pasta

simple suppers: spaghetti with roasted cauliflower, currants, pine nuts, chile and sardines

spaghetti with roasted cauliflower, currants, pine nuts, chile and sardines via millys-kitchen.com

You’ll be happy to hear I’m (mostly) done complaining about being back under grey Northwest skies. Shaking the nasty head cold I came home with has helped brighten my mood. As did seeing so many fantastic folks from the Seattle food community at Book Larder’s 5th birthday bash last night. 

The food was mightily on point, too. My friend Kyle made ridiculously delicious lamb meatballs bathed in some sort of creamy tomato business that everyone was swooning over. And pastry chef extraordinaire, Rachael Coyle, baked a carrot cake studded with dates and nuts and layered with the fluffiest mascarpone filling that made me lose all restraint. (I may or may not have gone back for thirds.)

spaghetti with roasted cauliflower, currants, pine nuts, chile and sardines via millys-kitchen.com

Also, a brute of a storm is rolling into town this weekend. There’s talk of gale-force winds and power outages. Beau and I have battened down our hatches and are planning to spend the next couple days indoors playing cards, reading, watching movies and cooking (as long as we have power), which sounds like the perfect way to spend a blustery fall weekend.

spaghetti with roasted cauliflower, currants, pine nuts, chile and sardines via millys-kitchen.com

Another thing that boosted my mood this week is this spicy spaghetti with roasted cauliflower, currants, pine nuts and sardines. This humble, improvised dinner was just the sort of comfort food I needed. Creamy, nutty and salty-sweet, it was a happy coincidence of pantry staples that yielded a whole much greater than the sum of its parts. A sort of weeknight dinner alchemy. And the best part is that it somehow managed to taste even better today when we had the leftovers for lunch. 

spaghetti with roasted cauliflower, currants, pine nuts, chile and sardines via millys-kitchen.com
spaghetti with roasted cauliflower, currants, pine nuts, chile and sardines via millys-kitchen.com

Good ingredients are key here. Especially, the sardines. I used a can of the amazing sardines I brought back from Portugal. I recommend searching out good quality Portuguese, Spanish or Italian sardines for this dish. (A few mashed up anchovy fillets would work in a pinch.) And for those of you who are not fans of canned fish--I hear you. I would never open a can of sardines and eat them with a fork like Beau does. That’s far too fishy for me! But against a backdrop of earthy roasted cauliflower, sweet-tart dried currants, salty parmesan and toothsome spaghetti, sardines lend just the right amount of briny umami to round out this dish. 

I cannot say precisely whether it was seeing so many friends this week, or the mood-boosting properties of all the sardines I ate, or the excitement of preparing for this weekend’s storm, or possibly even the carrot cake-induced sugar rush I experienced yesterday that lifted my mood. What I can say is that I’m grateful to be feeling more at home in our little home. And that this pasta is my new favorite cold-weather comfort food.

spaghetti with roasted cauliflower, currants, pine nuts, chile and sardines via millys-kitchen.com
spaghetti with roasted cauliflower, currants, pine nuts, chile and sardines via millys-kitchen.com

Spaghetti with Roasted Cauliflower, Currants, Pine Nuts, Chile and Sardines

  • 1 medium head cauliflower
  • 6-8 tablespoons good quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt or kosher salt, to taste
  • 12 oz. dried spaghetti
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • Generous pinch chile flakes (or to taste)
  • ¼ cup capers, rinsed
  • ¼ cup dried currants
  • 1 can sardine filets (about 4 oz.)
  • 1 cup finely grated parmesan, plus additional to garnish
  • ½ cup toasted pine nuts
spaghetti with roasted cauliflower, currants, pine nuts, chile and sardines via millys-kitchen.com

Preheat your oven to 450° F.

Wash and dry your cauliflower well. Remove any tough leaves and stalks and toss. Remove the tender, pale green leaves and set aside. Slice the cauliflower into ½-inch thick slices (the flat sides of sliced cauliflower make more uniform contact with the pan allowing the cauliflower to brown more evenly). Arrange the cauliflower and tender leaves in a single layer on a rimmed sheet pan (use parchment paper for easier clean-up if you want). Brush with 2-4 tablespoons of the olive oil. The amount you need will depend on the size of your cauliflower--you want it coated on all sides. Sprinkle with salt and roast until the cauliflower is just tender and nicely browned, about 20 minutes, turning once.  

While the cauliflower is roasting, bring a large pot of generously salted water (it should taste like the sea) to the boil. Add the spaghetti and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta-cooking water. Drain the pasta and place it back in the pot. Add a tablespoon or so of the cooking water if necessary to keep it from sticking to the pot.

spaghetti with roasted cauliflower, currants, pine nuts, chile and sardines via millys-kitchen.com

When the cauliflower is done, remove it from the oven and set aside. Heat 4 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and chile flakes and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add the capers, currants and sardines. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often  until the ingredients are heated through. Smash the sardines with the back of a wooden spoon if necessary to break them up. Cut the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces and add it to the pot with the spaghetti along with the cheese and ½ cup of the reserved pasta water. Cook over low heat, stirring well, until the cheese has melted and formed a sauce with the pasta water. Taste and add a bit more salt if necessary and a bit more pasta water if it seems dry. Serve hot sprinkled with the toasted pine nuts and extra grated parmesan.

Makes 4 servings.

slow-roasted tomato pasta with lemon, ricotta and seeds

slow roasted tomato pasta with lemon, ricotta and seeds

One of my many “charming” idiosyncrasies is that I often intensely dislike the things I come to adore. 

Take my best friend, Sarah, for example. I met Sarah in the 7th grade. She was part of a clique of impossibly cool and intimidating girls who wore peppy Keds sneakers and adorned their shiny ponytails with ribbons with their names on them. 

They were everything I wanted to be: pretty, popular, rich--by the humble standards of my family, anyway. And so, I decided that I would hate them with every fiber of my awkward, middle-school self and wish for their social downfall. 

slow roasted tomato pasta with lemon, ricotta and seeds

Whether my adolescent ill-will had any effect on the fate of this formidable clique, I cannot say. But I do know that shortly after I vowed to despise them, something magical happened: Sarah was booted from their ranks. 

There was a shift in the 7th-grade hierarchy of power, and somehow Sarah didn’t make the cut. But one girl’s loss is another’s gain, and at a boozily unchaperoned party later that year, I discovered that Sarah was supposed to be my BFF for all time and claimed her as my own. 

She has remained my very best and most steadfast friend since that fateful eve. She is one of the few people I, introverted hermit that I am, pick up the phone for. We make each other laugh until we cry at least once a week. Last year, she officiated at my wedding. She knows me like no one else and I can’t imagine a world without her.

slow roasted tomato pasta with lemon, ricotta and seeds

Tomatoes and I have a similar story.

As a kid I hated tomatoes with a vehemence that bordered on insanity. My mother and grandmother were always trying to sneak them into a ham sandwich or an iceberg lettuce salad. But no amount of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing could disguise my sworn enemy. The tomatoes I grew up eating were of the 1980’s industrially-farmed variety, shipped from the far corners of the country to the Midwest and refrigerated until mealy and almost completely lacking in flavor. They were pale and lifeless and in no way represented something I was going to stick in my mouth. 

This was pretty much the status quo until I moved to Brussels after college. It was there, at my local farmers market, that I discovered heirloom tomatoes so beautifully ripe and fragrant that I was lured into giving them a try. I recently found a picture of those tomatoes: a pile of Green Zebras and Belgium Pinks and Sungolds. The experience was apparently so transformative, I decided to memorialize it for all time.

slow roasted tomato pasta with lemon, ricotta and seeds

I have since come to love tomatoes of many stripes and colors. Our kitchen table has a bowl that remains full of some sort of tomato from late June through September. In Seattle, we are spoiled with a stunning variety to choose from. I was rounding a corner at the farmers market last Sunday when a pile of pristine yellow romas from Growing Things Farm caught my eye. I backtracked and scooped up every last one. I knew exactly what I was going to do with them; beautiful, ripe romas are perfect for slow-roasted tomatoes. And slow-roasted tomatoes are perfect on just about everything.

Gently-roasted in a low oven, tomatoes become meltingly tender and sweet. Their flavors are intensified as water evaporates and their sugars start to caramelize. Once roasted, their uses are almost endless. You can bake them into a fluffy frittata, pile them onto a slab of crusty bread with avocado or mozzarella, whiz them into a vinaigrette or toss them with white beans, fresh herbs and a drizzle of good olive oil for a hearty summer salad. You get the drift.

slow roasted tomato pasta with lemon, ricotta and seeds

After I roasted those golden beauties, I decided they wanted something creamy to balance their acidity and something earthy to ground their intense sweetness. This pasta was the result. There is velvety fresh ricotta and a hit of lemon zest for brightness. And the whole thing is topped with toasted seeds for crunch and a handful of dill that lends freshness, complexity and verve. 

But the tomatoes are what bring it all together. I guess this dish is an ode of sorts to a former foe. I’m going to have it for dinner again tonight, I think, and ponder my good luck at having made such dear friends of erstwhile enemies.


Slow-Roasted Tomato Pasta with Lemon, Ricotta and Seeds

  • 10 oz. (285g) spaghetti or other long, thin pasta
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons poppy seeds
  • 2 teaspoons finely-grated zest (approximate yield of 1 large lemon)
  • 2 teaspoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 12 slow-roasted tomato halves (see recipe below)
  • 1 cup (about 8 oz or 225g) fresh whole-milk ricotta (preferably close to room temperature)
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dill fronds, to garnish (optional)

*Notes: Homemade ricotta is easy to make and so much better than store-bought! Here's a recipe in case you want to give it a go. If not, I think Bellwether Farms and Belgioso both make great ricotta.

- I know dill is a divisive herb; some people love it, some hate it. But used in moderation, it cuts through heavier flavors to freshen a dish and provide a faintly sweet and sour complexity. And dill with tomatoes can be a beautiful thing. I encourage you to try it. But no hard feelings if you’re not feeling it--just leave it off or substitute it’s much milder counterpart: fennel fronds. A few finely snipped chives would be nice, too.

- Leftover toasted seeds are delicious sprinkled on a green salad, a rice bowl, hard-boiled eggs or a simple slice of avocado toast. They will keep, stored in an airtight container for at least a month before they lose some of their zing.

slow roasted tomato pasta with lemon, ricotta and seeds

Bring a pot of generously salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. 

While the pasta is cooking, toast the seeds. Heat a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the sesame seeds and toast, stirring often, until fragrant and golden, 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool. Add all the rest of the seeds to the skillet and toast, stirring often, until fragrant, 2-3 minutes longer. Transfer to the plate with the sesame seeds. Stir to combine. 

When the pasta is done, use a heatproof measuring cup to remove about ½ cup of the pasta cooking water. Set aside. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the lemon juice and zest.

You can mix the pasta with the other ingredients before serving or you can layer the ingredients as you plate the dish, as I did in these photos, which looks a bit fancier. If I’m not photographing this dish or serving it to guests, I mix everything together, which I think distributes the flavors a bit more evenly. 

To mix the ingredients: roughly chop the tomato halves and add them to the pot with the warm pasta along with the ricotta and a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of the reserved pasta water. This helps the ricotta coat the pasta better. Stir to coat the pasta. If the ricotta seems too thick or clumpy, add another tablespoon or two of the pasta water and stir again. Transfer to a serving platter or individual plates and sprinkle with some of the mixed toasted seeds and a few dill fronds. Drizzle with a bit of the oil from the tomatoes if desired and serve.

To layer the ingredients: divide the pasta (seasoned with zest and juice) between 4 plates. Top each plate with ¼ cup of the ricotta. Arrange 3 tomato halves on top of the ricotta. Sprinkle each plate with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Sprinkle with some of the mixed toasted seeds and a few dill fronds and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

 

slow roasted tomato pasta with lemon, ricotta and seeds

 

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

  • 1 lb plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise (you can use cherry or grape tomatoes, too)
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling and storing
  • Kosher salt or coarse sea salt
  • Freshly-ground black pepper
  • Few sprigs fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C) Position a rack in the center of the oven.

Place the halved tomatoes, cut-side-up on a rimmed sheet pan. Drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Scatter the thyme sprigs over the tomatoes and transfer to the oven.

Roast until the tomatoes have lost at least half of their moisture, and are starting to caramelize slightly. The time will vary depending on the size of your tomatoes. This will take anywhere from 45-50 minutes for tiny cherry tomatoes, to 2 hours for large, juicy plum tomatoes. 

Remove the sheet pan from the oven and allow the tomatoes to cool to room temperature before storing. To store, transfer the roasted tomatoes to a clean jar and pour the oil from the sheet pan over the tomatoes. You can pour in a little more oil if you like. The tomatoes don't need to be covered, but they will season the oil which you can then drizzle over them or use to season vinaigrettes, fish or roasted vegetables. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

slow roasted tomato pasta with lemon, ricotta and seeds


old-fashioned egg noodles + chicken soup to cure what ails you

old-fashioned egg noodles + chicken soup // milly's kitchen

A couple Saturdays ago, I found myself on the couch, curled up with my cat, Loulou, reading cookbooks. The sky had been sheathed in grey for days and I was fending off a beast of a headcold. Beau had packed himself off to the movies.

While paging through the stellar My Portugal by George Mendes, we happened upon a recipe for chicken soup. Juicy shreds of chicken floating in a beautiful golden broth, enriched with orzo and flecked with parsley, mint, dill and chives. Inspired by that gorgeous bowl of soup, I decided it was a chicken soup sort of day and that Loulou and I would be devoting our afternoon to cooking a pot of that time-tested cure-all. 

Too sluggish to head into uncharted territory, I closed My Portugal and gathered the ingredients for my own chicken soup.

This simple soup changes with the seasons, agreeably accepting whatever’s fresh at the market. Asparagus and English peas in the spring. Snap beans and herb pesto in the summer. Hearty greens in the fall and winter months.

old-fashioned egg noodles + chicken soup // milly's kitchen

I am horribly (superstitiously, irrationally) averse to any sort of soggy starch in my soup, which means I often stick to hearty grains like farro and barley. If a starch is prone to mushiness, I cook it separately and stir it into bowls of steaming soup just before serving.

While rooting around in the pantry for a sturdy starch to add along with the beet tops I found in the fridge, I remembered that my great grandma Phoebe made chicken soup with fat, homemade egg noodles that were impervious to bloat and sog. And that I had inherited her dog-eared kitchen handbook, The American Woman’s Cookbook, published in 1946, and a thick bundle of her handwritten recipes. 

old-fashioned egg noodles + chicken soup // milly's kitchen

Unlike Milly, Phoebe was neither sweet nor grandmotherly. She had an eagle eye for dirty fingernails and improperly tamed curls, and never failed to call these (and other) oversights to one’s attention. She started her family in 1930s Chicago, the young wife of an irascible and alcoholic mechanic. I always felt that this experience, living through the crucible of the Depression, shaped her into the guarded, frugal, God-fearing woman I knew as a child. I think because she couldn’t express her love very easily with words, she loved us through food. She was a fine cook and whenever I visited, she proferred iced oatmeal cookies, quivering bowls of ambrosia salad, dense slices of walnut-studded banana bread, and rich meatloaves bound with saltines and capped with a thick glaze of Heinz ketchup.

And sometimes, at family luncheons, there was her chicken soup. Carrot. Onion. Celery. Stock. Chicken. And thick, homemade noodles. Nothing more.

old-fashioned egg noodles + chicken soup // milly's kitchen
old-fashioned egg noodles + chicken soup // milly's kitchen

I don’t think I appreciated how good that soup was until I got older and discovered the many bland and marshy permutations of chicken noodle soup. Canned versions wanting for chunks of tender chicken and substituting salt for true flavor. Cafeteria versions with limp noodles floating sadly in a mysteriously gelatinous broth. Dehydrated instant versions, thin as tap water. Grandma Phoebe’s soup was none of these, thanks largely to the toothsome, hand-rolled noodles she made for it.

old-fashioned egg noodles + chicken soup // milly's kitchen

So I dug out her cookbook and recipes and sorted through the yellowing scraps of paper filled with her precise cursive. Applesauce Upside-Down Cake. Baked Ham. Bible verses. Tea Biscuits. Her famous Banana Nut Bread. A calendar page from 1959 indicating her work schedule at the Bloomingdale’s glove counter. Two different recipes for something called Paradise Salad, fashioned with both mayonnaise and Cool Whip. And two slips of paper with “Noodles” penned simply across the top. 

As I sifted through the recipes, deciphering her notes to herself (“This cake is VERY good!”, “Aunt Eva’s fudge”, “Cheri loves this one...”), I realized how precious these slips of paper housed in an old ziploc bag are to me. How they are a sort of culinary family tree, with notes on who liked what and which recipe had been handed down by whom. They allow me to make Aunt Eileen’s Peanut Butter Crunch or my Grandma Milly’s pie crust or Phoebe’s black walnut cake. And through the mixing and the folding and the baking, know them a tiny bit more. 

As I stirred and kneaded and rolled Phoebe’s noodles, I thought of her and her life. And the ways I did and did not know her. I added those golden noodles to my own chicken soup and as I sat down to eat a bowl, I felt myself quietly on the mend. 


old-fashioned egg noodles + chicken soup // milly's kitchen

Old-Fashioned Egg Noodles

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading and rolling
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons melted and slightly cooled chicken fat, lard or butter (or neutral-tasting cooking oil)
  • 1/2 cup whole milk

*NOTE: I like to roll these noodles out by hand like my great grandma did, but you can use a pasta machine if you like. Just don’t get them too thin; the goal is to have a toothsome, sturdy noodle when you’re done.

 

old-fashioned egg noodles + chicken soup // milly's kitchen


Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. You can continue to mix the dough in the bowl or transfer the flour mixture to the center of a large work surface. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and crack the eggs into the well. Pour the liquid fat into the eggs.

old-fashioned egg noodles + chicken soup // milly's kitchen

Using a fork, beat the eggs and fat together. Incorporate the flour mixture by gradually grabbing it from the inner rim of the well. When the flour is incorporated, use a bench scraper to gather the dough into a ball. Transfer it to a clean, well-floured work surface. Knead the dough, incorporating more flour as necessary until it is no longer sticky. Continue to knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. The kneading should take about 10 minutes total. Generously flour the ball of dough, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and set it aside to rest for at least 30 minutes.

When you’re ready to roll out the noodles, divide the dough into six pieces. Work with only one piece at a time and keep the others tightly covered so they don’t dry out. Lightly flour your work surface and stretch the dough into a roughly 6x4 inch rectangle with the short side closest to you. Fold it in thirds like an envelope and roll it out to a rectangle again. This helps strengthen the dough so it doesn’t rip when you roll it out. You can rotate the dough 90 degrees and repeat this process if it still feels tacky.

old-fashioned egg noodles + chicken soup // milly's kitchen

Roll the dough into a large rectangle about ⅛-inch thick. Use a knife or pizza cutter to slice the dough into noodles about ⅓-inch wide. You can cook the noodles immediately or hang them to dry (I use a repurposed laundry rack). When dried completely, they will store indefinitely in an air-tight container (I use a mason jar).
 
Even though the noodles will remain sturdy when added to soup, I cook them separately in salted water so the excess flour that sticks to them won’t make my soup cloudy.

Makes about 1 lb dried noodles

old-fashioned egg noodles + chicken soup // milly's kitchen

Chicken Noodle Soup

  • 1 recipe old-fashioned egg noodles (see above)
  • 2 tablespoons chicken fat or vegetable oil
  • 2 medium leeks, halved lengthwise and sliced into thin half-moons
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced into thin half-moons
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • 8 cups best quality chicken stock (preferably homemade)
  • 1 lb chicken breast or thighs
  • 1 bunch hearty greens such as kale, Swiss chard or beet tops, stems removed and torn into large pieces
  • About 4 cups cooked egg noodles

 

Heat the fat in a heavy-bottomed stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leek, carrot, celery, thyme and bay. Season with a pinch of salt and cook until the vegetables have softened, but not browned, about 8 minutes.

Add the stock, bring the soup to a simmer, then add the chicken. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is just cooked through, 15-20 minutes. You can check to see if the chicken is done by removing it and cutting into it with a paring knife. If using breast meat, take extra care not to overcook it as it gets dry and stringy. You want it to be completely opaque, without any traces of pink but still juicy. When it is cooked through, remove the chicken from the pot and set it aside to cool. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut it into ½-inch cubes. Use your fingers to shred the cubed chicken if you like. 

Add the greens to the soup and cook until tender. Add the noodles and the chicken and simmer until heated through and the flavors have come together, a few minutes longer. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Remove the bay leaves and serve.

Makes 6-8 servings

old-fashioned egg noodles + chicken soup // milly's kitchen