Monday, April 18, 2011

Meatless Monday - Pasta with Spring Vegetable Pesto

Spring is here! As a foodie, this is my favorite time of year. The sun is bringing us out of hibernation, birds are singing merry songs, flowers are brightening the landscape. Best of all: bright, fresh vegetables are readily abundant.

My favorite spring veggie: asparagus. After reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I have learned to appreciate asparagus for its incredibly short season and would be FASCINATED to learn how it is grown & harvested the other 50 weeks of the year. If you have not yet read this book, run, don’t walk, to your nearest library or bookstore to get a copy.

Meatless meals are perfect for spring and summer. Delicious, organic produce is plentiful and our bodies crave lighter meals rather than the heavy, fatty meals we consume in colder months. An added bonus, with swimsuit season around the corner, is the calories that you do without when forgoing meat.

Inspired by the season’s produce, I headed to my “test kitchen” to utilize the bright green spears. Armed with my food processor, I created a tasty April meatless meal.

Pasta with Spring Vegetable Pesto (makes 4 servings)
  • 8 oz. whole wheat penne pasta (or your favorite pasta)
  • 1 small bunch asparagus
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen (thawed) peas
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil (or more, as needed)
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • Salt & pepper

 Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Wash the asparagus spears and cut off bottom inch and a half (in my opinion, snapping the spears by hand wastes a lot of perfectly good asparagus!). Cut all of the spears into 1-2 inch pieces. Set half aside, and add remaining pieces to the water along with half of the peas. Cook briefly until vegetables are bright green, about 2 minutes, and remove from boiling water (do not drain) using a spider or strainer to the bowl of a food processor.

In the meantime, add the pasta to the boiling water and begin to cook according to package directions.

To the food processor, add lemon juice; season with salt & pepper. Pulse a few times to begin breaking down the vegetables then add the pine nuts and parmesan. Blend vegetables and drizzle in the olive oil until a pesto texture is produced.

In the last two minutes of the cooking time, add the reserved asparagus and peas to the pasta cooking water. Drain and toss with the pesto. Serve topped with extra grated parmesan.



Saturday, April 9, 2011

Restaurant Review - Isabella

A fairly new Tapas restaurant in Conshohocken, Isabella, is still wet under their ears and seems to be working out their kinks. The atmosphere is Spanish/trendy - excellent decor. The clientele is mature and fun. Their new bartender, Malik, is very friendly and helpful.

On our first visit in 2010, I was excited we walked by the pizza ovens outside behind the restaurant - which made for some very legit flatbread! Inside, we enjoyed the mussels - topped with a mountain of crispy shallots, very memorable, as well as sangria. My husband tried the white, I the red. I was happiest with my choice, although the white did not fall too far behind. A brief chat with the mildly-snobbish manager left us a bit weary, but did not let it affect our night.

Their recent addition of happy hour has always beckoned me on my commute home along Elm Street, so I decided to drag my husband and neighbor out for a happy hour this past Tuesday. We enjoyed their new specials, as well as a new manager! Draft specials of many of my favorite craft beers on tap, half price small plates, and wine specials. They also have two Smirnoff cocktails for $5 - a martini and cosmopolitan. The Ommegang or Allegash on tap was enticing, but not being in a beer mood, I tried the Albarino. I was happy I did - it was a perfectly dry white wine that accompanied my small plates rather well.  I sampled the cosmopolitan but I am a bit of a vodka snob and would recommend staying away. A well-made martini or cosmopolitan should never be made with middle-shelf vodka, IMO.

We spoke, perhaps a little slurred-ly due to the several happy hour cocktails, to the owner; a very personable man. He asked our opinion of our experience and being a foodie, I gave it to him straight. The shrimp croquettes were sub-par - the tomato/cumin dipping sauce was delicious but the shrimp just didn't work for me (to be honest, I think a simple chickpea would have worked much better). He agreed with me and actually remarked "I am taking it off the menu!" This really impressed me that he was so willing to listen to a diner's opinion. The calamari was very good, as were the mussels (again), but my favorite was the frites with truffle oil, which can be smelled immediately when entering the restaurant. Not to be missed!

All-in-all, Isabella is a welcomed addition to Conshohocken. I give it 4 out of 5 stars for its potential and my confidence that all kinks will be worked out and this unique dining spot will surpass all of my expectations. I look forward to trying the Tango lessons they offer upstairs on Tuesdays and hope to make it a regular dining/happy hour destination!

382 E. Elm St.
Conshohocken, PA 19428

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