Light Dairy Pasta for Shavuot

Shavuot – that festival of cheese, cream, milk and indigestion! Often, this one-time-a-year excuse to load our food with diary products results in lactose overkill. Instead of overdoing the dairy, how about a dish that’s light on the diary, heavier on the veggies and the result is tasty and easy on the digestive system.

This is a recipe I threw together when I was vacationing at my sister-in-law’s cottage in Ontario last summer. Our niece was having a birthday, and because she’s a vegetarian, we made a diary vegetarian meal, with the whole extended family pitching in with their contributions – lots of fun and good food.

I opened the fridge and did a bit of forraging. There was a bag of fresh spinach, some sun dried tomatoes, piles of cheese, so I went to work on making a fresh vegetable-based pasta sauce. It went down really well. I made it again recently, trying to remember what I had done. Not sure it’s exactly the same recipe, but it’s one of those recipes that you can adjust according to your own taste (or what’s in the fridge!). Just don’t skip the spinach – it makes the dish. And please, for the love of all that is edible, use fresh spinach only. That frozen stuff is evil and does not in any way resemble spinach as nature intended it.

FRESH SPINACH VEGETABLE PASTA

Ingredients

500 g (1lb) penne pasta (or similar large hardy noodle)

2 tablespoons olive oil

10-15 sun dried tomatoes in oil chopped (not too small)

6-8 cloves of garlic thinly sliced

2 medium sized zucchinis quartered and sliced

2-3 cups of cherry tomatoes quartered

Salt and ground pepper

A pinch of dried oregano

A pinch of dried basil, or a few shredded fresh basil leaves

300 g (10 oz) fresh baby spinach leaves washed

200 g (7oz) Tzfatit cheese or any hard white salty cheese diced into small cubes

Water from the pasta pot

Grated parmesan cheese (optional)

How to do it

  1. Add the olive oil to a large skillet or wok and turn the gas to medium high. Add the sun dried tomatoes, zucchini and garlic and saute till the zucchini starts getting soft (about 5 minutes), stirring every now and again.
  2. Make the pasta in a large pot of salted water.
  3. While the pasta is cooking, add the tomatoes and herbs to the skillet and allow to simmer on low heat till the tomatoes start breaking down. After the tomatoes are softened, add about a cup of the water from the pasta pot to the skillet, and stir and continue to simmer for a few minutes, until the pasta is cooked. Add just enough liquid so that you start getting a sauce, but don’t add too much water so that you dilute the flavors.
  4. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet or wok (if it’s big enough; if not, return the pasta to the post and add the vegetables to the pot.)
  5. Add the spinach leaves. The heat from the pasta and the sauce will wilt the leaves. If you are using a heavier spinach leaf, then keep the flame on low heat only just until the spinach is wilted – you don’t want to over cook the spinach.
  6. Add the slaty cheese and toss together, and sprinkle some parmesan over the top to serve. Serve immediately. (You can make the first part of the sauce ahead of time – till step 4).

Serves about 6.

 

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Cold Borscht without the Patchkie

Bosrcht

If there’s anything that conjurs up memories of growing up in a Lithuanian Jewish home in South Africa, it’s cold borscht (or what we simply called beetroot soup) in the summer. There were always large mason jars filled with soup in the fridge in the summer, and it was a great snack or first course for any dairy meal. We would always eat it with a dollop of sour or regular cream, with finely chopped cucumber. If someone was feeling energetic, maybe a boiled baby potato would find its way into the bowl, but if not, that was also fine.

Oddly enough, until not bvery long ago, I had never made beetroot soup myself, for a couple of reasons: Firstly, the gentlemen in my family do not like beets, and secondly, in Israel, beets are very sadly sold devoid of their stems and leaves. My late mother always made her soup with the whole beet, including the stalks and leaves, which were my favorite part. Without them, I don’t believe the soup would taste as good. I’m very likely wrong, but it’s my schtick.

A few weeks ago, to my joy, my greengrocer was selling whole bunches of beets. I grabbed a bunch and finally made my first pot of cold borscht. There are so many recipes out there that over complicate this very simple dish. This recipe is simple, and you can add whatever accompaniments you like. But the basic recipe keeps ingredients, and patchkie, to a minumum and it works well. At the very least, it tastes just like my mother’s!

COLD BORSCHT

Ingredients

1 bunch of beets (about 6 small beets) with stems and leaves

Cold water (about 2 liters/quarts) to more than cover the beets

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons of vinegar

Sugar to taste

Salt and pepper

Accompaniments: Finely chopped cucumber, sour cream or sweet cream, small boiled baby potatoes

How to do it

  1. Very thouroughly wash the beets so there is no grit left. Cut the beet bulbs off the stems, and peel and cut in half. Grate them in a food processor on the coarse blade. Chop the stems into half inch/1.5 cm pieces. Shred the leaves.
  2. Put all the beet parts into a large pot and cover with the water – water should be about 4cm (2 inches) above the level of the beets. Being to the boil and reduce to a simmer for about half an hour (or until the beets are cooked through). Note: If you don’t have a food processor, you can boild the beet halves for about half an hour or until a fork can slide into the beets, and then hand grate them. Don’t over cook them because they will coninue cooking with the stems and leaves for about 15 minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat and add sugar (about 1-2 tablespoons).
  4. Allow to cool completely, and then add the lemon juice vinegar and salt and pepper. Keep tasting till you get the right level of acidity.
  5. Serve cold with whatever accompaniments you like.

Serves about 8.