The lemons have gone berserk!
I found this one in Cooking Light years ago. It’s a perfect dinner for spring, or when you’re just really dying for the creamy comfort of mac ‘n’ cheese but feel too much self-loathing to ingest that much fat for dinner. Even better: It requires almost zero effort.
Note: I actually loathe cottage cheese, but it functions brilliantly here.
Pasta with Creamy Basil Sauce and Peas
(adapted from Cooking Light)
2 cloves garlic
1 cup lowfat cottage cheese
2 tbsp plain yogurt or light sour cream
1 tbsp nice olive oil
1 cup basil leaves (or if you do as I do and freeze it in ice trays, 2 or 3 cubes of basil puree)
large handful of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
salt and pepper
several large handfuls of sugar snap peas (the best!), snow peas, frozen peas, or a mix, trimmed
1 pound short pasta
Set a pot of well-salted water to boil. In a food processor, combine the garlic and cottage cheese and blend until smooth. Add the yogurt, oil, basil, cheese, and salt and pepper to taste, and blend again until smooth. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl.
When your water is boiling, cook the pasta until it’s nearly al dente. Toss in your peas, allow them to cook about a minute, then drain. Add your hot pasta with the peas to your serving bowl, mix well, and eat.
I like Portland! Finally got to spend a little time in the greenest city thanks to a little business trip (read: free plane ticket), and yes, those food magazines weren’t fucking around: It really is a wonderful food city. Not that I ate well the whole time (I drank, too…oh, and worked), but I did a pretty serious job of ingesting a solid cross-section of the city.
The first night we ate not nearly enough little bits of Asian-sweet calamari appetizers over lots of drinks. Counterpoint: Starving and mildly hungover the next morning, I inhaled an egg sandwich bagel with bacon. Then we had pizza for lunch. Yikes.
Wednesday night was the big team dinner at Andina’s. Sassy habanero-spiked passion fruit cocktails, addictive tapas (I had to push the little cheezy poofs away so as not to plant my face in the platter and humiliate myself), and then a perfectly cooked New York strip with chimichurri. But for my ballooning stomach, I was not ready to part with the accompanying parmesan tuile, but I had to make room for dessert: a peony-adorned goat cheese flan that was so astonishingly light and mild, I shamelessly licked the plate clean.
(Why don’t Americans understand the beauty of not-so-sweet cheesecake? The Italians get it, the Spanish apparently get it. Sheesh.)
In any case, I was thankful I ate so much when we retired to the bar. My flan helped absorb the booze. Lots of booze.
On Thursday, my workmates headed home, and Nicki wisely picked the fantastic Pok Pok as my real initiation into the local dining scene. Tsingtaos, sticky, spicy, crunchy chicken wings, and Pok Pok’s signature smoked chicken with sticky rice, coupled with brilliant company and even a lovely ride home — wow. I may consider returning to Portland for the wings alone. And the company, of course.
Friday lunch: fish and chips with John, starring a local IPA and fresh fucking halibut. (Is Oregon that close to Alaska?) Friday night, the pièce de résistance: Nicki picked out Le Pigeon — not much to look at from the outside, but a warm and cozy neighborhood-like place with an open kitchen, a bold menu, a disciplined chef, and a very nice waiter named Brian.
Nicki’s salad inspired my own (comparatively lackluster) grilled romaine when I returned home; my garlic noodles with snails and ramps made me nearly weep. (Nicki even tried a snail, which to her credit, are really not that pretty.) Another perfect steak for me, perfect skate for Nicki, and then, wow:
Near to bursting but so delighted by the menu and the company and the conversation and the wine and good ole Brian, I naturally responded with a chipper “Of course!” when queried on dessert. So we inspected the dessert menu, handwritten on the wall near our table.
Chocolate cake of some sort, something else lovely, but then, I shit you not, foie gras profiteroles. Now, even I had to pause on that one, and not only because I was unconvinced sometime vegetarian Nicki wouldn’t run screaming from the table at the mere suggestion. But egged on by our neighbors at the other end of the table, we went for it — and holy jesus, they were good! Warm profiteroles filled with a light foie gras mousse, drizzled with an amazing orangey caramel and sprinkled with a fleur de sel…um, yeah. And free Sauternes from the host, who accidentally hit me on the head with a plate. Portland may have made me gaga.
Saturday, and my last day in town, my charming new friend joined me for a brilliant finale: an old-fashioned Reuben, laden with housemade pastrami and sauerkraut, surrounded by hordes of gluttonous peers and 52 cups of coffee. No wonder I felt like crap that afternoon, but I could have loitered there for hours. (Why didn’t I? Questionable.)
So for at least a few days, I’m on a me-style cleanse, which has nothing to do with lemon juice and cayenne pepper cocktails (shudder) and everything to do with vegetables and good grains. I concocted this dinner in honor of Portland, and to linger a little longer over the small crush I developed there (who typifies all of the following): a little spicy, extremely attractive, great-smelling, hearty, and healthy to boot.
I winged the ingredients based on the contents of my fridge, and so can you. Just don’t blow off the tofu: You need to press the hell out of it, so it’s nearly dry, then stir-fry it in a very hot pan in a little oil until it’s browned. The outside will be crispy, the innards pleasantly custardlike. As when you cook meat, don’t skimp on the browning, or all you’ll have is limp soy. Ick.
Thai-Style Tofu Stir-Fry
1 lb firm tofu, pressed for 20 minutes between paper towels, then cut into large cubes
2 cloves garlic, minced
a couple of dried red chiles
a thumb-size knob of ginger, minced
two stalks of lemongrass, peeled to their soft cores and minced
2 red bell peppers, roughly chopped
two handfuls of sugar snap peas, destringed and halved
a handful of arugula (or any green)
Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a hot skillet until nearly smoking, then add your tofu, stirring every once in a while until nice and brown. Retire the tofu to a plate.
In the same pan, pour another tablespoon or so of oil, then send in the chiles, garlic, ginger, and lemongrass. Stir-fry for a minute or two until fragrant, then toss in your peppers and peas. Fry another couple of minutes, then pile in a handful of arugula. Add a few dashes of soy sauce, a few of fish sauce, and your tofu, and toss until the arugula wilts. Turn off the heat and stir in the juice from your lime, the scallions, and the cilantro. Serve over brown rice and sprinkle with peanuts, more lime juice, and some chili sauce, if you have it.