Saturday, 28 April 2012

Toasted wheat orecchiette with zucchini, fennel, asparagus and pesto

I was secretly (only slightly) inwardly emotional yesterday while working in my lab at school. Every task I performed I thought to myself, this is the last PCR plate I will run here or this is the last time I will infect my tissue culture cells, and this is the last time I will wear my RNase free lab coat. Obviously those specific things are not that exciting but it is so weird that in one week I will no longer be doing the things I did on a daily basis for the last 6 years.

It has been a difficult couple of weeks; trying to ease my former PhD supervisor into the notion that soon I will be gone. I had to put the axe on a couple of projects that seemed obviously impossible to complete in my short time left, but for some reason they were being discussed as if I would be there forever. Even after giving my final end date as being May 4th, the following week I was confronted with the question, you are here until the end of May, right? I guess this is why in the real world of work, people give written notices of termination. What we say and what people hear can often be two very different things. 

Because the time I have left in the lab is so short, I have been working like mad in an attempt to finish everything on my list that I promised to accomplish. As such, I have had little to no time to cook lately. Yesterday, I was really excited to just come home on a Friday night, relax and consume a home cooked meal.

I have also been looking forward to trying out this toasted wheat orecchiette, another product (one of my last!) from Cannensi. Once cooked al dente, I mixed it with a quick and simple homemade pesto and sauteed tender vegetables. I cooked the vegetables in a nice, hot pan with a generous serving of olive oil. The high heat helps to brown and bring out the natural flavours of the vegetables, but they need to be stirred often so they do not burn.  Stirring the cooked pasta into the pan afterwards allows it to soak up all the flavours and oil. I ate the pasta with a simple salad, Cannensi sun dried tomatoes, a baguette and triple cream brie. It was divine.

Toasted wheat orecchiette with zucchini, fennel, asparagus and pesto
Serves 4

2 cups orecchiette
1 small zucchini, sliced into thin rounds
1 bunch fennel, tough outer layer discarded, sliced thinly
8 asparagus, tough ends removed and chopped into 2" pieces
1 shallot, sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
1/3 cup pesto (store bought or your own (see below))
Freshly grated parmesan

1 - Heat water to boil in a large pot with salt and olive oil.
2 - Add orecchiette to boiling water, stir and simmer gently until pasta reaches desired tenderness (slightly al dente is best).
3 - In a large cast iron skillet, heat 3 tbsp olive oil over medium heat.
4 - Stir in shallot and garlic and cook 2 minutes.
5 - Add the fennel, zucchini and asparagus and cook, stirring frequently until vegetables are tender, about 8 - 10 minutes.
6 - Drain pasta, then add to vegetables. Stir, add 1/4 cup of pesto and continue to stir until well coated. Remove from heat.
7 - Serve pasta topped with an extra dollop of pesto and freshly grated parmesan.

To make pesto
In a food processor, combine 2 cups loosely packed and torn basil leaves, juice from 1 small lemon, 1/8 cup freshly grated parmesan and 1/8 cup walnuts or pine nuts. When finely chopped, process in 2-3 tbsp high quality extra virgin olive oil. Season to taste with sea salt.
*Note that the proportions can be easily altered to your preference. I prefer mine to be mostly basil with the other ingredients used to add saltiness and texture.

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