If there’s one term that comes to mind when I think of blogger, cookbook author and social media star Tieghan Gerard’s food, it’s this: crowd-pleasing.
Founder of the Half Baked Harvest brand, Gerard is famous for cooking for his big family – including five brothers and a sister – in the Colorado mountains. So her recipes from Ella are large-scaled, decadent and comforting, and she learned early on how to make them appealing to people with a wide variety of preferences. After all, if there’s one thing that’s worse than reading a stranger’s DM or tweet that they didn’t like something you made, it’s hearing it from a loved one across the table.
I’m not sure Gerard has faced either type of criticism too much, at least not lately. Her fan base of ella is so loyal that her books of ella tend to shoot to the top of the bestseller lists with thousands of positive reviews; as of this writing, she occupies two spots among Amazon’s top 10 selling cookbooks. And when I interviewed Gerard, 28, in front of a packed house in Washington in March, the crowd was hanging on her every word, laughing like old friends who were in on the joke when she would mention her mother’s penchant for bland food or one of her brothers’ love of spice.
In her new book, Half Baked Harvest Every DayGerard focuses on what she calls “feel-good food”.
“I really wanted to focus on color and balance and bringing in more vegetables and creating a cookbook that was easily adaptable for a lot of food sensitivities,” she said at the event. “The questions I get asked most are, ‘How can I make this gluten free? How can I make this dairy free?’ One of the big things with me is that I have been able to please, you know, a little bit of everyone.”
These recipes are not spartan; they’re as big and bountiful as ever. Take her nutty, herby spring pasta, which she describes as her seasonal interpretation of the “warm, cheesy pasta bakes straight from the oven” that she depends on through Colorado’s long, snowy winters. This still has that cosy, comforting vibe, but with asparagus, leeks and lots of fresh basil – along with the spark of vinegar and lemon juice to brighten and lighten.
In true Tieghan Gerard fashion, the recipe includes some carb-on-carb action with the addition of baby potatoes along with pasta, and she has you boil them simultaneously. After draining the pasta and potatoes you use the same pot to cook down the leeks and quickly saute the asparagus, then toss them with the potatoes and pasta – plus a basil-and-nut-heavy oil that you puree in the food processor and a generous amount of grated manchego cheese, a nice change-up from the standard parm.
“It’s not a health book by any means, guys,” Gerard told the audience. “There is still cheese and butter and all the good things that I love.”
Indeed there is. But as promised, the adaptations are pretty obvious. Gerard didn’t suggest this, so I will: making the vegan recipe would mean a simple swap of nutritional yeast for the Manchego, playing up the nuttiness – and losing not a bit of crowd-pleasing appeal along the way.
Nutty, herby spring pasta
Total time: 45 minutes
This is a cheesy pasta enlivened with asparagus, herbs and nuts – satisfying but light and bright for spring. Feel free to choose your favorite pasta shape; we prefer something short and bite-size, such as orecchiette, macaroni, penne or fusilli (ideally, choose one that takes about 10 minutes for al dente, so it matches with the cooking time of the baby potatoes). It comes together in one pot, plus a food processor – although you could do the chopping by hand if you’d like it. This keeps beautifully, making it a good choice for a packed lunch or picnic.
make ahead: The pasta and potatoes can be cooked and refrigerated for up to 3 days before you cook the vegetable mixture and combine the two for serving.
storage notes: Refrigerate leftovers for up to 5 days. Freezing is not recommended.
225g baby potatoes, halved or quartered if large
450g short-cut pasta of your choice, such as orecchiette, penne, macaroni or fusilli
Large handful fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
30g raw pine nuts, pepitas, pistachios or walnuts, or a mixture
60ml plus 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp fine salt, divided, plus more to taste
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper, divided, plus more to taste
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise through the root
450g asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into 2½cm pieces
3 garlic cloves, finely grated or pressed
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
60ml dry white wine, such as pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc (may substitute 2 tbsp white wine vinegar plus 2 tbsp water)
85g grated manchego cheese (may substitute nutritional yeast or a vegan parmesan such as Violife brand), plus more for serving
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the potatoes and pasta and cook according to the package directions until the pasta is al dente and the potatoes are barely tender (the potatoes will take about 10 minutes). Drain both.
Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the basil leaves, nuts and/or seeds, 60ml of the olive oil, the vinegar, lemon juice and zest and pulse until finely chopped. Add ½ teaspoon of the salt and ¼ teaspoon of the pepper and pulse to combine.
Rinse the leeks under running water, separating the leaves with your fingers to make sure water can get in between (to rid them of any gritty dirt). Shake dry, then thinly slice them into half-moons.
In the same pot used for cooking the pasta set over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil until it shimmers. Add the leeks and cook, stirring, until lightly browned and soft, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the asparagus, garlic, red pepper flakes, and the remaining ½ teaspoon of the salt and ¼ teaspoon of the pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the asparagus is just tender, about 3 minutes. Pour in the wine and cook, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until the liquid has reduced slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Taste, and season with more salt, pepper and red pepper flakes if needed.
Add the potatoes, pasta and cheese to the pot, tossing well to coat. Add the herbal olive oil mixture and toss to combine. Divide among the bowls, top with more basil leaves and cheese, and serve hot.
Nutrition information per serving (2 cups) | Calories: 568; total fat: 19g; saturated fat: 5g; cholesterol: 13mg; sodium: 507mg; carbohydrates: 76g; dietary fiber: 5g; sugar: 9g; protein: 16g.
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.
© Washington Post