When I was growing up, I hated vegetables with a passion, or for that matter, anything that was garlicky, spicy or remotely unfamiliar. Fast forward thirty years and it’s like there’s been a complete reversal. I am hardly the super-finicky, green vegetable-hating, picky eater who used to drive my mother insane during my formative years. It’s a testament to how taste evolves as one grows older and becomes exposed to a wider variety of food.
It’s at times like the first few weeks of spring when I’m thankful for having had the opportunity to move out of the limited food environment that I had confined myself to when I was a kid. There are so many different, interesting and exciting vegetables coming onto the market that are a welcome change from the root vegetables and tubers that were a mainstay of the previous season. Things like ramps, spinach, asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, morels, new potatoes and green garlic, to name a few. Later on in the season, French breakfast radishes will make their appearance, while strawberries and fava greens will arrive around the end of April or the first week of May. To miss out on such a wonderful array of food because of a boxed-in palate seems to me incomprehensible these days, almost a crime against nature.
These two pictures — goat’s milk ricotta cheese with heirloom tomato confit, and poached farm egg over toast, with roasted asparagus and tomato salad, and quick tomato confit — are two “previews” of what lies in store later in the year.
Tomatoes are, without a doubt, the vegetable I love the most. Ever since I began the year of cooking seasonally, it’s been a monumental effort in trying to avoid eating something that’s technically not in season. This past Sunday’s dinner which you see pictured below, features hydroponic Campari tomatoes grown in a greenhouse. Campari tomatoes are a type of cherry tomato known for its high sugar content and low acidity. I had bought them on a whim, if only to indulge in a taste of the future.
Carrot pasta, with shiitake mushrooms, spinach and slow-roasted Campari tomatoes
1/2 lb. fresh carrot pasta (regular unflavored fresh pasta is fine)
1 large shallot, peeled, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 large shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh spinach leaves, washed and trimmed
1/2 lb. Campari cherry tomatoes, halved
freshly milled black pepper
freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
minced onion chives
For the slow-roasted Campari tomatoes:
Pre-heat oven to 200 F. Arrange cherry tomato halves in a Pyrex baking dish or roasting pan, cut side up. Sprinkle each half with a tiny amount of kosher salt and black pepper. Drizzle each with a few drops of olive oil. Scatter some chopped parsley over the tomato halves, then roast for 4 hours at 200 F. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
For the pasta and vegetables:
Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until pasta reaches desired doneness, about 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and set aside, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water.
Gently warm about 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add mushrooms to the pan along with a pinch of salt. Sauté the mushrooms until they become tender, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the spinach to the pan, along with a little more olive oil if the pan seems too dry. Cook the spinach until the leaves wilt yet still retain their bright green color, about 1-2 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper.
Add the cooked pasta to the pan; toss to coat. If the pan seems too dry, add some pasta cooking water, tablespoon by tablespoon, until a light sauce is formed. Taste for salt and pepper once more. Toss a few more times, then remove from heat.
To plate: Spoon pasta into pasta serving bowls. Top each with a few slow-roasted Campari tomatoes, sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and chives, then serve at once.
Time: About 20 minutes, not including prep. Slow-roasted tomatoes can be made a day in advance.