When summer hits here, and I mean really hits, it means we’re in for 2.5 months of humidity that penetrates so deeply that even ones bones feel saturated with sweat.
I rarely relish the thought of spending any time at all in a kitchen with a heated oven, which means I become even more committed to meals that require a pot, a stovetop, and little else (although, in this case, a food processor helps).
I’ve made this recipe twice in the past month and I expect to make it a lot more. Topped with roasted or grilled veggies, it’s a complete meal. The avocado imparts a smooth, buttery texture while the walnuts add just enough crunch.
Plus, skip the Parmesan, and you have a sauce fit for a vegan.
Avocado Pesto Makes 4 healthy servings
1 pound of pasta
2 ripe avocados
1 packed cup fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup walnuts
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
olive oil, as needed
1) Boil a large pot of water and cook the pasta according to package directions. Before draining, reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water and set aside both the water and the cooked pasta.
2) Place the avocado flesh, basil, lemon juice, garlic, grated Parmesan, walnuts, salt and pepper in a food processor and blend until the walnuts are finely chopped. If the mixture is too thick to blend, slowly pour in some olive oil.
3) Spoon the pesto over the pasta and toss together. Add in the pasta water a little at a time if the pesto still needs to be thinned out. Serve immediately.
Sometimes you need to be able to throw everything into a pot and call it a meal.
I had one of those days yesterday. April was taunting me with one of its proverbial showers when I’d already grown re-accustomed to the warm North Carolina spring and my sewing machine wasn’t cooperating and I was grumpy and the pimple on my chin was growing large enough to declare autonomy. Basically, in no mood for cooking. Or human interaction, for that matter.
The last time I had this dish it was made for me by a dear friend, and I find that when I need a lift, summoning up a fond food memory often does the trick. (With the proper meal accompaniment, of course.)
Now that I’ve made it myself, I am officially a convert. The pasta starch imparts a creamy texture to the sauce and the steps could not be easier. It’s a meal worth sharing, and I am grateful that I was able to share it with my friend — and now with you.
1) Combine first eight ingredients in a pot wide enough to allow the pasta to lie flat against the bottom. Add 2 sprigs of basil and 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
2) Put the pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Stir regularly for about 10 minutes.
3) Serve the pasta with the remaining 2 sprigs of basil, drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
More than a year ago, I was hanging out in Italy. Mostly just eating, but sometimes cooking. Obviously, my life tends to revolve around food as it is, but my fixation was only exacerbated by being in a place where food serves as a language of its own.
The point is, I learned how to make this really amazing, really simple sauce, and then I proceeded to not share the recipe with you for more than a year. My host in Pisa taught me how to make this sauce. That’s right; you’re looking at a real Italian recipe from a real Italian person.
Once you make it, I imagine you’ll forgive me. Basically everything in here is easily substituted, too. Try it with eggplant. Try it with sour cream. Try it without any dairy at all. Then, let me know how it turned out!
Confetti Vegetable Sauce: Serves 4
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 zucchini, grated
1 squash, grated
1 red pepper, grated
1 tablespoon butter
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
salt & pepper, to taste
your favorite pasta, cooked and drained
1) Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add zucchini, squash and red pepper. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until most of the water has been cooked off. Drain the vegetables.
2) Place the pan back on the stove and lower the heat to medium-low. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the tablespoon of butter. Stir in the garlic. Cook until light brown.
3) Stir in the well-drained vegetables until the mixture is very warm. Turn the heat to low and combine the mascarpone cheese. Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper.
4) Spoon sauce onto your favorite pasta and top with fresh basil.
Oh, hey there. Have you missed me? I’ve certainly missed this blog. And cooking.
In the past three weeks, I lunched with friends in Raleigh and said my goodbyes, I packed my life into boxes and suitcases, I flew to New York City, I started a job, and I moved into an apartment in Brooklyn. Somehow, the move was easier than it sounded. I survived, at least.
And now I have a NYC kitchen. You might be surprised to learn that I managed to fit all of my kitchen supplies into it, with room to spare.
The first thing I made was this sauce, just like mom makes. Sweet and savory and hearty and just right for these first cold days of fall.
Folks, I’m baaaaaaaaaack.
Eggplant, Sausage and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Sauce: Serves 8
three tablespoons olive oil, divided
two red peppers, chopped
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound sausage, removed from casings
16 ounces tomato sauce or diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
salt & pepper to taste
feta cheese, if desired
1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread chopped red peppers evenly on a cookie sheet, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and put in oven. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until soft and slightly blackened around the edges.
2) 10 minutes before the red peppers are done, place a pot on medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add eggplant and onion. Cook until soft.
3) Meanwhile, cook sausage until browned. Add sausage, roasted red peppers and minced garlic to pot.
4) Stir in tomato sauce, cayenne pepper, oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Cover and cook until bubbling.
5) Serve with pasta and sprinkle with feta cheese.
For every two weeks that a person is in Italy, he or she requires one week of recovery. It’s a little-known fact, but one should not engage in any mentally or physically challenging tasks immediately upon returning to one’s home country, including, but not limited to, food blogging. Following all that R&R, it’s important to slowly transition back into a schedule. After all, I had to fulfill many strenuous duties as a tourist in my two weeks in Italy:
– Checking out some famous buildings, statues and fountains
– Swimming in assorted seas and lakes (like Lake Albano, pictured here)
– Shuttling the kids around, and sometimes putting my super-sized sunglasses on their itty-bitty faces and deriving far too much amusement from it
– Eating food that other people cooked for me
That last one has really done me in. I haven’t cooked in–please withhold your shock–two weeks. My Italy vacation began with the promise of infinite food inspiration and ended with sheer gluttonous laziness. “Why cook when Italians can do it for you?” I have often wondered in a post-pizza-and-gelato daze. There are few moments more joyous than watching your waiter weave his way toward you with a pizza the size of a Monopoly board, contentment washing over your sun-weary skin and carb-starved stomach when you realize that whole pie is for you, solely and exclusively. And you didn’t have to make it.
But, folks, I’m back. And I’ll be cooking again pronto.
It’s impossible not to be inspired here, really. I could wax poetic about Italy all day, but I think it’s best to write this post channeling the same simplicity that I have noticed in the food here. Fresh and, often, sublime, yes. But also simple.
Since we’re talking inspiration, this picture depicts my view during lunch today (and every day):
Ha! Totally kidding. My back is actually facing the Mediterranean Sea where I sit at our table, so actually my view looks more like this:
Yes, life is good. And so is this sandwich. And its name is derived from the place it was born, and nothing more. I hope I don’t offend any Italians out there with a culturally inaccurate sandwich.
And for those of you who have been to Italy before, I have to ask: Where are the best places to go in Florence and Rome? And by “go,” I mean “eat.” Obviously.
Italian Steak Sandwiches: Serves 4
2 medium-sized cuts of flank steak
Salt & pepper
2 medium sweet onions, cut in 1/2-inch strips
2 medium red peppers, cut in 1/2-inch strips
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 large loaf of bread (I used ciabatta, but I’ll opt for a less dense bread next time)
1 large mozzarella ball, sliced
A few sprigs of basil
Pesto or your favorite sandwich spread
1) Season steak on both sides with salt and pepper while heating a large pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add steak. Cook for about 4 minutes on each side. Set steak aside on a cutting board.
2) Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, then add onions and peppers. Cook for 2 minutes, then add balsamic vinegar. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3) Cut steak into strips. Slice bread into four sections, then cut each section in half again to make the sandwich. Add steak strips to the base of each sandwich, then layer with onion and pepper mixture, mozzarella, and basil. Spread pesto or other sandwich spread on the top half of the sandwich. Serve warm (I heated ours up on a pan with another pan on top, panini-style) or cold.
Happy Father’s Day! Sadly, mine is across the ocean from me, so I cannot cook for him today, but at least I can promise to make this recipe, or any other, for him when I return. (Dad, this blog post serves as a coupon, of sorts. Redeemable for whenever I’ve recovered from jet lag and financial destitution caused by the unforgiving euro.) I love you, daddy! Thanks for passing on to me your height, sardonicism, and love of cats. I’ve forgiven you for not endowing me with your math skills, don’t worry.
Holiday aside, I was recently accused of not posting enough chicken recipes. I’ve already shared a few of my thoughts on chicken back when I roasted a chicken for the first time, but I do not especially enjoy cooking meat in general, and avoiding meat purchases at the grocery store saves me a decent amount of money. When I do buy meat, I’m pretty particular about where it comes from. A local producer is preferable, but, at the very least, I always buy organic meat, for a variety of environmental and ethical reasons. Still, I’m not as particular as these people:
Nope. I haven’t reached that point… yet.
Since I’m always open to recipe requests, I searched for a simple, summery recipe where I could satisfy my friend Kasey’s desire for more chicken and my desire to become more comfortable in front of the grill. Hopefully I satisfied the former, although my cousin grilled while I prepared the other ingredients, so my grilling experience has not developed further. If one person’s on the grill and the other at the stove, you can knock out this dish in under 30 minutes.
Pasta has been on my mind a lot recently because tomorrow I head to Italy for two weeks. I’ve never been before, and I’ll be staying with my family on an agriturismo in Tuscany. My dreams are saturated with images of fresh, plump mozzarella, vibrant tomatoes and warm bread, all drizzled with silken olive oil, frolicking through lush Italian fields and into my belly. At the very least, I’ll write a mental draft of the version of Eat, Pray, Love that I’d actually want to read, entitled Eat, Eat, Eat. (Interspersed with some sleeping, sunning, and a short walk or two, but that title is significantly less marketable.)
Grilled Chicken & Pesto Pasta: Serves 4
4 small, boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt & pepper, to taste
10 ounces of pasta (noodles are fine, but bowties would be wonderful, too!)
3 tablespoons reserved pasta water, divided
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes
1/2 tablespoon butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup milk, divided
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons pesto (I’m going to try this recipe with homemade walnut pesto soon)
6 tablespoons cream
1 cup Parmesan cheese, divided
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1) Prepare grill to medium-high heat. Marinate chicken with olive oil, salt and pepper. (I let my chicken marinate for a few hours ahead of time, but right before should be fine, too.) Grill chicken for about 10 minutes, 5 per side, until insides are no longer pink. Set chicken aside to cool, then slice into generous chunks.
2) Cook pasta according to package directions and drain, reserving 3 tablespoons or so of pasta water. Set pasta aside to cool. Add 1 tablespoon of pasta water to a bowl with the sundried tomatoes to restore some of their moisture.
3) Whisk together 1/4 cup of milk and flour in a bowl and set aside. Heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add garlic to pan and cook for 1 minute, then add then milk and flour mixture, stirring constantly. Mixture should thicken almost immediately. Stir in pesto and remaining 1/2 cup milk and all the cream. Cook until sauce thickens (about 5 minutes). Add remaining 2 tablespoons of pasta water to the sauce and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.
4) Pour sauce on top of pasta, along with the chicken. Drain any remaining pasta water from the sundried tomatoes, then add to the pasta. Toss the pasta to coat thoroughly, then garnish with basil and remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.
It’s that time of year. Of life, actually. A point where I must begin to make decisions to secure gainful employment, financial security and a place to live that isn’t with, or funded by, my parents. So far it’s been rather anticlimactic. Moments of Zen-like calm precede 90-minute job-seeking marathons, followed by thoughts like, “Maybe I should just hang out in Europe for a bit.” And then, again, calm–most prevalent and seemingly illogical considering the state of “this economy.” (Cue dark organ music)
I often feel like the New York Times article “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” personified, the question mark perpetually superimposed over everything I see and touch, like those index cards my high school Spanish teacher stuck on every object in her room, identifying their Spanish names. “La television” and “el escritorio.” Except there’s no clear answer this time. I get to fill in the blank.
Impressively and patiently, my parents take it all in stride. Some days, I inundate my dad’s inbox with new plans of jobs and internships, of English-teaching opportunities, of I-want-to-be-Samantha-Brown aspirations. “What do you want to do [with your life] today?” is one of his common greetings.
What I want is an opportunity that will foster, rather than contain, my enthusiasm, cause a snowball effect where I stumble over my words and letters and phrases with the wanting, the craving to get them out fast enough so I can hurry up and do more and see more and say more and have my life be an endless run-on sentence instead of a question mark or, even worse, a period.
Yes, that’s what I want. Lots and lots of doing with only the most promising of punctuation.
So you can see what we’re dealing with here. My mind fluctuates more than spring weather in North Carolina. Speaking of which…
I made this soup when the weather was cold. (By my definition–we’re talking 50 degrees or so.) Now, the weather is warm. Miraculously, this soup is well-suited for both occasions, hearty with its bean backbone and springy with its fresh basil freckles.
This recipe is from The Italian Momma of pizza and pesto fame. It won’t be the last you see of her, not by a long shot.
Spinach & Tomato Tortellini Soup:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
16 ounces chicken broth
16 ounces of water (use chicken broth container to measure)
2 vegetable bouillon cubes
16 ounces frozen tortellini
16 ounces canned, diced tomatoes, with the juice
16 ounces canned cannellini beans
10 ounces spinach, washed and stemmed
10 basil leaves, coarsely chopped
Grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
1) In a large pot (I used my Dutch oven), saute garlic in oil and butter for about two minutes on medium-low heat.
2) Add broth, water and bouillon cubes to the pot and bring to a boil. Add frozen tortellini and cook for half the directed cooking time written on the package. (Around five minutes.)
3) Add tomatoes and juice, reduce heat to simmer for a few more minutes. Stir in spinach, beans and basil, and simmer for another minute. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with grated cheese.
I mean, I think it’s fall here. I never really know if I’ll wake up to encounter another 80-degree day. I’m taking advantage of the cooler weather to make soup in thematic, autumnal colors. I hope this weather will last, though, ’cause I adore soup.
Also, I’ve been needing to eat more vegetables. My birthday was last week, so I’m still recovering from my ice-cream-and-cupcake-and-chocolate-cake-induced coma. Soup is basically an excuse to throw a bunch of vegetables in a pot and see what happens. It’s as close to a science experiment I’ll get now that I’m solely a humanities girl.
This recipe’s from The Kitchen Bible, which I adore because it has a picture of every single recipe.
Tuscan Bean Soup:
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
1 leek, sliced (white and pale green parts only)
2 garlic clovers, diced
1 quart (1 liter) vegetable stock
one 14.5 oz can chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
one 15 oz can white kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
9 oz spinach
salt and black pepper
1) Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium-low heat. Add the onion, carrots and leek and cook until softened. Add the garlic and cook briefly. Add the stock, tomatoes and their juices and tomato paste.
2) In a bowl, mash half the beans with a fork and stir into a pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Return the heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes.
3) Add the remaining beans and spinach and simmer for 30 minutes more.
4) Place a slice of bread in each soup bowl. Ladle in the soup and top with Parmesan cheese.
What fall-inspired recipes do you make when cooler weather arrives?
It’s another one of “those” weeks. Loaded with projects and exams and everything that senior year promised to deliver, delivered.
I’m possessed by this overwhelming feeling that I either a) should be living somewhere else, such as London, or b) should be doing something else, such as cooking all day under the ruse of “learning.” I value my university education, I do. But what if, at this very moment, I’m not actually fulfilling my purpose? Or, even more horrifying, what if I’m meant to spend the rest of my life pyschoanalyzing the moment instead of enjoying it?
With these thoughts flooding my mind during the past week, I’ve been self-medicating with inordinate amounts of pasta. Didn’t you hear? Psychologists recommend dealing with your feelings by eating them.
Recipe from here. Just happened to be exactly what I was craving.
Spinach Orzo with Pine Nuts & Feta Cheese:
1 (16 ounce) package uncooked orzo
1/2 C. olive oil
2 TB. butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 red onion, diced
a few leaves of fresh basil
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 C. pine nuts
1 (10 ounce) bag baby spinach
1/8 C. balsamic vinegar
8 ounces package crumbled feta cheese
1/2 fresh tomato, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1) Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes. (Until firm.) Drain, transfer to a mixing bowl, and set aside.
2) Heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium high heat, stirring to blend. Stir in garlic, basil, and red pepper flakes, and reduce heat to medium.
3) Stir in pine nuts and cook until lightly browned. Add spinach, cover, and cook on low heat for 5 minutes, or until spinach is wilted.
4) Toss spinach mixture with orzo pasta.
5) Portion onto serving plates with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkling of crumbled feta cheese, chopped tomatoes, salt, and pepper.