Wednesday, March 06, 2013
Green for March
March in Northern California is a season of green. The grass has taken advantage of the winter rains and longer days. It is lush and long. Our neighbor has sheep. Recently, at our invitation, she brought them over to our pasture. They have been avidly cropping the long grass and soon she'll move them into a movable enclosure and they will lunch on the grass on the hillside, too. Pi wants to go play with them and sometimes just heads out to the pasture and looks at them longingly. One of them is pregnant, too, so soon we might have a little lamb or two frolicking down the hill.
The willows are showing the first tender green leaves, the daffodils are peeking out of their strappy green leaves, and (while not green) the plum blossoms, both white and pink, are decorating the neighborhood. My squash and tomato and beet seedlings are becoming larger and stronger. The weeds are burgeoning, too, so tomorrow I hope to get out and pull some of them out in preparation for spring planting.
Tonight I made a very green side dish. It works well as a main dish, too. Just be sure to allow plenty per person because it is hard to stop with one serving. This is a dish I have been making since the mid-90s when the Mediterranean Diet was quite popular. Today's paper talked about recent studies that showed that it is still an excellent way to eat, since it uses season ingredients, plenty of veggies, olive oil and things like fish and cheese. I just like it because it tastes so good.
Along with some spinach fettuccine, this dish uses both the winter staple broccoli and the spring vegetable that is just now on special in all the stores, asparagus. Add a little garlic, olive oil, ricotta cheese and Parmesan cheese and you have a wonderful, warm spring dish. If you prefer, this can also be made with goat cheese. I rarely remember to make sure I have mint or fennel on hand when I make this dish, but those flavors would certainly go well. Don't forget the dash of nutmeg. Somehow it ties all of the other flavors together in a subtle but distinctive way. It may not look like much, but it is a plate of pleasure.
Fettuccine with Ricotta or Chèvre and Asparagus
from the Mediterranean Diet Cookbook
serves 4 - 6
3/4 lb tender young asparagus ( or 1/2 lb asparagus and 1/4 lb broccoli crown)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh mint, minced - optional
2 tablespoons fresh green wild fennel, minced
1 lb fettuccine
6 quarts water
1/2 lb fresh creamy ricotta or mild goat cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Trim touch ends off asparagus after rinsing them. Cut tender parts into 2-inch lengths. Cut broccoli crown into small florets.
In a sauté pan, over low heat and covered, gently stew the garlic, asparagus and broccoli in the oil until the vegetables are tender but not brown, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in mint and fennel if using. Set aside.
Meanwhile, cook pasta in boiling water until tender. While pasta cooks, extract 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and mix it in a small saucepan with the ricotta or chèvre. Set saucepan over low heat and gently cream the ricotta and cooking water. When the ricotta is warm, taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Add the nutmeg and 1 tablespoon of the Parmesan cheese and stir to combine.
Drain the cooked pasta and combine immediately with the cheese sauce, tossing to mix well. Arrange over a warm platter and pour asparagus mixture over the top, being sure to scrape all of the cooked garlic onto the pasta and veggies. Sprinkle with the rest of the grated cheese and serve at once.