Farmers’ Market Pasta with Leeks, Spinach and Summer Squash

Recently Cook’s Country magazine arrived in the mail for the first time, and I think it has potential to be a good one. As a subscriber of the now defunct Cook’s Illustrated Entertaining¬†editions, I am assuming this magazine was sent in its place. Slowly but surely, life is starting to feel normal again. Well, normalish. Normalish enough that I actually opened up the magazine and looked at some recipes instead of filing it away unread. Any progress is good progress, right?

Of course I went to the quick and easy recipes first. I try to do a lot of my cooking and food prep in the morning before work, because I’m not usually home until 7:00 pm — and by then, I’m in no shape to tie my shoes let alone work with fire. A recipe like this is right up my alley: fresh, flavorful, one pot, and with some added protein, it’s a complete meal. It looked way too beige for my liking, so I added some cherry tomatoes. Since I also added a bit of arugula, I skipped the basil in the original recipe, but that might be preferable if you are just using spinach. This is both good served warm and at room temperature, and a nice change from the normal pasta salads we see this time of year.

Farmers’ Market Pasta with Leeks, Spinach and Summer Squash
inspired by Cook’s Country June/July 2013

1 pound penne or similar pasta
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced thin, & washed thoroughly
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 yellow summer squash (about 8 oz each), halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
6 oz (6 cups) baby spinach, chopped coarse
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
2 ounces good Parmesan grated (1 cup), plus extra for serving
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Optional: 2 cups grilled chicken, salmon or shrimp
Optional but recommended: a handful of arugula

1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in Dutch oven. Add penne and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve 3/4 cup cooking water, then drain penne.

2. Heat oil in now empty pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add leeks and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add squash and 1/4 cup reserved cooking water and cook, covered, until squash is tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in penne, spinach, Parmesan, tomatoes, remaining 1/2 cup reserved cooking water, and butter until combined. Add cooked chicken, salmon or shrimp, if using. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, passing extra Parmesan separately.

farmers'marketpasta

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Orzo with Chicken, Cherry Tomatoes and Gorgonzola

It was yet another, “Oh, lord, I have to feed these people AGAIN?” kind of day, and this recipe came across my Facebook feed just in time to save dinner. Thank you, Fine Cooking, for the inspiration. Their original recipe, the foundation for my creation, can be found here.

If you’re not a fan of strong cheese such as Gorgonzola, move along…this recipe will not be for you. And don’t even THINK of substituting it with any other cheese! I highly recommend splurging on some sherry vinegar, which my newly appointed cooking guru David Lebovitz favors over balsamic. But I do think for this recipe, any old red wine vinegar will do if you don’t feel like running out to buy a sherry vinegar, which is not always available in every store. Aside from the dressing and the cheese, this recipe is very open to improvisation. The combination of sweet cherry tomatoes and strong Gorgonzola is just perfect.

Orzo with Chicken, Cherry Tomatoes and Gorgonzola

Kosher salt
2-1/4 cups orzo
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
1/3 cup sherry vinegar, more as needed
freshly ground pepper
3 cups halved cherry tomatoes (preferably a mix of colors and shapes)
1 cup crumbled Gorgonzola
1 to 2 cups cooked cubed chicken, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 thick slices of red onion, chopped
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
olives (optional)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the orzo and cook per package instructions. Drain the pasta and toss it immediately with 1 Tbs. of the olive oil. Let the pasta cool completely in the refrigerator.

Put the sherry vinegar in a small bowl and gradually whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil. Taste and season with salt, pepper, and additional sherry vinegar or olive oil as needed.

Put the cooked, cooled orzo in a large serving bowl. Add the cherry tomatoes, Gorgonzola, chicken, onions, olives and the vinaigrette and toss. Taste and season as needed with more salt and pepper. Serve within an hour or two of making.