Not Just Another Tuesday Night

Some evenings are more surprising than others. You sit down, check your email, glance at that the blog stats and… wait where did that massive spike in traffic come from? After a glance at the incoming referrers you discover you’ve been nominated for a “Best Food Blog” award by Saveur magazine. Really? That Saveur? Really?

Then the pressure sets in. Something needs to be posted. Something good.

Late winter is the most challenging time of year for eating locally. Fresh vegetables are much harder to find, the root cellar is looking depleted and worse for the wear, the freezer is emptying and meals begin to feel monotonous. Combined with work and the short days, it’s easy to feel like every night is just one more meal of kale and potatoes. Or maybe some beef and parsnip stew. Or squash soup. Or white beans and grain.  Or pork chops and cabbage.  The diversity kind of sneaks up on you – the winter menu is not boring, in fact the options seem pleasantly surprising.

But something has to be posted. Right?

Fortunately, our blog is about just these types of meals: eating quality local ingredients everyday.  From farm and freezer to table, tonight’s meal is a mainstay: fresh egg pasta with a sauce. Pasta serves as a wonderful vehicle for the midweek meal – it can easily be frozen, cooks quickly and lends itself to improvisation. The fact that it is made from our neighbor’s eggs and flour from Eastern Washington keeps it local. (I’ve been working on sources of flour even closer to home, hopefully I’ll solve that problem later this year.)

The sauce comes together from whatever happens to be in the freezer or refrigerator. After a bit of digging, I decided to use some rainbow chard that Anne picked up from Butler Green Farms and combine it with bacon (home smoked; the pork came from Rolling Bay Farm) in a light cream sauce. For myself, I tossed in a few Hood Canal Spot Prawns that I had been hoarding from the Brinnon Shrimp Festival*. For additional flavor, I leveraged a small onion and four cloves of garlic out of the root cellar, courtesy of Laughing Crow Farm. Altogether, we were eating in less than 30 minutes – photo session for the food included.

The result was a slightly sweet, but completely delicious sauce which lightly clung to the wide noodles. The hint of smokiness and salt from the bacon melded well with the spot prawns (which are very sweet themselves).

Weeknight Pasta

1/2 lb. Fresh Egg Pasta
1 small onion, fine dice
4 cloves of garlic, thick slices
7 rainbow chard leaves, rolled and cut into thin strips
3 chard stems, fine dice
about 2 tbsp diced bacon
6 Hood Canal Spot Prawns*
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp olive oil
8-12 oz pasta water
salt, to taste
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes (or to taste)

  1. Start heating the water for the pasta.
  2. Heat a large deep skillet over medium heat for several minutes.
  3. Add the oil and red pepper flakes to the skillet and allow the oil to heat.
  4. Add the diced bacon and cook until browned.
  5. Add garlic, chard stems, and onions and cook until translucent and starting to brown
  6. (Optional) Deglaze the pan with some white wine.
  7. Salt the pasta water.
  8. Add a ladle (4oz) of pasta water to the pan and allow to boil until almost gone.
  9. Add heavy cream, chard leaves and another ladle of pasta water.  Cook until the chard has lost its crunch.
  10. Add the pasta to the water and cook until done.
  11. Put the pasta and another ladle of pasta water into the sauce – cook for a few more minutes and serve.

If adding shrimp, saute with a small bit of red pepper flakes in a separate pan and add just before serving.

Enjoy!  And, if you did, vote for our blog.

* I don’t recommend keeping frozen shrimp as long as I did. The FDA suggests 3 months – but sometimes you have to break the rules.

Chard Lasagna with Walnuts

You may have made a ‘charred’ lasagna before, but have you ever tried a ‘chard’ lasagna? (Ha  ha.) This is a tomato-less lasagna and is a good winter alternative to the traditional version.

1 lb. chard (after broken down, leaves should weigh 1 lb.)
1 c. walnuts, chopped finely
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups ricotta
1 c. Parmesan, grated
3 balls fresh mozzarella, coarsely chopped
1 1/4 c. milk
fresh lasagna noodles (or about 12 boxed noodles)
olive oil, salt, white pepper

  1. Rinse chard and remove the stems and thick middle rib. To do this, press your knife down on the leaf  against the midrib and pull up on the stem. Zip! One side of the leaf will come off easily. Set the chard leaves aside.
  2. Cook fresh pasta noodles for 1 1/2 minutes. Remove from water with a mesh strainer to a bowl. When cool enough to touch, hang or lay out on a clean towel. (If your noodles touch, they may stick to each other.)
  3. Toss the chard leaves into the boiling pasta water and cook for 4 minutes. Drain as much water from the chard as possible and set aside to cool.
  4. Mince garlic.
  5. With your hands (or wrapped in an old dishtowel), squeeze the chard out over the sink. Squeeze until most of the water is out.
  6. Toast walnuts in a pan set over medium for about 5 minutes. (Watch these nuts carefully. Don’t multi-task.) Remove walnuts from pan and wipe it out, if needed.
  7. Add 1 tbls. olive oil to the same pan. Cook garlic and chard for about 2 minutes. Cool briefly.
  8. Mix chard, garlic Parmesan, salt, and pepper together.
  9. Oil a 9X13 pan and pour 1/4. c. milk on the bottom. Proceed to layer:
    noodle, cheese/chard mixture, mozzarella, nuts, milk, noodle, etc.
    End with:
    noodle, mozzarella, nuts, sprinkle of Parmesan
  10. Cover your lasagna with foil (see note). Bake at 400F for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake for about 10 more minutes, until the top is nicely browned.
  • If you are making fresh pasta noodles, roll out to width 5. You do not need to be overly concerned about moisture content, however you do want to flour the noodles enough so that they won’t stick to themselves.
  • If using boxed noodles, cook them until only al dente – they will cook more in the oven.
  • If your homemade ricotta is too dry, add a few tablespoons of whey back in. When you stir the ricotta mixture, it should be loose enough that your spoon doesn’t give you much resistance.
  • Tired of foil sticking to the top of your beautiful lasagna? Place a piece of oiled parchment on the top before covering with foil.
  • If you’re making everything from scratch at the same time, I found this sequence to be efficient: heat milk for cheese, make pasta dough and, while it rests, break down chard, chop garlic, hang cheese, roll noodles, boil noodles, then remove and boil chard in same water

Chard Gratin

This dish takes a little while to prepare, but it’s worth it. Using the stems and the leaves lets you really enjoy the complete flavor of the chard.

about 2 bunches of chard
1 onion
1 garlic clove
about 2 tbls. fresh dill
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 tbls. flour
1 cup whole milk
1 cup semi-hard goat cheese (or mild white cheese of your choosing)
salt, pepper

  1. Wash leaves and stems.
  2. Trim. With a sharp knife, cut the leaves off the stem, on either side of the rib. Sort the stems and leaves. Roughly chop the leaves. Cut the stems into about 1-inch pieces.
  3. Finely chop an onion. Add to stems.
  4. Finely mince the garlic and the dill. Set aside.
  5. Heat 2 tbls. butter in a medium pan over medium-low. Cook onion and chard stems for about 20 minutes.
  6. Add chard leaves, 1 tsp. salt, and 1 tbls. water. Stir and cook for another 10 minutes. Set this mixture aside in a bowl.
  7. Using the same pan, melt another 2 tbls. of butter. Add breadcrumbs, garlic cloves, and dill. Stir until the breadcrumbs are brown, about 1 minute. Set aside.
  8. Melt 1 tbls. butter. Whisk in flour. Whisk in milk. Add 1/2 tsp. salt and a little white pepper. Simmer this sauce on low for five minutes.
  9. Fold the sauce into the chard mixture, along with cheese. Pour into a buttered 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with bread crumb topping.

    Only 6 weeks and our baby chard will be a gratin.

    Only 6 weeks and our baby chard will be a gratin.

  10. Bake at 400F for 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

Notes:

  • To store chard until you are ready to use it: Keep bunched and placed in a glass of water. Place a plastic bag loosely over the top. Refrigerate.
  • To make homemade breadcrumbs: Dry out old bread in the oven and using a blend or food processor, whiz until fine. I store mine in a container in the freezer, with a paper towel in the top to absorb moisture.