Spring Vegetable Carbonara

The other night, I found myself on the bus home from the city dreaming of this dish. I mentally went through the contents of my cabinets and fridge and began building this dinner. I was soothed (yes, soothed!) by the simplicity of it, and excited for the flavors before I even got home.

To me, there’s nothing better than a big bowl of carbs after a long day. Pasta for dinner is a total triple threat: convenient, comforting and quick.

I realized that I don’t have many pasta dishes on this blog, which I guess is because I usually make pasta for dinner (real blogger talk: that means there’s no natural light to make it look pretty!) and it usually doesn’t follow any sort of recipe. I use whatever I have on-hand — a little of this, a little of that and then it’s eaten in a flash. That’s how pasta night works.

Pasta carbonara usually is involves pancetta or bacon in some form, which I, of course, encourage. But I thought I’d give you a vegetarian option to show another possibility for a simple, eggy carbonara sauce. I was even going to go so far as to call this Primavera Carbonara, but I think that’s confusing or too Italian or has too many A’s.

It’s slightly creamy, with a serious hit of salty Parmesan and an excessive amount of fresh ground pepper, topped with fresh spring asparagus and peas. (More real talk: the peas were actually from the freezer. No one dreams about shelling fresh peas at 6pm.)

AND this whole thing comes together in 20 minutes or less. It’s kind of the perfect weeknight dinner.

Spring Vegetable Carbonara
serves 2

– 220 grams or 8 ounces of the pasta of your choice
– 1 cup asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
– 1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas thawed
– olive oil
– 2 cloves of garlic
– a pinch of chili flakes
– 1 whole egg, 1 egg yolk
– a big handful of Parmesan, and more for garnishing
– salt & fresh ground pepper

Set a large pot of water to boil. Once boiling, add a generous sprinkling of salt and the pasta. Cook for 8-10 minutes until al dente.

While the water is heating/pasta is cooking, get going on the vegetables.

Heat a glug of olive oil in a large pan over a medium high heat. Add garlic and chili and cook for 1 minute until fragrant. Add asparagus and peas and cook until just tender – about 5 minutes. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper and set aside.

Whisk the egg and egg white in a large bowl. Add Parmesan and lots of ground black pepper.

Once the pasta is cooked, reserve a cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta. It’s time to work quickly now! Pour the hot pasta in the bowl with the egg and Parmesan. Toss vigorously to coat the pasta (the heat of the pasta cooks the egg.) Add your asparagus and peas and toss again. If the sauce is a little thick, add a tablespoon of the pasta water at a time, to thin it out. (I didn’t have to do that this time.)

Serve immediately, with more Parmesan sprinkled on top, if desired.

Tips:
– Make sure the eggs are at room temperature

- Generously salt your pasta water – it gives it flavor
- Set a timer for your pasta – it may seem silly, but I love perfectly cooked pasta and hate to risk it!
- Work quickly once you drain your pasta – it has to be warm enough to partially cook the eggs, thickening them into a sauce.

Vegetable Indian Curry

This is what a Monday night looks like in our house.

Lots of vegetables tied together with some bold flavors. It’s about treating yourself right.

The weekend is my favorite time for trying new restaurants, eating ice cream for dessert (or lunch) and having a couple of glasses of wine. All of these wonderful things mean that I sometimes don’t get the ideal amount of vegetables from Friday night to Sunday night. (Or if I do, they’re accompanied by their bffs bacon and cheese.)

On Mondays, I aim for a vegetable top-up. I like to center meals around veggies with things like soups, salads and stir fries.

Curries are one my favorite ways to incorporate a lot of plant life into my Monday (or any day) – you get tons of flavor and spice with a combination of a few pantry items. They’re often vegan too, which is just a bonus. (Or useful, if you find yourself in a situation where you need to feed a vegan!)

With the help of jarred curry paste, my Thai curries are usually a success. But my Indian curries are always a little more…interesting.

I’ve tried a bunch of recipes using dry spice combinations and EVERY TIME I freak out within the first 15 minutes, thinking I’ve screwed it all up somehow. It’s almost always fine by the time everything’s cooked properly. What the heck was I so worried about back there?

I finally realized that Indian curries are just late bloomers. They need a little extra time for all of the flavors to develop and come together in the way they’re supposed to. Let them simmer or sit for a while and they’ll come good – with the warming, complex flavors that you were looking for. No need to freak. Leftovers get even better too. Another bonus!

Feel free to add or substitute whatever vegetables you’d like or toss in some chickpeas, tofu or shrimp for a protein boost. Curries are endlessly adaptable and a great way of making your daily (or weekend) dose of veggies full of flavor.

South Indian Vegetable Curry
adapted from Bon Appetit

- 1 large onion, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 2 cups)
– 3 large garlic cloves, peeled
– 1 2-inch-long 1-inch-diameter piece peeled fresh ginger (about 2 ounces)
– 3 tablespoons grape seed oil
– 1 tablespoon garam masala
– 2 teaspoons ground cumin
– 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
– 1/2 serrano chile, seeded, chopped
– 2 tablespoons tomato paste
– 3 cups vegetable broth
– 2 teaspoons (packed) golden brown sugar
– 4 curry leaves
– 2 whole green cardamom pods
– 1/2 cup coconut cream
Р2 medium  russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
– 2 large carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
– 3/4 cup diced canned tomatoes, drained
– 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
– 2-3 large handfuls of fresh spinach, roughly chopped
– 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Puree first 8 ingredients (onion through coriander) in processor until paste forms. Cook in large pot over medium heat until aromatic, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add tomato paste. Cook until mixture starts to darken and brown, stirring often, about 5 minutes longer.
Add broth, brown sugar, curry leaves, and cardamom. Simmer 10 minutes, stirring often and scraping up browned bits. (This part can be made 2 days ahead. Cool, cover, and chill. Bring to simmer before continuing.)
Add coconut cream, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, peas, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to mixture in pot. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium low. Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. Add spinach, if desired, and cook until wilted, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Discard curry leaves and cardamom.
Serve with steamed rice.
Tip:
If you’re freezing your leftovers, you may want to slightly under-cook your veggies as things like potatoes sometimes get mushy in the thawing process. Try removing the portion you’re freezing 5 minutes early and allowing it to cool completely before freezing.

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies

Among the long list of hypothetical situations that can be explored (Mr. F freaking loves a hypothetical, by the way. I think I spent the 2nd and 3rd years of our relationship deflecting 60% of his hypothetical questions.) I would guess that the “desert island” scenario is the most played out.

However. As I do (sometimes) enjoy a made-up and unlikely situation, my favorite to ask other people is among the: “If you could only listen to/read/watch/eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?” variety.

Sometimes I grant numbers from 2-5 to these questions, if picking only one just seems cruel.

But really, it’s a roundabout way of asking for a Top 5 list. And I do love a list.

My answers to these questions have changed many times – except for my Top 2 foods . Those are on lock.

1. Sweet Potatoes

2. Peanut butter

This is the stuff I could live on. If, you know, I found myself in a situation where some unknown deity was granting me these and only these foods for the rest of my life – I would happily make it work (good butter, sea salt, black pepper, maple syrup and maybe some chili flakes included, of course.)

Today, we’re concerned with my second choice. The PB. Even as a kid, I was a purist. No jelly for me on those sandwiches, thanks. Straight peanut butter, all day every day. (There may have actually been an entire year of my hyper-finicky childhood where I ate only PB sandwiches for lunch. Almost proving my theory that I could live on PB alone. But, I digress.)

These peanutty PB cookies have minimal ingredients and no flour – just all-natural peanut butter with a bit sugar for sweetness, a hint of vanilla and a few chocolate chunks bound together by a single egg. Oh and the teeniest sprinkle of sea salt on top, if you’re into that.

The result is a perfect peanut butter cookie – soft and chewy with a crisp edge. This is the kind of cookie that me and my PB-loving gluten-free friends could live on forever.

The ingredients list is super simple. And only one bowl is needed – bonus!

 

Line ‘em up.

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies
– 1 cup peanut butter (I used all-natural crunchy, but use whatever you’d like)
– 1/4 cup brown sugar
– 1/4 cup white, granulated sugar
– 1 teaspoon vanilla
– 1 egg
– 1/3 cup chocolate chunks (I used part of a Cadbury milk chocolate bar chopped into small pieces.)
– a couple pinches of sea salt

Heat oven to 350 F/ 175 C.

Prepare a baking tray with parchment/baking paper

Place peanut butter (at room temperature) and sugars in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and beat again with the mixer until incorporated.

Fold in the chocolate.

Make 1-inch balls of cookie dough by rolling a small spoonful between the palms of your hands. (Don’t fiddle with them too much.) Place them on the baking sheet an inch apart. Top each cookie with a couple of sea salt flakes.

Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let them cool on the baking tray for 5 minutes. DON’T touch them before that 5 minutes is up, they WILL crumble.

(Sorry, that was harsh, but this 5 minutes is crucial for ensuring that you get soft peanut butter cookies that will stay together like the flour-full ones do.)

Makes approximately 30 cookies.

Caramelized Fennel and Blood Orange Salad

I’m not going to lie, there was a time not-so-long-ago that I didn’t really get fennel.

Its shape intimidated me and its texture and strong aniseed flavor when raw were kind of turn off.

So I left the cream-colored bulbs alone for a while.

But my curiosity was stoked when Mr. F and I started watching old episodes of Australian Masterchef (you know, to assimilate into this cooking show-loving country.)

Turns out, every chef and judge that came through those kitchen doors freaking loves fennel. It’s the cool, cheffy vegetable that when used, the contestant would get mad props for such “clever cooking” or “understanding flavors.”

Mad. props. yo.

Inspired, I gave fennel another try.

Following my compulsion to roast nearly every vegetable under the sun, I gave it the old…well, roasting treatment. Obviously.

And that’s the story of how I discovered the real-life (non-reality tv) joys of fennel.

Each week when we’re at the farmer’s market, F lobbies for a fennel purchase and I’m always happy to oblige. I kind of love it that he loves this weird-looking vegetable as much as I do. It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, somehow.

While my default way to cook fennel will probably always be roasting, I’ve found that pan roasting/caramelizing can be another excellent alternative.

This salad is a great combination of sweetness from the caramelized fennel, tart citrus from the blood oranges, saline bite from the black olives and peppery kick from the arugula. Perfect for your weekly fennel fix!

Caramelized Fennel & Blood Orange Salad
– 1 large fennel bulb, cut into thin slices
– olive oil
– salt
– 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
– 1 blood orange, segmented (juice reserved for the dressing)
– 4 large handfuls of arugula
– 1-2 tablespoons sliced black olives

To caramelize fennel, heat oil in a large skillet over a medium high heat. Add fennel and toss to coat in olive oil. Pour in the balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring only once or twice and adding a tablespoon or two of water if the pan looks dry. You want the fennel to get some nice color on it, so stirring it only occasionally is important.

Allow the fennel to cool and arrange your salad with the remaining ingredients. Toss with Blood Orange Vinaigrette (see below).

Blood Orange Vinaigrette
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
– 1 tablespoon blood orange juice (from the pith of the segmented orange)
– 1 teaspoon honey
– salt and pepper

Place all ingredients together in a jar with a lid and shake well to combine. Serve over the salad and store remainder in the fridge for 2-3 days.

Avocado Green Goddess Dressing (Without Mayo)

Springtime in Australia means occasional beach weather (and ice cream and smoothie weather), sunny mornings and soft sand runs.

Do you do this? Do you run in the sand at the back of the beach where it’s perpetually difficult to keep your body in balance, nearly impossible to maintain a running pace and, overall, unpleasant?

This is the soft sand run.

I do it sometimes. And I hate it the whole dang time.

But for the last lap or two I run close to the water where the air is fresher and the sand is firm and actually accommodating to running feet. These last laps feel so much better than the sweaty-faced ones that preceded them, that I nearly forget about the whole painful, gasping trudge through quicksand. (It totally felt like quicksand.)

All winter I’ve given myself a break from this soft sand business because I had an excuse to. It’s cold! And sometimes rainy! Getting barefoot on cold sand? Pshhh. Not happening.

But I can’t ignore the warm air and sun and the sandals and the iced coffee. I’m all in for this springtime steez.

And, hey, at least I’m not in a morning “boot camp.” I’m so not a boot camp girl.

I made a fresh herb, extra-green green goddess dressing in honor of springtime.

Since I’m not a big mayonnaise fan, I used a blend of avocado and Greek yogurt for my dressing base – a little lemon juice and tons of fresh herbs add great zing, flavor and color. I love it as a dip for raw vegetables and pretzels, as a dressing for salads, a spread for sandwiches or on top of grilled chicken or fish.

You can swap or add whatever green herbs you’re looking to get rid of – some chives would be great up in here, for example.

Even if it’s not springtime where you are, get into the spirit! It doesn’t even have to involve soft sand or sweating.

Blitz it all together.

Boom! (You can see my favorite mug in the background. That’s real life.)

Avocado Green Goddess Dressing

– 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
– 1/2 a ripe avocado
– handful of parsley
– handful of basil
– handful of coriander
– 1 tablespoon of roughly chopped green onion
– 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
– salt & pepper

Combine ingredients in the a food processor or blender and process until herbs are finely chopped and all ingredients are combined into a smooth sauce. Store for 2-3 days in the fridge in an airtight container.

Green goddess dressing in action: lunch of kale, asparagus and sweet potato