Bless Your Spoon: Kitchen transitions from winter to spring

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 7, 2024

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By Stephanie Williams Dean

The little gap between winter’s finale and spring bursting forth is transition time. While not wanting to wish the frosty away, we stay bundled up, relishing every cold, crisp day. There’s a peace found in barren, woodsy views, contrasting beautifully with evergreen pines. And then those tiny yellow Forsythia buds begin to bloom as if to say hello, heralding spring’s arrival just a few days away.

And about the time the earth begins to come alive again, we get busy. Life’s been a mixed bag of calendar must-do’s and want-to-do’s starting with love month celebrations, church potlucks and garden club meetings. The business of living has included veterans’ coffees, civic club duties and taking care of sick folks — mixed in with challenging fiddle lessons, music jam sessions, playing bridge and laughter-filled game nights.

And if your life has been like mine, we relished lunch out with lively, vibrant friends while attending sad funerals and teary-eyed celebrations of life where we said goodbye to other dear folks, all while attending baby showers celebrating new life on the way. Somewhere in all that, we managed to sneak in a getaway to the beach — whew!

But don’t expect life to slow down. In fact, we’re about to get busier as our yards awaken. And I’m caught between winter and spring and an early arrival of Easter. And after experiencing a spell of unseasonably hot days, we’ve had to bundle back up after temps drop down to 20 degrees. Life can be unpredictable. We’re unsure how to proceed outdoors or in our kitchen.

During a seasonal transition phase, deciding what foods to prepare can be challenging. We’re unsure whether to cook for comfort or undress heavier dishes with simpler preparations. This week, our menus will lighten up a bit with recipes of satisfying pasta that include fresh vegetables or light meats added, some tossed in cream or pesto sauce. For these dishes, use the pasta of your choice. Since most only require boiling, why not step out of your comfort zone and try something new — either dried, refrigerated or frozen? Pasta should be cooked to the “al dente” stage — which is translated as “to the tooth” in Italian, meaning pasta should be tender but have a little resistance when you bite into it and still a bit firm and chewy. Next week, we will begin our transition into dishes for holiday cooking.

Have you ever been in a transition, a time when your calendar’s cluttered and you’ve lost focus? Are you stuck in the middle of something, not knowing what to do? It’s easy to get lost in all life’s bustle. Let’s take time to slow down and refocus, making sure to reseed and fertilize our spiritual relationship with God. As we approach Easter, now is the perfect time to stop and reset. A good place to begin is with your Bible or daily devotional. Every day, spend time with Him in the Word.

Refocus — let go and let God lead. He will give us the focus and direction we’re seeking.

Pasta with Artichokes

• 1 can drained artichoke hearts

• 1 Tbsp. olive oil

• Juice of ½ lemon

• 1 Tbsp. salted butter

• ½ chopped small onion

• ½ cup Mediterranean green olives

• ½ cup heavy cream

• ½ pound tagliatelle pasta

• 3 quarts water

• Grated fresh parmesan cheese

In a skillet, sauté artichoke hearts in olive oil with lemon juice. Remove artichokes and set aside. Add butter and onion to skillet and simmer 5 minutes until onions are softened. Add pitted, green olives and artichokes to the onions. Pour in cream and mix well. Add parsley, oregano, and salt and black pepper, to taste. Bring to a simmer and then reduce heat and keep warm until ready to serve. For pasta, bring water (add 1 Tbsp. of salt and 1 tsp. oil) to a boil. Add pasta and test after 1 minute. Continue testing until cooked al dente and then remove from heat and drain. Toss with sauce and serve with cheese and extra pepper.

Fettucine with Avocado Cream

• 2 Tbsp. olive oil

• ¼ diced onion

• 1 ½ seeded, chopped jalapeño peppers

• ½ chunked ripe avocado

• 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

• 2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

• 1 cup chicken broth

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 3 quarts water

• ½ pound fettuccine

• Freshly shaved parmesan cheese

In a skillet, sauté onion and jalapeño in the oil until softened. To a blender, add the onion, jalapeño, avocado, cilantro, lime juice and chicken broth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Puree until smooth. Return sauce to the skillet and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and keep warm. For pasta, bring water (1 Tbsp. salt and 1 tsp. of oil added) to a boil. Cook 2 minutes and begin to test making sure to cook only until it is al dente. Drain well. Toss the pasta with the green sauce and top with shaved fresh parmesan.

Pasta and Potatoes with Pesto

Pesto Sauce

• 1 packed cup fresh basil leaves

• ¼ cup fresh parsley sprigs

• ¼ cup olive oil

• 3 cloves garlic

• Pinch of salt

• ¼ cup pine nuts or walnuts

• 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Pasta

• 4 small red new potatoes

• ¼ pound string beans

• 3 minced green onion tops

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 3 quarts water

• ½ pound dried penne or farfalle pasta

• ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

For the pesto, puree all ingredients. If too thick, add a little more oil or a Tbsp. of soft butter. In a saucepan, boil potatoes in skins for 10 minutes or until fork tender. Drain, cool and thinly slice. Trim the beans and boil in saucepan for 8 minutes or until they are crisp. Drain. In a big bowl, mix the onions with the beans and potatoes. Salt and pepper, to taste. In water, bring pasta (add 1 Tbsp. salt and 1 tsp. oil) to a boil and cook for 1 minute. Continue to test while cooking to al dente stage. Drain well. To the bowl, add the pasta and toss with the potatoes, beans and onions. Fold in the pesto and mix well.  When serving, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Stuffed Shells & Tomato Ragout

• 1 beaten egg

• 16 ounces ricotta cheese

• ½ cup mozzarella cheese

• ¼ cup Parmesan/Romano cheese

• 1 Tbsp. chopped parsley

• 1 Tbsp. chopped oregano

• Large pasta shells

• 1 recipe of Tomato Sauce

Tomato Sauce

• 30 ounces tomato sauce

• 1 Tbsp. melted salted butter

• 1 Tbsp. brown sugar

• 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

• 2 tsp. each chopped, fresh oregano/basil

• ¼ tsp garlic powder

• 1 tsp. salt

• ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

In a bowl, beat egg. Add ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, parsley and oregano. Mix well and refrigerate. Cook shells according to package directions. Fill with cheese mixture and line up in a casserole dish. Cover with tomato sauce. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 minutes. For the sauce, combine tomato sauce, butter, brown sugar, Worcestershire, chopped oregano, basil, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat while occasionally stirring for 1 hour or 4 hours in a crockpot. Add any additional seasoning, to taste.

Linguine and Asparagus in Sauce

• 6 asparagus spears

• 1 cup water

• ½ pound linguine

• 3 quarts water

• 2 Tbsp. salted butter

• 1 Tbsp. olive oil

Sauce

• 2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

• 1 cup heavy cream

• ½ lemon juice/rind

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

For the asparagus, in a skillet, bring 1 cup water to a boil. Simmer asparagus 6 minutes or until fork tender but still crisp. Remove spears but reserve liquid to a bowl. Set aside. For the sauce, in a saucepan, heat butter and oil. Stir in mustard and cream and simmer 4 minutes. Add lemon juice, rind and seasoning. Keep warm until ready to use. For the pasta, bring 3 cups water (1 Tbsp. salt and 1 tsp. oil added) to a boil. Cook linguine in boiling water for 4 minutes and test until cooked al dente. Drain pasta and gently toss with asparagus and mustard sauce. If sauce is too thick, stir in some asparagus juice. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over top.

Charred Veggies with Penne

• 1 Tbsp. olive oil

• 1 chunked small onion

• 1 sliced sweet red pepper

• ½ sliced, small eggplant

• 1 sliced zucchini

• 3 cloves garlic

• 3 quarts water

• ½ pound penne/other pasta

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the vegetables, cut onions into chunks. Cut red pepper into ½-inch strips. Cut eggplant and zucchini lengthwise into ¼-inch slices. Peel and slice the garlic cloves. Heat a heavy skillet until very hot. Add oil then onion and red pepper. Turn veggies to char on all sides and remove to warmed platter. Add eggplant, zucchini and garlic and char as quickly as possible until they turn brown on both sides. Remove to the platter. In a pot, bring water to a boil (1 Tbsp. salt and 1 tsp. oil added) Cook pasta in boiling water for 4 minutes and test while cooking until al dente. Drain and mix with vegetables. Season to taste. Substitute your favorite vegetables, if preferred.

Fettuccine with Red Peppers

• 2 Tbsp. salted butter

• 1 diced, sweet red pepper

• 1 juiced lemon, grated rind

• 1 cup heavy cream

• 1 tsp. salt

• ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

• Cayenne pepper (optional)

• ½ pound fettuccine

• Grated fresh parmesan cheese

For the sauce, in a saucepan, melt butter. Quarter the pepper and remove stem and seeds. Dice pepper and add to the saucepan. Grate lemon rind into the skillet and add half the juice. Cook until pepper is softened. Then add cream, salt and pepper to mixture. Cook sauce until it begins to simmer, reduce heat and keep warm below a simmer. In a pot, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil (1 Tbsp salt and 1 tsp. oil added) Add pasta to boiling water, cook 2 minutes, and continue testing until cooked al dente. Drain and toss pasta with sauce. Add cayenne if more season is desired. Top with grated cheese.

Angel Hair Pasta with Seafood

• 1 pound cleaned, large shrimp

• ½ pound halved sea scallops

• 6 crushed, large cloves garlic

• 2 cups fresh crushed peeled tomatoes/canned

• 6 Tbsp. olive oil

• 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

• 4 Tbsp. chopped Italian parsley

• 1 ½ pounds capellini

• 6 quarts water

• 3 Tbsp. sea salt

For the sauce, peel, quarter and seed tomatoes. You can use canned if that’s all you have or a combination. In a skillet, add oil and brown the crushed garlic. Add tomatoes and pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer for 20 minutes. In a second skillet, heat another 2 Tbsp. of oil. Stir in shrimp and scallops and saute 1 minute. Pour in the tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Check seasonings and add what is desired. Add the remaining 2 Tbsp. of olive oil and stir in parsley. For the pasta, in a pot, heat 6 quarts of water and add salt. Bring to a full boil, stir in capellini and cook 3 minutes. Remove from heat and drain pasta. Toss immediately with hot seafood sauce.