Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Summer Vegetable Pasta Toss

The kids have been keeping me so busy lately that I have been very neglectful of this blog. It has become more and more difficult to actually find a moment to gather my thoughts and type something out on a daily or even weekly basis! Throw in editing photos and I am in way over my head! I used to have a clear time of day where I had an hour or two to myself where I could finish a few chores and then enjoy a few quiet moments to read or blog but I have found that time disappearing as of late thanks to the lack of napping. Not to mention, I think my kids are among the loudest human beings on the planet. When Matthew speaks it sounds to me as if he is shouting and Emma delights in shrieking/screaming when she is both happy and upset. A typical day consists of breakfast, a walk outside with the dog, basic chores and tidying up, followed by some gym time. We then come home for lunch, the older two have "school time" while I attempt to put Lucy down for a nap, and then it's prepping for dinner. Life is busy!

As a family, we have already enjoyed a few fun experiences this summer, just little moments that made a big impact on the children. The two that come to mind immediately both involve nature. While out looking at the turtle pond at the state park near our home, we were informed by a park ranger that some of the researchers were in the process of banding birds not to far from where we were. We headed over there and the children had a front row seat watching the ecologists capture, weigh, type, and band a half dozen birds. Each year, they track the migration pattern of several different species of birds that come through our area. These birds are monitored for life, providing valuable information on their activity during their lifespan. We were told that some of the birds migrate as far as South America only to come right back here in the springtime. Amazing! The kids were mesmerized the whole time but the best part came when it was time to release the birds back into the wild. Each kid, including Lucy, was given the opportunity to hold a bird cupped in their hands and then, when prompted, opening their hands and allowing the bird to once again spread its wings and fly high and away. It was a very neat moment for the kids.

As a funny side note, the ecologists were very good about explaining what they were doing to the children. Matthew, the child who never runs out of question, spent most of his time grilling the scientsts about the various birds they were capturing. At one point, he asked if they had caught any Blue Jays. They responded that they had not and then proceeded to tell Matthew that Blue Jays were very social and tended to travel in flocks and that you can normally hear them "flying overhead."

Matthew wrinkled his nose and then responded slowly, "Actually....those are geese."

Paul and I couldn't stop laughing for we too had never, ever heard a flock of Blue Jays flying overhead but those geese are everywhere.

The second family encounter with nature involved a giant snapping turtle that I spotted while Paul and I were driving back into our neighborhood. It was huge and just casually moving down the sidewalk. I didn't want it to wander into the street and get hit by a car, so I convinced Paul to let me rescue it. He was not too excited about this idea, especially when the giant turtle started hissing and lunging at us with its surprisingly long and flexible neck. While Paul distracted the furious reptile, I grabbed it using the back "handles" under its shell and we shoved it into a paper grocery bag. While we finished our drive home, we could hear it angrily rustling around the back trying to chew its way through the bag. Paul was convinced it was going to attack the upholstery next.

When we got home, we placed it into a large plastic bin along with some water and a chopped up apple. It continued to hiss and snap at us. We all piled into the car, picked up Matthew from school, and then headed down to a well-known turtle pond on the peninsula not too far from our home. Along the way, we did not tell Matthew what we were doing. It was only when we parked, unloaded our mysterious bin from the car, and allowed Matthew to remove the top to see what was inside that he discovered the true purpose of our mission. We dragged the bin to the water's edge and then set it on its side. Our turtle friend got the hint and immediately walked out of his prison and slowly made his way into the water. He paused for just a second, blinking and looking about at his new surroundings, before gracefully swimming deeper and deeper into the lake. On a distant log not too far from where we were standing were about 25 other turtle friends waiting to greet him. He had plenty of company.

If you made it through this long post, the promised recipe is here at the end! And it's a good one! I am in love with all the fresh, straight-from-the-farm, local produce that is available this time of year. This Summer Vegetable Pasta dish is a great way to use all of that beautiful, colorful produce. It's loaded with zucchini, tomatoes, asparagus, peas and fresh basil. The zucchini is actually cooked down a bit and then tossed with the hot pasta where it almost becomes part of the sauce. It's super tasty, light, and perfect for lazy dinners out on the porch or deck. Plus, it's such a pretty dish to look at!

Summer Vegetable Pasta Toss
from Cook's Country May/June 2017

6 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 small garlic cloves, 1 minced and 4 sliced thin
1 pound spaghetti
1 zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut on bias into 1-inch lengths
1 cup frozen peas, thawe
1/4 cup minced fresh chives
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus extra for serving
2 tablespoons torn fresh mint leaves

Toss tomatoes, 1 tablespoon oil, minced garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper together in a bowl. Set aside.

Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon of salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Drain pasta and return to pot.

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat until shimmering. Add zucchini, pepper flakes, sliced garlic, an 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, covered, until zucchini softens and breaks down, about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add asparagus, peas and 3/4 cup water and bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Cover and cook until asparagus is crisp tender, about 2 minutes.

Add vegetable mixture, chives, lemon juice, and remaining 2 tablespoons oil to pasta and toss to combine. Transfer to serving bowl, sprinkle with Pecorino, and drizzle with extra oil. Spoon tomatoes and their juices over top and sprinkle with mint. Serve, passing extra Pecorino at the table.

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