Vegetables with pasta come in spring colors
Monday, April 07, 2014 4:21 AM
On a recent weekend, when temps hit 60 degrees, I had spring fever. So did everyone else that day. I was so pumped, I was determined I would start walking to work again on Monday.
Spring Vegetables with Pasta and Greek Yogurt Alfredo Sauce
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
8 ounces asparagus spears - snap off woody ends, roll cut into one-inch lengths
4 ounces pea pods-snap off stem end, pull down to remove any strings
1 each small (or one-half large) yellow and orange sweet peppers-halve, core, narrowly slice half-lengths
4 ounces white mushrooms-sliced
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
Optional: Cooked chopped chicken
9 ounce package tri-color cheese tortellini or other colorful pasta
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon granulated chicken bouillon
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup low fat milk
1/2 cup plain non-fat Greek yogurt
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Fill large sauce pan with water and begin heating for pasta.
Pour olive oil into large non-stick fry pan and heat. Add onion and start cooking. Gradually add in sequence: asparagus, pea pods, sweet peppers and sliced mushrooms, stirring and cooking over medium heat. Season with sea salt to taste.
When mushrooms begin to look translucent, add the broth and simmer a few minutes. If desired, stir in chopped chicken.
Meanwhile, when water boils, cook pasta, following directions. Drain when cooked and return to empty pan until rest of meal is cooked.
For sauce: Melt butter in sauce pan over low heat, add flour and stir, cooking until bubbly. Mix in bouillon, garlic powder and pepper. Stir in milk and yogurt, continue stirring until it begins to thicken. Add cheese and stir until it melts. Pour white sauce into vegetable mixture and mix gently. Serve over pasta.
Freshly grind pepper over pasta and vegetables in white sauce.
If adding chicken: Before cooking vegetables, use a pound of skinless, boneless chicken breasts. Cut breast in half width-wise, put back together then thinly (1/4 inch wide) diagonally slice breast through both layers. Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in pan, add chicken, season lightly with sea salt or seasoned salt. Stir and cook until chicken is cooked through. Remove from pan and place on plate until vegetables are cooked. Add to vegetables about five minutes after adding broth. Heat through before adding white sauce.
(Use a separate cutting board for cutting up chicken and wash your hands after handling the raw chicken.)
Imagining planters hanging from my deck railing, filled with trailing herbs, I purchased new special planters that perch on deck railings. I ended up buying two sets of them from different stores to bring home and try out.
I walked to work on Monday, dodging some latent islands of backyard snow piles. There's still icy snow on the backside of my house that faces north. But a couple of steps and I was past the snow, walking on soggy dead turf while dodging doggie do, left from winter pet runs.
But it felt so good! And I thought it was spring - finally. But, no, not so quick, not here yet. I drove to work today, Tuesday. The wind was fierce and by mid morning, when I switched jobs, there was new ice and snow on the ground.
But, and this is a big but, I can still think spring in my kitchen by cooking up some of the wonderfully colorful veggies I picked up while shopping last weekend. Yeah, I know they were grown a long, long way from here and the cheap prices were due to cheap labor picking them.
I could not resist yellow and orange sweet peppers, along with spring green pea pods and skinny asparagus spears. After my recent training at the Minnesota Farmers Market Association annual meeting in St. Cloud, I carefully rinsed and rinsed them to make sure their exteriors were clean.
And after I cooked up a vegetable pasta dish with a white sauce, I was more careful about proper cooling of my leftovers. Instead of sitting down to wolf down my bowl of pasta, I first measured out single-serving portions and put them in the fridge to cool. After I had eaten, I would put covers on the containers.
To add to the colorful display of veggies, I had paired them with colored pasta. Another recent grocery store temptation was boxes of orange and green pasta "nests." I had gotten the green skinny "taglierini ai spinaci" (spinach nests) on an earlier shopping trip and could not resist a second boxful. I have cooked and paired them with both white and marinara sauce. On my recent trip I also got wide noodled tomato fettuccine nests plus some tri-color tortellini in the refrigerated section.
The colored, flavored pasta makes the adventure of matching them with spring colored vegetables even more adventurous. Or now I have such a stock of pasta that it will take all spring and summer to consume.
Oh, I also remembered I should be thoroughly washing my hands with soap while rubbing them into a lather and singing "Happy Birthday," at least in my head. Use just plain soap, anti-bacterial soap is not necessary. The lathered rubbing under running water is more important. By the way, those anti-bacterial alcohol mixtures in pump jars aren't all that effective.
At the farmers market event, we looked at what was left on our hands with a black light.
The other thing we learned is that when washing vegetables, don't use water that's more than 10 degrees colder than the vegetable's temperature. Thus, if you pick fresh tomatoes from the garden on a hot day, wash them in warmish water, so they won't be shocked by the cold. If dunked in icy water and there is bacteria on the tomato skin, it could be drawn into the tomato due to the shock.
Who would know that? Since my veggies came from the fridge, I figured it was acceptable to wash them in cool tap water.
We were also shown how scrubbing vegetables with a fingernail brush while rinsing is more effective in removing things that can poison your food than a simple rinse. Admittedly, I will be more conscious than before about washing my vegetables and my hands, while taking better precautions in quickly cooling leftovers to keep bacteria from growing.
One more washing tip - always wash the outside of fruit like melons or pineapple before cutting through them. Any dirt or chemicals that's on the skin will be drawn through the fruit by the knife and contaminate the fruit one is serving.
I previously tried a couple of white sauce recipes using protein-rich Greek yogurt as one of the ingredients. I have found that adding it directly into a stir-fry results in curdling. This morning, after another failure last night, I got up early and tried a recipe before work. I have used a similar recipe in this column before. It starts with a basic white sauce (butter, flour and milk). The yogurt is added to this, topped off with grated Parmesan cheese.
Although I prefer recipes requiring a minimum of cooking pans, this requires three - one for pasta water, a stir-fry pan and a small sauce pan for the white sauce.
The Alfredo white sauce's primary ingredients came via a Florida Dairy Farmers recipe found on a website (floridamilk.com). I like ordering pasta at Noodles and just like one can "add chicken" to a pasta bowl there, home cooks could also add cooked chicken to this recipe.
So hats off to a spring with spring-colored vegetables and pasta.