The Recipes We Remember + Penne for Erin

Penne with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula | Eat This Poem

Today is Erin's virtual baby shower! A few of us who know and love her decided to shower her with easy vegetarian meals to celebrate the upcoming birth of her baby boy.

It's a strange world we live in sometimes, and it's lucky when those of us who get to know each other online become real life friends, too. Relationships are hard work, wherever they are, and since most of us don't live close by, we supplement with blog reading, email writing, and brief meals whenever we can. I shared one of these meals with Erin last October when she was visiting LA to pick up a very special rocking chair, and I'm so grateful we could catch up in person! 

Penne with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula | Eat This Poem

In thinking about an easy vegetarian recipe to share, my mind reached way, way back. 

Recently, I've gone on somewhat of a pilgrimage in search of old recipes, the ones I relied on in the early days of learning how to cook. It's very nostalgic now to flip through old meal planning journals, or cookbooks from Giada de Laurentiis, reminding me how uncertain I was at the beginning, and what little strength my intuition had. But I'm grateful for the recipes during this time, because they helped me learn, and helped me trust.

Penne with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula | Eat This Poem
Penne with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula | Eat This Poem

The first year after college, Andrew and I spent a lot of time cooking together. As it happened, my roommate managed a restaurant which kept her gone most evenings, so when Andrew and I both finished work, we would watch Everyday Italian and decide which recipe looked best. Then we'd walk over to Albertson's, buy the ingredients, and follow the recipe.

One recipe I clung to early on was a penne with beef and arugula. What I still love about this dish is the sauce, a combination of tart mustard and balsamic vinegar that makes your mouth pucker a little bit, softened by the salty bite of cheese, peppery greens, and bursting tomatoes. These days I omit the beef (although it's a really wonderful addition when you're feeling like adding it), and add toasted pine nuts for another layer of texture and buttery flavor. Although this isn't a recipe I make as frequently as I used to, it's one I still haven't grown out of, and I like having a few of these recipes around, because it helps me fondly remember where my food journey began.

Early recipes offer the same comfort as poems. Over the course of our lives we cook more recipes and read more poems, but there are always markers that defined something in our lives, like when I read "The Piano" by D.H. Lawrence in 10th grade and started writing poetry, or discovered Elizabeth Bishop in college. It's nice to reflect, to see a bit of your journey in the food you eat and the words you read, offering fuel for what might be around the next turn. 

Every now and again we all need some welcome reflection as cooks, as friends, as parents. And so to Erin, I wish you well on this new journey! 

Penne with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula | Eat This Poem
Penne with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula | Eat This Poem


Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly cracked pepper
5-6 large basil leaves, julienned
1 pound penne
2 cups lightly packed arugula
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved (or quartered if large)
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
Parmesan cheese, for serving

Whisk the mustard and balsamic vinegar together, then slowly whisk in the oil. Add the salt, a few grinds of freshly cracked pepper, and basil. Stir to combine.

Cook penne until al dente, about 7-8 minutes, in a large pot of salted water. Drain, reserving a bit of the cooking liquid. Pour the sauce over the penne, and add a splash of the cooking water. Stir to combine, then add the arugula, cherry tomatoes, and a small handful of grated cheese. Stir gently, and the heat from the pasta will help wilt the arugula and melt the cheese.

To serve, top bowls with additional cheese and a sprinkle of pine nuts. 

"Siena" by Pat Phillips West + Roasted Caprese Tartine

tartine 8.jpg

Summer. Tomatoes. Italy.  Is there anything better? Perhaps not. There's something about the warm tomato season that tends to make me nostalgic. Sometimes for Italy (where I once enjoyed a memorable family vacation), but also for Vermont, where I attended graduate school.

Specifically around the Fourth of July, I remember Montpelier. It's the quintessential American small town. A local coffee shop, a few restaurants, children playing in the street, that sort of thing. One year, I spent part of the afternoon taking a long walk through the neighborhood around campus. People sat on porches drinking tea, neighbors walked their dogs. One street was bustling with a potluck, with friends and family gathered around a long table in someone's backyard. The air was warm but not stuffy. There was a breeze, and the color a bit muted, understated.

roasted Tomato Tartine | Eat This Poem
Roasted Tomato Tartine | Eat This Poem

Last year we flew to Napa for a friend's wedding (heavenly), but this year we stayed home to enjoy our new neighborhood, where friends live a mile away, and we could see the fireworks show in the marina from their rooftop. 

All this is to say that summer, year after year, brings nostalgia with its heat and tomatoes. I'm not the only one who thinks so, either. We're all feeling it. All trying to hang on to the fleeting days, and when it comes to summer memories, this poem hits all the right notes and will have you dreaming of Italy by the end of it. 


by Pat Phillips West

Papa Joe, the owner, shows me the garden
behind his café.  His wife sits on her heels
dress tucked between her legs tending herbs
and vegetables.  Every so often
she kisses her fingertips, Così bello!  
Papa Joe talks about Insalata Caprese,
a favorite summer salad he insists I try.  
Ripe, deep-red tomatoes, he shakes his head
side to side, never soft, never refrigerated.  
Only young basil 
grown in the earth and sun.  
I inhale oregano and rosemary, feel at home
in this space.  A young man pulls out a chair
at my table on the sidewalk as if I had been waiting
for him.  He tears off a chunk of crusty bread,
holds it out like a gift, fills my glass
with chilled white wine.  Papa Joe stops
to ask, Molto gustoso, si?  With a nod
toward the young man not my salad.  
I refold my napkin, finger a spoon, cross
and uncross my legs.  Food on my lips,
excitement wicking through my fingers,
I can only grin.  Finally, the young man
points, Come, I take you to see the Duomo.  
I look at his scooter, my aunt’s send-off
remark flutters in my ear, There’s more to life
than being safe.  I tuck my skirt
between my legs, climb on,
and press against his back. 

This is most certainly a poem of place. From start to finish, we're transported to a romantic Italian city. With offerings of bread and intoxicated by the scent of rosemary, our speaker is swooning, but still asks a reasonable series of questions Do I go see the Duomo? Do I hop on the back of a scooter?

Do I dare? 

As it turns out, food is the peace offering, the calming force, the reason. The bread and the rosemary, the cooking tips, the young basil, it's enough to learn one of summer's great lessons: "There's more to life than being safe."

Reading this poem is not unlike when you attend someone's wedding. While watching friends pledge their love for each other, you can' help but reflect on your own vows. Although this memory is not my own, I could see it so vividly and imagine myself in the same circumstance, wind blowing in my hair, stomach full with caprese, utterly happy. 

Caprese Tartine | Eat This Poem


In the summer, there's nothing better eating tomatoes with as many meals as possible. For these tartines, I chose a medium-sized tomato that fit perfectly on the bread slices. 

Serves 2 for lunch, or 3-4 as an appetizer

1 pound tomatoes 
Salt, pepper, and oil
8 slices bread (like ciabatta)
8 slices mozzarella

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Slice the tomatoes lengthwise into 1/2-inch pieces and place in a roasting pan. Sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt, a few grinds of pepper, and a drizzle of oil. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until shriveled and caramelized.

Turn on the broiler. Slice the bread into 1-inch slices and place on a sheet pan. Layer with the tomatoes, then lay some cheese on top. Broil for about 4 minutes, or until the cheese is golden and the bread begins to char just around the edges. Sprinkle with basil. This is also a good time to pull out your prized bottle of thick balsamic vinegar and add a dash before serving.

The Good Stuff + Zucchini, Basil, and Goat Cheese Salad

People get down about this time of year, but even today there were fat little partridges, clementines heavy with juice, and bunches of narcissi to cheer us up. There is good stuff if you are prepared to go and find it.
— Nigel Slater, The Kitchen Diaries

One hundred miles might seem like a long drive for a picnic. You are not wrong to think so, but our destination was a place of respite, something we desperately needed. Normally I would have planned an elaborate lunch, cooking pasta salad and assembling sandwich ingredients, trying new recipes, buying cheeses, generally overdoing things. But lately I've been learning the important lesson of letting go, conserving my energy, and not doing everything myself. It's hard to do, but freeing. 

I bought most of our provisions earlier in the week from Good Eggs, and had them delivered on Friday. Local goat cheese, salami, beet chips, and seed clusters for snacking made for the best picnic fare I could have hoped for. Early Saturday morning we tucked Emma (the dog) into her travel bed in the backseat and stopped by a favorite bakery for ham and Gruyere sandwiches and two macaroons to finish our meal. An hour and a half later, we were eating brunch at Jeannine's in Montecito.

It's a long way to go for a picnic, yes, but we ventured out to find Nigel Slater's "good stuff." In this case, we knew where it was located already, we just needed to drive there. Our "good stuff" is the shaded patio of Rusack Vineyards, overlooking a mountain lined with grapevines, a glass of Rose in one hand and a bite of cheese in the other. And a warm breeze. 

I've been making my way through The Kitchen Diaries, a volume I've been longing to read, and the way it's written in monthly chapters makes it easy to revisit throughout the year and read month by month to glean inspiration. 

For picnic inspiration, I turned to the month of August. Yes, I'm a bit far ahead, but the weather we've been having has made it feel like summer, so I've been craving lighter fare. For meals outside, a zucchini, basil, and goat cheese salad is perfect. Dressed with oil and lemon juice, you can barely call it a recipe. It's more like a suggestion for having the most splendid afternoon.

Zucchini, Basil, and Goat Cheese Salad / Eat This Poem

Zucchini, Basil, and Goat Cheese Salad

Recipe slightly adapted from Nigel Slater, The Kitchen Diaries

Serves 2

This is what I would have made had I been able to fuss with it, but as I mentioned, I let others do the work for me this time and was grateful for the rest. Back at home, though, cooking is in full force. 

4 zucchini, cut into thick strips, about 1/4-inches (you'll get three or four strips out of each zucchini)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Lemon juice
2 large basil leaves, torn
1 ounce goat cheese

Heat a grill pan over medium heat. Brush each zucchini strip with oil and place on the grill pan. Cook for three to five minutes per side, until golden grill marks form. Arrange on a platter, then whisk a tablespoon each of oil and lemon and drizzle it over the zucchini. Scatter the basil and goat cheese over the top before serving.