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Gluten-Free Pasta
Pasta Carbonara with Asparagus and Peas

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I was not going to give up pasta when I had to stop eating wheat, so I went on a search for a tasty, firm, nutritious, gluten-free product. Most gluten-free pastas are made from rice. The texture and flavor of rice-based noodles are great in Asian cooking, but they don’t work for me in Italian food—they don’t have enough body, easily overcook to a limp mess, and the flavor is wrong. In addition, it is now suggested we cut back on rice consumption, because of high arsenic levels in some rice products.

Ancient Harvest Quinoa Pasta and Schar Gluten-Free Pasta are two happy discoveries. They are both a semolina-like yellow from the corn in their formula, taste pleasantly nutty, and are resilient in texture if not overcooked. Ancient Harvest is organic and adds quinoa for rich flavor, high quality protein, iron, and B vitamins. Schar incorporates pea protein and rice flour for a more complex taste  and extra protein.
 
Pasta Update: Since writing this post in 2013, I have discovered 2 new pastas. Barilla has developed excellent gluten-free pastas, made from corn flour and rice flour. They come the closest to traditional pasta in both flavor and texture. I am also a fan of Power Pasta, fashioned from red lentils. Although not as similar to wheat pasta as Barilla, this pasta is wonderfully satisfying because it is a whole food packed with protein, vitamins and minerals. Read more about it here, where you will also find another recipe featuring asparagus.
 
I love pasta carbonara almost as much as the New Yorker writer and food enthusiast Calvin Trillin does. While I don’t follow his suggestion to serve it for Thanksgiving dinner, I make it frequently, and in many guises. Inspired by the fresh asparagus and peas appearing now in farmers’ markets and grocery stores, I prepared the recipe here for lunch this past weekend. To compliment the spring vegetables, I added lemon zest and fresh basil to the egg, pancetta, and Parmesan cheese sauce.

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Pasta Carbonara with Asparagus and Peas
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Market Inspirations
Endive Orzo Risotto

endivebouquet.jpgI received this whimsical bouquet of red and green endive on Valentine’s Day, each head of endive still attached to its big root. The bouquet came from California Vegetable Specialties, the only US grower of endive. A whole case of endive followed the Valentine, and there was nothing to do but prepare endive for lunch and dinner all week.

As I became engrossed in experimenting with endive, I decided it was time to learn about how it is produced. Endive is the second growth on chicory roots. The chicory seed is sown in fields, and leafy greens follow. Once the greens are mature, they are harvested and used as high quality cattle feed. The precious roots are dug up, cleaned, and put in cold storage for a period of dormancy. Finally, the roots are moved to dark, cool, humid rooms, where they are forced to grow new leaves. The operation is very high tech, and local for those of us who live in California. Very little pesticides are used, and organically grown endive is available at Whole Foods and other specialty food stores. 
 
I have always enjoyed endive’s sweet-peppery flavor and delicate crunch in salads, particularly when dressed with a sprightly Dijon mustard and Sherry wine vinegar vinaigrette and sprinkled with chopped walnuts.  But I wanted to try other preparations too. I discovered endive makes a great stand in for iceberg lettuce or cabbage in tacos. I shredded a couple of heads of endive and tossed them with fresh lime juice and a minced Serrano chile; then heaped the mixture in warmed corn tortillas filled with sliced grilled chicken and avocado.

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Endive Orzo Risotto
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Market Inspirations
Spaghetti with Romanesco Cauliflower

romanesco.cauliflower.jpgRomanesco Cauliflower: Found at Weiser Family Farms stands at many Los Angeles farmers’ markets. From the grocery store: Choose regular cauliflower.

I have been curious about this fantastical looking vegetable ever since I first noticed it at a street market in Rome, about 5 years ago. Now it is available in Los Angeles, but so far I have only seen it at farmers’ markets.  Its wondrous shape, reminding me of a bouquet of tiny cones, is described mathematically as a fractal, but I like to think of it as a natural art form. The flavor is more delicate than regular cauliflower, with slightly nutty nuances, and it has a more tender texture.
 
Roasted, this highly nutritious vegetable makes a satisfying side dish, or, as in the recipe below, can be the star of a pasta creation. Simply cut off the florets, starting at the base and working up towards the tip, and then toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook in a hot oven until brown in spots, crispy on the outside yet yielding in the center. 

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Spaghetti with Romanesco Cauliflower
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Pasta with Asparagus, Chard, and Pine Nuts
Power Pasta

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Here’s a simple and easy-to-put-together dish that gets its great taste from fresh vegetables and basil, snappy extra-virgin olive oil, and truly delectable pasta. Barilla is one of my favorite gluten-free pastas, but I recently discovered Power Pasta at a gluten-free festival in Austin, and I developed this recipe to show it off. 

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Power Pasta
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Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes and Mini Peppers

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I created this lusty dish last week when my stepson, Ethan Peck, squeezed in a dinner with us before heading to Milan. He stars in a 2 minute video for the luxury fashion company Ferragamo, and he was invited to make an appearance at Italian fashion week. Having little warning about his visit with us, I looked in my fridge and cupboards for inspiration, and this recipe was born. 

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Penne with Eggplant, Peppers, and Goat Cheese

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For a super quick and tasty dinner, I mixed pasta with the eggplant, pepper, and tomato sauce leftover from a couple of nights before. Soft fresh goat cheese added creaminess, and to freshen it, a handful of fragrant herbs. We liked it every bit as much as the first meal, maybe even a little more.

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Shrimp Saute with Orzo and Broccoli Rabe

shrimp-orzo-broccolirabe.JPGWhen I was growing up, my mother served shrimp for special occasions. They were delightfully sweet and briny, resilient yet fabulously succulent. But years ago, these little sea creatures changed, the flavor disappeared, the texture became mushy, and they were available everywhere, including at inexpensive eateries. Except for giant Pacific and Canadian spot prawns presented at the best restaurants, shrimp were no longer special.

I had read and heard arguments against eating inexpensive shrimp- environmentally unsound farming and fishing methods are employed to produce this low cost product. It wasn’t until a visit to a fish farm in Southeast Asia that I truly grasped the situation. One look at fish swimming listlessly in fetid brown water, and I understood why I had stopped liking shrimp, and recognized the toll on the ecosystem.

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Soup for a Stormy Night
Kale, Mushroom, and Sausage Soup

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There is a big storm due in Los Angeles tonight, and I have the perfect recipe to keep you warm; it worked for us during the last downpour. This soup is so thick and comforting, you could call it a stew or even pasta fagioli

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Kale, Mushroom, and Sausage Soup
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Spaghetti Carbonara with Greens

Spaghetti-Carbonara-with-Kale.jpgI took the summer off from blogging to move. Steve and I had felt cramped in a small house along with 3 cats, my growing collection of kitchen props, and the expanding photo equipment we need for this blog and our work with the Monterey Bay Aquarium. With falling real estate prices, we could now afford a house with separate offices for each of us, space for the large oval dining table we inherited from Steve’s mom, and a nice big kitchen. 

It was hot last Thursday, and I was tired after spending the day setting up my office and didn’t feel very creative. Hence, I fell back on an old favorite recipe for dinner: Spaghetti Carbonara with Greens. It is such a favorite; I put it in my book, Weeknight Fresh and Fast.
 
I love this dish because the egg and Parmesan cheese sauce is creamy and soothing. Also, it takes only minutes to prepare. But perhaps the main reason I make it over and over is that it never requires a trip to the market; it uses ingredients I always have on hand- farm fresh eggs, pasta, and cheese.

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Spaghetti with Tomatoes, Olives, and Feta Cheese

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During the summer, when I get home from my weekly visit to the farmers’ market, it always seems like I have purchased too many heirloom tomatoes. But every week we devour them all.
 
A few of my favorite preparations:
- a quick salad of large tomato wedges, sprinkled with salt and pepper, drizzled with balsamic vinegar, and finished with a shower of fresh marjoram or basil
- to accompany grilled fish or chicken, sweet cherry tomatoes halved and sautéed with red onion and thyme
- for an intense cold soup, the ripest specimens pureed with extra-virgin olive oil, shallots, and breadcrumbs

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Wild Mushroom Pasta (Gluten Free) for Valentines

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For Valentine’s Day dinner we’ll be feasting on tender egg fettuccini crowned with luxurious wild mushrooms and Parmigiano-Reggiano. The last few years we’ve gone out to dinner at Farmshop, one of our favorite restaurants, but this year we decided to avoid the Saturday night, special-occasion crowds and the always-challenging Los Angeles traffic. 

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