Fresh Springtime Pasta with Farmer’s Market Asparagus and Fava Beans

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After hauling home fresh asparagus and fava beans from the farmer’s market, I stood on a chair and made a loud declaration: “I will not adulterate these beacons of springtime with a convoluted recipe that obfuscates their natural glory!” Getting down from the chair, I thought about my declaration and realized that to live up to my word, I would need to cook the asparagus and fava beans as simply as possible, and serve them up with something special-enough to be memorable but not so special as to shadow the star ingredients: which is how I came up with making fresh pasta.

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Chanterelle Risotto with White Truffle Salt

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Here’s a friendly tip: make yourself buy an exotic ingredient even if you’re not sure what you’re going to do with it.

For example, a few weeks ago I was at the Spice Station in Silverlake and I bought a little bag of white truffle salt. I bought it because after sniffing from the giant jar of it, I was like: “Whoah, that’s really potent and really smells like white truffles.” A small bag cost about $10 or so which is way less than you’d pay for an actual white truffle. And knowing that I had it, I kept my eyes open later that week at the farmer’s market for anything that might work well with it; which is how I ended up buying a bag of chanterelle mushrooms.

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Mann Ziti

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Aimee Mann is one of my favorite musicians of all time. On the way to her Christmas concert at the Wiltern, Craig asked me why I liked her so much. “Because she’s unsentimental yet emotional, cold but vulnerable at the same time; plus, she’s funny.” She writes lyrics like, “And I’m the only one who knows / that Disneyland’s about to close.” And: “Finals blew I barely knew my graduation speech / with college out of reach / if I don’t find a job it’s down to dad and Myrtle Beach.” With little time to spare before the concert, I decided to whip up a pasta dish without a recipe. And it turns out that this pasta–which I’m calling Mann Ziti in Aimee Mann’s honor–has a lot in common with the music: it lives on the edge of darkness.

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Kitchen Sink Pasta Salad (with Yogurt and Herbs)

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The scene? My kitchen. The day? Last Thursday. The idea? Take everything out of my refrigerator–fresh mozzarella, a red onion, scallions, celery, parsley, dill, a nectarine (ok, that wasn’t in the refrigerator, it was on the counter)–and make dinner. I didn’t know what I was going to make but then I had a thought: “What if I make a pasta salad? And what if that pasta salad is kind of healthy? What if I uses Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise and lots of these fresh herbs to perk it up?”

Ladies and gentlemen: a star was born.

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Noodles with Spicy Peanut Sauce

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Meet your new favorite weeknight dinner. It asks only a few things of you: that you have a cluster of esoteric ingredients on hand (chili paste, rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil), and also a few familiar ones (ginger, soy sauce, peanut butter). It asks you to boil water and to blend things up in your blender. But approximately 20 minutes after you start, you’ll have the plate of food that you see above and, on a hot summer’s eve, you’ll find that very satisfying.

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Asparagus & Ramp Risotto

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Spring is here at last and that means you’ll find two things at the farmer’s market that you won’t find there any other time of the year: ramps and asparagus.

Sure, you can find asparagus at the grocery store in January, but that asparagus is as far a cry from farmer’s market asparagus as a Monet is to a paint-by-number flower. And ramps, love them or hate them, are here for just a fleeting moment.

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Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe

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Here are your tools–black pepper, spaghetti, water, salt, butter and cheese–now make something delicious. Ok? Go.

Maybe it’s because these ingredients are so unglamorous that I shied away from spaghetti cacio e pepe for so long. Sure, it’s a classic Italian spaghetti dish, but I’ve always favored the ones with garlic and anchovies (see my Weary Traveler’s Spaghetti, for example) over this one made with cheese and black pepper, regardless of how much my friends rave over it.

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Fusilli with Tomatoes, Bacon & Blue Cheese

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There it was, in the pan, ready to eat. A big panful of fusilli, coated in a sauce I’d improvised with bacon, red chile flakes, tomato paste and a can of tomatoes. I’d let the sauce cook down until it was nice and thick and then boiled the fusilli until just al dente, lifting it with a spider into the pan of red sauce. I stirred it all around, ready to grate on a traditional cheese like Parmesan or Pecorino, when I had a vision.

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