Friday, July 30, 2010

Life Goes On

In the last week or so I have been occupied by attending a funeral, and by cooking for friends. These two concepts are not as unrelated as you might think. The death of an extended relative was, as they say, expected. Nonetheless, it was sad, but seemingly part of the cycle of life. Somehow I seem to have reached a point in life where I am seeing more of these types of occurrences; deaths and various family tragedies. It seems soon to have these things be happening but maybe I am just fortunate in that I have not had that much experience with that during my lifetime. My parents died some years ago but thoughtlessly I considered it logical because they were OLD. That’s what happens when you’re old. We’re not old and yet we are seeing that around us. Perhaps it’s part of aging – getting used to things like illness, disabilities, and death gradually. After all, Boomers belief to the contrary, no one gets out alive.

But an antidote for all these sad things is cooking. And cooking for friends is particularly special. Food is, we acknowledge, life affirming. Maybe more than that; life giving.

So last weekend we invited friend Bill for an overnight stay. He lives just far enough away that driving home after dinner and wine drinking is possible but not advisable. Along with Bill we invited our neighbor Larry and next door neighbor Caroline. This made for an interesting mix of personalities and ages. Bill is an LA Westside Liberal; Larry is an OC conservative, although we know no one is 100% one thing or another, thank goodness. Caroline is an older woman who has lived a full life and is an interesting person because of that.

I had it in my mind to fix a pasta dish recipe that I have had for years, and I always enjoy it, which was the primary incentive. And it is one of those dishes that reflect the season well, including as it does, lots of summer vegetables. As the seasons change, I try to make one or two recipes that take advantage of the bounty of the time of the year. It’s hard to let a summer go by without making at least one tomato tart and one apricot galette. Not this time but soon, I hope.

The weather behaved enough for us to dine out in the patio. We have lately been plagued with an extension of our “May Gray” and “June Gloom”. As far as I know no one had yet figured out a name for the July marine layer but I’m sure sooner or later one of those TV weather anchors will. However it was pleasant enough and after accompanying our starter with some Mumm’s champagne that Bill brought we didn’t think too much about the weather. Our starter was a charcuterie plate that Steve assembled along with some thin breadsticks, marcona almonds and miscellaneous olives. He also put together a delicious and light salad of arugula, pears, asiago cheese and toasted walnuts – heavenly! Since Rose’ seems to be that wine of the moment, we decided to try some with our main course. The wine was flavorful and pretty to look at and went well with the dinner.

Ahh the pasta. This pasta dish has a lovely presentation, topped as it is, with chopped fresh tomatoes and basil. The vegetables are pretty basic vegs but since they proliferate this time of year I always assume they are at their most flavorful. Since I do not have a garden I make sure I get them at my Farmer's Market. I couldn’t help including a couple of heirloom tomatoes into the tomato mix which gave them an additional attraction.

Everyone seemed to really enjoy the pasta and the flavorful way veggies were included. I always love it and this time was no exception. I may have been extra generous with the garlic and think it really added a lot to the flavor, as garlic is wont to do. The presentation is lovely with the colors of the veggies and the red and green of the tomatoes and basil. And it is surprisingly light.

Ligurian Style Spaghetti with zucchini, carrots and chopped fresh tomato.

4 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
¼ cup plus 1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
1 small onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into small julienne strips
3 medium zucchini, ends discarded and cut into small julienned strips
3 yellow summer squash, ends discarded and cut into small julienne strips
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
1 lb dry spaghetti or linguine
Freshly grated parmesan cheese

In a small bowl combine the tomatoes with 1 teaspoon of the basil, 1 tablespoon of the parsley and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Set aside
Heat the remaining 1/3 cup olive oil in a medium size skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion and carrot, salt to taste. Cook, stirring frequently until the carrots start getting soft, around 10 minutes. Add the zucchini and summer squash; salt to taste and continue cooking 10 minutes or longer. Turn off the heat, stir in remaining basil and parsley, cover and set aside.

Meanwhile bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat, add the salt and the spaghetti, cook, stirring frequently until the pasta is tender but firm, al dente, according to package directions.
Drain the pasta, add to the skillet with the vegetables, toss well to combine. Add salt to taste. Serve in individual preheated bowls. Top each serving with some of the tomato mixture, serve with parmesan.

This makes 4 -6 servings.
Make ahead -The vegetables can be cooked earlier in the day and heated up when the pasta is cooked.
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