Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Garden Pasta

This is such a simple recipe I’m almost embarrassed to post it—but it does taste good, & it does give me a chance to talk about the “secret ingredients” of my garden pasta.

“Secret ingredients?” Simple—the produce in this pasta sauce (at least in its ideal form) is homegrown. They come right from Eberle’s garden, often on the morning the pasta’s being made. In all honesty, fresh ingredients are the secret to most good cooking, but it’s a fact we’ve gotten pretty far away from in our culture. & I’m not gonna get high-toned about it—fact is, we have to make do with whatever’s available at the supermarkets most of the year ourselves. Rural Idaho isn’t a great place to pick up fresh produce for most of the year—so we really love July thru September when the garden’s putting out its bounty. Also, truth be told, I’ve made this same recipe with store bought ingredients, & it’s perfectly fine—it tastes good, even. But it doesn’t taste the way it does with garden fresh ingredients. Those just tend to make your taste buds stand up & say “howdy.”

about 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, sliced & chopped

ground black pepper to taste
5-6 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
3-4 mushrooms, chopped (optional)

1-2 bell peppers, chopped (a bit of mildly hot pepper, like a banana pepper really is good)
around a dozen olives, halved (optional)
3 large tomatoes, or a half dozen Romas, or the equivalent, chopped
8 oz. of tomato sauce (some folks might omit this, but I like a somewhat saucy sauce)
salt to taste

a generous pinch of nutmeg—even ¼ teaspoon or slightly more
oregano—around a tablespoon (though I’m usually quite fussy about measuring, I always eyeball basil & oregano—obviously, if you’re using fresh, it should be finely chopped; if dried, it already is finely chopped)
basil – around a tablespoon—remember—add fresh basil toward the end of the cooking time—the last few minutes at the earliest—even right up to the very end! In fact, I even add dry basil pretty late in the game, mostly just out of habit.

good Italian sausage (very optional—this is great if you can get the good stuff; we can’t locally, & we eat a vegetarian diet a high percentage of the time—if there were only good vegetarian sausage & bacon….)
Around 12-16 oz. of pasta – I really like Penne past
a with this, but ultimately this is up to you. I don’t think angel hair would be a good choice—think you want something a bit “substantial—but to each his own. I’m sure homemade is best, but Eberle & I haven’t gone that “foodie” yet; but some serious foodie friends who know what they’re talking about tell me it’s pretty easy, & since I’ve actually helped with it at a couple of dinner parties, I see their point. In the meantime, we use store bought. Of course, we’d never endorse any brand on Robert Frost’s Banjo, but I will say I wish the local supermarket carried the brand in the stovetop pic….Ingredients in this batch not from Eberle’s garden: salt & pepper (naturally), olive oil & olives (olive trees unfortunately don’t flourish in Idaho—if they did it would change my life), nutmeg, tomato sauce (we could make this, but don’t) & the pasta (even if we made the pasta, I doubt we’d grow the wheat….)

As far as timing on making the sauce—I heat the oil in a large skillet, then add the onions & saute them on a bit less than medium heat until they’re golden, then add the garlic & the ground black pepper. I tend to chop as I go when making this, & t
his sort of times the whole process really well. But if I had to guess, I’d say it’s 30-40 minutes from the time I start to heat the oil until the whole sauce goes to a simmer. If you’re using mushrooms, I’d add them next, followed by the peppers (after the mushrooms have become glossy), then add the olives (again, if included) as the peppers just start to lose their firmness. When I’m using store bought tomatoes, I invariably blanche them & peel them, but not when using Eberle’s wonderful homegrown tomatoes, especially the heirlooms. So add the tomatoes, either peeled or not as you choose, & let them cook until there’s a fair amount of liquid. Then add the tomato sauce, the nutmeg, the salt & the oregano. Once the sauce has come to a good simmer, turn the heat down & keep it at a slow simmer—it doesn’t hurt for this to go on another 30 minutes or so. Then cook your pasta as per usual (which means salt the water, stir occasionally &, of course, stop when the pasta’s al dente—typically around 10-11 minutes). Drain the pasta when done, toss with the sauce & serve. It’s enhanced by grated Parmesan, but we don’t always do this.

Poetry on a plate….

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