowl; clinging loosely to my fork, beckoning always from the cupboard. It’s odd and great at once. I’ve been dressing my pasta with a variety of concoctions involving garlic (of course), lanky asparagus, roughly chopped vine-ripened tomatoes, bright shiny capsicum, neutral zucchini, sweet baby peas, mellow red wine, parmesan flakes and basil.

I make no fancy restaurant pasta, but I enjoy it. I walk in to the kitchen, pour the pasta into a saucepan of salted boiling water, chop the vegetables and make some form of pasta dressing in the time the pasta takes to cook – et voilà, 12 minutes later, the dish is done. And it is wonderful.

Food is powerful, I think, in evoking moods and memories; in touching the layers of one’s soul. Sometimes, while chopping up tomatoes, I think about the way my Granddad taught me to eat fresh tomato wedges with sugar on top. When I add sweet basil on my finished pasta, I think about my failed attempts at growing fresh herbs (sigh!). As I twirl my spaghetti, I can’t help but feel a sense of joy because while I can only make vague attempts at cooking real Italian food, the essence of Italian food itself speaks to me of family, of tradition, of seasons, of a feeling of wealth, of laughter, of living. I enjoy it when I am happiest, and it is like a friend to me when I am not as happy.

Oh, the multi-layered, complex language of Food that transcends anything I could hope to describe in one blog post!

I hope you are having a beautiful weekend, wherever you are.

Affirmation pasta

Little by little, one travels far.
~ J R R Tolkien

I ate this for breakfast today, and named it Affirmation Pasta because this name floated firmly into my head and I can think of no alternative.

Hope you are all having a glorious Monday!

    Affirmation pasta
    2 cloves garlic
    1/2 zucchini, thinly sliced on the diagonal
    1/4 cup frozen baby peas
    3 shakes of the fusilli carton (or enough pasta for you)
    a pinch of dried mint
    a sprig of fresh basil
    olive oil
    shaved parmesan
    black pepper
    Heat a saucepan of water over medium-high heat, and add in a few teaspoons of salt. Bring the water to a rolling boil, then add in enough pasta for you.
    Meanwhile, smash, peel and chop the garlic cloves and prepare your vegetables. Dribble some olive oil in a small skillet, set it over medium-low heat and swirl the pan around to spread the oil around the base. When the oil is sufficiently warmed, add in the garlic – watch it sizzle. Once you can smell the garlic, add in the zucchini slices and saute them for 2-3 minutes. Add in a pinch of dried mint, rubbing them between your fingers as you go. Finally, add in the frozen baby peas, and cook for 2 minutes. Stir occasionally so nothing burns!
    When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain it and put it on a plate. Pour the vegetables on top, then add the parmesan and torn basil leaves. Add a sprinkle of salt and black pepper… serve immediately.
    Yields one serving.

Honey Pie

If music be the food of love, play on.
~ Shakespeare

This afternoon, I went with my flatmate Jono to Old St Paul’s for their lunchtime concert… City Jazz today! As they performed “Honey Pie” I thought… they might as well have been feeding me honey pie… their music was delicious food for the soul. Especially loved their very lively rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In”, and one song which brought to mind a carnival of camels, Middle Eastern skies and magic carpets. Loved taking in the exquisite talent of the men performing, their enthusiasm, the wonderful sounds, harmonies and rhythm; heck I even loved the stained glass windows of the church in the background!

I think I’m a little crazy too. Last night, I was sooooo sleepy in French class that I later found I had squiggled “21/1/06” all over my notes… yet, once I got home I was energised at the thought of cooking – and not even a mini kitchen disaster could send me to bed until the dish was done.

It all went well at first – obviously, at nearly 9pm I was hungry – so dinner was in order, and it took the form of linguine with zucchini, garlic, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, dried oregano, fresh parsley, salt, pepper, parmesan – so far so good…

But then I thought I’d make milk tart – well, the tart tin that my Dad gave to me was too shallow for this. When I took my pastry (which has to be pre-baked before the filling goes in) out from the oven, I found to my dismay that the pastry alone took up pretty much all the space… so I had to dig out the pastry and transfer it to a cake tin which was still not the right size, but at least had higher sides? Now let me tell you, this did not look pretty – and it did not feel good! The pretty scalloped edges were also ruined! I then poured the custardy filling on top of the now ugly pastry – a little disheartened, to say the least, as the pastry and custard would have been so fine in the right-sized tart tin.

I did some chores and reading while my eyes burned and I waited for the milk tart to finish baking. Midnight came and went, and it was around this time that (1) I realised I must be crazy, (2) the milk tart was ready, (3) I stumbled into bed praying that I wouldn’t sleep through my two alarm clocks and be late for work.

Anyway, this is a horrendously busy week for me – and not just because I am doing crazy things like cooking when I am sleepy, so I should get to bed. Goodnight!

PS. The milk tart doesn’t taste like a complete disaster, but there is still plenty of room for improvement with this one!

Magical leek pasta

How do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
~ Rodgers and Hammerstein, The Sound of Music

“Pity those who don’t love the sweet taste and delicate texture of leeks. Eventually, you probably will,” writes Madame Mireille Guiliano, author of “French Women Don’t Get Fat”. I remember well the initial revulsion I felt when I first read her recipe for magical leek soup… yeesh! I could not imagine anyone trying to eat leeks cooked in nothing but its own juice and some water.

I did try ‘magical leek soup’, but ended up adding a whole lot of ingredients to it, thus arriving at a soup I wouldn’t recommend to anyone trying to lose weight :-)

I have indeed come to enjoy this fragrant vegetable though, on the few occasions I now eat it (none of my flatmates over the last few years have liked leeks at all, unfortunately, so I’ve tried not to cook them for dinners).

I bought myself a leek last night, and bore it home triumphantly. I had leek, lemon and herb pasta for breakfast today… and I have to say it was pretty good!

Basically, I washed, drained and chopped about a third of a leek, fried the leek rings with some handy garlic butter I had in my freezer, salt, pepper, thyme sprigs, fresh rosemary – and sprinkled in lemon zest and lemon juice shortly before they were done. This went on top of some linguine I cooked till al dente.

I was faintly regretful that I had such a hearty breakfast when we got to Westpac Stadium for the Food Show this afternoon… seriously, gluttony is not to be envied in the slightest.

Jeremy, John and I spent a good few hours traipsing through the stadium with lots of people, sampling limoncellos, Fair trade coffee, gourmet avocado oil, chocolate, Manuka-smoked chicken, who knows what else… some of the food tasted great, others I frankly wouldn’t feed to my worst enemies. I also didn’t enjoy the crowds, to be honest! I ended up just buying 2 packets of Gravity plunger coffee which I shall look forward to using with my new colleagues.

Oh yes, and there were some pretty amazing birthday cakes on display too… check out this Alice one! Gorgeous, no?

Finally, Nish and I went to try Cosa Nostra Trattoria on Tinakori Road tonight. I always love hanging out with Nish anyway, whatever we end up doing or talking about – but I also love the fact that we both dig good food. Cosa Nostra is delicious, homely, rustic, warm, with the most friendly staff you could ask for – exactly what we needed on this cold wet night. She had spaghetti with seafood, chilli, garlic; and I had ricotta-stuffed tortellini with a creamy ham and mushroom sauce. I made the mistake of thinking I could eat dessert too… though the tiramisu was smile-inducing (a mascarpone, espresso, fairytale melt-in-the-mouth affair) – I had to take some of it home.

Haidee and I are planning to check out City Market tomorrow (I was inspired by Millie of a very delicious blog, Gusty Gourmet)… afterwhich I think I might suggest to Mr. Food that we break up for awhile while I start dating Mr. Exercise…

Cosa Nostra – 324 Tinakori Road, Thorndon, Wellington – Phone: 04 473 3005

The sweetest spears

One word, in this place, respecting asparagus. The young shoots of this plant, boiled, are the most unexceptionable form of greens with which I am acquainted.
~ William Andrus Alcott, The Young House-keeper

I love the pure, magnificent sweetness of fruits and vegetables. Oh, I do adore the golden spark of chocolate chip cookies and smooth decadence of berry cheesecake… but there is something so honest and good about earth’s bounty that sets it apart from anything flavoured/modified/processed.

A crunchy asparagus spear, for instance, is like a springtime shower to me. Fresh. Playful. Invigorating.

I chewed on one such stalk while cooking a slightly modified version of this dish from Tessa Kiros’ “Falling Cloudberries” tonight:
#47 Linguini with Asparagus & Prawns – Page 293

Modifications: I adjusted the quantities of ingredients to make half the amount of pasta, and used frozen cooked prawns instead of raw prawns, spaghetti instead of linguini, and port instead of brandy.

Hey, asparagus puree makes a good sauce base.

If tonight’s dinner was a musical, thyme was the soundtrack. The fresh thyme sprigs smelled amazing in this dish. I stood stirring and humming in the kitchen, bending down every so often to draw in a deep breath, eyes closed, head slightly woozy from its sweet, distinctive fragrance.

If I ever master the elusive technique of growing green things successfully, I will plant a herb garden. One thing I’ve discovered through this cook-through project is the absolute magic of fresh herbs. I can liken my fresh herb experience to the day I first tasted a chocolate truffle from a chocolatier. It seemed ridiculous that I had once been utterly satisfied with chocolate bars from the supermarket.

Oh, and prawns! I love prawns. Grandma’s prawns fried with chilli and black sauce. Prawn dim-sum in Chinese restaurants. Prawn tapas. All seafood, actually, is heavenly – the French apparently call it fruits de mer – ‘fruits of the sea’ – a gorgeous expression, don’t you think? Anyway, a bag of lovely pink prawns went into this dish… delightful.

The result was a sweet palatable pasta dish, simple, light and satisfying. All turned out well considering the fact that my first lot of pasta, in my carelessness, scalded me and disappeared down the insinkerator because I didn’t grasp the pot firmly while draining the water out. Tips: 1. Always keep spare pasta in the pantry. 2. When draining cooked pasta, hold on tight to that pot or use a sieve! :-)

Matt also baked us all a fruity crumble – a hearty tasty dessert, a sweet finish to our night!

PS. I’m really sorry about the quality of some photographs on my blog (especially those taken at night time under unforgiving artificial light conditions), by the way. I have a very basic camera which doesn’t like night as much as I do… and I don’t edit any of my photos before I post them.