Friday, July 7, 2017

Quinoa Pasta with Farmer’s Cheese, Pistachios, and Kale

Today’s recipe is brought to you by the letter P: 
Pasta, Pistachios, and Pfarmer’s Cheese. 
And perhaps Picnic.

Cheese is a very personal thing. Think about it. Do you prefer soft or hard cheeses? What about the stinky ones? How about real vs. fake cheese? I could be wrong (duh) but it seems Big Food cheese manufacturers in the U.S. don’t even pretend their products are real. Does anyone know what “processed cheese food” is?

It could be sticky, artificially-colored orange goop wrapped in cellophane “singles,” or maybe Easy Cheese in a spray can or Cheese Whiz in a jar. And let’s not forget the enigmatic brick of golden mush called Velveeta—a name I like to imagine was once bestowed on a beauty shop proprietress in a remote West Texas town.


Michel is finicky about cheese. He’s also quite knowledgeable about it. This attitude is to be expected, given that Holland is one of the top cheese exporters worldwide. The kaaswinkel is an important part of Dutch neighborhoods and the daily food shopping routine that also includes stops at the butcher, the green grocer, etc.

Cheese is such an integral part of the Netherlands’ history and culture that there is an actual cheese museum in the city of Alkmaar. The Hollands Kaas Museum website is very engaging and filled with nerdy trivia for compulsive consumers of generally useless information—like this writer (and some of you, too—you know who you are).

How else could a person learn that a guild of Cheese Carriers was established in 1593? The leader of the Cheese Carriers was call the Kaasvader, a/k/a cheese father. [Insert your Star Wars parody ideas here.] To show that he was no ordinary schlepper, the Kaasvader donned a special orange hat, carried a black cane with silver embellishments, and sported a coat of arms on his chest.

Gouda Cheese Market photo:

Gouda is probably the Dutch cheese that first comes to mind for most of us. It’s produced in the city of Gouda, which is a tricky name to pronounce for non-native speakers. In the U.S. most people incorrectly call it “Goo-dah” and some take things even further by making bad puns about it, e.g., “This is really goo-dah cheese.” Ugh.

For the record, the Dutch pronunciation of the name Gouda sounds like “How-dah.” The initial G should sound like you have something in your throat, perhaps a hairball: “hkhkhkhow-dah.” If you happen to be a fan of IPA, the International Phonetic Alphabet (yay for you!), here’s what it looks like:  /ˈɣɑu̯daː/


Dutch farmer’s cheese is called Boerenkaas, also made in the city of Gouda from the same ingredients. Boerenkaas is made daily and it isn’t aged, ergo its fresh, cottage-cheesy consistency and its very important expiration date. Gouda is aged; the longer the aging process, the higher the price. In short (too late), all boerenkaas is gouda but not all gouda is boerenkaas. #Logic.

As tastes have evolved here in the states and our population has become increasingly diverse, it’s easier to find a variety of cheeses and other exotic ingredients that would have been impossible to get in the days of Hickory Farms cheese logs. 

Michel has witnessed a huge shift in Americans’ interest in food and cooking since he first arrived in New York at the age of 21 to study the violin and conducting. In fact, he was totally enamored with watching American television and eating TV dinners—just living the dream like the rest of us and expanding his English vocabulary via sitcoms and late-night talk shows. Now he enjoys perusing the specialty offerings at Whole Foods and Lotsa Pasta, various international food markets in town, and even the Murray’s cheese counter at Kroger.

Michel’s latest pasta dish is quick and easy to prepare and can be served warm or cold. He generally avoids cooking with carb-heavy wheat pasta, opting for noodles made from quinoa/corn flour for this recipe. The texture may seem a little odd at first but the nutritional trade-off is worth it. Either way, it’s a delicious take on mac-n-cheese and you’ll impress your new friends at the neighborhood summer potluck.

You will need:

3 tablespoons olive oil (+/-)
1 package of quinoa shells (or whatever pasta you prefer)
¼ cup pistachios, chopped
8 oz. carton of farmer’s cheese
1 bunch fresh kale
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano reggiano
1 tablespoon dried basil (“dried will do, fresh would be better”)
1 teaspoon sambal (or other pepper)

Remove stems from kale and tear the leaves into large pieces.

Steam the leaves for about 10 minutes (“until they wilt”).


Place chopped pistachios in a large mixing/serving bowl.

Put the water on to boil and follow cooking directions for your preferred pasta.

Heat “a little olive oil” in a medium skillet. Add chopped garlic, basil, and sambal.
Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes (“until the garlic gives off its fragrance”).

Remove steamed kale leaves and chop into small pieces.

Back to the mixing bowl:

Add the chopped kale, garlic, basil, and sambal. 

Add one carton (8 oz. +/-) farmer’s cheese and 3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano reggiano. 

Drizzle 3 tablespoons olive oil over the ingredients. 

Stir until ingredients are well mixed. Add cooked pasta and stir again to integrate the noodles.

Serve and eat, warm or cold.