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Wooden platter holding three wintry nutty chocolate port sundaes.

The holiday season is a wrap and the dust of 2021 has settled. Perhaps you are back to a work grind, or find yourself buried in winter snow. Or maybe you're sad that your family has left, or maybe elated that your family has left. As great as it was, maybe you are relieved to be past it all. Just because holiday treats are in the rear-view mirror doesn't mean you don't deserve a special little zero-effort dessert. Maybe you need a quiet post-holiday celebration. Maybe you need a nutty Chocolate Port Ice Cream Sundae.

If this Chocolate Port Ice Cream Sundae were an actor in a musical, it would make its quiet sultry entrance stage right, while the whole noisy chorus of holiday desserts shuffle-flapped off, stage left. The Sundae (let us call her Sundae) would glide across the stage to a stool waiting under a soft bath of light. Sundae, dressed in a slim black turtleneck and tailored trousers, would lightly park on the stool, one long leg outstretched. Slowly she would look up and raise the mic.

While the holiday dessert chorus is in the back peeling off sparkly garish costumes and wiping off melted greasepaint, Sundae begins her ballad. One part Louis Armstrong, one part Norah Jones, equal parts gravel and smoke, Sundae's song lifts the corner of your mouth and quiets your spirit.

The intimate moment with Sundae passes, but you are never the same. You'll think of this Sundae at the oddest times for years to come. So it is with this little winter dessert recipe.

wooden platter holding glasses of wintry nutty chocolate port ice cream sundaes.

Other Wintry Desserts You'll Love

Flourless Walnut Cake with Coffee or Spice flavored versions: Get the Recipe.

Douglas Fir Tip Sorbet: Get the Recipe.

Three Nutty Chocolate Port Sundaes on a wood platter

Wintry Nutty Chocolate Port Sundae

Course: Dessert
Keyword: adult dessert, boozy dessert, quick winter dessert
Season: Mist (November - March)
Preparation: Fast + Easy
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 1
Author: Pam Spettel
Warm melted pure chocolate, a splash of nutty port, a handful of toasted nuts on vanilla ice cream, and a few drops of flavorful bitters. An adult dessert of the best kind.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Ingredients Per Person

  • 1.5 ounces high quality dark chocolate
  • ½ Tbsp. toasted nuts, crushed with the flat of a chef's knife almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, or walnuts, or a mix of what yu like
  • 2 scoops vanilla ice cream
  • 1 Tbsp. port, good sherry, or bourbon
  • 2-3 drops Angostura or black walnut bitters (optional)
  • 1 piece crystallized orange (optional) or a wedge of fresh orange
  • pinch Maldon or other finishing salt

Instructions

  • Finely chop the chocolate and put it in a small heatproof bowl over a small saucepan of barely simmering water.* Stir frequently until the chocolate is about 85% melted, about 3-4 minutes, and remove from the heat. Stir every minute or two to allow the residual heat to finish melting the chocolate. Be cautious about multi-tasking during this step to avoid overheating the chocolate and causing it to seize.
  • If they aren't already toasted, put the nuts in a small skillet over medium heat and stir frequently until they are aromatic and ever so slightly browned, stirring very frequently, about 3-4 minutes. Be cautious about multi-tasking during this step to avoid burning the nuts. Cool slightly and crush the nuts with the flat side of a chef's knife, or roughly chop.
  • Scoop the ice cream into a small bowl or cocktails glass. Spoon the warm chocolate over the top, followed by the liquor. Top with the crushed nuts and crystallized orange. Sprinkle with a few drops of bitters and a pinch of crunchy Maldon salt. Serve immediately. Sit back and swoon.

Notes

*Alternatively on a convection cooktop, melt the chocolate directly in a small saucepan on a very low setting.  On my convection cooktop, chocolate melts beautifully on 1.5.
Many kinds of nuts would be perfect here: Almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, and walnuts. The very best might even be those from a can of fancy mixed nuts.
I'm famous for burning nuts! Don't let that happen to you! 
Experiment with the liquor and or bitters you chose. There are so many kinds available these days. 
This is a happy way to end a dinner party, especially if you've knocked yourself out before the dessert comes. It's the easiest show-stopping winter dessert I can imagine. 
Platter of Roasted Mushroom, Grain, and Spinach Salad.

Feasts, cookie platters, cocktail parties, and office holiday goodies, oh my! As fun as it is, it doesn't take long to feel the overwhelm of holiday system overload, just when the mood of the day calls for merry and bright. As a remedy to seasonal splurges, include a salad of roasted mushrooms, warm grains, and baby spinach into your menu this week.

Making the Roasted Mushroom, Grain and Spinach Salad

plate of spinach and mushroom salad with a bite on the fork.

This quick little main-course salad starts with four easy-to-come by ingredients and a light but flavorful lemon vinaigrette. The vinaigrette is made even better by using Meyer lemons, just coming into peak season.

Here I go on about celery again. Celery adds an essential textural crunch to this dish, and a bit of delicious freshness that you will welcome to your winter plate. I view this as this as a subtle necessity.

In the extraordinary Pacific Northwest food playground we have easy access to an array of cultivated and wild mushrooms. One trial of this recipe I used a shiitake-only approach. Another trial used a melange of chestnut, oyster, shiitake, and crimini mushrooms. I loved it both ways. If you can only access white buttons or brown criminis, please use them! Your dish will be as delicious as ever.

You have a lot of running room when it comes to the grain you use in your roasted mushroom salad. I used Purple Valley Barley, an organic product from my local Lonesome Whistle Farm. Lonesome Whistle also carries wheat berries, emmer (a farro) and oat groats that would be perfect. If you are new to this type of thing and eat gluten, I suggest starting with pearled barley, or just jump right in and try one of the above grains. If you eat gluten-free, give buckwheat groats or brown rice a try.

What Wine Should I Serve with Roasted Mushroom, Grain, and Spinach Salad?

2013 Artisanal Wine Cellars Oregon Pinot Noir Dukes Family Vineyards, Eola-Amity Hills.

I started off suggesting a mushroom, warm grain, and spinach salad as a detoxifying healthy choice, so maybe through the holidays consider a tonic of pomegranate juice and sparkling water? Or not! I highly suggest the Artisanal Wine Cellars 2015 Dukes Family Vineyard Pinot Noir. Tom and Patty Feller, and their daughter, Mia, are a family operation dedicated to handcrafted expressive wines. The grapes in this bottle were grown by Pat and Jackie Dukes of Dukes Family Vineyard. We view the Artisanal's Pinot Noirs to be beautiful wines at incredible values.

Other Holiday Self-Care Recipe Ideas

Humble Pasta with Beans + Mushrooms: Get the Recipe
Healing Chickpea + Orzo Bowl in Ginger Broth: Get the Recipe
Deconstructed Borscht Bowl: Get the Recipe

Roasted Mushroom, Grain, and Spinach Salad

Course: Main Dish, Quick + Easy, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest
Keyword: mushroom salad
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Gluten-Free, Nut-Free, Vegan
Preparation: Fast + Easy, Roasting
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 4
Author: Pam Spettel
Roasted mushrooms, warm chewy grain, and fresh spinach dressed in the best ever lemon vinaigrette. This fantastic fast and easy layered salad is hearty enough for satisfying cool weather meals, light enough to counterbalance seasonal feasts and spurges.
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Ingredients

  • lb. mushrooms of your choice, singularly or in combination crimini, shiitake, chestnut, chanterelle, hedgehog, button, etc.
  • 5 stalks celery, and leaves if your head has them
  • 1 cup whole grain of your choice, prepared according to package directions and kept warm* barley; emmer, spelt, or einkorn farro; wheat berries; oat or buckwheat groats; brown, black, purple, red, or wild rice, etc.
  • 8-10 oz. fresh baby spinach
  • lemon vinaigrette, recipe below
  • zest of 2 lemons, in strips

Best Ever Lemon Vinaigrette

  • ½ cup lemon juice, Meyer lemon preferred, zested first about 2 large lemons
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or very finely minced
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • tsp. maple syrup
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 400° convection. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray it with oil or non-stick spray.
  • Begin cooking your chosen grain according to package directions. (For example, quick-cooking par cooked farro from Trader Joes takes 10 minutes to cook; unhulled barley takes up to 40 minutes.) Once it is cooked, keep it warm while the other steps come together.
  • Prepare the Best Ever Lemon Vinaigrette, recipe below.
  • Wipe mushrooms clean and trim them if necessary. If you are using shiitakes, remove the stems. Leave the small ones whole, cut the medium-sized ones in half, and the largest ones into quarters for similarly sized pieces that will roast at the same rate. Place them in a heap on the prepared baking sheet. Spoon about ¼ of the lemon vinaigrette over the mushrooms. Use your hands to toss the mushrooms in the vinaigrette, coating each piece lightly and evenly. Spread the mushroom pieces out on the pan, and place in the oven. Roast for 12 minutes, remove from the oven and stir. Spread them out again and roast them for another 10 minutes or so until they are deeply colored and their juices have almost evaporated. Don't leave them much longer than this or they will lose their tenderness.
  • While the mushrooms are roasting, thinly slice the celery and set aside. When the grains are cooked and drained, stir in ¼ of the vinaigrette and continue to keep gently warm. Place the spinach on the platter or individual plates.
  • When the mushrooms are done roasting, add the sliced celery and give it a good toss. Spoon the dressed grains in the center of the plate, and top with the mushroom/celery mixture. Drizzle a little more of the vinaigrette over the layered salad.** Garnish with strips of lemon zest, which are not only eye-catching, but add a delicious flavor note. Serve while warm.

Make the Best Ever Lemon Vinaigrette

  • Combine all ingredients on a pint-sized jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake until the salt and maple syrup are dissolved. Shake before each use.

Notes

*I've made this recipe using organic locally-grown barley, with buckwheat groats, and with a package of "10-Minute Farro" sometimes found at Trader Joes. Follow the package directions for any grain you use for both serving size and cooking times. 
**You will have a little of the vinaigrette left over. Don't be sad about this-- use it on your next kale or lettuce salad, on top of baked or broiled fish, or to dress a pan of roasted vegetables. 
When Meyer lemons are in season, be sure to use them. The typical Eureka or Lisbon lemons are wonderful, too, but Meyers offer a step up in flavor.
I recently found that the water that remains when cooking whole-grain barley is delicious as a sipper. Cook the barley "pasta-style" floating freely in a pot of water, and reserve the water. It's as tasty as any stock, and can be used as a soup base or warming cup. 
This recipe is easily halved and easily doubled. If you double it, use two sheet pans to roast the larger amount of mushrooms. 
 
Overhead image of serving dish full or golden pumpkin chicken sausage orecchiette.

Are you ready for a true confession?

I rarely cook from a recipe. The first time I made this Pumpkin + Homemade Chicken Sausage Pasta there was no script. I tell you this so you understand my process of getting a recipe from my brain to your screen-- one that I know will work for you at home and that you can trust. A recipe that will hopefully make it onto your table.

How an Idea Becomes a Recipe

A new recipe concept starts with thinking and dreaming about the flavors, colors, scents, and textures of ingredients. This work happens when I'm asleep and when I'm awake-- all the time! All that I have learned in over 50 years of cooking and eating informs how a new recipe idea comes together.

Step One

Intuition led the way when I first made this marigold Pumpkin + Homemade Chicken Sausage Pasta, like with most things I cook. I found it warm and comforting. It was delicious enough to share, and didn't take a fortnight to make, and so on to trial number two.

Step Two

The second run is where I pay keen attention to quantities, timing, and cooking nuances you might want to know that will ensure success. Paper and pen are right next to me noting details as I work it through. At this stage I ask myself some hard questions: Is this really the kind of recipe you might want. Does this recipe create a solution for you? Will it delight you and your family and guests? Is it a thing you might really make at home? How can I instill confidence and cheerlead you through the steps?

Pumpkin + Homemade Chicken Sausage Orecchiette in a serving dish on table with table runner and napkins.
Pumpkin + Homemade Chicken Sausage Orecchiette

Step Three

When I agreed with my initial idea that you might really like this recipe, I moved on to a third Pumpkin + Chicken Sausage Pasta trial. Once again I prepare the recipe again from my notes, writing down any new thoughts or learnings that come. This is the step where I photograph the process using natural light and no filters-- no spin or tricks. Then off I go to write up the recipe in standard format for you.

Lastly and most importantly, I invite your feedback. If a recipe step is unclear, if there is something that you loved or that didn't go right, or if you have an idea that you tried that made it even better, I'm all ears! Please email me at pam@101milekitchen.com. I warmly welcome your comments on the post, too. Every time you leave a star rating on the recipe you help others find it through the Google maze. I value that, as well. In short, you are at the center of my work.

Making the Pumpkin + Homemade Chicken Sausage Pasta

Please don't let the idea of making sausage intimidate you. It is as fast and easy as adding a few herbs and spices to some purchased ground meat. Try it with ground pork or turkey if you prefer. I just happen to like the lightness of the chicken with this ample portion of pasta. Casings or fancy techniques are not called upon. This particular spice blend was borrowed from a recipe I wrote about years ago.

The sausage recipe is versatile. Roll it into meatballs. Brown it and use it on pizza, salad or in other pastas. Form it into patties to snuggle into a bun or next to your breakfast eggs.

Pumpkin puree is easy to do at home. Click here for link to a Facebook Live video of me explaining the easy process of making pumpkin puree from scratch. Laugh along with me at my very first and awkward Facebook Live tutorial! However, feel free to use canned pumpkin puree if that works best for you. The recipe uses two cans of solid-pack pumpkin puree (just one if you want to cut the recipe in half.) Recipes that aren't scaled to use an entire can of something that will otherwise go to waste are simply annoying.

Wine Pairing with Pumpkin + Chicken Sausage Pasta

When you are looking for a wine-friendly autumn dish, Pumpkin + Homemade Chicken Sausage is it. A light Italian or Rhone red would be lovely, or any number of dry white wines. Award-winning Abacela Albarino 2020 from Oregon's Umpqua Valley is just lovely with the dish. You'll find this light and dry Albarino with no residual sugar and just 13% alcohol, to be a beautifully complimentary weight for this lighter pasta. Fresh fruit and floral aromas and a nice acidity bring the experience into graceful balance.

Other Pumpkin Recipes to Try This Fall

Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Pumpkin Black Bean Soup Two Ways

serving dish full or golden pumpkin chicken sausage orecchiette

Pumpkin + Chicken Sausage Pasta

Course: Main Dish, Quick + Easy
Keyword: crowd pleaser, gluten-free option, pasta, quick and easy, weeknight recipe, wine pairing
Season: Bounty (August - October), Mist (November - March)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Nut-Free
Total Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 6
Author: Pam Spettel
Little orecchiette ears cuddle bits of scratch-made chicken sausage and silky pumpkin sauce. Quick and easy, done in 45 minutes.
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Ingredients

Chicken Sausage Ingredients

  • 1 lb. ground chicken or ground turkey
  • tsp. dried oregano
  • tsp. fennel seeds
  • tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 to 1½ tsp. red pepper flake
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil

Pasta and Sauce Ingredients

  • 1 lb. orecchiette or other small pasta use gluten free pasta if you choose
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 3 cups pumpkin puree (two 15 oz. cans)
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 bunch curly or lacinato kale, large ribs removed, chopped into 1" pieces
  • salt + pepper to taste

Instructions

Make the Sausage

  • Crumble the ground chicken into a mixing bowl. In a small bowl, mix remaining herbs and spices. Sprinkly the herbs and spices over the ground chicken and drizzle with the olive oil. Rinse your hands in cold water and gently knead the spices into the ground chicken until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

Make the Pasta and Sauce

  • Put a large pot of generously salted water on to boil for the pasta. While the water comes to a boil, in a wide pan brown the sausage mixture in olive oil-- enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Stir frequently, breaking up the sausage into bite-sized bits. This should take 6-8 minutes. Remove cooked sausage and juices to a plate and set aside.
  • In the same wide pan heat another swirl of olive oil. Saute the minced shallot in the olive oil until tender and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the pumpkin, white wine, and salt to taste. Stir together and heat until gently bubbling.
  • When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook according to package directions. This may happen before or after the pumpkin mixture has come together.
  • When the pasta is cooked al dente (it will finish cooking in the sauce, so don't overcook it!) reserve 2 cups of the pasta cooking water and drain the pasta. (Don't forget this step, as it helps make a beautiful silky sauce!) Drain the pasta and return it to its cooking pot.
  • Add the chopped kale and cooked sausage and its juices back into the pan with the pumpkin mixture and stir in one cup of the pasta water. Scrape the sausage/pumpkin mixture into the cooked pasta and stir. Add enough more of the reserved pasta water to create a smooth, silky sauce that evenly coats the pasta. The pasta will continue to absorb the liquid, so be generous. Adjust salt and pepper. Serve in a large serving dish or in individual pasta bowls.

Notes

It is conceivable to garnish this dish with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, however my cheese-loving husband says this is the "cheesiest pasta with no cheese" he's ever eaten! Omitting it makes the dish dairy-free. 
If you'd prefer, you can use store-bought hot Italian chicken sausage, but this is such an easy and delicious sausage recipe I do hope you'll give it a try. 
 
Close up of Turkey Zucchini Meatball Pasta + Roasted Lemon Sauce.

Turkey Meatball + Roasted Lemon Zucchini Pasta is one of the tastiest recipes you can have in your weeknight toolbox. Pop these juicy meatballs into the oven and they'll be done in twenty minutes-- as long as it takes to get the rest of the dinner together. This fun and exciting weeknight meal is ready in under an hour, but is definitely company-worthy.

Lemon slices roast alongside the meatballs, then are chopped and added to the sauce with briny chopped olives to give this simple dish huge flavor for the amount of effort it takes.

Our household is not yet ready to make the shift to an entirely plant-based diet, but we make incremental steps in that direction. This turkey meatball and roasted lemon pasta is chock full of zucchini. The turkey meatballs hold a lot of zucchini which lightens the meatballs. Reduce and replace the volume of turkey with even more zucchini if that's where your dietary choices are taking you. In the future I'll be experimenting with replacing the turkey with mashed beans for a completely meatless "meatball."

Making the Turkey Meatball + Roasted Lemon Zucchini Pasta

First, form the meatballs and lay them out on a sheet pan with the sliced lemon which will go into the sauce after it roasts. The meatballs and lemon roast together while a pot of water boils for the pasta and a simple robust mediterranean sauce sautes. Then toss together the pasta and sauce with some of the pasta cooking water. Then top it off with the meatballs, and viola-- dinner is served.

Ingredients needed for Turkey Meatball and Roasted Lemon Zucchini Pasta.
A few common ingredients are all it takes for this easy weeknight pasta.

What Wine Shall I Serve?

Bowl of Turkey Meatball and Roasted Lemon Zucchini Pasta and glass of wine.
Turkey meatballs and roasted lemon zucchini pasta is perfect with Anne Amie 2019 Pinot Gris.

The mediterranean flavors in the sauce-- garlic, condensed roasted lemon, and Kalamata olives-- were perfect with the Willamette Valley wine producer Anne Amie 2019 Pinot Gris. 15% of the Pinot Gris barrels in this vintage were fermented in neutral barrels and aged on the lees, giving it a soft, round mouthfeel not often found in a Pinot Gris. This very enjoyable wine is found within our 101-mile sourcing radius!

In general, a dry white wine with some citrus and minerality will be a perfect match. Experiment and have fun finding those that you most enjoy.

Bowl full of Turkey Zucchini Meatball Pasta + Roasted Lemon Sauce

Turkey Meatball + Roasted Lemon Zucchini Pasta

Course: Main Dish
Cuisine: Italian, Mediterranean
Keyword: dairy-free option, gluten-free option, vegan option, weeknight recipe
Total Time: 55 minutes
Servings: 4
Author: Pam Spettel
Tucking a little zucchini into the meatballs lightens this hearty, comforting pasta dish that is loaded with delicious bright flavor. Less than an hour from start to finish makes it easy enough for a weeknight, but it's fancy enough for company.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

For the Meatballs

  • 1 cup panko or purchased bread crumbs both are available in gluten-free options
  • ¾ cup milk, dairy or plant
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 ½ cups grated zucchini squeezed of moisture in a clean kitchen towel
  • 1 pound ground turkey 94% lean will be juicier than 99% lean
  • 1 ¼ cup finely grated parmesan cheese reserve ¼ cup for serving. For dairy-free, replace this with 1-2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast.
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder, optional
  • 1 large or two smaller lemons, sliced 1/2›" thin

For the Pasta and Roasted Lemon Sauce

  • ¾ pound spaghetti or bucatini or gluten free pasta
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 cups zucchini, diced in about 1/4" pieces
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flake
  • 1/2 cup Kalamata olives or other black olives, roughly chopped
  • roasted lemon slices, above, chopped into small pieces the lemon slices will roast at the same time at the meatballs, so they are included in the above ingredient list
  • Chopped flat-leaf parsley or basil for garnish

Instructions

Make the Meatballs

  • Line a sheet pan with foil and spray it with oil spray. Preheat the oven to 375°.
  • In a large mixing bowl stir together the panko and milk and let rest for 5 minutes while the crumbs absorb the milk. Add the squeezed grated zucchini, turkey, 1 cup parmesan, garlic salt, and onion powder, if using. Mix everything together with you hands until thoroughly combined.
  • Use an ice cream or cookie scoop to form the meatballs, rinsing your hands in cold water to smooth the balls and place them on the sheet pan. (This makes 12-14 meatballs, depending on the size of your scoop.) Place lemon slices around the meatballs on the foil-lined sheet. Bake the meatballs for about 20 minutes, or until they are lightly browned and the lemon slices have softened. Some of them may have browned edges.
  • When the lemon slices are cool enough to handle, stack them up on a cutting board and cut them into quarters. Set aside for the sauce.

Make the Pasta and Roasted Lemon Zucchini Sauce

  • While the meatballs are in the oven, bring a pot of water to boil and cook the pasta according to package instructions. Reserve one cup of pasta water.
  • While the water is boiling, place enough olive oil to amply cover the bottom of your largest skillet over medium-high heat. It may seem like a lot, but the oil will become your pasta sauce so be generous. When the oil is hot add the zucchini, shaking the pan to settle the zucchini in to the pan. Leave it to brown without stirring for 2 - 3 minutes. Stir the zucchini around and shake the pan again, and add the shallot, garlic, salt, and red pepper flake on top. Adjust the temperature if needed to allow the browning to continue without burning, stirring every 2 minutes or so until all the vegetables are lightly caramelized and cooked through, about 8 minutes total.
  • With the heat still on the skillet, add the Kalamata olives and reserved roasted lemon to the zucchini mixture. Use tongs to lift the al dente pasta into the skillet with the sauce. Add ½ cup of the pasta water and use tongs to mix the sauce and pasta together. As the water absorbs you may want to add the rest of the water, tossing the pasta and sauce together as it becomes silky and coats the pasta.
  • Serve the pasta and sauce on plates or bowls, and nestle in the meatballs on top. Garnish with the remaining parmesan and parsley or basil. Drizzle with additional olive oil if desired.

Notes

For a dairy-free version, omit the parmesan from the meatball mixture and add 1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast. You may also sprinkle some nutritional yeast as a garnish to the finished dish. 
For a gluten-free version, use gluten-free bread crumbs or panko, and GF pasta.
For a vegan option, omit meatballs and just roast the sliced lemon alone.
Double the meatball portion of the recipe-- The meatballs freeze well and can be added to any pasta and sauce, or make great meatball sandwiches. 

Other Cool-Weather Pasta Recipes and Zucchini Recipes

Zingy Lemon-Ginger Zucchini Cake

Humble Pasta with Beans and Mushrooms

It is an odd little kid who prefers observing adults above hanging out with other kids, but that is how I was issued. With the focus of Jane Goodall and the sofa as my cover, I studied grown-ups and all forms of their behavior; language, cultural and social norms, and how curiously their developed biology drove their actions. Kids I found to be mostly mean, addled, and ridiculous.

Cold Buckwheat noodle salad with peanut sauce on platter

It will not surprise you, then, to know I hated peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The basic components were good, I thought. But jelly seeping through the bread, the gluey palate-sticking nature of the thing, and the whole sandwich mangled by the smacking of a thermos inside the lunchbox of a girl with a purposeful stride? Thank you, but no.

If Crunchy Cold Buckwheat Noodles in Peanut Sauce had been popular among suburban moms so long ago, it would have been my absolute lunchbox preference. A tangle of chewy buckwheat noodles and colorful crunchy vegetables draped in a velvet cloak of spicy, gingery peanut sauce is arguably the best use of peanut butter. It would have had me daydreaming about girls in Indonesian -- where peanut sauce originates-- wondering if they liked math any better than me, if their parents fought, and whether they moved a lot or got to live in one house their whole life. I would have wished the Weekly Reader to do a story on them so I could know.

This recipe is for my grandchildren should they want something other than jelly and bread with the peanut butter in their lunchboxes.

Cold Noodle Salad with peanut sauce on a platter

Crunchy Cold Buckwheat Noodle Salad + Peanut Sauce

Course: Main Dish, Salad, Side Dish
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Vegan
Preparation: Fast + Easy
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 6
Author: Pam Spettel
Chewy soba noodles and crackly-fresh vegetables are draped in a velvety, gingery peanut sauce. Make it in less than 20 minutes for a speedy dinner, but be sure to make extra-- it holds well for tomorrow's lunches or picnics. Easily halved or doubled, this all-ages people pleaser will be a welcome addition to your meal rotation.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Peanut Sauce

  • ½ cup smooth peanut butter, well stirred if natural
  • 3 Tbsp. soy sauce or tamari
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lime juice or rice wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar, brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup
  • 2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil also called dark sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. - 1 Tbsp. Sriracha or hot chili garlic sauce to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger and its juice
  • 1-2 grated garlic cloves

Noodle Salad

  • 10 oz. soba (buckwheat) noodles udon, ramen, or rice noodles or even spaghetti are also good choices. Use gluten free noodles if you'd like
  • 6 cups fresh crunchy raw vegetables (see list below to mix and match*) chopped , coarsely grated, or thinly sliced
  • 3-4 green onions, sliced
  • 1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup peanuts, coarsely chopped (optional)
  • Peanut Sauce (above)
  • 1 lime, cut in wedges for serving

Instructions

  • In a medium bowl that allows room for whisking, whisk peanut butter to loosen it. Add each ingredient one at a time, whisking thoroughly after each addition. (You are making an emulsion, and adding the liquids slowly in batches prevents a sloshy mess from forming. It will actually go faster this way, and will minimize cleanup.)
  • Whisk in warm water, one tablespoon at a time, until the sauce thickly drips from the whisk. You want the sauce to be thin enough to easily coat the nooks and crannies of the vegetables and noodles, but to retain some body. Depending on the thickness of your peanut butter and the room temperature, you will add between 1 Tablespoon and ¼ cup of water. Taste and make any adjustments of sweetener, lime juice, spicy heat, or perhaps salt. Set the peanut sauce aside.
  • Place a pot of salted water on to boil. Cook soba noodles according to package directions. When done, rinse in cold water until the noodles are completely cold.
  • While the water is heating and the noodles are cooking, prep your vegetables including the green onions. Aim for small dice, or thin matchstick pieces so that you can fork up a mix of vegetables and noodles in each bite. Place all the vegetables in a large bowl..
  • Coarsely chop the cilantro and peanuts. Keep a few tablespoons of each aside for garnish, and place the rest in the bowl. When the noodles are cooked, rinsed, and drained, add them to the bowl. Give everything a gentle toss.
  • Add about ½ cup of the peanut sauce to the bowl, and give everything a gentle but thorough toss, until all ingredients are evenly coated with peanut sauce. Add more sauce, tablespoon by tablespoon, until the salad is dressed to your liking.
  • Plate the salad individually or transfer it to a serving bowl or platter. Sprinkle cilantro, peanuts, and sesame seed on top. Serve with a lime wedge.
  • Refrigerate any leftovers in an airtight container. Will keep nicely for a day.

Notes

*Fresh crunchy vegetable options. Use what the garden or farmers market gives you, or what you have in your crisper:
  • cucumber*
  • green and/or purple cabbage
  • red or yellow bell pepper
  • snow or sugar-snap peas
  • carrot
  • radish
  • kohlrabi
  • white turnips
  • green or yellow summer squash* *Best added only if you'll consume the entire recipe right away, as they go soft and watery overnight. I don't mind this, but you might!
two glasses of wine and a plate of shrimp melon salad

Scorching record-breaking heat is promised across much of the U.S. this week, and you need cooling solutions, right? You're going to need this-- the best simple yet fancy cooling salad I can think of-- light, fresh and hydrating, and ever so tasty. When you eat it, try to imagine someone nearby fanning you with a palm leaf. Can you feel it?

This refreshing salad was made to serve with an equally refreshing chilled rosed. I love the 2020 Quady North Rogue Valley/Southern Oregon GSM Rosed for it's South-of-France typicity we don't often find in an Oregon rosed.

Quady North Rose bottle upside down in glass

About the Wine

Made with 48% Grenache, 42% Syrah, 9% Mourvedre, and 1% Counoise, it is quite dry and full of the mineral qualities I associate with a Provençal rosed. Its lower alcohol also makes it perfect for summer. You may notice a little orange peel aroma on the nose, and soft fruit and rain water filling out the mid-palate.

Quady North is organically farmed and LIVE certified for its sustainable winegrowing practices. Quady focuses on "small lot Loire-ish and Rogue Rhone releases". There we go talking about France again!

a glass of rose and a plate of shrimp melon salad
Screwtop equals picnic friendly!

He would not remember me, but years ago I met Quady North's fearless leader, Herb Quady, at a wine symposium. I knew I'd like him when he told of how people choose their favorite wines. He said something like, "It is the one you had that night under the stars with friends, someone was playing your favorite song on a guitar, and maybe you were falling a little in love." And, well, their labels are fantastic-- The tattoos I'll never have.

One last thing about Quady wines. At least for now, if you order two bottles shipping is free, and if you purchase a case you receive a 10% discount on this already quite affordable wine. Value added! (This is not a sponsored promotion.)

Platter of sweet and spicy shrimp and melon salad

The Sweet + Spicy Shrimp Melon Salad

Even boiling water for pasta or standing at the grill sounds a bit exhausting in heat like this. Sweet + Spicy Shrimp Melon Salad is a no-cook endeavor if you buy your shrimp already cooked, and please do! After a few chops of a knife and a few shakes of a jar you'll be made in the shade.

For a vegan option, sizzle bite-sized cubes of pressed tofu in hot oil until they brown, allow them to cool, and treat them the same as you would the shrimp.

Ingredients for the sweet and spicy shrimp and melon salad.
Avocado-- a last minute addition-- and olive oil are other ingredients you'll need
platter of sweet and spicy shrimp melon salad

Sweet + Spicy Shrimp and Melon Salad

Course: Main Dish, Quick + Easy, Salad
Keyword: light, picnic, refreshing, summer
Season: Evergreen (April - July)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Gluten-Free
Preparation: Fast + Easy
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Servings: 2 main course or 4 as a side
Author: Pam Spettel
Perfect for the hottest days of summer, this simple yet fancy cooling salad is light, fresh and hydrating. . . and ever so tasty. No-cook and made in minutes, you'll be sitting in the shade in no time.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Salad

  • 6-8 per person cooked chilled shrimp, preferably shelled and tail-on
  • ¾ average cantaloupe, chilled and diced
  • 1 long cucumber, chilled and diced
  • ½ cup purple onion, scallion, or sweet onion
  • 1 large avocado, diced
  • 2 cups cilantro, basil, mint, and chives, chopped and lightly packed in any combination or alone
  • ¼ - ½ cup Sweet + Spicy Dressing, below

Sweet + Spicy Dressing

  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1 Tbsp. Sriracha, or to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup olive oil

Instructions

  • Gently toss all ingredients except avocado in a large bowl. Top the salad with the cubed avocado tucked here and there. (This keeps the avocado from being squished!) Serve.

Sweet + Spicy Dressing

  • Place all ingredients in a screwtop jar. Shake until the honey and salt are dissolved. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator for use on other summer fruit-based salads.

Notes

This honey lime vinaigrette-style dressing does not use the proportions typical to a classic French vinaigrette. 
Spring lettuces with snap peas, thinly sliced raw beets, and foraged flowers with Classic French Vinaigrette

Have you ever had a restaurant salad that just took your breath away? One where everything is in balance, it's not gasping for life under a soggy dressing, and the lettuce is crackly-crisp and tender as angel wings? You can do that at home, too.

Here are three easy steps to rescue your salads from being sad and pathetic, including a fast and easy no-measure Classic French Vinaigrette. You'll see how fun and easy it is to take that basic ratio and create an infinite variety of vinaigrette options.

A summer mish-mash of heirloom tomatoes, canned mandarins, red peppers, cukes, steamed shrimp and basil

Dry Leaves for a Crisp Salad

Whether you wash your lettuce leaves or use pre-washed, thoroughly drying them will help make your salad restaurant-quality. I pile my washed greens into the center of a thin dish towel, fold the long edges over the leaves, gather the corners into my fist and walk outside.

Classic French Vinaigrette and variations tutorial

Here's where it gets weird. I stand in the grass swinging the dishtowel of lettuce around and around in huge arm circles like we did in grade-school calisthenics. The centrifugal force is enough to make and water fly out, but not harsh enough to maul the leaves. My neighbors think I'm a total nut. This is the price I pay for perfect salad.

Spring greens with gently steamed baby purple potatoes and asparagus with a basic lemony vinaigrette

Dry leaves accept a light coating of vinaigrette, and the salad will go to the table with its crisp crunch that won't fade through the meal.

Dry lettuce makes an amazing difference. And, hey, you get in a little exercise.

Little Gems lettuce with fresh strawberries, raw asparagus, and rotisserie chicken in a berry-vinegar vinaigrette

Dress and Toss For Success

Yes, your homemade vinaigrette makes an enormous difference, but the quantity you use is just as critical to a memorable salad.

With a great big bowl of lettuce-based salad and a nice homemade Classic French Vinaigrette, you likely need only one or two Tablespoons of dressing. This is true.

You won't believe it until you start tossing. And tossing, and tossing. Using two large spoons, gently turn your leaves over and over and over. In a minute, you'll see the dressing not dripping and puddling in the bowl-- it will be evenly clinging ever-so-gently on all the surfaces of the lettuce without bogging it down.

Lightly-dressed, your salad becomes a fresh and bouncy salad that is softly flavored with the lovely vinaigrette, as perfect salad was made to be.

A little bit of great vinaigrette, a lot of tossing. Try it!

Go Easy on Add-Ins

I love a salad that's loaded with vegetables, fruits, cheeses, nuts, croutons, and the works, but that can put a lot of pressure on your tender lettuce. There are a few ways you can remedy this.

One way is to simply go lighter with your added ingredients, as in the salad below.

Mixed lettuces with golden and red beets, sliced dried figs, chopped hazelnuts, and Mustard Fig Vinaigrette

Secondly, if you plan to toss the salad before serving, put heavy add-ins in the bottom of your bowl, then top with the lettuces and dressing, tossing the lettuce without spooning down to the other ingredients. In the last toss or two, scoop down to bring the heavier ingredients up to the top, and serve with dispatch.

Thirdly, toss your lettuce with your fantastic homemade vinaigrette and arrange it on a platter. Now place your other vegetables and ingredients into the bowl, add a little dressing, and toss them separately before gently placing them on the lettuce. Once again, serve right away.

Lastly, my favorite way to keep heavy ingredients from collapsing the life out of the lettuce is especially nice if you need to make the salad a little ahead of serving. Toss the lettuce and dressing and place on a serving platter. Mound each separate ingredient on your cutting board and drizzle each one with a few drops of dressing and toss it with your hands before moving on the the next. Take each separate pile of goodies and make a little space between the leaves and place it there. Be an artist and arrange these colorful piles around the lettuce.

This last method is perfect for gatherings and parties. Create some gorgeous salad-as-a-meal platters that present beautifully, and either toss it together tableside, or allow your fellow diners to select and build their own plates from your creation.

Another summer salad of steamed new potatoes, raw corn, cherry tomatoes, cukes, grilled steak and quick-pickled red onion with Balsamic Herb Vinaigrette

One Set of Ratios, Infinite Options

This no-measure recipe offers you a few measurements as guidance to get you started, but soon you'll just grab a spoon, a jar and a knife and whip dressings and marinades out like you're the garde-manger of your favorite French restaurant.

lettuce salad with vegetables and shrimp in bowl

Classic French Vinaigrette and Infinite Variations

Course: Salad
Cuisine: French, Pacific Northwest
Keyword: customizable, marinade, salad dressing
Season: Bounty (August - October), Evergreen (April - July), Mist (November - March)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Gluten-Free, Vegan
Preparation: Fast + Easy
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Author: Pam Spettel
Use no-measure easy ratios and flavorful vinegars, oils, aromatics, herbs, sweeteners, and emulsifiers to create a world of your own customized vinaigrettes and marinades. Taking your salads from boring, limp, and soggy to exciting, crisp and refreshing couldn't be easier.
Print Recipe

Equipment

  • Small clear glass jar

Ingredients

Classic French Vinaigrette

  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ - 1 small shallot, finely minced
  • salt and pepper to taste Kosher salt dissolves easiest, but any salt is good
  • lemon juice, white wine vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • good quality olive oil the flavor is prominent in this dressing, so use the best you have

Mustard Fig Vinaigrette

  • 1 teaspoon grainy mustard Inglehoffer Stone Ground is really good, but any kind will be wonderful
  • 1 teaspoon fig jam Trader Joes almost always carries this
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • sherry or champagne vinegar
  • olive oil use the best you have

Balsamic Herb Dressing

  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, minced or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons fresh oregano and/or basil, finely chopped
  • ½ - 1 small shallot, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • olive oil use the best you have

Instructions

For each of the three variations and all of your own creations:

  • In the bottom of the jar, put all of the ingredients except the vinegar and olive oil. Be generous with the salt-- it's the only salt all your salad vegetables will get!
  • Eyeballing it, pour vinegar into the jar until is about half full.
  • Eyeballing it again, pour in about the same amount of the olive oil as vinegar and other ingredients until the jar is 1/2 full. Screw the lid on tightly (very important!) and shake like heck.
  • Viola! You've made a fabulous vinaigrette!
  • A word about proportions: We're working in equal proportions of vinegar + aromatics/sweeteners to olive oil. To make less vinaigrette, fill the jar with fewer aromatic ingredients and vinegar. Then just match the height of olive oil in the jar to the height of the things in the bottom of the jar. (If your aromatics and vinegar come ¼ of the way up the jar, add about that same amount of oil to make the jar only half full.
    Sometimes I only want a tiny bit of vinaigrette for just one salad, and I may only put ¼" of flavorful ingredients and vinegar in the bottom of the jar, topped off with ¼" of olive oil. It's all a matter of ratios, not a matter of strict measurements!

Notes

Make it Your Own:
Aromatics, singular or in combination:
  • any mustard, except yellow
  • any chopped fresh or dried herbs
  • smashed strawberries, blackberries, or blueberries
  • garlic
  • shallot
  • lemongrass
  • green onion
Sweeteners:
  • honey
  • jam or jelly
  • date syrup
  • rice syrup
  • maple syrup
  • a touch of sugar
Vinegars/acid base:
  • any kind of citrus juice
  • almost any kind of vinegar
    • red wine, white wine, sherry or champagne
    • apple cider
    • fruit and berry varieties
    • coconut
    • rice and rice wine
    • balsamic and white balsamic
Oils
  • high quality olive oil
  • neutral-flavored vegetable or canola oil
  • a few drops of sesame oil in addition to one of the above

Five-ingredient Celery Amandine is an amazing vegetable dish when made with farm or garden-fresh celery.

Have you ever thought about making celery a central stand-alone side-dish? I'm going out on a limb here to suggest, no, maybe not. And there is a reason why celery is last to be chosen for Team Exciting Foods.

Grocery store celery is pale, stringy, flavorless, and waterlogged in comparison to locally-grown, bright green, crisp version that hasn't been trucked half-way around the world. Grocery-store celery is a good second-string addition to a soup, stew, or casserole where little is expected of it.

Farmers market or garden-grown celery, on the other hand, is heads above its grocery grocery store kin. If you want a true All-Star for the dinner plate win, growing some or buying direct from a farm is the only way to go.

Take a crack at the bat with this sautéed celery amandine. It is proof that celery is more than a minor-league bench player at your table.

Celery Amandine Throwback

This recipe comes from the wayback machine. My mom made it as a vegetable side dish when I was a kid and its crunchy, buttery, nutty place on my plate always made me happy. Spotting crisp bright organic celery at the farmers market recently brought it back to mind.

It takes four or five ingredients, and is table-ready in under 10 minutes.

I intentionally make extra of this, as it is a nice addition to a lunchtime rice and bean bowl, next to a scrambled egg, or sprinkled with a little vinegar or more lemon juice as a pickley nosh with a sandwich.

platter of celery amandine with lemon wedges

Home Run Celery Amandine

Course: Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: French
Keyword: fast, summer, vegan option, versatile
Season: Bounty (August - October), Evergreen (April - July)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Gluten-Free, Vegetarian
Preparation: Fast + Easy, One Pot/One Pan
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 4
Author: Pam Spettel
With just a few handy ingredients and 10 minutes or less to the table, take a crack at the bat with this sautéed celery amandine. It is proof that celery is more than a bench player at your table.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 small head garden fresh celery (about 3-4 stalks per person)
  • ¼ cup raw whole almonds
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed and lightly chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. butter or ghee
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lemon, cut in wedges (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Wash and dry the celery and slice it ¼- ½“ inch thick on a sharp diagonal. (The diagonals look beautiful, but also expose more surface area for flavor.) Crush the almonds with the bottom of a glass or by tapping on them with a meat mallet to get rough pieces of mixed sizes. Crush and lightly chop through the garlic cloves. (Crushing the nuts and garlic makes more textural and visual interest than chopping.) Slice the lemon into 6-8 wedges and flick away any seeds you see.
  • Heat a skillet to medium-high heat. (6.5 or 7 on my induction cooktop.) When the skillet is hot, add the butter and olive oil. Add the celery to the pan and give it a shake to let the slices settle in.
  • Toss the nuts, garlic and salt and pepper to taste on top of the celery. Stir a few times while the celery just begins to soften and turn bright green, about 4-5 minutes. Remove it from the heat before you think you should. You'll enjoy this best if the celery retains is crunchy texture.
  • Serve with a lemon wedge, if desired. This is good served right out of the skillet, or at room temperature.

Notes

Make It Your Own:
For vegan option, replace the butter with cooking oil of your choice.
Give this exact treatment to sugar peas in their pod- just a flash in the hot skillet with the other ingredients makes another vegetable winner!
Omit the garlic if that's not for you.
Lemony Asparagus-Bean Salad

Part two of the Ode to the Bean trilogy recipe is an asparagus-bean salad with lemon vinaigrette. Its crispy lemon-panko topping is pretty special, if I don't say so myself. It makes a great side dish, but we ate it as our main course and loved it.

To bring you up to speed, last week I cooked up one pound of Rancho Gordo Alubia Blanca beans. My objective was to create three unique recipes that wouldn't having us hating beans by the end of the week. The three recipes-- today's lemony asparagus-bean salad, along with pasta with beans and mushrooms, and brothy beans-and-greens bowl-- resulted in three distinct, tasty success stories.

pot of beans cooking
Cooking the pot of beans with aromatic celery, shallot, garlic, and bay leaf

What's so exciting about starting with dried beans?

I waxed on about the joys of beans in the first post, so today, let's talk size.

Some beans are tiny and others are huge. Think of beans like you think of all the different pasta shapes-- each one holds a special charm depending on what it is you want to prepare or serve them with. There's a bean for every liking and situation.

The huge Corona weighs the same as 19 wee Alubia Blancas

In case you're wondering, it takes 19 Alubia Blancas to reach the weight of one Corona bean, which happens to be 3 grams. These are the kind of things I nerd out on!

I'll say it again-- it's hard to be bored when you have a world of beans to explore.

Growers + Makers Wine Notes:

A favorite of ours, Artisanal Wine Cellars 2013 Adams Old Vine Reserve is a graceful representative of Oregon Pinot Noir. This wine was grown in the Chehalem Mountains, and is a food-friendly delight as much as it is an ethereal sipper. Notes of mineral, forest floor, and soft cherry carry through.

The soft tannins in this wine work just fine with the raw asparagus. I would think twice about putting it together with cooked asparagus.

For the Lemony-Asparagus-Bean Salad, you'll start with a pot of cooked beans. No one can describe how to do this easy, basic step better than the folks at Rancho Gordo, so allow me to make that introduction. "Rancho Gordo, meet my friend. Friend. . . Rancho Gordo."

Ingredients you'll need

This almost no-cook dish comes together in minutes. (The panko topping is quickly crisped up in a skillet in about 5 minutes.) Here's where the value of cooking the beans earlier in the week comes! It's not often you run across ideas for raw asparagus, and I'm not sure why-- it's a perfect salad ingredient. Gluten-free and dairy-free options are noted in the recipe.

Next up we'll wrap up the Ode to Beans trilogy with the Beans, Greens, and Pork recipe. Be well, friends.

asparagus bean salad on black plate

Lemony Asparagus-Bean Salad with Crispy Lemon Topping

Course: Main Dish, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest
Keyword: dairy-free option, gluten-free option, pot of beans
Season: Evergreen (April - July), Mist (November - March)
Dietary: Vegetarian
Preparation: Fast + Easy
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Servings: 4
Author: Pam Spettel
Crunchy thinly-sliced raw asparagus and creamy white beans in a simple lemon vinaigrette, with crispy panko and sharp Parmesan curls, on the table in 15 minutes.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

For the Salad

  • 3 cups cooked white beans
  • 1 bunch asparagus, thick stems peeled, thinly sliced on a sharp diagonal
  • 1 green onion or green garlic stalk, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the Crispy Lemon Topping

  • ½ cup panko, regular of gluten-free
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • zest of one lemon (reserved from above)
  • salt to taste
  • 2 ounces shaved Parmesan (omit for dairy-free option)

Instructions

For the Salad

  • Prep the asparagus, the green onion or green garlic, and the chives. In a mixing bowl, combine the prepared vegetables, white beans, and herbs with the lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Place in serving bowl or platter.

For the Crispy Lemon Topping

  • Heat the olive oil to medium-high heat in a small skillet. Add the panko and stir to coat it evenly with the oil. (It will absorb the oil, leaving very little at all in the pan.) Flatten the panko out across the bottom of the pan, and leave it to toast for about 45-60 seconds before stirring. Repeat until the crumbs are thoroughly toasted to a medium brown, being careful not to burn the crumbs. This should take 5 minutes or less.
  • Place the crumbs in a small bowl. Stir for a minute or two to cool them slightly. Add a pinch of salt and the grated lemon zest, stirring to incorporate the zest throughout. The slight warmth of the crumbs will make the zest very fragrant.
  • Spoon the crispy lemon topping over the salad. Shave the Parmesan with a vegetable peeler, and place the Parmesan curls over the salad to serve.

Notes

Make it Your Own:
Try fresh mint or other herbs instead of or with the chives.
Humble Beans

I can think of no other food that radiates humble, simple elegance like the bean. Beans are easy to cook, fit into most dietary lifestyles, and are seasonless-- they make a hearty wintertime stew or a chilled summery salad with equal aplomb.

Pasta with Beans and Mushrooms

Last week I cooked up one pound of Rancho Gordo Alubia Blanca beans, and made a little game of seeing what I could do with them throughout the week that wouldn't grow wearisome. The pasta with beans and mushrooms, lemony asparagus-bean salad, and brothy beans-and-greens bowl were each distinct, and each a success.

The true miracle of it is that only four ounces of meat were used to season just one of the dishes, and yet meat was not missed. Beans are tasty, protein-rich, loaded with fiber, and when used with other flavorful ingredients are totally satisfying.

Lemony Asparagus Bean Salad

This post includes the recipe for the pasta, bean, and mushroom dish. Recipes for the other two dishes will come in quick succession in separate posts. An Ode to the Bean trilogy, if you will.

In the third post, we'll address the elephant in the room-- the Magical Fruit Effect.

Why go to the trouble of cooking dried beans?

Let's talk about the advantage of using dried beans rather than canned, not that there's anything wrong with that! The texture of beans cooked from scratch is more toothsome, less waterlogged, and texturally more interesting. There are nearly infinite varieties of dried beans, each having their own unique flavor, too. Some are clean with an almost mineral slate-like flavor (the Alubia Blanca is an example), some are slightly smoky flavored, some are nutty, and some are meaty.

Some beans are tiny and others are huge. Think of beans like you think of all the different pasta shapes-- each one holds a special charm depending on what it is you want to prepare or serve them with.

Brothy Beans, Greens, and Pancetta

A pound of beans cooks up into ten full-sized servings-- likely more when used with other ingredients-- making them a definite proletariat choice.

In their brilliant display of versatility, beans eagerly accept the flavors of the ingredients they are put with. The humble bean grows in most climates, and people from most cultures use beans in some way in their cooking. There's just so much to love about the unassuming bean.

It's hard to be bored when you have a world of beans to explore.

Grower's + Makers Wine Notes:

With the Pasta, Bean, and Mushrooms dish we served RoxyAnn Winery 2017 Claret. This Bordeaux-style blend, grown in warm Southern Oregon, is rich and soft and great with these mushrooms. It's a good value, too.

Things you'll need for Pasta with Beans and Mushrooms

To start with, you'll need a cooked pot of beans. No one can describe how to do this easy, basic step better than the folks at Rancho Gordo, so allow me to make that introduction. "Rancho Gordo, meet my friend. Friend. . . Rancho Gordo."

If you like this recipe, please give it a star rating, and leave any comments letting me know what you think!

Be well, friends.

Humble Pasta with Beans and Mushrooms

Course: Main Dish
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest
Keyword: mixed herbs, mushrooms, pasta, pot of beans, quick and easy
Season: Bounty (August - October), Mist (November - March)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Gluten-Free, Nut-Free, Vegan
Preparation: Fast + Easy
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Servings: 4
Author: Pam Spettel
There are so many fantastic things to do with a pot of freshly cooked beans, and this is one of them! Humble and unintentionally vegan, full of herbs and earthy mushroom and bean flavor, chewy pasta, and loaded with energy-giving protein, it's a dish fit for a queen.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 cups white beans, cooked or canned white beans
  • ½ pound pasta, your choice orecchiette is nice- it holds the little beans!
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 pound mushrooms, any kind (these are chestnut mushrooms)
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped chives
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 cup bean cooking liquid, or reserved pasta water
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more for pasta water
  • 1 lemon, zested and squeezed
  • ground black pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Put a pot of water with a palmful of salt (about 3 Tablespoons) on to boil. Boil pasta according to package directions until almost al dente. (It will finish cooking later.) If you don't have any reserved bean cooking liquid, reserve a cup of the cooking water and drain. Set the pasta and pasta water aside.
  • While the water comes to a boil, clean and trim the mushrooms. If using button mushrooms cut them into quarters. Zest the lemon and squeeze it of its juice. Set them aside.
  • Mix together the chopped oregano, chives, and parsley and set them aside on your cutting board.
  • Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil, mushrooms, shallot, and ½ teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Cook, leaving the mushrooms in place to brown a bit before stirring. Repeat, leaving the mushrooms undisturbed for a few minutes before stirring until they are cooked through and have a slight browned color. Adjust your temperature if the shallots are browning too quickly. Remove about ½ of the mushrooms from the pan and reserve for serving.
  • To the mushrooms in the skillet add the beans, pasta, and bean cooking liquid or pasta water, scraping up any mushroom juices. Stir, and season with remaining salt and pepper. Stir in about half the mixed herbs and the lemon juice. Allow the cooking liquid to reduce about ½, leaving some moisture in the pan.
  • Spoon the pasta, beans and mushrooms into a a large serving bowl or individual bowls. Spoon any pan juices over the top. Place the reserved mushrooms on top, along with a healthy sprinkling of fresh herbs and lemon zest.

Notes

Make It Your Own:
There is no shame in using canned beans- I keep them in my pantry at all times for quick and easy meals. The beans will be mushier, so handle them a little more gently.
Experiment with different types of beans, different pasta shapes, whatever mushrooms are seasonal, and whatever fresh herbs you have on hand. 
If you don't have a lemon on hand, add 2 or 3 teaspoons white or red wine vinegar instead. 

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Welcome!

Photo of 101-Mile Kitchen blog owner.

You’re in the right place to break up with cooking and hospitality anxiety, learn how to use recipes as guides rather than strict rules, and let your cooking intuition and confidence soar. I’m Pam Spettel, home cooking expert and guide, and I’m here to show you how.

Superpower: Dreaming up recipes that work, serving them to my friends and family, and writing little stories about how cooking them well is the same as loving well.

Inspiration: Ingredients! Fresh, colorful, fragrant, local, seasonal ingredients as an artistic medium.

Heroes: Food and wine producers– the people who keep me, my family, and our community nourished and happy.

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