What do you cook during a summer rain? I like pasta – comforting and simple, but light enough for wet, warm June evenings. I worked on Squam Lake in New Hampshire as a backcountry caretaker one summer, and there I’d eat a lot of quick, easy meals cooked over a camp stove. Each night, I drive the skiff out to my worksite: a tiny, worn cabin on a small island with a backpack at my feet, filled with dried pasta and pesto from the fresh basil in our garden.
Our workboat makes me feel like an old fisherman. It is a flat bottom boat, about 9 feet long and 5 feet wide, with a square front. Painted white, with splatters of black all over the exterior, it is a weary, well-worked machine. Pieces of old tires are nailed on each corner as makeshift bumpers. It took me several days to get comfortable driving it. Today, I take it out alone to Moon Island – a little speck of land in middle of Squam Lake – one afternoon under a curtain of persistent drizzle.
It has been raining for nearly two hours when I get to Moon Island. Enveloped in a giant yellow rubber raincoat, I dash from the dock to the cabin. The slamming of the door behind me barely makes a sound against the background symphony of rain in the woods. I play a game with myself as I sit in the screened-in porch. I listen to the rain and try to identify each layer of sound. There is the dull thud of rain against the soft humus layer of the ground. Plink is the rain hitting the cabin roof. Water on the uppermost tree canopy makes a brief arpeggio, repeated over and over.
If I strain my ears I can hear the heavy thrumming of water against water on the lake. Darkness settles in earlier on rainy nights; it leaches quietly over the sky, disguised by the throb and gray cloak of the rain. My wet raincoat has drenched my cotton sweatshirt in the process. All three campsites are full tonight, according to the reservation sheet in my pocket. I travel to the farthest first, following the light of my headlamp down the crisscrossing trails only to find it deserted, abandoned in favor of warmer and drier accommodations.
I trudge back, heat a pan over a small stove on my porch. Dried pasta goes into boiling water. Once cooked, I stir in pesto. If I were home in the kitchen, I’d add more vegetables – raw corn, sugar snap peas – and a crumbling of ricotta salata.
However you make it, this is a nearly perfect meal. Also highly recommended, a glass of white wine.
Instead of a traditional pesto, this pasta sauce is made from a blend of almonds, milk, basil, Parmesan, and ricotta. It's awesome and easy and a nice swap for traditional pesto now and again.
Almond Ricotta Pesto Pasta
1 pound dried pasta
1 bunch basil
1 tablespoon Parmesan, freshly grated
6 tablespoons whole milk
1/4 cup peeled, sliced almonds
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons fresh ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cloves garlic
In a food processor, combine the basil, Parmesan, milk, garlic, and almonds, salt, and pepper and blend until well-combined.
In a separate bowl, stir together the ricotta and melted butter. Add the basil mixture to the bowl and gently fold the sauce together.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add your pasta and cook until al dente.
Drain the pasta and mix it with the basil sauce while the pasta is still warm. Top with grated Parmesan, if you'd like, and serve warm.