Pasta with Beets for Valentine’s Day

by Caroline

potato-print Valentines (a project supervised by my arty husband)

There was a time when Valentine’s Day had me making heart-shaped chocolate sandwich cookies, or even, just a few weeks before Ben was born, brownie ice cream sandwiches (I’ll never forget the lady who saw me standing in the ice cream aisle — I was looking for flavor inspiration — and commented, “It’s a bit too late to be counting calories, don’t you think?” I guess she’d never seen anyone who was pregnant before). But this year, as I’m entering the second week of an energy-sapping, mind-numbing head cold, I couldn’t imagine baking anything special to celebrate the day. So, uncharacteristically, I cooked dinner.

I can’t remember where I first discovered this recipe, but it’s a staple of our winter suppers, as it’s delicious, quick, and beautiful. You can pull it together in the time it takes to boil water and cook pasta, or you can make the beet topping ahead of time and let it sit until you’re ready to cook your pasta.

1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups (packed) peeled and coarsely grated uncooked beets (about 3 large beets)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
12 oz tagliatelle, fettucine, or other long pasta
8 oz sour cream (yogurt or goat cheese work nicely, too)
6 tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

Melt butter with oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic; saute until pale golden, about 1 minute. Add the shredded beets and cayenne; reduce heat to medium-low and saute until beets are just tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. (At this point, you can set the beets aside till you’re ready to boil pasta for dinner)

Cook your pasta in large pot of boiling, salted water, stirring occasionally, until done.

Drain pasta, saving a little bit of the cooking water, and return to cooking pot. Stir in sour cream and 4 tbsp of parsley, then the beet mixture. Add a little bit of the pasta-cooking water if the mixture seems too dry. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer pasta to bowls, garnishing with remaining parsley and chopped walnuts.

Pear Bread

by Caroline

The other day I saw a bus ad quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson’s line, “There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.” I was so surprised to see Emerson’s words on the side of a bus that it took a while before I stopped to think how rarely, now, I hit on those ten minutes for myself. Eli is the pear guy in our house, and I watch our pears carefully to spot when they are just the right balance of crisp-ripe for him (a perfect Eli pear is ripe half a day or more before it is perfect for me). Inevitably, he can’t keep up with the ripe pears, I miss my moment, and the overripe pears go into bread that everybody can enjoy for days. This easy Joy of Cooking recipe is the best way I’ve found to extend the brief life of pears.

preheat the oven to 350
butter & flour an 8-cup loaf pan (9×5″)

Whisk together in a large bowl:
1 1/2 c flour
1 c sugar
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
3-6 T ground flax (optional; reduce the oil by 1 T for every 3 T of flax you use)

In another bowl, whisk together
1 egg
1/2 c vegetable oil (remember to reduce this if you’re using ground flax),
1 t vanilla
the zest and juice of one lemon
1 1/2 c peeled, grated ripe (or overripe) pears, with juice

1 c toasted chopped pecans or walnuts, optional

Add the flour mixture to the pear mixture and fold until dry ingredients are moistened. Add nuts, if using. Scrape into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let cool on a rack before removing from pan.

Winter Citrus Pasta

by Lisa

This recipe is an adaptation from my favorite cooking magazine:  La Cucina Italiana.  Sometimes the recipes are complicated and not friendly for weeknights or busy families, but the articles and pictures are terrific, and the recipes often astonishing.

Our orange tree is reaching its peak, and on a very rainy Saturday afternoon, this dish looked like just the warm, rich dish we needed on a very rainy Saturday night. I could make it with what I had in my pantry (& on my tree).  It’s simple enough for a weeknight, elegant and rich enough for a weekend.  Think of it as a kind of fancy variation on a Fettucine Alfredo (with an egg), which I’ll write about tomorrow. It’s another example of how seasonal eating can be serendiptious, spontaneous, and fulfilling. If you keep your kitchen stocked with ingredients available in and appropriate to the season, you can almost always whip up something great.  (Unlike, say, keeping around a zucchini in Februrary January (apparently I just lost a month…), which is what I saw an unnamed Food Network “star” cook with last night….and I nearly gagged on my cauliflower broiled w/emmenthal and cream….).

Also, in keeping with the gastronomic education of the kids, this is interesting because it pairs the familiar with a new taste.  It looks like something they’d love; it looks a little boring, maybe, but the flavors are a sunny surprise and a comfort.  More: the kids aren’t used to seeing zest in their pasta, but they loved the flavor so, as we say, they got over it quickly. It’s also more filling, so they chose to eat less of it which was fine for me. (I had a couple of warm lunches.)

This is a rich and filling dish, so adapt your side dishes or first courses accordingly.

Winter Citrus Pasta

  • 1 lb pasta
  • zest of one orange
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1 T butter
  • about a tablespoon of fresh chopped sage OR thyme
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1/2 cup grana; parmesan, or pecorino, or more to taste
  • salt & pepper
  1. Put orange zest in cream and heat (in microwave if you like) to near boiling. Let steep.
  2. Cook pasta and drain.
  3. In pasta cooking pot, sautee sage or thyme for a minute or so to release fragrance.
  4. Lower heat and add pasta to pot. Toss with cream/zest mixture.
  5. Quickly stir in the egg and the cheese; this will make a thick and creamy sauce.
  6. Serve immediately.


The following was appended on Jan. 12, 2010

And for those of you suitably excited about this, and not afraid of the extra eggs and cream, the recipe as originally published is below. Read it, read my quicker version, and adapt to your kitchen, time frame, your taste and tolerance for cream.  Both recipes are satisfying and delicious, as long as you  don’t leave out the egg or cream. Or, um, the zest.

  • zest of 2 oranges
  • 1 1/2 T butter
  • 1 lb spaghetti
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup chervil
  • 1/2 cup parmesan
  • 3 large egg yolks
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. Warm serving plates in a low oven.
  3. Melt butter in a medium skillet until foam subsides. Add zest and a pnich of salt, reduce heat, and cook until zest is soft and golden.  Set aside.
  4. Bring cream, chervil, salt to a boil in a small saucepan.  Simmer for 4 minutes.
  5. Cook pasta until al dente.
  6. Just before pasta is served, spoon 3 T of cream onto serving plates. Using the back of spoon, spread the cream to cover plates.
  7. Darain pasta and toss with remaining cream, zest and egg yolks until fully incorporated.
  8. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  9. Garnish with zest and chervil.
  10. Serve immediately.

Learning to Eat Quinces

by Caroline

Winter fruit in California is maybe not quite so varied as summer fruit, but with satsumas, pomegranates, and pears, I’m not complaining. This winter, I’m also optimistically awaiting a new addition to our winter fruit menu: the quince! After years of beautiful flowers from the raggedy little tree in the far corner of our narrow city backyard, this year, our little quince tree has set fruit, and a couple have even survived the squirrels and other urban predators to make it close to harvestable size.


But before our quinces were ready, my dad’s Connecticut quinces ripened. I associate quinces with Connecticut, and with my grandmother, who made sheets of sticky-sweet quince leather from the fruit of my grandparents’ small, sturdy tree every year. When I mentioned my tree’s produce to my parents, they said they had more quinces than they knew what to do with this year, and before long a package arrived on our doorstep:


So I got to work, researching the quince. The LA Times ran a feature story on quinces and another article reminded me of their place in poetry; my mom sent some recipes, and I also read happily about fried quince pies and my friend’s baked quinces. In the end, though, I used a cookbook straight from my bookshelf, Deborah Madison’s wonderful Local Flavors and found a recipe for poached quinces, so that I could cook with some now, and save some for later.

quinces in jar

Spiced Quinces in Syrup
2 1/2 pounds ripe, yellow-gold quinces
3/4 c sugar
1 cinnamon stick
5 cloves
2 wide strips of orange zest

Rub the fuzz, if any, off the quinces. Using a good sharp knife, cut away the skin in long strokes, like you would an orange peel, saving the skins. Remove the center with an apple corer, if you have one, or simply cut the fruit off the core in big chunks, and then slice into wedges about 1/2 inch thick.

Put the skins and cores into a saucepan with two quarts of water, bring it to a boil, then simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Strain. Return the liquid to the pot and add the sugar, spices, and orange zest. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then add the fruit. Place parchment paper of a heavy plate directly over the fruit to keep it submerged. Lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer until the quinces have turned pink and are slightly translucent, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. If the syrup becomes too thick, add more water as needed. When done, store the fruit in its syrup in the refrigerator; the quinces should keep for two months.

Then, of course, I baked a tart:

Apple and Spiced Quince Tart
1 sheet of puff pastry
2 apples, such as Gravenstein, Golden Delicious or McIntosh
2 ripe but firm Bartlett pears
1/2 t ground cinnamon
2 t sugar
2 quinces (about 16 slices) poached in syrup
2 T butter, melted

Roll the chilled pastry into a square 1/8 inch thick. Place it on a sheet and refrigerate until ready to bake.

Preheat oven to 400.

Peel, core, and slice the apples into 1/4 inch wedges. Peel, core, and slice the pears into slightly thicker wedges. Toss all the fruits with the cinnamon and sugar.

Remove pastry from the fridge and loosely arrange the fruit in the middle, drizzle the butter over it, then pull the opposite corners toward each other; they won’t meet.

Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 and continue baking until the pastry is puffed and golden and the fruit is tender, about 35-40 minutes.

quince galette with puff pastry

quince galette with puff pastry

I still have more poached quinces to bake into tarts and crisps, sweets that will tide us over while we await our own quinces. We are being very patient, and look forward to the day, some time in the next couple weeks, when the kids and I will pick our own small quinces, our first backyard fruit harvest.

Thanksgiving Favorites, Old and New: Kale Salad and Lemon-Parsley Stuffing

by Caroline

Like Lisa, I had a Thanksgiving without cooking, but my younger son and I were both too sick for me to be thankful for it. Instead, I was thankful for my sister’s oven repairman, and her own ability to produce several dozen of my mom’s wheat germ rolls, two pies, a pumpkin-ginger cheesecake, roasted vegetables, sweet potato casserole, sweet potatoes Anna, apple-chestnut stuffing, two kinds of cranberry sauce (including one with grapes, almonds and whipped cream that is surprisingly delicious), brussels sprouts with maple-glazed hickory nuts (nuts gathered and shelled by my dad) and, of course, a turkey. My husband made his family’s stuffing (recipe below) and all I did was ask for a couple bunches of fresh kale, which my husband chopped for me to turn into kale salad. It turned out to be a nice foil for the rich sweetness of the rest of the delicious meal, and I think it’ll become a regular part of the ever-expanding Thanksgiving menu.

The stuffing, a recipe from Tony’s grandmother, couldn’t be simpler, so I offer it as Tony dictated it to me:

Of course, it is an entirely eyeballed “recipe” …

several cups breadcrumbs
2-3 bunches, Italian Parsley, washed and chopped coarsely
zest of 2-3 lemons

Mix thoroughly while dry.

Add boiling hot vegetable stock to moisten thoroughly. Cover or serve immediately.

The kale salad is based on this recipe, but I tinker with it (reducing the number of ingredients and the steps involved), so here’s my version:

Combine in a large salad bowl:
2 bunches Tuscan kale (about a pound), center ribs and stems removed, leaves sliced thinly crosswise
2 handfuls dried cranberries
2 handfuls toasted sliced almonds

Mix together dressing ingredients:
2 T balsamic, red wine, or raspberry vinegar
1 T unseasoned rice vinegar
1 T honey
1 T olive oil
salt to taste

Toss the salad with the dressing, and let marinate for 20 minutes or so before serving.