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May 2nd, 2010:

Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites: Light Veggie Goodness

zucchini saffron pasta

PastaPlated2This is the pasta dish that I meant to make yesterday but saved for this evening. A good choice, as it turned out, since it was even hotter today and very stuffy. Last night’s hour-by-hour weather report forecast storms coming in by 4 pm, which would reduce the heat only a little but improve the air quality considerably. As of 9 pm there is no rain, but the pressure is SlicingZucchini2enough to make one’s head explode. The cats are sprawled in the hallway, sniffing at faint breezes. The kitchen is cooling down from the baking I did earlier (I never said I was a smart planner). So a light and easy pasta dish was just the ticket for tonight.

I’ve used Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites often in the past. ZucchPastaIngredsI had to dig a bit to find something I hadn’t already tried. Chili burgers? Been there. (Mash beans with grated carrot, oats, ketchup, and a few other odds and ends, and pan-fry — surprisingly good.) Seitan fajitas? I haven’t actually made that one but Scott has. Quinoa black bean salad? Already tried it, but thanks for the reminder — that will be good this summer. I turned more SaffronThreadscarefully to the pasta section and realized that I’ve flipped past zucchini saffron pasta before because it calls for saffron.

Ah, saffron, luxurious and expensive spice. The stigma of a crocus, saffron is known for its rarity and its intense color. I’ve often substituted turmeric, which doesn’t quite match the flavor or color but costs considerably less. OnionsZucchInPan2But as it happens, I have some saffron on hand, since I bought a jar for the Indian food I made in December, when I knew substitutions would not be right. A little saffron goes a long way, and while a jar with what looks like a modest number of thin red filaments seems expensive, you’re going to be able to do a lot with it. The per-use price may not be much worse than that of SaffronWatervanilla.

This dish is fairly simple. I did my vegetable prep first, juicing a couple of lemons, slicing some zucchini into rounds, mincing some garlic, and slicing a large onion. Then I put a pot of water to boil for the penne pasta. While that heated, I sauteed the garlic and onions in olive oil, then added the zucchini. When the onions VeggieMixture2were translucent and the zucchini had started to brown a little, I crushed some saffron threads — or tried to, anyway — and mixed them with some water, then poured that into the pan. I rinsed the saffron bowl with the lemon juice and poured that into the pan as well, added a bit of salt and pepper, then lowered the heat and covered the pan to continue cooking while the penne finished.

PastaInBowl2When the penne was cooked, I drained it and poured it into a large pasta bowl, then added the vegetable mixture and stirred it well so the chunks were evenly distributed and everything was a pleasant, warm, golden color from the saffron. I grated on some romano cheese and served it up.

This dish is delightful. The saffron PastaBowlCheese3gives it a rich and unusual flavor, which is accentuated by the brightness of the lemon juice. It was ideal for a hot, sultry evening.

Verdict: Success. This goes on the list for as long as I have saffron left — which ought to be a while.

Eating Well Dessert Cookbook: Lemon Pudding, Rather Pretty

lemon pudding

DustedWithSugar2I’ve had the Eating Well Dessert Cookbook for years, and I’m not sure if I’ve made anything from it. I’ve consulted it many times and have long admired its design: beautiful photos, clear and easy-to-read pages. Still, there was always an excuse. Oh, that calls for something I don’t have right now. Oh, that calls for coffee, so Scott won’t like it. Oh, ZestingLemonthat needs to chill — too late to make it now.

My original plan was to take care of two recipes yesterday: to make a pasta dish from another cookbook (upcoming) for dinner and a dessert from this book. But we got a late start on the day and found ourselves out and about running errands and too hungry to wait until we got home to eat. PuddingIngredsSo we had a late lunch, which became an early dinner since we were never hungry enough afterward for a real meal. This happens to us sometimes on the weekends and I ought to have been prepared. Anyway, when we got home I decided that whatever the fate of the pasta dish, I would go ahead and make the lemon pudding.

SugarEggButterZestI chose lemon pudding for a few reasons. The chief one is that it was ridiculously warm in New York the past few days — still is as I write, in fact — and I wanted something that would be light and refreshing. It also offered novelty: I’ve never made a lemon pudding before, and have made precious few puddings in general. And it looked simple, and didn’t add much to my shopping list.

AboutToAddEggWhitesI began by lightly buttering four ramekins. (The recipe says to oil them, but since there’s butter in the recipe I thought it wouldn’t do much harm to use it for the pans too and take a light hand.)¬† I also zested a lemon to yield two teaspoons of zest, then juiced it and one more to yield a quarter of a cup of juice. Then I separated three eggs and set aside the yolks. I mixed a fourth PuddingBatterfull egg with half a cup of sugar, one and a half tablespoons of softened butter, and the lemon zest, beating them together for about three minutes. I added three tablespoons of flour and mixed that in well, then added a cup of milk and the lemon juice.

At this point I pulled out the mixer beaters and washed them, and then beat the egg whites PuddingToBakeuntil they were stiff but not dry. I folded them into the lemon mixture and divided the resulting thick and liquidy batter into the ramekins, which I positioned in a baking pan. I carefully poured hot water into the baking pan so that it reached about two-thirds of the way up the ramekins. This is called a bain-marie; it serves the same purpose in the oven as using a double boiler does on the PuddingBaked3stovetop, ensuring that the food in the container is cooked gently. I maneuvered the pan into the oven and baked it for about half an hour. When the pudding had cooled a bit I lifted the ramekins out of the pan and let them finish cooling on a rack.

When we were ready for dessert, I sifted a bit of powdered sugar on top and brought the pudding PuddingCoolingout with spoons. The pudding was delightful, with a rich lemony taste and a smooth consistency. The tartness of lemon was counterbalanced by the sweetness, particularly the powdered sugar.

Verdict: Success. The only downside of this is that it requires you to heat the oven. But I could always make it ahead of time and pull it from the fridge to serve on a warm summer’s night. And if the current weather is any indication, we’re going to get a lot of those this year.