We've been having a cool spell around here lately, a strange occurence for May in Georgia, but since I know the deathly hot days are just around the corner, I have held my tongue back on any complaints. This will be the first summer since 2002 that I am able to concentrate on a garden, and I'm excited about what that means for our table. During the four easy years I lived in the little pink house on Nantahala, The Carnivore and I cultivated the postage stamp front yard into the best looking garden in the neighborhood. We lined the beds with large rocks that we saved from a dumping site down near the railroad tracks, and over the course of a few summers we transformed a gravel-packed driveway into a work of horticulture art. I loved it. Neighbors would stop to see what we had done, and our friends would come by after work to sit on the tiny little front porch and chat amongst the greenery. I still miss that yard.
We moved in the summer of 2003. I was pregnant with Odd Toddler, and The Carnivore was beginning the restoration of the old, falling-down wrecks (not just one, but two of them) that we now proudly call home. Friends helped us to dig up our Nantahala plants and move them to the new property, where we slapped them willy-nilly into the ground and hoped for the best. The house was the focus at the time, not the yard. The Carnivore spent the next nine months working 10 hours a day, seven days a week working on the renovation project. It was a very trying time for us.
In the spring and summer of 2004, I was busy trying to figure out how to take care of a newborn and wondering if I would EVER get to do anything else again. By fall of 2004, I managed to get outside for a couple hours to plant a few hundred tulip, hyacinth, lily, crocus and daffodil bulbs. I knew the bulbs could take care of themselves, so I set my sights on a future vegetable garden, something that sounded more feasible now that Odd Toddler no longer nursed every fifteen minutes.
Finally, I am really getting somewhere. I now have 10 tomato plants in the ground, along with four basil plants (which I just realized yesterday will not be enough), two parsley plants, one rosemary and one bell pepper (also not enough). The object, during the dog day heat of the summers around here, is to eat only cold, fresh foods. I spent too many years without air conditioning to change this tradition now, so this time of year I am always on the search for recipes that will both be refreshing and cool, and will use the fresh bounty of the garden. There is, after all, nothing like a sun-warmed, fresh-picked piece of produce from your own yard. Even if I have now joined the middle-class and have an air-conditioned house.
It is for these reasons that I have been so in awe of this Fine Cooking Fresh magazine that Ms. Carr gave to me. The fresh flavors, the crisp textures, and the variety of colors in each recipe remind me of the joys of gardening and of the beauty and healthfulness in cooking with what is growing right outside my window. Thus far, I have only tried two recipes from this magazine, but they have both knocked me over with their flavorful impact.
This week, in preparation for the hot days ahead, I was happy to try a pasta salad recipe from the magazine. This has always been one of my favorite summer dishes anyway, because you can make a big batch and keep it in the fridge for days, grabbing forkfuls when you come in from the garden for a few minutes. Pasta salad was The Carnivore's domain until now, but I think he was happy to pass the torch, especially after we ate this particular recipe for dinner on Tuesday night and were amazed at how exquisite it was. It not only looked spectacularly beautiful, but the multi-layered flavors of the vinaigrette, the cheese, and the herbs was divine.
FINE COOKING FRESH'S PASTA SALAD
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 Tbs whole-grain mustard (I used Grey Poupon dijon)
- 1 Tbs finely chopped shallot
- 1 1/2 tsp honey
- 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbs chopped fresh dill (I substituted 1 Tbs dried dill)
- 2 Tbs chopped fresh chives
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup fresh corn kernels
- 1/2 lb short, curved pasta (I used bow-tie pasta, which only made the finished product even more beautiful)
- 1 Tbs olive oil
- 3 oz baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
- 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and very thinly sliced
- 1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced
- 4 oz crumbled feta cheese (I used a mixture of goat cheese and tomato-basil feta cheese)
- Combine the lemon juice, mustard, shallot, honey and zest in a medium bowl and set aside for 5 minutes. Whisk in the oil. Stir in the herbs and season with the salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
- Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook the corn until crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the corn and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking, drain well, and blot dry.
- Bring the same water back to a boil; add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain thoroughly and immediately pour onto a rimmed baking sheet to cool. Toss with 1 Tbs olive oil to prevent sticking.
- In large serving bowl, toss the pasta, corn, spinach, and bell pepper. Add enough of the vinaigrette to moisten the pasta. Add cheese and red onion. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes. Taste and add more of the vinaigrette, salt or pepper as needed.
This was so good I'm gonna make a double-batch next time.