Handmade Noodles With Beet Pesto

I cooked up all of my beets and served them cold, chopped up with a bit of Dijon mustard and mayonnaise. But there was all kinds of beet juice left behind, so I thought I’d freeze it for use later. If it’ll stain anything, it should make a good colouring, right?

So I bought some 00 flour for my next pasta attempt, and I added my four eggs, and then a couple of cubes worth of beet juice. The problem was, that added more liquid, which meant I then had to add a bunch more flour in order to make the noodles the proper consistency. In the end, the colour didn’t change all that much. I was hoping for a vibrant beet red, but what I got was a kind of light peachy orange. I think that either I need to omit the eggs and use just beet juice (which will probably affect the flavour of the pasta), or boil the beet juice down an awful lot so that it’s very concentrated and doesn’t add much liquid with the colour.

To keep the pasta from sticking to itself, I made an improvised drying rack by putting wooden spoons or long cooking chopsticks under dishes in the cupboards with the long end sticking out. As silly as it looks, it worked! The noodles didn’t stick to each other at all. I think, though, if I’m going to do this a lot in the future, I’ll have to invest in a proper drying rack.

The pasta ended up being a fantastic shade of pinky red, though, because I used the jar of beet pesto. I also ran the pasta through the absolute thinnest setting this time and the consistency was just right! I’ve already learned so much after just two times working with pasta. I’m really looking forward to learning more!

Beet Pesto

One of the things I love about beets is that pretty much the entire plant is edible; both the roots and the leaves not only taste good, but they’re great in other dishes. Case in point: beet pesto. As I’ve pointed out before, pesto is a really simple, no-cook pasta sauce to make, and it can be made with beet greens! Well, the ones I grew this year had red leaves instead of the more common, green, but they taste more or less the same no matter the colour.

The neat thing about making pesto with red beet leaves is that the pesto itself turns red, which makes for a much more colourful dish. As a warning, if you’re making or cooking with this kind of pesto, protect your clothing! Red beet juice stains very quickly, and this will also happen when it’s in pesto.

In this pesto I also used basil (from my mother’s and my mother’s friend’s garden), garlic, extra virgin olive oil, parmesan (from the deli, not the shelf-stable stuff that’s much harder and more powdery), and pine nuts.

This big batch made up sixteen 250mL jars that went straight into the freezer, plus one that I set aside in the fridge for use in the next few days. Each one of these tiny jars is easily enough to make dinner for our family of four. If stirred into prepared dried pasta, this means I’ll have sixteen easy meals (or at least side-dishes) over the coming winter. I like that kind of math!

Roadside Produce Stands

One of my favourite things about summer is when the farm stalls start popping up in parking lots and along the main drag, not content to wait for the next farmers’ market to get all that great produce out to their customers. Sometimes it’s a single pickup truck with its bed full of corn or flats of foraged berries (if I’m ever near Sudbury in the summer, wild blueberries are a must). Sometimes it’s well-established farm booths, neatly organized with multiple products all protected from the sun and rain by pop-up tents. Whatever the style, the food is always much fresher and tastier than the stuff from the grocery store, which is usually picked when not-quite-ripe and shipped in instead of ripening properly under the sun. Due to ordering in bulk, grocery stuff is often cheaper, but you can’t beat the quality of the roadside stand.

Of course, due to our short growing season, the roadside farm stand is subject to seasonal and weather-driven fluctuation. Last year, when we had so rain that there was flooding and standing water in so many fields making it impossible to cultivate, there was a lot less available when it came to fresh local produce. Ditto the particularly dry years. But such is the way of the farm and garden.

Right now there’s a great variety of farm-fresh goods available. Garlic scapes are one of the first crops available around here in June, but the garlic plants keep growing flower stalks, so farmers can sell them for a good long time into summer.

Young carrots — true young carrots and not those “baby cut” fakeries available by the bag in the grocery store — are starting to become available now. The ones from my garden aren’t usually available until fall (if I tried to harvest now, they would look a lot like this), but most of the farms around here start their growing seasons early under the grow lamps.

The green onions are nice and crispy…

And zucchini are starting to become available! I’m particularly fond of the ones that grow in such interesting shapes, although they taste exactly the same. I’m trying to grow zucchini this year, but the chipmunks and earwigs love my gourds, so I historically haven’t had any luck. My friends, who generally have better luck than I, often have excess zucchini to gift me come fall, though. The kids love it, especially as zucchini sticks. The round ones pictured above are better shaped for stuffing, though.

We’ve been gorging on raspberries for a week or two now, but they’re still a personal favourite.

And most exciting at the moment, the corn has started to roll in! The local peaches-and-cream corn is my husband’s personal favourite, so we eat it in every form starting about now. Last night we just threw it on the barbecue whole on low for half an hour, and then peeled it and ate it off the cob. Delicious!

BBQ Ribs & Potatoes

The other day I had a desire both not to cook in the house and to try something new. Well, new to me in the cooking department, at least. I grabbed a rack of pork ribs from the grocery store, threw them in a pre-made marinade, and chucked them on the grill.

Although the meat was definitely edible, even tasty, I did discover that I had a lot to learn about cooking ribs because they ended up being rather chewy. When I’ve had ribs that other people have made, they always end up being fall-off-the-bone tender. I think I really needed to cook them low and slow to get that desired tenderness. Perhaps in a slow-cooker, or on a low setting on the smoker grill, once we get the auger fixed. Quick and dirty on the gas grill just isn’t going to cut it for the results that I’m looking for.

As a side, I made foil packet potatoes with garlic butter on the barbecue. They don’t look like much, but they were cooked to perfection and were packed with flavour. As a veggie, we had a quick leafy salad.

All in all, I would consider this dinner to be a provisional success. It wasn’t perfect, but everyone came back for seconds, and I learned something. It wasn’t bad for a first attempt, but I’m sure with practice I could do better.

Slow Cooker Lemon Garlic Chicken

Keeping on the theme of making easy dinners in the crock pot, friends of mine recommended the Slow Cooker Lemon Garlic Chicken recipe from AllRecipes.com. They said that they loved it, but I was less than satisfied. I followed the recipe exactly, but the chicken turned out dry and not very flavourful. There wasn’t even much sauce to pour over the meat to relieve the dryness.

I went back over the website to try and figure out where I went wrong. Well, it turns out that it’s totally possible that my friends made a completely different dish than I did! (And if so, no wonder they were raving about it, because the other version looks lovely.) If you watch the video of how to prepare the dish (which I did not), it adds a lot more ingredients that aren’t even mentioned as options in the recipe text. First of all, for spices, it adds onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika. Secondly, baby carrots, sliced mushrooms, and frozen peas are added to the crock pot before setting it up to cook. Thirdly, the 1/4 cup water and chicken bouillon is replaced with 1/2 of a cup of white wine and 2 cups of chicken broth. With all of those added flavourings and liquids, of course the dish wouldn’t end up dry and tasteless.

Personally, I think that if you’re going to make a recipe video, you should stick to the recipe that goes along with it. The easy fix to this would be to add the changes to the text of the recipe. When reading a recipe, one shouldn’t have to filter through the comment section or watch a “how to” video in order to get the correct list of ingredients — neither of which are an option in a hard-copy cookbook anyway.

Sadly, I think AllRecipes dropped the ball on this one.

Garlic Scapes

Garlic scapes are in season! It has been especially wet this year, causing a delay in planting crops, and some planted fields being flooded out. So I was a little bit worried that I wasn’t going to be able to get one of my favourite local spring crops — one that generally only shows up at farmers’ markets in the first place, and rarely in stores. However, even fiddleheads are starting to be available in the fresh fruit & vegetable aisles, so maybe garlic scapes are not far behind. I spotted the scapes first this year at the booth in front of Orleans Fruit Farm, which means they’ll probably be available at the farmers’ markets this coming weekend.

Although they may look like the tentacles of Cthulhu, garlic scapes aren’t a plant in their own right, unlike, say, garlic chives, which are a variety of chives that have a garlicky flavour. Preserving by Pat Crocker (2011) has a pretty comprehensive write-up about them starting on page 243. Their description is as follows:

Not long ago, scapes were fairly rare in North America. Now, with more market gardeners growing garlic, we are seeing more of the fresh green flower stalks showing up around the end of June or beginning of July. Scapes are tender and very tasty stems that are cut from the garlic in order to allow the plant to put all of its energy in to growing the bulbs that will be harvested in the fall. These lightly garlic-scented vegetables can be grilled, steamed or poached. Treat them as you would asparagus or green beans, and use them in casseroles, soups and stews.

Preserving goes on to explain the best ways to preserve scapes (freezing being preferred), and has recipes for garlic scape relish, garlic scape pesto, and garlic scape pesto potatoes. Now, I bought this cookbook years after I developed an appreciation for scapes, so when I make garlic scape pesto I use the recipe that Roadapple Ranch would tuck into each bag of scapes that they sold at market; they have also made their simple and delicious garlic scape pesto recipe available online.

Pesto is a quick, simple green sauce served over fresh-cooked pasta, but it’s also great:

– drizzled on top of fried eggs or mixed into scrambled eggs
– spread on bread as a sandwich spread or burger topping
– baked on top of bruscetta, garlic bread, or crostini
– diluted with oil and vinegar to become a salad dressing
– mixed with cream cheese, yogurt, mayo, or sour cream as part of a dip (or mix pesto with your non-dairy version of these products — those averse to dairy will want to make a cheese-free version of the pesto)
– on top of baked or mashed potatoes
– as a marinade or sauce for chicken, lamb, pork chops, shrimp, and some kinds of fish (salmon is the first one that comes to mind)
– used as a replacement for traditional tomato pizza sauce (especially useful for people like a friend of mine who is allergic to nightshade plants, i.e. potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant)

Me, I am dying to try garlic scape pesto in the Marbled Pesto Bread on page 142 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf by Jennie Shapter (2001) or the Pesto Sourdough Loaf on page 91 of The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking from Better Homes and Gardens (1999). But given how much I like garlic scapes, there’s a good chance mine will be grilled or steamed for dinner before I have a chance to incorporate them into bread. Not that I’m too worried; I still have a number of jars of homemade pesto in the freezer from last year, simply because I made so much. I guess I’d better get cracking on eating those up!