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Dinner, with a garden and lilies

I feel like such a big girl. Yesterday we did a Very Adult Thing: we went to a nursery and bought plants—herbs, at that!—for our patio. It was exhilarating, and also a little sobering. Having grown up in the suburbs of central Oklahoma—where the yards are neat and well fertilized, the flower beds carefully tended, and elaborate sprinkler systems sing sweetly at 6:00 am—I tend to equate the presence of a well-tended garden with the presence of responsible, established adults. As of yesterday, I guess that would be us, sort of—except that our garden is just six or so pots on the patio.

But by god, I mean to milk those pots for all they’re worth. So last night, to celebrate our newly minted status as amateur gardeners, I trotted out a recipe tailor-made for the task: an amalgam of summery alliums and a few of our new herbs.

Rather poetically titled “Rigatoni with Five Lilies and Ricotta Salata,” the recipe had been languishing in my accordion folder, its newsprint going brittle and pale yellow, waiting patiently for the right occasion. It was the title that intrigued me, mainly, with its seeming promise of flowers unfolding amidst coils of pasta and coarse ribbons of cheese. As it turns out, the “lilies” referred to are onions, garlic, leeks, scallions, and chives—not real members of the lily family, per se, but close cousins who once occupied the same taxonomic group. A tricky turn of phrase, maybe, but I liked the idea—and anyway, the smell of slow-cooking onions and leeks is a close second, I think, to a bouquet of lilies. So with Walla Walla season now upon us, not to mention a supply of herbs just outside the door, I took it that the time, at long last, had come.

And what a time it is. He who reads this and doesn’t proceed immediately to the market—or side patio—will be sorry. It may sound like an unassuming list of ingredients, but somewhere between the five forms of onion, the pasta, and the cheese hides a lush fragrance that unfolds—not unlike a lily, I might add—under the gentle pressure of the stove’s heat. With both olive oil and butter in the pan, the kitchen smells like Italy by way of France. The sweet onions go soft and golden brown, while the leeks and scallions loosen up, shaking off their sharp edges. All together, so many alliums could make a cloying, sicky-sweet mess, but somehow, they don’t. With a gentle, tangy punch from ricotta salata and a bright spark from fresh chives and parsley, this plate is well worth its poetic name. And even better, it’s a good excuse for raiding the pots on the patio.

Rigatoni with Five Lilies and Ricotta Salata
Adapted from The Babbo Cookbook and the San Francisco Chronicle

I tore this recipe out of the Chronicle a few years ago, back when The Babbo Cookbook first came out, and I’m kicking myself for not trying it earlier. If you feel any sort of affinity for either leeks or caramelized onions, do not delay: this recipe will be a keeper in your kitchen. It certainly will be in ours. To wit: between mouthfuls, Brandon said to me, “You know, your blog is really good for us. We’re such creatures of habit. If it weren’t for Orangette, we’d probably eat this every night for weeks.” I nodded, but what I really wanted to say was, “Screw the variety-for-the-sake-of-the-blog thing! I want more rigatoni.” Oh, Orangette, the sacrifices I make for you.

A final note: Brandon tried squeezing a bit of lemon over his serving, and he found it quite tasty. At his suggestion, I have included optional lemon wedges below.

3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. sweet onions, such as Walla Walla or Vidalia, cut in half from stem to root and then into ¼-inch slices
2 Tbs unsalted butter
5 medium garlic cloves, minced
½ lb. leeks, cut into 1/8-inch rings and washed
½ lb. red onions, quartered and sliced
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
½ cup water
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1 lb. rigatoni

To serve:
4 oz. ricotta salata, coarsely grated
¼ cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 small handful chives, finely chopped
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
Lemon wedges, optional

In a large (12- to 14-inch) skillet, warm the olive oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the sweet onions, and reduce the heat. Cook over medium-low, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent; then raise the heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until deeply golden and caramelized. Remove the pan from the heat, and transfer the onions to a bowl. Set aside.

In the same skillet, heat the butter over medium heat. When it has stopped foaming and is thoroughly melted, add the garlic, leeks, red onion, and scallions, and cook, stirring regularly, until very soft and golden. Add the water, and cook until the liquid evaporates. Season lightly with salt. Remove from the heat, and stir in the sweet onions.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the rigatoni until tender but al dente. In the last minute of cooking, return the onion mixture to medium-high heat. Drain the pasta, add it to the onion mixture, and toss over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and toss more, if necessary, to thoroughly disperse the onions amidst the pasta. Serve immediately, topped with plenty of ricotta salata and sprinklings of parsley and chives. Salt as needed, and finish with a quick squeeze of lemon, if you like.

Yield: 4 servings


Anonymous elle said...

since you are one of my favorite new blogs, i must share my gardeners secret for amazing veggies---it's called bumper crop soil ammendment. you will not believe what happens...

1:14 PM, July 11, 2006  
Blogger Il Fornaio said...

I'm iffy on the onion family, but I don't think there is a cheese I love more than ricotta salata. Which means I will be trying this soon.

1:16 PM, July 11, 2006  
Anonymous Tanna said...

If I only had an army to cook for, I could make all these recipes. Ahrgh, between your words and your pictures this has got to show up on our table soon. Gad, I probably have everything except the riccota salata.
This just seems right for summer!
Thanks for another must make this one.

2:38 PM, July 11, 2006  
Blogger wheresmymind said...

Reading your blog with my Seattle raised wife sitting next to me (we live in Boston) I turned and asked "What's a walla walla?". Needless to say, I've now got all the info I'll ever need on Washington States 2nd best export :)

6:15 PM, July 11, 2006  
Blogger s'kat said...

I can still remember coming home with my then-fiancee with tiny pots of herbs, tomato plants, etc- what a great day!

I'm not so keen on pasta, but my husband is. This is getting made the next time he has a bad day at work.

5:36 AM, July 12, 2006  
Anonymous Luisa said...

What a poetic post! And recipe title. I love it. It sounds just up my alley. And I'm glad to hear good things about a recipe from the Babbo cookbook because I feel like it got a lot of flack for not having well-tested recipes. I'd love to try this soon! Ricotta salata is so good on pasta.

7:11 AM, July 12, 2006  
Blogger susan said...

Wow. That looks incredibly good. Now I know what I'll be making when the hubby gets back into town next week.

7:15 AM, July 12, 2006  
Anonymous ann said...

i have a recipe like this that i make in the winter months, but sans the wonderful name...
i too always put some lemon in my sauce, and use asiago but the ricotta salata is a wonderful suggestion for a change of place, thanks much!

8:15 AM, July 12, 2006  
Anonymous Leah said...

I love raiding my own herb pots on the patio! And there would be chives in those very pots to use in this recipe, had one small fuzzy creature not managed to chew them all up for unknown reasons. What cat eats chives?

A cat who eats corn, I guess.

Meanwhile, I'll be trying this recipe very soon. It's sort of similar to the one I tried recently on my blog - but, of course, did not write about in quite such a lovely fashion!

8:54 AM, July 12, 2006  
Blogger Kitchen Queen said...

I've yet to find an allium I don't like, so I'll definitely be making this as soon as possible!

10:45 AM, July 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will I be laughed off the food blog stage if I ask what Ricotta Salata is? And where to find it? I live in Wallingford.
ps. This is the only blog I read, and I love it, and I want you to publish a book so I can sit down with the lovely pictures you take. And see them in normal light.

12:31 PM, July 12, 2006  
Blogger Janice said...

I second that book suggestion. Laptops can get awfully hot. Books, not so much.

1:44 PM, July 12, 2006  
Blogger Diggliana - Sentidos Culinarios said...

just added to my favorites

2:26 PM, July 12, 2006  
Blogger chichimama said...

That looks awesome. I'm hungry just looking at it, and I finished dinner less than an hour ago. It was nearly as yummy as that looks.

5:46 PM, July 12, 2006  
Blogger Natalia said...

Mmmm, this sounds really delicious. Anything with garlic, butter, olive oil, and cheese is fine by me. And adding all those onions and pasta just makes it better.

If you two like the added lemon, you should try pasta with lemon, basil, parmesan, kalamata olives, and olive oil. It's really easy and really good.

8:59 PM, July 12, 2006  
Blogger Tony said...

Now his pasta sauce is really worth making (and with rigatoni ridges to soak up the flavour)! The sauce looks like it predates the influx of vegetables from the new world to Europe. The tomatoless sauces are not seen often in restaurants (unless there are Italian grandmothers in the kitchen!) but they are worth pursuing.

Here is one I like from Abruzzo (care of Giuliano Bugialli), the ingredients of which will be unfortunately difficult to grow unless you have a garden:

Zucchini blossom sauce

Finely chop a red onion, a stalk of celery, a carrot and 15 sprigs of parsley. Saute until translucent and add 12 chopped zucchini blossoms. Season with salt, pepper and saffron. Add two cups of chicken broth a little at a time and stir over heat until thick and smooth. Cook the pasta and when almost done, mix an egg yolk well with a little warm water, add to the hot sauce and mix very well. Add the drained pasta and cook for 30 seconds more. Serve with grated pecorino.

There are many more ancient and unusual sauces in Bugialli on Pasta...

I will third the motion for an Orangette book. I think it would be a real winner....

4:13 AM, July 13, 2006  
Anonymous Melissa said...

Molly, I would devour anything with five types of allium, particularly when some of them have been cooked to caramelly-sweetness... Yum, just thinking about it gets the saliva flowing! Great recipe, and I'm thrilled you and Brandon are settling into your new life, herbs and all.

5:23 AM, July 13, 2006  
Blogger hello jamie: said...

The onion actually IS in the lily family; evolutionarily speaking, WAS a lily, at some point in our past.

Science out of the way, I cannot wait to try this! I absolutely adore onions, and am only sad that 1015 season is over for the year. Thankfully, walla wallas are my next favorite. :)

6:27 AM, July 13, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Thanks for the tip, elle! I just did a Google search on this Bumper Crop stuff, and it looks pretty amazing...

Il Fornaio, I hope you do! I'm eager to hear what you think.

Tanna, you're most welcome. And as for this business of needing an army to cook for, I hear you! I can hardly justify - much less make time for - all the recipes I have bookmarked, clipped, tagged, and flagged. Ooof.

Wheresmymind, your wife is doing Washington proud!

S'kat, you and your man sound just like me and mine. We were so excited, standing in line to pay for our plants and pots and bags of potting soil! A very fun day.

Luisa, you would love this, my friend. I can't wait to make it again myself! But about The Babbo Cookbook: I can't really vouch for it, despite the success of this recipe. This is the only thing I've tried from it, and the recipe I used had been vetted and adapted slightly by the Chronicle kitchen staffers. Even then, I made some tweaks: I cut up some of the ingredients differently, and I halved the butter. I also had to cook the sweet onions MUCH longer than the recipe indicated - since when are onions caramelized in only 6-10 minutes?! That's why, when I wrote up my version, I chose not to indicate how long it should take to cook each thing; I think it's better to describe how it should look when it's ready, you know? [Whew. How's that for a caveat?]

Susan, this would make a great welcome-home dinner. Hope your hubby agrees!

Thank you, Ann, for your mention of asiago! I always forget about that stuff, but I bet it would be tasty here.

Leah, is that your cat - the one eating the corn right off the cob? Wow. Too funny! [How, dare I ask, did you discover that she would do that?] And as for your rigatoni with chard, ooh, I love the idea of the lemon zest and fresh ricotta...

Glad to hear it, Kitchen Queen! I hope you like it as much as we do.

Amanda, I assure you that no one here is laughing - not a peep! Ricotta salata is a crumbly white cheese that sort of tastes like an Italian take on feta. For a more thorough description, try here. You can find it at Whole Foods: in the Roosevelt store, it's in the refrigerated case in the cheese section, directly across from the beer case. And as for your suggestion of a book - awww, thank you! I'll see what I can do...

Janice, see my reply to Amanda, above. And thank you!

Thank you, Diggliana!

Chichimama, it sounds as though a snack is in order. Maybe rigatoni?

Natalia, your suggestion of a pasta with lemon, basil, parmesan, kalamata olives, and olive oil sounds dreamy! Brandon, though, pesky guy that he is, doesn't like olives. [Grrrr!] I'll tuck the idea away for a solo dinner sometime...

Tony, that zucchini blossom sauce sounds wonderful - especially with an egg yolk mixed in at the end! Now I can hardly wait until zucchini blossoms make their annual appearance at the farmer's market. Wow. Thank you! And about the book suggestion: motion heard!

Thank you, my dear Melissa! And while I'm thinking about it, might you be headed Northwest-ward anytime soon? Hmmm? I could be easily convinced to cook up some alliums for you...

Jamie, it goes to show that you (or rather, I) can't always trust Wikipedia! According to its editors, onions used to be classified as a part of the lily family, but now they are no longer. I wonder if someone, sometime, decided that onions had evolved too far from their lily past? Hmmm. But anyway, yes, science aside, I wish we could get 1015s out here. I almost never see them, but I do remember them from my Oklahoma days. Yum!

8:27 PM, July 13, 2006  
Blogger hello jamie: said...

He doesn't like olives?????


I think olives might be my 2nd favorite food... EVER. (After lemon. So he does have that part right.) Just... wow.

Maybe you're right about the onion no longer being classified as a lily; I'm certainly no botanist. I just remembered that at the Museum of Natural History in NYC, in the Evolution of the North American Horse exhibit, there's a sign that says "The history of the horse family is still one of the clearest and most convincing for showing that organisms really have evolved; for demonstrating that, so to speak, an onion can turn into a lily." -- and I thought that was really interesting so I looked it up and found that it was so. Perhaps I was reading old information and they have reclassified since then.

Either way, it's a beautiful name for a dish and an interesting concept in plant evolution. I can't wait to make that pasta (with the squeeze of lemon, natch). I've been traveling for months; I can't wait to get home to my kitchen.

For Brandon, one of my favorite easy pasta sauces is half fresh lemon juice, half olive oil, whisked very fast. Toss it with your favorite pasta al dente, add fresh grated romano/parmesan/hard cheese of your choice, a few halved cherry tomatoes, and some roughly torn basil. Fresh and summery, for the eyes and the tongue.


9:03 PM, July 13, 2006  
Anonymous Leah said...

Yes, that is in fact my very own cat, Linty. I always knew she loved corn (especially canned - these are the odd things you learn after 12 years of pet ownership), but I didn't know she'd eat it off the cob until this year. One day I pulled a freshly cooked ear from the pot, sat down, and watched as she danced around and mewed hysterically, begging me for it. There wasn't any butter on it, and I thought she might take a lick at most and then get bored. I put it down to her little face to see what would happen, and she just went to town. The rest is YouTube history... the video was even featured on Salon.com's Video Dog blog! Who would have thought that over 22,000 people would want to watch a cat eat corn on the cob?

PS - You can see a better picture or two of her on my blog, should you be interested such a famous creature.

12:18 PM, July 14, 2006  
Blogger Tea said...

I will definitely have to try this, especially as I have some ricotta salata left over from making (drumroll please) the Balthazar Salad!

And I love Swanson's. That place is amazing. I hope you two, and your herb pots, are very happy. I've always thought that a pot of fresh thyme at easy reach makes life better.

12:08 AM, July 15, 2006  
Blogger T said...

Molly, my god, this is the best recipe Ive read in a long while. Thank you for bringing it to our attention! Ricotta salata is my most favorite cheese and in combination with rigatoni and "5 lilies" sounds nothing short of extraordinary. I do wish I had access to a kitchen but as soon as I get home from my trip, I will make this. I think its enough to warrant me buying the Babbo cookbook ,-)

12:48 AM, July 15, 2006  
Blogger AJ--Words to Chew By said...

Alliums are the easist thing to grow. Be sure to get your heritage garlic and plant in autumn! home grown korean, red and spanish garlic are like nothing from the grocery, even the farmers markets. Try growing saffron crocus for a surprising touch of exotica in a Seattle container garden.

9:50 AM, July 15, 2006  
Anonymous Robin said...

This looks delicious! Wish I had more time to cook...
I got a kick out of the cat eating corn video...
one of my now departed cats (named Kasha Varnishkas) loved carrots and went wild over them- I would find him rolling around with a bag of them, rubbing his head all over them and trying to eat them through the plastic. If any soups had carrots in them, he would go crazy demanding his own dish (from split pea soup to chicken soup, etc)!
My other cat, Grey Flannel, loved Asparagus (he would jump in the air for them and Artichoke Hearts!
My new kitty, Penuche, loves lobster and even loves sushi and pickled vegetables! I have found her standing up, poking her head in the frig to see what's new there! It's a real gourmet/gourmand household! I'll have to try the corn on the cob! :-)

6:11 PM, July 17, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Jamie, I know - can you believe that he doesn't like olives? It was almost a deal-breaker, except that I was once an olive hater too, so I can sort of understand. I didn't like them until about 2002, when I decided give them a chance and try to figure out what the fuss was about. I had to "train" myself, I guess you could say - as an aside, I did the same thing with beer - but now I love 'em. So who knows, there may be hope yet for my man. In the meantime, though, we'll play with that lemon-olive oil-hard cheese-cherry tomato-basil concoction you mentioned. Sounds so summery!

Leah, what a story! I love it. And I'm honored to be able to say that I know the owner of the World Famous Corn-Eating Cat! Wow.

Tea, we were blown away by Swanson's. That place sets a whole new standard for nurseries. So beautiful! I could have wandered there for ages, except that I had worn a halter top and no sunscreen - bad news for a fair-skinned gal. Next time, I plan to come prepared!

Tanvi, it's my pleasure. I hope you get back to your kitchen soon, although all that traveling doesn't sound half bad either. Cheers!

What great suggestions, AJ! Thank you. Brandon is a garlic fiend, so that sounds like a must-do...

Robin, your cats are too much! And I love their names. Here I'd been thinking that my childhood dogs had some cute quirks - you and your felines beat us quite handily...

3:10 PM, July 18, 2006  
Blogger Rosemarie said...

My hubbie and I made this for my parents last week and it was goo-oo-d. My dad ate every bite despite having told my mom on the way to our house, "I never like what Rosemarie makes us." So thanks for redeeming me in ol' pop's eye. (although I did make a fool of myself in front of them by undercooking the pasta, but mom rescued me by cooking the whole thing in vegetable broth - it didn't deter from the taste as all).


3:55 PM, July 21, 2006  
Blogger bcinfrance said...

I'm spending the summer in the Pacific Northwest, and I love your reference to Walla Walla onions! We like to call them "Walla Walla sweets."

4:11 PM, July 21, 2006  
Blogger jane said...

made it last night - used Jersey fresh scallions, which are amazing, parsley and chives from my garden, in addition to all the other stuff. it was a big hit. thanks for sharing the recipe. it really was tasty. it also smelled good when our friends arrived!

love your blog!

5:26 AM, July 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

any leftovers also make a fantastic and decadent "spaghetti pizza"- from a recipe in Everyday Italian- mix up 2 eggs, 1/2c milk, 1c parmesan, 1/2t salt, 1/2t pepper. toss in 2 c of your past.heat 1/4c olive oil (recipe calls for 1/2 c, but I used 1/4c and it was adequate in my pan, which is really well-seasoned)in your 10" skillet, when oil is hot, add the pasta mixture and let cook for about 8 minutes, until crispy. using a plate, flip the pasta out of the pan, onto the plate, and back into the pan again (on uncooked side) and cook another 6 minutes. flip out of pan again, cut into wedges and serve. mmmmm.

I also made the zucchini blossom recipe that another reader suggested (and today I noticed you tried it too) so delicious!

9:26 PM, July 24, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Awww, Rosemarie, that makes me so happy. Never mind the undercooking mishap - when it comes to a meal, the only thing that matters, I think, is the end result. And if your dad was happy, hip hip! Cheers to you and yours.

bcinfrance, welcome back to our side of the Pond, and to our coast! What perfect timing to get your fill of those Walla Walla sweets...

Aw, thanks, Jane! I'm so glad that it was a hit. I love getting the house all perfumey with onions (or chocolate) before a guest comes over, and this recipe is just the thing for it.

And anonymous, that "spaghetti pizza" sounds fantastic! It's almost a frittata, sort of, or the same idea, and I LOVE frittatas. Thank you for the tip. Ooh, and about the zucchini blossom pasta, I know. Isn't it incredible? A real keeper.

4:51 PM, July 25, 2006  
Blogger pinknest said...

i absolutely LOVE that close-up photo of the rigatoni. i want to sit on it. lol!

8:37 PM, August 03, 2006  
Anonymous DC Sarah said...

OHMYGOD. After several delays and many bowls of chopped onions languishing in the fridge, I FINALLY made this...and HOT DAMN was it awesome. Sweet, salty, complex.....I was tempted to eat the whole lot in one go. It served me very well for several very happy lunches at work =) Thank you so much for posting this!

4:46 PM, June 13, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

My pleasure, DC Sarah! I'm so glad it was a hit!

10:14 AM, June 18, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you know how long this recipe takes, assuming everything is already prepped? I loved this recipe when you first posted it and would like to pull it out again for a get-together. Thanks!

8:20 PM, June 02, 2008  
Blogger Molly said...

Anonymous, I'm not exactly sure how long it all takes - I've never timed it - but it might be helpful to know that you can do some of it ahead of time. On a couple of occasions now, we have made the onion mixture - the first two paragraphs of the recipe - before our guests came, and then we removed it from the heat and let it sit until we were closer to dinnertime. I would say that you can do that up to two hours ahead, easy. Just be sure to rewarm it gently while you cook the pasta.

Hope that helps!

10:52 AM, June 03, 2008  
Anonymous selena said...

Yum! That onion salsa is delicious! Thanks for this.

3:31 AM, November 04, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm new to Orangette, however, I heard of the book, took a look and bought it. It's a lovingly written, full of reminiscences account of a young woman's life. Intertwined with stories of meals with family and friends. Few of us can write as well but we can all relate to the stories in the book. I would think if and when you become a mother what you write will become even more meaningful. Beautifully written. Thank you!

9:18 AM, January 06, 2010  
Anonymous KimB said...

I can't say enough about this recipe. It is truly perfection right down to the method for steaming and then carmelizing the sweet onions, as well as the ratio of onion mixture to pasta. I did make one small substitution of dry sherry for the 1/2 cup of water to deglaze the pan which gave it a nice added dimension.

Someone asked how long this takes to make assuming all ingredients are prepared and ready. I did exactly this, as you should budget time for "lilies" prep. Starting with the first stage - heating the olive oil in the skillet, I would allocate 35 minutes from that point forward to serve in order to get a good carmelization at stage 1 and 2 which is key.

Leftovers, if you have any, develop even better. Thanks Molly for a truly great keeper recipe.

12:23 PM, May 17, 2010  

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