This recipe should appeal to vegans and meat-lovers alike. I call it “Fresh Garden Pasta” or, to be more fun, “Straight Outta Da Garden.”
Before I dive into the dish, I want to share a conversation my children and their friends were having that stopped me in my tracks recently. They were going on a bush walk, and the boys decided to bring along sticks to kill animals. A vegetarian friend of mine was quite disturbed by this, so I stepped in and offered some advice about why and when it’s OK to kill an animal.
If you’re going to eat meat, make sure it’s worthwhile. I was taught as a young boy from my father, who is Moroccan, that when we kill an animal, we need to honor that animal. Now as a father myself, I was reading a storybook to my children written by an Aboriginal author, and it talks about the same belief.
Rather than eating meat all the time, why not eat less — and when you do eat it, you can spend more money on better quality meat. This has a positive impact on your health, your wallet and the environment.
Some recipes work better with meat. Others work better when you focus on the flavors of the vegetables or fruits. And it’s always important to keep in mind who you’re cooking for.
For this particular recipe, I focused on eggplant (aubergines) because it’s the “star of the dish.” We’d just picked the eggplants from the garden, and I was keen to show my children and their friends how good eggplant can taste in a pasta dish. I was also catering to our vegetarian friend, so I needed to create a dish that would appeal to her, though she is well aware that I am a passionate carnivore.
Here’s an important tip before you start — something that has served me well: You need to get in the mood to cook because food tastes bad when you’re not happy.
I often turn on our local community radio, PBS-FM. No commercials and awesome, inspiring local artists and DJs. (This is not a sponsored post.) I can’t cook without music. Well, I can, but the dish will reflect my mood. It’s like growing tomatoes in the shade: They will grow but they will be tasteless. So get your favorite music on, the kind that makes your whole body vibrate and resonate happiness. Then, and only then, can you start being serious about cooking!
In Melbourne right now, the weather is changing rapidly (we’re in fall), and so is the garden. It’s always impressive to see the four seasons rolling.
I used to live in the French Alps with my wife, Kate, at Chamonix Mont-Blanc, which is 1,000 meters above sea level. Growing anything there was challenging but not impossible, even in winter. The compost was the only thing alive — all around was a meter of fresh snow. I could have had hot water for free if I’d had pipes running through it. Luckily, we had a hot water service.
I’ve picked the last of my eggplant, some yellow zucchini, long sweet pepper (also known as capsicum) and basil. I’ve kept most of my homegrown garlic to replant in about a week or two, but I’ll crack one open for this recipe. I’m also including some Egyptian onion. (It is a shallot that shoots these big bulbs at the top before falling back down to reshoot. They also call then “walking onions.” Pretty cool, huh?)
While the following recipe is a pasta dish, the “pasta” I’m using is made with 100% legumes (chickpea), which are packed with fiber, protein and iron. This dish is quite rustic, and my kids don’t even realize they’re eating healthy. They just love pasta, and really, who doesn’t?
You don’t have to grow all the vegetables and herbs this recipe requires, but I would encourage everyone to try to grow basil and thyme, which are versatile herbs to use in cooking. Garlic is also easy to grow and doesn’t require any maintenance. Zucchini grows and thrives in well-manured soil. Twenty-five centimeters deep is enough, and one plant will give you so much that you won’t know what to do with it!
Now that the music is pumping and my mood right, let’s cook.
FRESH GARDEN PASTA
1 x 250g /9oz Chickpea “spiral pasta” (or a spiral pasta of your choosing)
2 small eggplants
2 small zucchinis
2 cloves of garlic
1 shallot onion, or red onion
1 bottle of tomato passatta (pure tomato puree) 300ml/10oz
Sprigs of thyme
Small handful of basil leaves
1 or 2 cayenne chili peppers — no seeds unless you like it hot
Salt/Pepper to taste
EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
Cut the eggplant in small cubes, approximately 1 cm square. Toss them in cooking oil and roast them at 185°C / 365°F for about 10 min.
In a frying pan, pour a generous amount of EVOO, add crushed garlic, thyme and chili at low temp to infuse the oil. Not frying, just low heat for about 10 minutes.
Slice shallots thin and zucchini the same size cubes as the eggplant.
Take the eggplant out of the oven and add the zucchini, toss and place back in the oven for 5 minutes.
Bring saucepan of water to boil for the pasta. (If you’re using chickpea pasta, the great thing is that it cooks in under 5 minutes.)
Veggies are out of the oven, increase the heat to the flavored EVOO and add your shallots; cook for 2 minutes until soft.
Add your roasted veggies to the saucepan, toss gently and add some passatta or tomato sauce.
Drain the pasta and add to the pan. Toss it gently and garnish with basil and a drizzle of olive oil to finish.
Serve directly from the saucepan.
Note that every recipe you find online or in your great-grandmother’s cookbook can be adapted every time. Don’t run to the store just because you’re missing a simple ingredient. Open your fridge or visit your garden and freestyle a bit. The bottom line: Don’t be scared.
Enjoy et bon appetite!