Friday, June 22

And Then There Were Apricots

Apricot season arrived early this year.  I can't possibly let this time go by without buying loads and loads of these brilliant, coral gems.  Their season is so short; I truly relish the time I have with them.  Last year's crop was decimated by a late frost, so it's been two long years since I last bit into a fresh, warm apricot.  And they are all the more sweeter for the wait.  The sugary juice explodes in your mouth, and the velvety, soft flesh nearly dissolves on your tongue.  Heaven.

I grew up under the branches of my grandfather's fruit trees.  Tiny, rosy cherries and royal plums shared their space with an apple tree on the north side of the house.  On the east were the brilliant, giant peaches and apricots dripping from curved branches.  They shared the morning sunlight with another old, crooked apple and a dainty pear.

My kind, old grandfather cherished these trees, and cared for them so tenderly that you would have thought they were born of his own flesh and blood.

As children we played beneath their outstretched branches - bravely climbing high in search of forgotten fruit or napping peacefully in their dappled shade.  Ever bold and strong, their arms reached toward the sun.  As their fruit began to ripen, my grandfather would shroud the trees in giant nets, tied securely around sturdy trunks, to keep the hungry birds at bay.

I clearly remember the netted cherry trees.  At times there were hundreds of blackbirds perched atop the nets, desperately pecking through the tight weave, fighting for the ruby jewels hidden deep within.  It was as if they, too, knew this time was short, and they wildly desired the precious treat while it was here.  Not so unlike me, I suppose.

We children would run to the trees, waving our arms, clapping, and shouting shoo shoo.  But it wasn't until we actually began shaking the net and branches below that the hungry birds would reluctantly flee.  Perching instead on the nearby fence to wait.  The moment we returned to the house they were back, pecking and pulling at that loathsome net.

My grandmother would prepare amazing pies, tarts, crumbles, and crisps of all kinds with the bounty of these trees.  And perhaps I became a bit spoiled, but if you've ever tasted a sun-ripened peach or apricot, fresh from the tree and warmed by the sun - so incredibly juicy you must eat it over the sink - then you know exactly how I feel.

I don't remember my grandmother ever creating a savory dish with her fruit, but I just love the combination.  In this dish I added a hint of cinnamon to complement the sweet apricots, and I served it with a chilled rice salad.  A fresh and easy summertime meal.

Apricot Chicken

8 boneless, skinless organic chicken thighs
1 Tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
2 Tbsp apricot preserves
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp cinnamon
8 apricots, cut in half and pitted
salt and pepper
handful of fresh, flat leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Season the chicken well with salt and pepper.  Brown the chicken, in batches, in the oil.  Remove to a plate and keep warm. 

Add the onions to the pan and stir to deglaze.  Turn the heat to medium and cook 5 minutes, until soft.  Stir in the wine and boil until reduced by half.  Add the chicken stock and whisk in the apricot preserves, mustard, and cinnamon.  Bring to a simmer and add the chicken back to the pan.  Cover and simmer 15-20 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.  Top the chicken with the cut apricots, cover and simmer 5 minutes longer.

Remove from heat and taste for seasoning.  Add more salt and pepper if necessary.  Garnish with the chopped parsley, and serve with rice or crusty bread to sop up the wonderful sauce.

Shared with: Melt in your Mouth Monday, Mangia Mondays, Hearth and Soul, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, Nap-Time Creations Tasty Tuesday, Full Plate Thursday, Real Food Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday, Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Foodie Friday at Simple Living, Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Freedom Fridays, Weekend Potluck

Saturday, June 16

Farmers' Market Pasta Primavera

Pasta Primavera is the quintessential dish to showcase the beautiful, young produce from the farmers' market or garden, is it not?  Though it may be a little outdated (just the name makes me think of those heavy, over-sauced variations that were popular in restaurants in the 80's), I love it anyway.  Whatever you call it, Springtime Pasta should always highlight Spring's freshest veggies tossed with some sort of pasta and a light sauce, frequently a béchamel.  I always make several variations at the beginning of Summer when the pea plants hang heavy on the garden fence; when the first tender carrots are just barely long enough to be pulled, and the herb box is beginning to overflow in a cascade of colours and flavours.

Here in Colorado our Farmers' Markets opened last weekend, and my, how I've missed them!  We were traveling, and my first priority upon returning home - before unpacking the suitcases, before laundry - was to seek out the dates and locations of all the markets in town.  We have a few new ones this year, and I was very anxious to purchase some produce and eggs from the nearby farm I told you about a few weeks ago.

E and I spent yesterday afternoon at a new Farm and Art Market held in the sculpture garden of one of our fine art museums.   What a treat!  E was enthralled by the giant statues all around her.  I by the tables full of crisp green and purple lettuces and kale, plump crimson beets and snowy turnips, sugary garden-fresh peas, and crates upon crates of rosy red cherries.  There were vendors selling Wildflower Mead, and a local German baker who assured me that the entire bakery was peanut-free. (There's no safer way to shop for someone with food allergies than from local artisans who know their products inside and out.)  I bought a spectacular Rye baguette from her, and made a steaming pot of Turkey, Kale, and Quinoa Soup to go with it.

The kids devoured the cherries as soon as possible, and I had to limit them to two colourful carrots each, just so there'd be enough for the pasta later that evening.    I can't think of a better way to get kids to eat their veggies.

This is one of my favourite variations of Pasta Primavera.  It's light and refreshing, sauced only in Brown Butter, and complemented by fresh lemon, sage, and parsley.  The sweet, young veggies are just slightly cooked and remain crisp and fresh. 

Sitting on the shaded patio, with a glass of cool Pinot Grigio and a plate of this pasta, I feel as if Summer has finally arrived.

Pasta Primavera with Brown Butter and Grilled Chicken

4 organic chicken breasts
1/2 lb whole grain spaghetti
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
1 lemon (1/2 the zest and 1 tsp juice)
1 zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and into half moons on the diagonal
1 bunch of fresh baby carrots (not the stubby nubs you find bagged in the supermarket)
1/4 onion, minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp olive oil
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, thinly sliced
1 green onion, minced
a handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
a handful of fresh sage (about 4-5 large leaves or 8-9 smaller ones), chopped
salt and pepper

Season the chicken well with salt and pepper, and grill until cooked through (I do this on the indoor grill).  Meanwhile, bring a large sauce pan of salted water to a boil.   Add the pasta and peas and cook 5-6 minutes, until al dente.  Drain and place in a large serving bowl.

Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Add 2 tsp olive oil and saute the zucchini, carrots, onion, and garlic slowly, with a good pinch of salt and pepper.  Stir occasionally until the zucchini is cooked through and the carrots are tender-crisp, about 15 minutes.

Melt the slices of butter in a sauce pan (I use the same pan in which I cooked the pasta) over medium heat.  Swirl and whisk the butter as it melts so it cooks evenly.  Watch it very carefully.  As soon as it starts to turn brown and smell nutty remove the pan from the heat and whisk in 1 tsp of lemon juice and a pinch of salt.  Be careful; it will foam like crazy.  Immediately pour the sauce over the spaghetti, add the chopped herbs and the zest of 1/2 the lemon. Toss to coat.   

Place the vegetables on top of the pasta and top with the sliced grilled chicken. 

Shared with: Family Fresh Meals, Melt in your Mouth Monday, Mangia Mondays, Real Food Wednesday, Allergy Free Wednesday, Hearth and Soul, Full Plate Thursday, Simple Lives Thursday, Foodie Friday with Diane Balch, Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Gallery of Favorites, Freedom Fridays, Weekend Potluck, Nap-Time Creations Tasty Tuesday

Tuesday, June 12

Faraway Summer

When I was a child I spent nearly every summer just north of Santa Fe.  Though it was only a six hour car ride away, it felt like a thousand miles.  Now I'm here with my children.  I'm teaching them to run through the arroyos with soft, gentle feet; to be wary of the cholla's nasty bite; to gaze at the big dipper and to find la Estrella del Norte in an ebony sky; and to search with sharp eyes and quiet bodies for that skittish hare in the bush, that crafty coyote behind the piñon, and that shiny lizard on the hot stone.  I'll be back in a few days, but for now it's too soon to return to reality.  I hope you all are absorbing the radiance of summer, as I am.