Tag Archives: pasta


I’m a little obsessed with Neanderthals at the moment. Maybe it’s because I read that they may have died out because of “inability to adapt to climate change” (scary!); maybe it’s because Biden made news for referencing them – or maybe it’s because my 23 and Me results show that I’ve got more Neanderthal DNA than 95% of their customers.

Whatever. I knew little about Neanderthals until my interest was tweaked these last few months. And now I can’t get enough of them. Of course, I have a great curiosity about their eating habits. It seems that in the last few years scientists studying these hominids (I had to look that term up) have gone from considering them meat-eaters to realizing that they ate much more, depending upon where they were living.

Here’s a quote from Richard Wangham, a Harvard biological anthropology professor:

These lovely new data on fecal sterols confirm what many people have been increasingly thinking, which is that something is wrong with the inference that Neanderthals were 100 percent carnivores…In the end it would not be surprising to find that Neanderthals show little difference from sapiens in their diet composition.”

Wow. “Lovely new data on fecal sterols” is not quite the wording you’d expect! 🙂 Wangham is responding to new findings from a MIT study about vegetable-eating Neanderthals.

Apparently, scientists gain much of their knowledge not only from fecal sterols – but also from teeth and plaque – and their ability to do that using ancient DNA analysis has markedly improved in the last 20 years. Today in Andy’s Corner you’ll find Andy focusing on a 1956 anthropological study that also includes teeth. Surely you’ve heard of the human group called the Nacirema? Ha!

Research published in 2017 in Nature.com compared plaque DNA from Neanderthal remains found at the El Sidrón cave in Spain and the Spy cave in Belgium. The analysis shows that whereas Spy Neanderthals apparently ate woolly rhinoceros and wild sheep, El Sidrón’s residents foraged for plants. More specifically, El Sidrón’s residents – over 50,000 years ago – were dining on mushrooms, moss, and pine nuts.

Even more recently scientists announced the discovery of the remains of 9 Neanderthals near Rome, Italy. According to The History Blog, given the condition of their teeth, these early humans apparently “foraged for cereals.” Can someone help me here? How do you forage for cereal?

Barley grains were found in the teeth of a Neanderthal

Before we get to our recipes, here’s a 2021 North Carolina State U video which fits our theme beautifully. It’s a little hard to know if it was tongue-in-cheek or dead serious. The title? Eat Prey Run – A Neanderthal Cook-A-Long!

Given all this info on my ancestors, I thought a vegetarian dish of mushrooms and pine nuts seemed perfect (note: I chose to pass on including a wooly rhinoceros recipe or a moss recipe). The recipe also has some pasta (made with cereal grains AND coming from Italy) to make this even more relevant! Yes, I know pine nuts are expensive, but you use so few of them at a time that it’s not as spendy as it may seem. Plus, the left-over nuts will keep well in the fridge.

Though we know now that the Neanderthals dry-roasted and boiled plants, I don’t believe there is any indication – at least not yet – that the Neanderthals baked cookies with their pine nuts. Nonetheless we’re offering up a delicious pine nut cookie recipe. Savor your family’s historical ingredients, if not their cooking techniques.

And if you too have a relatively hefty amount of Neanderthal DNA (fact check: no one living today has more than a minuscule amount when looking at the big DNA picture) – and you want to know more about your kin – here’s a brief, helpful overview published by The Smithsonian.

Mushroom and Pine Nut Pasta

Mushroom and Pine Nut Pasta

Adapted from Elizabeth Minchilli.com

  • 1 1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 T olive oil
  • salt and pepper (about 1 tsp Diamond kosher salt should be enough)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch arugula, trimmed and roughly chopped – or use spinach, chard, or another favorite cooking green (I use about 6 c of lightly packed greens)
  • 1/4 c pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/2 c grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 – 1 lb orecciette – or pasta of your choice (note: we prefer going light on the pasta)

Add the olive oil to a large pan over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the sliced mushrooms and let them cook, stirring only after they’ve had a chance to brown for a few minutes.  Turn the heat to low and let them cook until tender, then add the garlic, season with salt and pepper and let cook another few minutes until the garlic is cooked through. Turn off the heat and add the arugula, stirring it to wilt.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving a cup of pasta cooking water.

Heat the mushrooms if they have cooled off, and add the pasta to the pan with the mushrooms, stirring to combine. Add half the water and continue stirring for another minute. Turn off the heat, add the cheese and a bit more water, and stir well to combine. If it seems dry add more water. Add the pine nuts, and stir.  Serve and enjoy.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

Pine Nut Cookies

Pine Nut Cookies

  • Servings: makes about 30 two-inch cookies
  • Print
Adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook.

  • 8 T (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 c flour
  • 1/2 c toasted pine nuts (note: life will go on if you don’t toast them)

Heat oven to 300 degrees.  Butter 2 baking sheets.  In a mixer or food processor, beat the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg yolk, vanilla, and flour – just until blended.  Don’t overbeat.  Mix in the pine nuts.

Drop the batter a heaping teaspoon at a time onto the baking sheets.  Do a crosshatch pattern on the top of each with a fork dipped into water; press down with the fork to flatten the dough.

Bake until pale golden, about 18-22 minutes.  Cool on the pan for a few minutes and then use a spatula to move the cookies to a rack to cool.  

These little cookies freeze well – and are even yummy eaten straight from the freezer.  Been there; done that!

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

Not My Mother’s Spaghetti

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The church in Ryssby, Sweden – where my grandmother, Anna Davis Carlson (Karlsson), grew up

Yes, my mother, born to parents who had immigrated to the U.S. from Sweden, fixed my brother and me spaghetti when we were growing up.  But I don’t remember having a jar of dried basil or dried oregano anywhere in our cupboard – or oregano and basil growing in our huge garden.  My mother’s spaghetti was pretty basic (but actually delicious).  You browned hamburger (as we called it then) and chopped green peppers and onions (no garlic – I never remember seeing a head of garlic in our kitchen), salted it all really, really well, added some canned tomatoes, and simmered it for a while.  And I’m guessing she browned the meat in lots of butter!  Surprisingly, we did always have a can of Kraft’s grated parmesan cheese on hand.  How fancy can you get!

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a 1960 Kraft ad

I adapted my mom’s recipe slightly and fixed it often over the years for our kids.

But after our two kids had grown up and moved away I decided that Asian noodles were way more “my” thing than pasta.  And so I quit cooking it.  Poor Andy.  He never shared my sentiment.  When – during the pandemic-filled March of 2020 – I saw the empty shelves at our local market where the pasta should have been, I realized that my eating habits aren’t in sync with the rest of the country’s.

And then that same week in March our daughter, Sara, called in a panic and said the grocery stores in San Francisco were also stripped bare of spaghetti and orecchiette and fettuccine and penne.  I offered to mail her some of our unused (and dated 2/05/2017) pasta.

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Brown Rice Lasagne Noodles – all that remained on a SF grocery shelf (thx, Joe, for the photo)

Clearly, I thought to myself, I have underestimated pasta and folks’ love of it – and I need to add recipes to the BigLittleMeals’ list!  So I decided to go to three very famous food writers (bloggers would be a misnomer; they’re way fancier than that!) and find out what some of their most popular pasta recipes are.  Then – much to Andy’s delight – we tested the pasta recipes and are reporting back.  In today’s Andy’s Corner Andy is puzzling over pasta!

For my food writers I chose Ina Garten (aka The BarefootContessa) and Melissa Clark and Alison Roman because all three are incredibly popular online.  And because they are from different generations and I thought their recipes and approach to cooking might reflect that somewhat.  I’ll admit that it’s odd that they’re all living in or near New York City.  Is that the hub of the U.S. food scene (as well as the coronavirus)?

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Ina Garten

Ina is just a little younger than I am.  Her cookbooks and writing seem to revolve around her life in the East Hamptons, her gorgeously set, formal dining table,  her perfectly manicured shrubs, and her husband Jeffrey, whom she met at the age of 15 and married at 20 (I still haven’t forgiven her for releasing a cookbook called Cooking for Jeffrey).  Her recipes are usually about as perfect as her life seems to be.  (A funny update: an April 1 Instagram video by Ina – which has “gone viral” – shows her fixing a g-normous Cosmopolitan and pouring it into a g-normous martini glass – all apparently for herself.  Plus, she looks shockingly normal – i.e., maybe a little weary?).

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Ina’s life


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Melissa Clark

Melissa Clark, a 1990 graduate of Barnard, is middle-aged. Her life appears to be a little messier and normal than Ina’s.  She’s divorced and remarried; she has a child still at home who requires her attention.  She seems unpretentious.  But, as with Ina, we know that if Melissa puts a recipe out there on the NYTimes, we can be pretty sure it’s going to work.  If you want to know more about her, here’s a nice article in The Columbia Magazine (Melissa received a Master’s degree in writing from Columbia).

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Alison Roman

Alison Roman is the millennial of this three-some.  She’s in her mid-thirties, single, living in a normal, modest-looking Brooklyn apartment with a teeny tiny kitchen.   Though she dropped out of UC Santa Cruz (same university our daughter graduated from) she’s gone on to be tremendously successful in the world of food (not to say our daughter isn’t also tremendously successful in the world of food! 🙂 ). One of Alison’s cookbooks is Dining In – the very name we use for our BigLittleMeals’ dinner parties (though our name came from the Vietnam-era military dinners, not from Alison’s cookbook).

The Cut – an online-magazine dedicated to “Style, Self, Culture, Power”- has called Roman “the domestic goddess of the apocalypse.”  Pretty impressive!  Her Twitter page shows she has 38,000 followers.  But, to be fair, Ina Garten has about 172,000 followers of her Tweets.

Yes, the pasta recipes from these three talented ladies are a far cry from my mother’s spaghetti.  Ina’s bolognese takes the basic ground beef and tomatoes recipe to a way fancier level, while keeping it all easy and quick to put together.  Melissa’s corn and pasta is probably not very Italian, but it works.  And when Alison caramelizes shallots and then dumps in some anchovies, the result….well, it has her Twitter followers going Tweet crazy!

I know you’re all dying to know which food writer’s pasta we loved most.  Andy picks Alison’s and I pick Melissa’s – but we both liked Ina’s too.  It’s a win win all the the way around.  Now if you can just find some pasta on your grocer’s shelves! Continue reading

“Borta Bra Men Hemma Bäst”


Izakaya Amu  in Boulder, Colorado

  • “Borta bra men hemma bäst,” said my Swedish grandparents: Away is good but home is best (and get your mind out of the gutter, if you’re giggling about “bra men! :).
  • Lots of fun restaurant-eating with teens, tween, and extended family went on this past week.  But we’re all glad to be home.
  • Be sure to read Andy’s advice to Raggedy Ann: Tidy vs Messy in Lagniappe.
  • And in Food for Thought – will salt help me lose weight????? Geez, I wish.

We’re back from our “Go for the Gold” family vacation in Colorado (Ft Collins and Boulder) and are delighted to be back to home-cooked meals. After arriving in Glen Ellen late Thursday evening – after a long day of travel – we pulled out some frozen Baked Penne and Sausage Pasta, popped it in the microwave (though the oven would have been better yet) and soon sat down to a leisurely, simple, and delicious dinner – with a glass of A&D pinot noir from the Napa Valley (we are seldom traitors to Sonoma wines, but the A&D was too tempting to pass up).

We’ve had 6 days and 6 nights of restaurant food, which is unusual for us. We normally do AirBnB kinds of stays and cook even when we’re on holiday. And as much as we love Colorado, we have to say that fabulous dining experiences were not the norm.

But there are some definite highlights in case you’re in the area. In Ft Collins: a “Havana Daydreaming” Cuban breakfast sandwich at Snooze on Mountain Ave, a Lavender Sour cocktail with ginger cognac and house-crafted lavender sour at Social in Old Town Square (I’d like another one right now!). In Boulder: Japanese sashimi and yakimono at Izakaya Amu near the Pearl St Mall,  warm wood-fired Montreal-style bagels from Woodgrain Bagels on Arapahoe, and our NYC son says you must try the Coleslaw Salad w/Peanuts from Eureka.

We didn’t ignore sweets either.  I’m a huge fan of little local bakeries – if their treats are buttery/yeasty/not too sweet/delicious. The Little Bird Bakeshop in Ft Collins had a to-die-for Bostock –orange-soaked brioche with almond cream.  And back home in Sonoma our fabulous little Sonoma Crisp Bakeshop has yummy almond croissants and perfect morning buns. I’ve attempted making both croissants and morning buns and don’t recommend it – unless it’s for a really REALLY special occasion. BUT, using the recipe we’ve provided below,  you can have a brioche bread pudding ready to bake in just a few minutes.  Just purchase a loaf of already-made brioche at your market.

Here’s today’s quiz (you can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the classroom out of the teacher!). What do all of those foods from restaurants and bakeries have in common? Well, they are either too complex or too time-consuming for most of us to do at home (well, I do make a mean and easy coleslaw!). And that’s what made those eating-out experiences special: we would not cook them at home. Most of the other meals we had in restaurants paled in comparison to our simple homemade dinner Thursday night. Big Little (easy, tasty) Meals. Go for it. Continue reading

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