What I cook: Penne with Spinach Basil Lemon Sauce and Lemon Garlic Roasted Broccoli

I get asked a lot what I eat here in Shanghai and I respond that I cook quite a bit and then I get the follow up, “So, what do you cook?”  So I’m going to start posting some of the things I make to satisfy curiosity and to help some other expat who stumbles across this blog.

Disclaimer: This is not a cooking blog so I will not be documenting with lots of pictures, I don’t have time for that nor will I remember to take the pictures along the way.

What I made tonight was a new try and turned out pretty good and I’m already thinking how I could change it up for the next time.

Starting off, I came across these recipes for different sauces on the NYTimes Cooking page a few months ago and when I got back to Shanghai, decided to make these sauce bombs to keep in the freezer.


  • cup cilantro
  • cup parsley
  • cup Thai basil
  • 4 cups spinach
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons peeled and chopped fresh ginger (I left this out because I’m not a huge ginger fan)


  1. Tear all the stems off the herbs and spinach. (No need to be exact, just rip off most of them.)
  2. Blanch the cilantro, parsley, Thai basil and spinach in a pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds. As soon as they turn bright green, take them out and drop them into a bowl of ice water.
  3. Take the greens out of the ice bath and shake off excess water (but leave the greens wet). Put them into a blender or small food processor with the garlic and ginger. Blend until you have a smooth, dark green purée. If it’s too thick, add a little water to keep it moving, about 1 tablespoon at a time. Pour purée into an ice cube tray and pop it into the freezer.

One thing about living here is it’s not always convenient to just “go to the store” after work. If I did that, I probably wouldn’t get home until 7 or 8 and then be too exhausted to actually cook up whatever grand idea I had, so having things on hand or in the freezer is a necessity.

In the recipe it calls this a sauce stir-fry sauce.  After making and trying it, I would say I will definitely use these for lots of different things, like tonight with penne, or with chicken or vegetables.

I already had these made in the freezer.  I looked and saw I had a head of broccoli that needed to be prepared or tossed out soon, so I pulled that out and decided to roast it in the oven because it was on the less crisp side already.

Preparation for broccoli:

I pre heated the oven to 425º F or 220º C. I washed and chopped up the broccoli, coated the pan in olive oil, tossed the broccoli in a bowl with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, chopped garlic, and juice from half a lemon.  My head of broccoli was on the small side, and in the future I would only use juice from 1/4 of a lemon.  I spread the broccoli out on the pan and put in the oven for 20 minutes.

Preparation for pasta:

I boiled the penne, then strained and returned to the pot on really low heat and added one of the sauce cubes and a little olive oil.  I stirred continuously and after a taste test, decided to add a little salt and the juice from the leftover half a lemon I had.  The pasta turned out great, the lemon was complimentary to the sauce, and the flavor didn’t stand out too strongly which was good because the broccoli was pretty strong with lemon, but I LOVE LEMON, I always keep them in the fridge. So, it was fine with me.

All in all a pretty simple and quick preparation.  If I was making this for more people than myself, I would add chicken and maybe tomatoes to the pasta and definitely some grated parmesan.  Toasted garlic bread would be a good complement too, so if I was preparing this for a group, I would definitely add that. Since it was just me, I was fine with a simple vegetarian meal.  I keep chicken in the freezer but usually do not add it to my meals because I don’t feel I need it and it’s expensive.  I would rather just use it in bigger meals I prepare for others.

penne broccoli


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