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It was a dreary day, typical of a Chicago spring, and I was looking for something to cook. I was tired of hearty soups, stews and pasta and was on the hunt for something light and bright. Something spring-like. Putzing around the internet for inspiration, going from one random link to another I came across something on the Eating Well website. Radish Soup. Was that a thing? The color caught my attention – a lovely shade of light pink. Curiosity piqued, I was about to find out if this was indeed a thing.

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It’s spring. While I may be laying here nursing a cold, I can see out my windows that the trees are budding. It’s all rainy days and smooth sailing from here on out and like most of Chicago, I’m anxiously awaiting the first outdoor farmers market in a few weeks. In anticipation I bought some asparagus the other day, before I caught this nasty cold, and thought it would go well with a plate of gnocchi and a little brown butter.

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A chef friend recently stayed with me for a few weeks and we had an interesting chat at the grocery store. She was raised in Switzerland, is currently working in Hong Kong and was in town to work at a Michelin starred restaurant for a short time. We’d made a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up some food and she stood in front of the yogurt display, baffled. “Why is there so much yogurt? Why do you have so much yogurt?” Good question. I looked at the display and was a little embarrassed. Have you taken a good look at the yogurt selection at your local grocery store lately? It’s absurd. Why do we have so much yogurt? My store is on the smaller side and has a 7-shelf display that is at least 10 feet long. Hundreds of containers and more than half of it is Greek yogurt. It’s really ridiculous.

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After a month of chocolate recipes followed by a bunch of beer recipes and a few Italian dishes for good measure, I was in the mood for something light, bright and tangy. Something citrus, puckery citrus. Something that screamed “Spring!!” at the top of its lungs. A tender, buttery bundt cake sounded pretty good too. Let’s combine the two, shall we?

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I love an old school, red sauce Italian joint. The menu is full old favorites: lasagne, stuffed shells, meatballs, ravioli and various things given the parmesan treatment – veal, chicken, eggplant. The fanciest thing on the menu, and probably the last update, is penne alla vodka. Salads are usually of the iceberg variety composed of crunchy lettuce with meats, cheeses and pickled pepper things served with an Italian dressing, tangy from red wine vinegar. If you’re fortunate, you’ll find my beloved 5-Finger Cavatelli on the menu too. And your meal always comes with garlic bread. Always.

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I adore homemade pasta. There is something wonderful about the texture, with just a bit of toothsome quality that I love. Other handmade pastas like gnocchi and cavatelli throw me right over the moon. Sometimes, if I’ve very very fortunate, I’ll stumble upon a restaurant that serves something called 5 or 8 finger cavatelli. Regular cavatelli are small discs or short strips of pasta with opposite edges rolled towards each other to form a hollow shape. I’ve heard them described as looking like tiny hot dog buns and that little folded cavity captures sauces so nicely. 5 or 8 finger cavatelli is the same dough rolled into long strips, 5 or 8 finger lengths long, with the same distinctive edges folded in. They are one of my favorite pastas and one you don’t see very often. I decided to make some.

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Marcella Hazan, often described as the Julia Child of Italian food, has written some remarkable cookbooks. I own several and they have never steered me wrong. When I needed a lasagne recipe, not being a lasagne fan, it was to Marcella that I turned. It was a remarkable lasagne. Sadly, she passed away in 2013, crushing my dreams of taking one of her cooking classes but she left behind quite the legacy. I’ve been reading about her butter tomato sauce for years yet have never made it. Like many things that receive endless glowing reviews – Harry Potter books, Mad Men, LaLa Land, Chik-Fil-A – I tend to run the other way. If everyone is enthusiastically waxing on and on about something I become suspicious. Misguided? Probably. Cynical? Certainly. This tomato sauce was definitely one of those things. Just four ingredients? How good could it be? How many tomato sauce recipes does one really need? I was pretty sure I was fine. How wrong I was.

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