We got some new neighbors last year, with two bouncy little boys, and The Child decided that maybe, since she’d outgrown the trampoline in our backyard, the new neighbors might want it. They did, and the father happily came to remove it, leaving a giant mud pit where it once stood. The Departed had put a layer of weed-preventing cloth under and around the trampoline, and lots of water had collected on top of it each winter, and once this was all removed, what was left was a crater of compacted mud.
I’d had ideas about putting a garden in that spot, but when I saw that crater, I thought, well, it’s back to the Farmer’s Market for me.
Lucky for me I have a wonderful lawn guy, and I showed him the pit, and asked, What do I do? He offered to build me some raised planting beds and fill them with good soil for gardening. All of this would simply go on top of the existing mess. So he built the boxes and filled them when they were done, the weather turned warm and sunny, and so The Child and I excitedly drove up to a Woodinville gardening store and loaded up on herb plants and heirloom tomato plants and zucchini seeds and beets and strawberries and you name it. Everything we could think of to grow and eat – whether or not it was something we wanted to eat was besides the point. It would be amazing when it came out of our garden. We would like tomatoes if we grew them.
Things started off well enough – the plants all seemed happy enough at first, and the seeds sprouted nicely, and I got a composting system and gave myself a gardening education via youtube videos and Amazon product reviews. Things grew in ways I didn’t expect but I just rolled with it. Bean plants are climbers, apparently. I should probably have realized this before planting one, but instead I built it something to climb on, out of two stakes and some twine.
But then, Seattle changed its mind about spring, and the clouds rolled in, accompanied by a constant drizzle and chill. My basil plant turned yellow, and curled up to keep warm. My heirloom tomato plants bowed down in defeat. I abandoned my dream of a freezer filled with a bounty of marinara sauce.
I started talking to the plants, mostly to apologize.
One plant held on gamely, though – thrived even: a rosemary plant. It hasn’t grown much but it still seems to be quite solid, and even better, fragrant. So I snipped two sprigs from it and made one of my favorite pasta recipes, Baked Orecchiette from the Lottie + Doof blog.
I’m ashamed to admit that though I’ve made this recipe many times, I’ve never used fresh rosemary in it, only dried. I hate paying all kinds of money for fresh herbs in the grocery store, and then only using a small bit and, usually, throwing the rest away. But now, I have fresh rosemary, whenever I want it. And after tasting this recipe, finally, the way it is meant to taste – well, if all I get out of my garden beds is rosemary, it still will have been worth the trouble.
This pasta dish is wonderful for being loaded with everything except meat: Cheese, veggies, and pasta make a hearty meal baked together. But I love it for the seasonings: the fennel, rosemary, and pepper, immediately call to mind Italian sausage – fresh and flavorful, and cooked this way, guilt-free. It re-heats well, too, so it makes a great lunch the day after you make it.
It’s more of a winter dish than summer – but at the moment, Seattle is a little more winter than summer, too.
- 1 pound orecchiette
- 1½ pounds broccolini, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- Olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, lightly crushed
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- ½ pound fresh ricotta
- Grated parmesan
- Cook 1 pound of pasta in salted water until extremely al dente, about 8 minutes. Lift the pasta from the water and drain.
- Using the boiling water, blanch the broccolini for a minute or so. Drain in a colander.
- Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Warm the garlic in the oil, but don’t let it brown. Add the broccolini, rosemary, fennel seeds and red pepper. Lightly salt the greens, stir them around the pan, and turn off the heat.
- To assemble the dish, put the cooked pasta and cooked greens in a large bowl and mix gently. Add the ricotta and mix again.
- Butter a shallow gratin dish. Put the pasta mixture in dish and sprinkle generously with grated parmesan. Cover and keep at room temperature for up to several hours.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Shortly before serving time, bake the pasta for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake for 5 minutes more. Serve immediately.