Heidi Swanson knows the feeling. Her latest book, “Super Natural Simple,” comes “from a busy time in my life,” she writes. She and her husband, Wayne Bremser, moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles while she was working on the book, and they bounced from one Airbnb kitchen to another while looking for a home. Then the pandemic happened, and last fall her mother died and her father fell ill shortly thereafter.
“I came to realize that this is actually the only time to write a book like this,” she writes. “When you’re at your busiest (and feeling overwhelmed or overextended), cooking and eating well are usually the earliest casualties.”
On the flip side, she told me in an interview, “When you cook a meal for yourself and your family and friends, and if you have good leftovers, it really bolsters your mood.”
Finding time to cook nourishing foods, she added, “is a foundation for feeling good … not just for yourself but for everyone around you.”
I’ll be honest: I’m a longtime fan of Swanson’s work, from her 101 Cookbooks blog to her previous books, “Super Natural Cooking,” “Super Natural Every Day” and “Near & Far.” She’s got a way of bringing a sense of effortlessness to her recipes, which are stylish and interesting without being intimidating. Her latest recipes are more streamlined than ever, with a mere handful of ingredients – and lots of substitution options – combining in surprising, flavorful ways.
Take this ravioli and asparagus dish, which stars a broth built from toasted sliced almonds that you blend with vegetable broth and lemon juice.
“There’s this idea that a good broth has to be complicated, but I often prefer a simple, clean broth that’s just beyond salty water,” Swanson told me. “The toasting adds a nice depth of flavor that everybody likes.”
Even better, this is quick. You boil store-bought ravioli (make it vegan and/or gluten-free if you want) until it’s almost tender, then throw chopped asparagus into the water for the last minute or two. Then, it’s simply a matter of pouring the warmed broth over the ravioli and asparagus and adding garnishes.
The result is a refreshingly light change of pace from ravioli in a tomato-based pasta sauce: good for spring, and a perfect way to add much-needed support to a busy life.
- 1 1/2 cups (5 ounces) toasted sliced almonds, divided
- 2 1/2 cups hot low-sodium vegetable broth or water
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- 1 pound ravioli of your choice (preferably whole-wheat)
- 1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
- 2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional; may substitute vegan Parmesan such as Violife brand)
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
In a high-speed blender, combine 1 cup of the almonds and the broth or water, and blend until smooth. Add the lemon juice, salt and pepper. Taste, and season with more salt and pepper if needed.
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the ravioli according to the package instructions. Add the asparagus to the ravioli in the final minute of cooking.
Drain the ravioli and asparagus and divide them among four bowls. Pour the broth over the pasta and top with the chives, scallions, the remaining almonds, a drizzle of olive oil and the Parmesan, if using. Serve hot, with lemon wedges on the side for squeezing at the table.
Calories: 640; Total Fat: 38 g; Saturated Fat: 4 g; Cholesterol: 6 mg; Sodium: 977 mg; Carbohydrates: 55 g; Dietary Fiber: 12 g; Sugar: 5 g; Protein: 22 g.