Noodles!

Farfalle noodles with spinach, roasted peppers and shrimp

I know many of us reach for mashed potatoes when longing for comfort food. I reach for noodles. Any kind of noodles. Nothing delights me more than to find leftover noodles in the fridge because the possibilities are endless.

It’s so easy to make a delectable dish with only a few additions. All it takes to start is a bowl of cooked noodles. Add vegetables, sauces and proteins for a complete meal. Whatever your taste preference – Chinese, Italian, Indian, Korean, Japanese, Indonesian, Thai, Tibetan, Vietnamese. It seems every culture has a favorite noodle dish.

I like to keep a few commercial sauces in the pantry, just in case I don’t have time to whip up a sauce of my own. Thai peanut satay sauce tossed with cooked fettucini or egg noodles, a couple of torn basil leaves and you have an “almost” pad thai.

Lovely leftover linguini or angel hair noodles tossed with sesame oil, soy sauce and a little sambal olek (garlic chile paste) make as good a cold noodle dish as any you find at an Asian food truck. All you need is the little white turtle box to look completely authentic.

Hot spaghetti noodles dressed with chopped fresh tomato, minced garlic, minced fresh basil and olive oil create a quick Italian noodle specialty that tastes like summer.

Pasta with kale and mushrooms

The types of noodles are endless, from long pasta like fettuccine and linguini to rice-shaped orzo to bowties and elbows. Asian noodles widen your repertoire with cellophane, Canton, and ramen noodles. The additions are also limitless – be creative with whatever you find in the fridge. Or, simply do as I do and heat leftover noodles, drizzle with olive oil and garlic salt and toss with parmesan. Mmmmm.

Here’s a kitchen hack I learned from a professional chef:

Cook your noodles until they are not quite done. A little less than al dente if you use that as a guide. When you drain them, do it over a measuring cup and save the pasta water. When you are ready to sauce your noodles, make the sauce and add the noodles. Then add about the same amount of pasta water as sauce. Heat everything gently. The noodles will finish cooking and the sauce will be velvety and delicious. You can certainly use broth instead of pasta water, but the water from draining the noodles thickens and adds extra flavor.

Also, when cooking noodles, salt the water more than you think necessary. Don’t put oil in the water. Put the noodles into rapidly boiling water and stir them for a while to separate. Turn down the heat and cook, watching them and tasting until they are ready. You can throw a piece of pasta against the wall, the old Italian way, and if it sticks, it’s done. Seriously, keep tasting.

Once done, return them to the cooking pot, drizzle with a little olive oil and put the lid on to keep them from becoming sticky.

Whole wheat pasta with sauteed romaine lettuce

Here are a few recipes to get you started:

Pasta Primavera

2 minced garlic cloves
1 T. olive oil
1 c. fresh mushrooms
½ basket cherry tomatoes halved
½ roasted red pepper, chopped (jarred is fine)
¼ c. parmesan

Sauté garlic in stock. Add mushrooms and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add rest of ingredients and cook 2-3 minutes. Add cooked penne pasta (or your choice), mix in enough leftover pasta water to make a creamy dressing.

Pasta with Fresh Herbed Ricotta

2 c. fresh spinach rinsed and stemmed
1 c. ricotta
2 scallions minced
¼ c. packed basil leaves, minced
1 tomato, chopped
1 T. parsley, chopped
2 T. olive oil
½ lb farfalle

Blanch spinach in salted water for about a minute. Drain, cool, pat dry and chop. Put the ricotta in a large bowl and beat with a fork until smooth. Stir in the rest of the ingredients, except the pasta. Cook the farfalle, saving the water. Toss with the cheese mixture, adding pasta water as necessary to make it creamy.

Caramelized onion pasta

2 T. olive oil
1 large onion, very thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 t. red pepper flakes (or to taste)
2 T. tomato paste (about half a can)
6 oz. pasta of choice (penne works well)

Heat olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally until they become totally softened and caramelized with golden-brown fried edges, 15 to 20 minutes.

Add red pepper and garlic and saute for about 2 minutes. Add tomato paste and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly to prevent scorching until the tomato paste has turned from bright red to deep brick red, about 2 minutes.

Remove from heat. Cook pasta until just a bit chewier than al dente. Mix with sauce and ½ c. pasta water. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring to coat each piece of pasta. Cook until the sauce is thick and sticky, 3 to 5 minutes.

Early spring garden tips

Oh, how those glimpses into spring taunt us. Days when the sun is shining and the temperature goes above 45 degrees. They are far between right now, but when they do come, my fingers literally get itchy to be plunged into the dirt. Cold though it is, it still feels good. 

I’m one of the worst offenders when it comes to jumping the gun on the season, but there are certainly things we can do when we get those softened breezes. Here are a few tips to get you started when you can be in the garden for a couple of hours. 

  1. Leave mulch in place
Shredded leaf mulch adds health organics

If you’ve mulched over the tops of your perennials, don’t be too fast to remove it. Wait until the tulips begin to bloom. Remove whatever you can by hand and then use a strong spray of water to remove the rest from the crown. Be sure to keep three inches of organic mulch on the ground around the plant for the growing season.

  1. Prune winter dieback

Yes, you can warm up your pruners! Prune winter dieback while the plants are still semi-dormant to take full use of the sap and nutrient flow in spring. Dead areas of stems will be obvious by their color. Prune just below the dead area, aiming to cut just above an outward facing bud. Also, prune for a pleasing shape.

  1. Cut back ornamental grasses

As soon as the weather permits being outside comfortably, cut back all ornamental grass foliage left on for the winter. Be sure to do this before new growth starts. This will make it easier than trying to sort through the new foliage and will keep from damaging it.

  1. Recycle for the garden
paper pots and cardboard rolls

Start recycling for the garden. Save paper towel, bathroom tissue or gift paper rolls and cut into 3-inch lengths to use for seed starting or as collars around early transplants to prevent cutworm damage. Make a mini-greenhouse by bending coat hangers into arches to fit in a seedling flat. Cover with plastic.

  1. Leave garden debris in place
No need to remove dead foliage

Even though spring clean-up feels really good, don’t be too eager to rake the area under shrubs and groundcovers clean of leaves and organic debris. Nature doesn’t do this, so mimic the woods and leave the natural mulch in place. This not only helps the health of the plants by providing nutrients as the materials decompose, but it also gives birds an excellent hunting ground. And the plants will come up through the mulch just fine.

  1. Set up your cold frame

There’s no need to have a fancy set-up. Simply placing bricks, cement blocks or even hay bales and putting a discarded window across them will give you a superb planting spot for early vegetables. There is absolutely nothing quite as sweet as fresh spinach, especially when coupled with the earliest of perennial onions. Make sure to give it a south or southeast exposure with some wind deflection. 

Spinach pasta

A deliciously easy recipe for early spring spinach (or any green)

1  tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

½   cup finely chopped onion

3  cloves garlic, minced

½ pound whole grain spaghetti

Salt and pepper

1  tablespoon butter

½ pound fresh spinach, coarsely chopped

Red-pepper flakes, to taste (optional)

½ T. fresh lemon juice

½ c. grated Parmesan, Asiago  or smoked gouda cheese

Cook pasta in salted water to al dente. Drain, reserving one cup of the pasta water. 

Saute onion and garlic in oil until tender but not caramelized. Add pasta, reserved cooking water, butter to the onion and garlic. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Add spinach and red pepper, stirring until the spinach wilts. Add rest of ingredients, stirring until the cheese begins to melt. Season to taste. Serve with more cheese if desired and garlic toast. Enjoy!