Spring Fettuccini with Ham, Asparagus and Peas

Asparagus always heralds spring and a wonderful way to eat your veggies is to pile them into a big bowl of pasta. This dish is similar to the Italian recipe for “straw and hay,” which combines spinach and semolina pasta in a creamy sauce with pancetta and peas.

Straw and Hay is a favorite of mine and one of the best renditions I had of it was in Murano, the island in Venice where all the beautiful glass is made. This dish I made lacks spinach pasta and instead of heavy cream, it gains creaminess from feta cheese stirred into the sauce.Bowl of fettucini with ham and vegetables.

Ingredients:

  • Asparagus (1 bundle, trim by gently snapping off the weak part by gently pushing down in the middle with an index finger , then chop)
  • Peas (I bag frozen)
  • ¾ lb. ham (sliced at the deli at 1 and diced at home)
  • yellow bell pepper (3)
  • feta (1 package low-fat feta)
  • carrot (1 large)
  • artichoke (1 can quarters)
  • sweet onion (half cup diced)
  • garlic cloves (3 peeled, smashed and sliced)
  • dried fettuccini (1 lb.)

Directions: Prep veggies and ham ahead of time and set aside. To get it started, heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven on low heat.

Dice carrot and toss in. Add chopped garlic and onion. Once the onion turns golden, fold in the chopped ham. Saute at medium heat until ham edges start to curl and brown, stirring from time to time.

Meanwhile, start a big pasta pot of water on the stove’s biggest burner on high heat. Then to the saucepan, add chopped asparagus and yellow pepper. Cover the pot. Take bag of frozen peas out and cook in microwave, according to bag directions.

Bell pepper and asparagus in a saute pan with ham and onion.

Once these two veggies soften, add can of artichoke, including the juice. Heat through at medium-high heat. Pour in peas. Then stir in feta crumbles. Cover and heat through on low heat while you wait on the pasta water to boil. Once it reaches a roaring boil, throw in a dash of salt. Add a couple of drops of oil to the water. Then, place fettuccini in the water. Cook according to box directions. Drain cooked pasta and place in a huge pasta bowl and pour veggies and ham sauce over the top. Gently toss until mixed. Place servings in bowls and add to taste the following: salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.

The most important part: enjoy. And enjoy the leftovers too!

Cheers,

The Sage Leopard

Raclette Grilled Chicken with Salad Greens

This summer’s dinners are going to often be salads, especially now that we are growing our own lettuce and other veggies. This salad is prepared with a raclette grill and is based on a grilled salad we were introduced to over a Fourth of July celebration. The original salad featured veggies charred in a sauce pan. It’s a little difficult to clean a charred pan and I don’t like the burnt flavor.

granite chicken
Grilling chicken on granite

Instead, I put our raclette grill into action. The grill has a granite top as well as an aluminum nonstick grill top. For this, I pulled out the granite. Here are the ingredients and instructions.

Ingredients:

  • 1 red pepper, sliced
  • 1/4 red onion, sliced
  • 1 bundle of asparagus, washed and trimmed*
  • a couple of slices of cheese (raclette cheese is an option)
  • 1 package of chicken tenders
  • fresh lettuce (we culled some from our garden)

Directions: To “trim” the asparagus, hold a spear’s end in between a thumb and index finder, and with the opposite hand, push down on the stem toward the flowery end with your other index finger. The spear will naturally snap at its break point. Discard the ends. Start the raclette grill. I put the granite top on medium-high heat. Once hot, spray with olive oil spray and place asparagus, onion slices and bell pepper slices on the grill top.

Granite is a great surface for grilling veggies without burning them
Granite is a great surface for grilling veggies without burning them

Turn your attention to the chicken. I bought a package of already cut chicken tenders to expedite dinner. I placed the chicken in a mixing bowl with a healthy sprinkle of Velata garden dill rub and a drizzle of olive oil. I hand tossed the chicken to evenly spread the oil and spice rub. As the vegetables finished grilling, I removed them and put them on a small platter. Once all the veggies were cleared off the grill top, I put the chicken pieces on. As the chicken browned on one side, I put the cheese in the raclette pans. Now, for the lettuce. We planted some from seeds and now the garden bed is full of lettuce heads. We better eat this lettuce like it’s going out of style. I washed and dried it before putting it in a large salad bowl.

Putting it all together
Putting it all together

Then, add the grilled veggies. Once the chicken is cooked, add it to the salad bowl atop the veggies. Take the raclette pans and pour the melted cheese over the chicken. Salt and pepper to taste. Toss the salad with your favorite dressing. I used olive oil and cider vinegar. Serve in big pasta bowls. Enjoy!

Cheers,

The Sage Leopard

Buttermilk recipes and other impromptu cooking moves

It all started with a bottle of frozen buttermilk. My philosophy with cooking is to work with what you got, when possible. My mother always says you should plan a menu based on what you see is fresh at the store. Borrowing from that idea, I try to plan based on what is on hand at the house. On the flip side, I tend to go to the store armed with a list inspired by two or three recipes I want to try and have prepared over the next few days or week. As for the buttermilk, before our last trip, I put the milk in the freezer.

cornbread
Buttermilk plays a key role in my Vermont-Texas cornbread recipe

Today, which I think is several weeks later, I opened the pantry, fridge and freezer – in that order – to see what was available. Spying the frozen buttermilk, I was immediately inspired. What if I made mashed cauliflower with buttermilk? And, of course, I can bake buttermilk cornbread. Check, check. Plus, we had asparagus in the fridge. Suddenly the following menu was born:

  • Garlic buttermilk mashed cauliflower
  • Sautéed asparagus with raclette cheese and tomatoes
  • Maple Texas buttermilk cornbread

Here’s how I went about it, one dish at a time.

Cornbread:

Before pulling out all the ingredients, preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit with cast iron skillet inside. Ingredients: Lamb’s Stone Ground Yellow Cornmeal (1 ½ cups), combined with ½ cup bread flour, 4 teaspoons sugar, 3 tsp. baking powder, ½ tsp. salt, 1 cup buttermilk, ¼ cup oil, 2 eggs and a 1/4 cup of real maple syrup.

cornbread
Cornbread baked in a cast-iron skillet

Directions: Simply put all the ingredients in one big mixing bowl and combine with a spoon or spatula. Pull out preheated skillet and place on stove top. Spray skillet with canola oil spray. Pour cornbread batter into greased skillet and place in over. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Place on stove top to cook. The bread should easily pop out of the skillet when cooled.

Mashed cauliflower: Ingredients to have on hand: one head cauliflower, garlic cloves, buttermilk, butter and olive oil. Break apart cauliflower and put florets in a microwave-safe dish. Add two cloves of peeled garlic (I initially used four cloves and it was, ahem, a bit too much).

Reducing the mashed cauliflower over low heat in a large saucepan
Reducing the mashed cauliflower over low heat in a large saucepan

Cook according to your microwave’s instructions for cooking vegetables. My Chef Mike actually has a specific setting for cooking vegetables and amounts by cups. Then put cooked florets in a large food processor. Add a tablespoon of butter, an ample splash of buttermilk, cover and crank it up. Open the top that allows the addition of further ingredients and add more buttermilk and drizzles of olive oil until combined. As it turned out, my batch had too much buttermilk so I ended up heating it on low in a saucepan to reduce the liquid. Later, I added some shredded Parmesan cheese.

Asparagus: Rinse asparagus in a colander, snap off ends, then snap into little pieces (1.5-2 inches). Saute in a nonstick pan. Once nearly cooked, add salt and sliced grape tomatoes. Finally, add some cheese. I used a raclette cheese, which is soft and strongly aromatic. Grind on black pepper.

Asparagus meeting up with tomatoes and cheese, always a great combination
Asparagus meeting up with tomatoes and cheese, always a great combination

This all came together and was served with venison steaks. It was a nice Sunday dinner and a good way to wrap up the weekend. It also was a great way to use the buttermilk that had been waiting in the freezer to be loved. I may just go get another piece of cornbread now.

Cheers,

The Sage Leopard

Grilled chicken, Chef Mike and a European Grill

After venison steaks on Sunday and venison sausage on Monday, grilled chicken was up tonight. We tend to have a protein rotation of venison, chicken and salmon, the latter two I like to cook on a raclette grill. Before I regale you with the wonders of raclette grilling, I want to introduce you to Chef Mike. Chef Mike makes really outstanding food in homes, restaurants and just about anywhere you can find a plug. Chef Mike, a.k.a., the microwave, is perfect for baked potatoes. For tonight’s dinner, there were only two cooking appliances: Chef Mike and the raclette grill.

Baked potatoes by Chef Mike
Baked potatoes by Chef Mike

On the menu: baked potatoes (courtesy of Chef Mike) with tzatziki sauce (courtesy of a herb mix), and grilled asparagus, squash, chicken and cheese. The cheese was melted in raclette pans, which are nonstick and easily slide under the griddle for light broiling. The beauty of the raclette grill is that the nonstick griddle top conveys the right amount of heat to cook the food without burning it. So, I was able to walk out into the backyard a couple of times to chat with my boyfriend. Raclette grills harken back to a European sensibility of gathering people around a table with wine and cheese, meats and bread, and veggies. Everyone places what they want to eat on the grill and the raclette cheese (a type of Swiss) is melted to go with the all the other ingredients.

raclette grill
Queso blanco melted in the raclette pan

We’ve adopted the raclette as an easy alternative to firing up the oven and getting a bunch of pots and pans dirty. Instead, I turn on the electric grill atop the kitchen counter, spritz on some olive oil spray and get grilling. Veggie slices, asparagus spears and meat. For meat, you want to use thinly sliced or pounded out cutlets. Fish cooks just fine. Shrimp cooks perfectly. I like that I can place food on the nonstick grill and walk away to get something or do something. When I cook with pots and pans, I feel I am more committed to hovering over the stove, lest something burns. Even on a low simmer, I have burned food, such a rice. That’s probably why I love that electric, nonstick rice cooker. Seriously, I absolutely love cooking and enjoy using various methods and gadgets. When I first heard of the raclette grill, I immediately thought of Korean barbeque. Funny thing is I have yet to try making Korean BBQ on the raclette. For that, we use our Lodge Hibachi grill outside.

Chicken grilling on the raclette
Chicken grilling on the raclette

The raclette is great for simple, everyday grilling inside. It also provides the best way ever to melt cheese. It melts evenly in the raclette pan and slides out onto your plate. Tonight, I used a queso blanco with green chiles. The cheese paired perfectly with the asparagus. After dinner, I rinsed and wiped the grill top with a soapy sponge. Rinsed again and placed it in the dish rack. Chef Mike gave me a knowing nod and we were done.

The Sage Leopard