Fiery Spaghetti with Plenty of Garlic, Fresh Herbs, and Parmesan

Spaghetti with Fresh Herbs, Chilies, Parmesan, and Black Pepper on a vivid red background.

This recipe has many, many variations but the basic idea is always the same: heaps of fiery chilies, bright greenery, enough garlic to offend anyone within close range, and some sort of satisfying umami element to bring it all together. You could go ahead and use any type of pasta you prefer, but there’s something very satisfying about eating a big bowl of perfectly toothsome al dente spaghetti that I find essential to this loosely crafted recipe. If I’m using sub-par garlic, which tends to be often, I use between 5-7 cloves to really drive the point home. If you’re lucky to have wonderfully pungent cloves then feel free to scale back (or not). I have fresh basil and parsley kicking around more often than other greenery, but I’ve also had immense luck with arugula, dill, and even baby spinach. What you’re looking for is a big happy juxtaposition of elements, the greens need to be capable of standing up for themselves and shining through layers of other robust flavours. The cheese is the umami hit that’s so essential when bringing all these flavours together, I tend to have a big chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano hanging out in the fridge so I use it as my default ingredient but anything aged and flavourful will work wonderfully (may I humbly suggest Pecorino Romano, aged Manchego, Piave Vecchio, Asiago, Crotenese, or even a really aged goat’s milk gouda).

fiery spaghetti with plenty of garlic, fresh herbs, and parmesan:

Enough spaghetti for 1-2 people

Olive oil

5-7 cloves of garlic, finely minced (if you have super strong garlic use less, or not!)

A big handful of flavourful greens and fresh herbs (parsley and basil are my personal favourite)

Copious amounts of freshly cracked pepper

Dried chili flakes

Parmesan cheese, grated (or other aged cheese)

Kosher salt to taste

  1. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions, before draining reserve about half of a cup of the pasta water.
  2. In the same pot that the pasta was cooked in heat up the olive oil over medium heat.
  3. Sauté the minced garlic until fragrant and then add the fresh greens and dried chili peppers.
  4. Toss the spaghetti and pasta water with the garlic, dried chili peppers, and greens. Take off the heat and add the freshly cracked pepper, parmesan cheese, and kosher salt to taste.
  5. Serve in large bowls with extra cheese and greens sprinkled on top. Eat large amounts while still piping hot, relax and reflect on how happy and nourished you feel.

I have to admit, there’s something about The War on Drugs that reminds me of early childhood, being in the car with my dad while he listened to Dire Straits or Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. As with so many things in my life, nostalgia takes the wheel once again and steers my taste. I love this album, it’s just meant for sunny Sunday afternoons and lying around on the couch, waiting to gently fall asleep in the pools of a softly filtered sunbeam.

The War on Drugs – Comin’ Through

Spiced Chickpea Stew with Butternut Squash & Spinach

spiced chickpea stew with butternut squash and spinach in a shallow brown bowl, a small white bowl to the side holds a cucumber slaw to top the stew with. the bowls are arranged on a blue and red tablecloth, with a small pot of ras el hanout and a tub of black nigella seeds.

A can of chickpeas, an onion, and some garlic make up the most unassuming of all blank canvases for a meal. These three homely ingredients become something special when combined, add in other pantry staples and spices and a meal worthy of casual company can come together quickly and without fuss. For this Spiced Chickpea Stew I made excellent use of frozen butternut squash and spinach, although fresh would work just as well. I’m going for convenience when making a recipe like this one. This recipe will keep for several days in the fridge, I generally eat it as written for a day or two before I begin adding in little extras to stretch out the leftovers. Mashed sweet potatoes or carrots  are lovely when mixed into this stew, rub chicken thighs with Ras El Hanout and olive oil and serve alongside the stew, or stir in a generous spoonful of this garlicky cashew cream with lime and cilantro. If there’s anything else I love more than a hearty stew it’s a crunchy, sweet, and tangy slaw to serve alongside (or on top!) of the chickpeas. The nigella seeds in the slaw aren’t strictly necessary, I’ve been using them a lot in salads lately and I find they complement the flavour of so many other ingredients I love, they look so pretty and they have such a lovely bright citrus flavour. The fun in this recipe is its flexibility, it’s a dream of a meal to put together when you have a the basic ingredients and a handful of miscellaneous items hanging about in the kitchen.

spiced chickpea stew with butternut squash & spinach:

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 small red onion, diced into small pieces

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 cup fresh or frozen butternut squash, cubed

1 red sweet pepper, diced into small pieces

1 Tbsp. Ras El Hanout or Garam Masala or curry powder

2 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. coriander

1 can of chickpeas, liquid reserved

3/4 cup vegetable stock

1 bunch of spinach or 1/2 package of frozen spinach

Generous amount of kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the red onion, garlic, butternut squash cubes, red sweet pepper and cook until the vegetables start to soften.
  2. Add the Ras El Hanout (or spice blend of your preference), cumin, coriander, and a generous pinch of salt and cook with the vegetables for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Add the entire can of chickpeas, including the liquid (this will help thicken the stew) and the vegetables stock. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes or until some of the liquid has evaporated, stirring in the spinach to cook  over the last few minutes.
  4. Serve the stew piping hot with a dollop of Greek yogurt or at room temperature with a side of Orange Cucumber Slaw with Nigella Seeds.

orange cucumber slaw with nigella seeds:

1 small cucumber, pulp removed and sliced into thin half moons

1 orange, zested and juiced

Drizzle of olive oil

2 Tbsp. scallion greens, sliced thinly

1 small bunch of parsley, finely snipped with scissors

Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

1 tsp. nigella seeds

Pinch of dried chilies

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, gently stirring to combine. Serve with Spiced Chickpea Stew with Butternut Squash and Spinach (or, stuffed into a pita with shredded chicken, butter lettuce, and mayonnaise mixed with a small amount of orange juice and zest).

Flowing slowed down shimmery songs like this one have always been a weakness of mine, I blame it on an early obsession with Mazzy Star, Belly’s sophomore album King, and Suzanne Vega.

The Black Ryder – Let Me Be Your Light

 

 

Fiery Israeli Couscous Salad with a Creamy Avocado and Fresh Herb Dressing

Israeli Couscous salad with creamy avocado herb dressing

I have been away the past couple of months because I’ve been writing, writing, writing and then writing some more; this Edward Gorey illustration is an accurate representation of how I’m feeling these days:

edward-gorey

You know what helps when I feel this burnt out? Salads all.the.time. I’m a huge fan of salads that are sturdy, salads that will last a few days in the fridge without becoming mushy or soggy. This salad has a big bite which can be lessened by using roasted sweet peppers instead of roasted serrano peppers – both of which can be found conveniently packed into jars or can be roasted at home in a short amount of time. I’m also obsessed with fresh herbs, I think that fresh basil smells like the greenest, deepest, most intense liquorice heaven ever. Don’t be shy with the lemon juice in the dressing, plenty of lemon is the key to preventing the avocado dressing from turning brown.  Israeli couscous is perfect in this recipe, the dense chewiness is a satisfying foil to the bright zippy flavours of the remaining ingredients. Pearl barley and orzo make excellent substitutes if you can’t find Israeli couscous, I’ve tried it with both and been more than happy with the results.

fiery israeli couscous salad with a creamy avocado and fresh herb dressing:

1 1/2 cups of dried Israeli couscous, cooked in salted water according to package directions

1 medium cucumber, peeled in alternating stripes and cut into thin quarter moons

3 roasted serrano peppers, seeds removed and sliced into rough strips

2 roasted sweet peppers, seeds removed and sliced into rough strips

1 bunch of scallions, greens thinly sliced

Big handfuls of fresh parsley, basil, mint, and cilantro to scatter on top of the salad

1-2 Bird’s Eye chilies, sliced paper-thin to scatter on top of the salad

for the creamy avocado and fresh herb dressing:

1 super ripe avocado

Juice of 1 lemon

Juice of 1 lime

1/4 cup of olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, loosely chopped

1 cup of fresh basil

1/2 cup parsley

1/2 cup cilantro

A few mint leaves

1/4 cup of Greek yogurt or Skyr

1 tsp. kosher salt

Freshly cracked pepper

Combine all of the salad ingredients except for the fresh herbs in a large bowl. Pulse together the salad dressing ingredients in a food processor, adjust seasonings if needed. Drizzle the salad dressing over the salad ingredients and toss until coated, transfer the salad to a shallow salad bowl and scatter with the fresh herbs and sliced chilies. Serve this salad at room temperature or while still cold, it will keep in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Music for writing and music for eating while taking breaks from typing tends to be either Nick Drake, Erik Satie, Glenn Gould’s Bach Variations, Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions, and Brian Eno. Music For Airports instantly transports me back to early childhood, my mom used to play this album for my sister and I when we had our afternoon naps. Music For Airports is like the smell of rose hips and jasmine, things I associate with my mom’s room when I was growing up, particularly if she had been in there getting ready to go to work or out with friends.

Brian Eno – Music For Airports

 

 

 

Eggplant Dip Topped with Fattoush Salad

fattoush-eggplant-dip2

Not to harp on eggplants or anything, I realize I profess my love for them frequently, but this eggplant dip topped with a variation on fattoush salad is everything I dream about when I dream about food (the vast majority of my waking hours). If you’ve read this recipe for Ridiculously Simple and Creamy Eggplant Dip and tried it out for yourself, whether you left it true to form or tried any of the other suggested additions, then you’ll know the value of roasting a whole eggplant until it looks like a shrivelled up witch’s foot. This isn’t a true fattoush salad as I’ve added a few extra ingredients but it’s definitely reminiscent of the original; I admit that when I have a jar of pickled peperoncini peppers in the fridge I feel compelled to add them to just about everything. This has become a beloved party dip over the span of a month and I’ve eaten it solo in my pyjamas for dinner at least 5 times (I don’t bother with anything to use as a dipping vessel, a fork does just fine thank you very much). As long as you make sure to drain the cut up tomatoes and cucumber on some paper towel before adding them to the eggplant base you can have leftovers the next day, just be warned that raw garlic seems to become exponentially stronger after a night sitting in the fridge – approach with caution.

Brown shallow earthenware bowl filled with eggplant dip and with a topping of fattoush salad

eggplant dip topped with fattoush salad:

for the eggplant dip:

1 eggplant, scored several times and roasted whole at 425 degrees for 1 hour or until black and shrivelled on the outside

2 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Tbsp. plain yogurt

1-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

1 tsp. Ras El Hanout

Juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Scoop out the custardy eggplant insides and combine in a large bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Use a large fork to whip the mixture into a frenzy until it becomes a creamy and relatively smooth dip. Set aside while you make the fattoush salad.

for the fattoush salad:

About 1/2 cup cucumber chopped into smallish pieces, laid out and drained on a piece of paper towel for 20 minutes

About 1/2 cup tomato cut into small chunks, laid out and drained on a piece of paper towel for 20 minutes

3 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

5 pickled peperoncini peppers, roughly chopped

1/2 cup of parsley, torn into very small pieces

Juice of 1 lemon

2 Tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp. sumac

Generous pinch of dried chili flakes

Kosher salt

In a salad bowl gently toss together the cucumber, tomato, scallions, and peperoncini peppers. Drizzle with the lemon juice and olive oil and top with the sumac and chili flakes, adding a pinch of kosher salt to round out the flavours.

Transfer the eggplant dip to a shallow bowl and spoon the fattoush salad over top, adding another drizzle of olive oil for presentation and extra flavour. Serve with pita bread or crispy baguette slices, or with a fork and nothing else.

I was reading today that this October Vancouver has had 28 days of rain, which actually is fine by me because I love rainy weather (I can’t claim to speak for everyone with this preference). Walking in the rain for long periods of time makes me feel more alive than a stroll on a sunny day. The ocean is best when it’s entirely greyscale, and listening to the combined sound of water lapping on the shore and rain falling on wet leaves is like a being wrapped in the most comforting blanket imaginable. But I’ve realized it’s also been a month of depressing music, lots of downtempo, minimal everything, and more Nick Drake than you can shake a stick at. I’ve been making the attempt for a full single day now, and although it’s been tempting to listen to the new Casino Versus Japan album nonstop I’ve been filling my ears with Teeel’s gloriously synthy good times. And you know what? I had a bit more bounce in my step tonight when I walked to the beach in the pouring rain.

Teeel – Temple of the Sun

Marinated Olives with Orange and Rosemary

Clear glass dish with marinated olives with orange and rosemary on a white, green, and red striped tablecloth.

Do you need a quick, dare I say effortless, appetizer for your next gathering? Something less formal and more of a help-yourself-my-lovely-friends ordeal, but still sophisticated enough that it looks elegant decanted into a few pretty dishes? Look no further dear reader, this bright little recipe lets the olives do the work with the help of a few vibrant additions to the overall look and taste. Rosemary and orange zest are old friends in this recipe, seemingly oddball in combination with the olives but somehow it just works. Give the olives at least a day to marinate in the fridge and then put them out for your guests in a few well-chosen beautiful dishes (remember to include a little container for the pits as well) and let them have at it.

marinated olives with orange and rosemary:

About 2 cups of mixed olives, with pits (reserve the brine for storing any leftover olives)

2 or 3 big sprigs of fresh rosemary

1 orange, coarsely zested and juiced

3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

Olive oil

Freshly cracked black pepper

In a large bowl or container stir together the olives, rosemary, orange zest and juice, garlic, and a few good glugs of olive oil. Give the mix a generous addition of freshly cracked black pepper, stir well and try an olive to make sure the flavours are on the right track. Allow to marinate overnight or for at least 12 hours and up to 48 hours, store any leftover olives in the reserved brine (these make an excellent midnight snack as you stand in the front of the open fridge pondering what your real snack will be).

And speaking of midnight snacks, cold roasted radishes dipped in sea salt make an excellent last-minute addition to your day…

Roasted pink radishes on a white plate.

Bowery Electric provides the ideal downtempo soundtrack to mulling over your late night eating habits; I should know, this album has served me well through my important snack food decision making for the last 20 years or so.

Bowery Electric – Empty Words

Autumn Cocktail with Rye and a Ginger Orange Simple Syrup

Clear glass tumbler glass containing ice, rye, ginger beer, simple syrup, and sparkling water next to a small prep bowl with candied ginger and orange peel from the simple syrup.

I know it’s autumn when I make the leap from summery gin cocktails to classic rye and gingers. If you don’t have Canadian rye whiskey available, you can go ahead and use regular whiskey; I prefer rye because it’s smoother than regular whiskey and I find that its golden honeyed taste goes down a lot easier. Bourbon is also delicious in this recipe, but I wouldn’t use scotch if given the option – too much bite overwhelms the subtle orange and ginger flavours from the simple syrup. The simple syrup is versatile and can be used to doctor up plain sparkling water and it adds a lovely warmth to a Moscow Mule with a squeeze of lime.

for the ginger and orange simple syrup:

2 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin pieces

About 2 inches of orange peel, I like to use mandarin orange peel

3/4 cup white sugar

3/4 cup water

Combine the water and sugar with the orange peel and fresh ginger in a small sauce pan. Heat over medium-high heat until gently simmering and the sugar has dissolved. Remove the simple syrup from the heat and allow to sit for about 45 minutes before taking out the ginger and orange peel. Store the simple syrup in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

for the cocktail:

(makes one cocktail)

2 Tbsp. ginger and orange simple syrup

1 1/2 oz. rye whiskey

Gingerale

Sparkling water

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add the rye and simple syrup. Shake vigorously and pour into a glass filled with ice. Top with equal parts ginger beer and sparkling water; look out the window at the beautiful fall foliage and enjoy!

I’ve been working on an autumn playlist over the last few days they’re all a bit morose, making this song a perfect fit. I don’t really make playlists for other seasons (besides Christmas, because of course!) but I feel like October is more of an immersive experience than anything else. I just want to do everything possible to fully experience this time of year both inside and outside (and speaking of outside, I’m definitely not above making a rye and ginger for the road – nature is often best experienced with a cocktail in a travel mug!).

Lou Reed & John Cale – Slip Away (A Warning)

 

Ridiculously Simple and Creamy Eggplant Dip (Vegan, Too!)

A white round bowl full of creamy eggplant dip, garnished with fresh basil and mint beside a bowl of grilled baguette slices.

I’ve had the pleasure of cooking for my London, Ontario family this past week which has been extra pleasurable because I’ve been able to do it in a proper backyard with a barbecue and copious glasses of wine and gin and tonics (oof, my liver will need a break after this vacation). I made this eggplant dip as an easy appetizer and served it with a big bowl of grilled baguette slices, resulting in a creamy and chewy combination of textures that made everyone exclaim how tasty this recipe is. That’s the best part of this recipe, it’s ridiculously simple and endlessly adaptable but this is the dip at its most simple: Greek yogurt, tahini, sesame oil, soy sauce, minced ginger, cumin, and all sorts of fresh and dried herbs could be added (or not!) and it will always be fantastic.

ridiculously simple and creamy eggplant dip:

1 large eggplant

1-2 finely minced cloves of garlic

Juice of one lemon

Olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

Dried chilies

Lots of fresh basil and mint, cut in a chiffonade

  1. Pierce the eggplant several times with a fork. Either grill the eggplant over direct heat until shrunken and almost inedible looking OR do the same in a very hot oven for up to an hour. If you have a gas oven you can also directly char the eggplant on the flames until caved in and black.
  2. Scoop out the custardy eggplant insides into a bowl and whip up with a for until a super creamy consistency is created.
  3. Stir in the garlic, lemon juice, a few generous slugs of olive oil, salt and pepper. Decant into a shallow bowl and drizzle with more olive oil. Top with dried chilies, fresh basil and mint. Serve with grilled or toasted baguette slices that have been brushed with olive oil before toasting.

Richard Hawley is good hanging out with your dad in the backyard while barbecuing music, I think anyone would agree with that. He’s like Johnny Cash, but new and different so you can talk about it with each other. Plus there’s something fall-ish about Richard Hawley, warm and inviting, lush and poignant.

Richard Hawley – Run For Me