Posts Tagged ‘great summer pasta recipes’


This week has gone by so quickly I feel like my inner clock was set on hyperspeed. Last Sunday I drove to my daughters to help her with her day care as she recently had rotator cuff surgery. Certainly I have spent days with the mini-people there before, but mostly as an art consultant (I’m excellent at coloring inside the lines) or perhaps a short order cook (sorry, my puns again). Being somewhat in charge was for me a first.

Monday was populated solely with little boys. For those of you who have such beings running about your house, you will understand when I say having six boys four and under to keep an eye on for 8-10 hours definitely provides you with a work out. What an amazing amount of energy these small beings have. If I could tap into 10% of it I could clean the house top to bottom and solve the world’s problems before my first cup of coffee. The back yard at my daughter’s home is tailored to the business at hand. Eight or so bikes are lined up in one corner and an oval track circles the play area in the center set up with all manner of slides and climbing equipment. Another corner, obviously for the young ladies or future chefs, contains a line up of plastic kid-sized kitchen appliances and a large container holding dolls, water toys, fake food items, and pots and pans.

Once breakfast is out of the way, the kids are released to the wild to work off some energy to allow them to nap later in the day. Nap time is something I quickly found was both for the benefit of the children as well as those keeping an eye on them.

They refer to me as “Nana”. Not because I bear a striking resemblance to the Darling family’s faithful companion, but because this is the name I answer to when my grandchildren are speaking to me. After hearing this name repeated 3,465,922 times, I am considering changing it to something more difficult to pronounce like Xochitl.

I found them engaging, and so willing to be entertained. On my left hand my little finger won’t straighten out, being permanently bent towards my palm. This began when I turned forty, along with so many other things. Doctor’s refer to this as Dupuytren contracture. Not uncommon, it is an ailment limited mainly to fair-skinned, blue-eyed people of English descent. More prevalent in men, I once again have chosen to break the mold. It is not so noticeable that people cross themselves when passing me, but it is annoying. Not painful in the least but rather unattractive. Let’s say I’d prefer it not to be there than to be. However, at this juncture I’m surgeried out so this will wait for another time. In the pre-school set, particularly the boys, this was a source of constant entertainment. Each day when they came in my finger was put on display for various parents or newcomers. I was waiting for a call from Barnum once I arrived home.

Boys versus girls is as much of a mystery at their age as it will be as they become older. What engages each sex and how they approach a given situation is as defined before school age as it is once we’ve graduated and become adults. The boys, in this group at least, play roughly. No hitting is allowed in the pre-school. This does not mean there is no hitting, just it is not allowed. Encouraged to use their words to deal with a situation, occasionally once the words have been stated they are reinforced by a nudge or a punch for good measure. In this event a chair in the corner or a step allow them 5 minutes to consider their behavior and issue an expected “I’m sorry” to ensure their release. The girls, younger as a group, seem to settle their disputes with less physical interaction. When it came to disputes over dolls or particularly treasured stuffed animals, hair pulling sometimes came into play. As with the boys, the steps again were used as a cooling off place.

All in all, I found them polite most of the time, energetic, and willing to embrace any information you threw their way. Young minds easily accept the existence of twelve-foot aliens with green toes and bulbous noses protruding from their knees or intellectual alligators with spectacles living underneath their bunk beds existing on dust bunnies. As we get older more and more of our inner child erodes away. Truly, this is a shame. Perhaps our most endearing trait at that age is seeing the world around us with new eyes able to see fully all the wonders our world holds. It is not practical to retain all our childhood traits. Many, such as nose picking and sticking out our tongues would be deemed socially undesirable in adult society, though some adults still practice these behaviors. However, the sense of awe on watching a butterfly lit on opening bloom, or experiencing your first electrical storm, would be nice to hold on to.

During my time there, my favorite experience was sharing time with a six-year-old answering to Noah. I was told on the first day Noah was a highly functioning autistic. This seems far more prevalent in youngsters of this generation than mine, but perhaps it is just more reported. Noah is somewhat of a savant for six, able to spell even complex words in spit spot time. School is difficult for him. Discipline problems abound, and the bit of genius with spelling doesn’t follow for all subjects. Last year he spent a good deal of time cooling his heels outside the principals office for one infraction or another. Another symptom is not wanting physical contact. Immediately we formed a friendship. Older than the other children, he stayed up during nap time. We shared several hours of conversation, books, and puzzle assembling. He sat next to me and read sitting with his elbow touching mine. Each day he told me stories and asked intelligent questions. On my last day he took his shoes lined up with the other children’s and placed them instead neatly next to mine sitting the corner. This gesture touched me greatly.

It’s funny how easily you slip back into the role of “Mom”. Would I want to do this every day? NO WAY. I’ve done my poopy diapers and snotty noses, but it was fun to have them on loan and gave me a great appreciation for the gratification teachers must get from their classrooms.

This pasta was just the ticket for my crop of mint growing on the porch. Light and satisfying without a lot of trouble.

Spinach and Leek Pasta


8 oz. penne pasta, cooked
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed
2 tsp. olive oil, separated
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup prosciutto, diced
1 cup leeks, sliced thin
6 button mushrooms, sliced thin
1/4 cup green onions, sliced thin
1 Tbsp. garlic, minced
1 9 oz. bag baby spinach, cleaned and stemmed


3 oz. olive oil
3 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Black pepper to taste
2 oz. ricotta salata (you can use feta)
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
Parmesan cheese for serving

Mix all ingredients for sauce together. Add pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Trim asparagus and toss with 1 tsp. olive oil, salt and garlic salt. Add pepper. Spread in single layer on cookie sheet and bake for 10 mins. until fork tender.

In skillet cook prosciutto until crisp over med. heat. Drain on paper towels.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain reserving 1/2 ladle of pasta water.

In same skillet used for prosciutto sweat leaks, mushrooms, green onions and garlic in 1 tsp. olive oil over low heat until leeks begin to soften. Add spinach, cooked asparagus, and prosciutto and continue cooking until spinach is wilted.

Add to cooked penne and toss well with sauce and reserved pasta water.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

I have mentioned before it seems to me to be an odd year. Perhaps it’s just in my life. Aside from the weather, which continues to break records, the news itself is disturbing. The world seems a little uneasy on its axis, and I must admit I’m sensing the vibe.

My phone rings more often, and I am pulling out my shrink hat, dusting it off, and offering my invisible chaise for quick sessions at an alarming rate. Why, as I’ve said before, people seem to think I have any kind of handle on how to face the world escapes me. Maybe it’s the universe sending me a message? Possibly I should have leaned towards psychology as a major rather than computer science, I don’t know.

To add to the untidy mix, Friday is blocked out for dental surgery. Ugh. Even though I was a dental assistant, I view dentistry as barbaric. Why after all these years they can’t just knock you out and do it all at once escapes me. Part of the reason I was an abysmal dental assistant stemmed from accepting my first job in a orthodontic office. Most of our patients still had occasional bed wetting incidents. Like the guards in the background at an execution, I was the one delivering the needle.

Over the years I have suffered many an hour sitting in a dental chair. Although blessed with good genes in general, teeth were definitely not on the plus side while listing the pluses and minuses handed down by my ancestors. Teeth were not well thought out, to my mind, when the original plans for human beings were drafted. “Hmmmmmmm, let’s see. Teeth should grind food for the average life span. About thirty years should get er done.” Originally I don’t think it was expected we humans would be the clever industrious little beings we turned out to be. Living to be 100, once a noteworthy phenomenon, is certainly far less unusual of late.

Not being my first rodeo with dental procedures I have stocked the larder with soft foods and the freezer with ice cream. Once I had to live on soft foods for three months. So desperate was I for the taste of meat, my apologize to the vegans out there, I actually ground some cooked meat up in the food processor just to savor the flavor on my tongue. Euwwww. I know. Talk about addiction, but that’s another blog.

In my early twenties I’ve written about my year on the road. Traveling with my husband and two toddlers we meandered across the country making an untidy run at seeing as many states as we could until our money ran out. Our vehicle of choice was an ungainly yellow station wagon, which served often as “home”, and managed to get us from Southern California to as far east as Lynn, Massachusetts breaking down only twice. The first mechanical issue arose early in the trip. The morning found us waking up in Casper, Wyoming. What a gorgeous piece of American real estate Wyoming is. Each round in the bend looks like a landscape painting suitable for mounting over a cabin hearth. I have heard people go there to lose themselves, and after touring the area I can see how easy that would be to do in that part of the world. For me it’s a bit to cold in the winter, and although I enjoy peace and quiet along with the next guy, I need a little more civilization around me than some parts of the state would provide.

Aside from the fact the car was showing some signs of a problem, I had a tooth ache. On the road this is not a good thing. We hadn’t thought ahead and invited an oral surgeon to share the back seat, so finding one on short notice where we were wouldn’t be a snap of the fingers.

Small towns were strung out along the highway between Casper and Cheyenne like clothes on a line. Many you passed through before realizing you’d entered. Sputtering, the wagon indicated going on without an examination wasn’t going to possible, so we pulled over at the first populated area with a gas station in place. In the 70’s gas stations were full service. Most of them, not all, had repair bays in the back. Fortunately for us this was one of them, as it was the only game in town. The patient was to remain overnight. Asking the location of the nearest motel, and learning there were two, we chose the closest one several miles away. Offered a ride to the lobby, we checked in.

Inquiring at the motel as to dentists in town, the cheerful clerk said there was one, but he was a ways out of town. Not able to stand the throbbing much longer, we called the number given us and thankfully someone answered on the other end. Because I was becoming an emergency, the gruff voice identifying himself as Dr. Wilkins suggested coming right out and gave directions on how to do so. How, with the wagon up in the stirrups, was to be the problem.

Inquiring again with the clerk in the lobby about transportation, she once again came to our rescue. She was off shift shortly, she told us, and lived near the dental office. If we’d like a ride out we could go with her and she would send her son to bring us back. The chances of that happening now are nearly as likely as picking the winning numbers on Power Ball, but I digress. As promised an hour later we were dropped off at the end of a long dirt road at a lone building standing nearly in the middle of nowhere.

We were greeted at the door by a man clearly long past retirement age. The office was limited to one examining room and the lobby, but it was clean and the equipment relatively new. As it turned out my tooth was beyond saving and had to be extracted. Of all the extractions I’ve suffered in my life, this one caused me the least pain. Dr. Will, as he called himself, far nicer than his voice belied, was only willing to accept $10 for his trouble. Shortly we were picked up in an old Ford truck up concealed by a swirl of dust by the clerk’s son. A dinner invitation was offered but I was in no condition to accept. The following day, swollen but better, the wagon was retrieved and thanking them all we made our way down the road.

I assure you for this procedure on Friday, $10 wouldn’t allow you to sit in the lobby and read the out-of-date People magazine waiting for you. Ah well.

This was the best vegetable pasta ever. Love, loved it. I had a lot of veggies on hand, and it was the perfect way to put them to work.

Spring Garden Pasta

1 bunch broccoli
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
5 slices Coppa ham, sliced thin
3 large mushrooms sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
4 yellow tomatoes (small) sliced 1/4″
2 Roma tomatoes, coarsely diced
1 lb. thin spaghetti
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
5 large basil leaves, sliced in strips
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Cut broccoli into florets. Place in top of double broiler or steamer. Sprinkle with 1 Tbsp. lemon juice. Cook until fork tender. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Keep warm.

Saute garlic in 1/4 cup olive oil until slightly browned. Add Coppa ham to pan and saute until crisp.


Add mushrooms an zucchini to pan. Cover and allow to cook over med. heat, checking occasionally and stirring, for 5 mins.


Bring water to boil for pasta and cook as directed. Reserve 1 ladle of pasta water.

Remove saute pan from heat and add wine. Continue to cook over med. heat until wine is reduced by half. Stir in tomatoes, lemon juice, basil, pepper flakes and cooked broccoli. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


Drain pasta reserving 1 ladle full of pasta water. Add pasta and water pan and toss.

Serve topped with lots of shredded cheese.

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