Summer is finally here, and with the coming of sunshine and warm breezes comes the need for pasta salad. After all, you need something easy to bring to all those picnics, barbecues, and beach parties, right?
Pasta salad, however, need not be fattening or unhealthy. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. This pasta salad calls for whole wheat pasta, which already is healthier than regular pasta salad, but you can use gluten-free pasta as well. Rather than mayo or other fat-laden dressing, this one uses avocado. It makes the pasta creamy, rich, and loaded with nutrients (plus some good fat). Add raw kale to the mix and you’ve got a healthy, but delicious, alternative.
Kale can be tough, but squeezing kale with avocado softens the leaves. The salt in the dressing further breaks down the cell walls of the kale, helping it along its journey to tenderness.
This is an excellent start to the summer. Enjoy!
Whole Wheat Pasta Salad with Kale & Creamy Avocado Dressing
Makes 4 servings.
8 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved 2 teaspoons olive oil 2 cups whole wheat pasta 2 teaspoons table salt 2 Haas avocados 2 tablespoons lime juice ½ teaspoons sea salt Freshly ground black pepper to taste 2 packed kale leaves, shredded* 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional) ¼ cup grated parmesan
Toss the tomatoes with the olive oil in a small bowl. Spread the tomatoes out on a small baking sheet lined with foil and roast until soft and charred, about 20 minutes.Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and table salt and bring to a boil. Boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the pasta is al dente, about 8 to 12 minutes (depending on what pasta you choose). Drain and set it aside while you prepare the sauce.
In a food processor, combine the meat from the avocados, lime juice, 1 tablespoon of the extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper. Process until smooth.Place the kale in a medium bowl. Pour the avocado sauce over it and squeeze the kale with your hand until everything is well blended. Mix in the balsamic and red pepper flakes, if you’re using it.Add the cooked pasta and parmesan and mix well. Taste for seasoning and adjust it to your liking.Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.
*To shred kale, first strip the leaves off the stems by lightly pinching the stem and running your fingers down the stem to the tip, pulling the leaves off along the way. Stack a few leaves and roll them up into a tight log. With a sharp knife, slice the kale thinly.
It would seem I’m on a watermelon kick (last time, I did a recipe for watermelon pickles). But that’s what happens when you buy a big watermelon and are the only one eating it. You find different ways to use it.
This week, I offer you a refreshing drink with a kick to it. I call it Watermelon Lovely because it truly is lovely to look at. It’s very easy to throw together, and it makes the perfect summer libation.
3 cups chopped, seeded watermelon, preferably cold 2 tablespoons dark or light rum (more if you want it stronger) 2 tablespoons Amaretto di Saronno (more if you want it sweeter)
Garnishes*Puree the watermelon. You should get approximately 2 cups.
Pour the liquid into a pitcher or something large enough to mix other ingredients into it. If it’s not already cold, add ice cubes, chill it, and then strain it.
Stir in the remaining ingredients. Pour into 2 glasses and serve.
*If you like, you can decorate the rim of the glasses with colored sugar, crystallized herbs (that’s basil in the picture), or chunks of fruit.
This Sunday is Easter Sunday, which is traditionally a day filled with of various types of sweet breads (by that, I mean actual breads that are sweetened, not the other kind of sweet breads).
In my book, Vegetarian Italian: Traditions—Bread, I offer a recipe for Pasticcini di Pasqua (Little Easter Buns). I’d like to share that with you here, just in time to bake some for Sunday.
You can get many other Italian bread recipes in that volume, and lots of other great Italian recipes in the other books in that series: Appetizers, Pasta, Soups & Stews, Pizza & Focaccia, Entrees & Sides, Rice & Potatoes, and Desserts. (These were originally in one volume, in several editions, but those are no longer available.)
Happy Easter to all those who celebrate. Enjoy!
Pasticcini di Pasqua (Little Easter Buns)
Makes 4 buns.
2 packages active dry yeast 1¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting 2 eggs, divided ¼ cup sugar 1 tablespoon butter, softened ¼ teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon grated orange zest 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest Few drops food coloring of your choice 4 soft-boiled eggs, shells intact 2 tablespoons colored jimmies or sprinkles (optional)
In a small bowl, sprinkle yeast over ¼ cup very warm water. Stir in 2 tablespoons flour and mix well. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit 1 hour.
Place remaining flour in a large bowl. Add yeast mixture. Beat one of the raw eggs and add to bowl, along with sugar, butter, salt, and orange and lemon zests. Mix well until a soft dough forms. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 or 6 minutes. Put dough back into bowl, cover with a cloth towel or plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours, or overnight in refrigerator.
Grease a baking sheet with butter or nonstick spray, or line it with parchment paper, and set aside. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place 2 or 3 drops food coloring on each soft-boiled egg and use a pastry brush or your finger to spread color over entire eggs. Set aside.
Divide dough into 4 equal parts. Roll each piece into a ball, then flatten into ¼-inch-thick disks. Place on baking sheet. Press center of each with your fingers to make an indent and gently place an egg into indents. Gently press dough around egg. Beat other raw egg and brush dough. Sprinkle jimmies or sprinkles, if using, around tops of dough and eggs. Bake until buns are golden brown and puffed up, about 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Store in a plastic bag or container in refrigerator.
Serve these on Easter morning at room temperature. Remove egg from center, peel, and enjoy.
Date-nut Bread is a classic winter holiday treat. In fact, it’s become so popular that December 22 is National Date-Nut Bread Day.
Okay, so it’s January, but the cold winter weather continues to call for hearty, comforting foods, and date-nut bread definitely falls into that category.
Dates originated in the Middle East, and they play a huge role in the cuisines from that part of the world. They made their way to the U.S. via the Spaniards, who were introduced to them by the Moors. They are now a popular crop in California.
The word “date” is derived from a Greek word (dáchtylo), which means “finger.” Dates have been shown to help with constipation; promote bone health and ward off osteoporosis; and aid in intestinal disorders, heart problems, anemia, sexual dysfunctions, as well other health issues. They’re a good source of fiber, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. They also contain thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin A, and vitamin K. They’re also a great source of energy, so if you’re doing any kind of physical activity, dates are a great thing to add to your snack pack. Be aware, though, that dates contain a fair amount of sugar, so you don’t want to overdo them, unless you plan on burning them off.
Enjoy date-nut bread for breakfast or a snack, by itself, toasted with butter, or with jam, honey, maple syrup, or anything else you like.
2 cups chopped dates 1½ teaspoons baking soda 2 large eggs ¾ cup sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract ¼ teaspoon allspice ¼ teaspoon kosher salt 2 cups all-purpose flour 1 cup chopped walnuts
Grease an 8×10-inch loaf pan and line it with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Place the dates and baking soda in a small bowl and cover them with 1 cup boiling water. Stir. Let them sit until they cool down.In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla, allspice, and salt.Add the flour and dates (including the water), and mix with a wooden spoon. Gently stir in the walnuts.Transfer the mixture to the loaf pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.Cool the loaf on a cooling rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Turn out the bread onto the rack and cool completely.Store the loaf wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator up to 5 days.
So, the holidays have come and gone. You’ve shopped until you dropped, partied hardy, and eaten every holiday goodie there was.
Now you’re settling back into a regular routine again. The decorations have come down (maybe), you’ve made your resolutions (possibly), and you’re starting to eat normal and/or healthy food again (hopefully). You open up your refrigerator and find that container of eggnog that never got finished is still there, with still enough eggnog in it that makes you feel bad about throwing it away.
You don’t have to.
There are many ways to use up leftover eggnog, but one of the simplest is pancakes. Eggnog pancakes are kind of like buttermilk pancakes, but they’re richer and more complex.
Okay, so pancakes don’t have to be complex. But it’s really, really great if they’re tasty and satisfying. Made with eggnog, they are.
So, if you’re like me and hate to throw out even a scrap of food, try this recipe with that leftover eggnog. It’s a great post-holiday treat.
Winter Eggnog Pancakes
Makes 16 pancakes.
1½ cups all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons baking powder ½ teaspoon baking soda 1 tablespoon maple or coconut palm sugar ¼ teaspoon sea salt ¼ teaspoon cinnamon Pinch nutmeg Pinch allspice 1½ cups eggnog 1 large egg, lightly beaten 1½ tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.In a medium bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the eggnog, egg, and melted butter. Pour this into the dry ingredients and mix gently just until blended.Heat a nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Place several mounds of the batter, a scant ¼ cup each, into the pan about an inch apart. Spread the batter out just a little to ensure even cooking (the eggnog makes the batter thick and it may not spread on its own).Let them cook until bubbles form on top and the bottoms have browned, about 2 minutes. Flip them over and continue to cook until the bottoms have browned and there’s no wet batter on the sides, about another 1 to 2 minutes.Serve with real maple syrup, fruit, jam, or whatever toppings you like.
This is my first post in a while. I took a hiatus for few weeks because I found myself hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the first time in many years.
I used to host Thanksgiving at my house years ago because my family and my then-partner’s family both were very unyielding in allowing us to divide our time. So, our solution was to do Thanksgiving dinner at our house and have both families. We did this for several years, and I don’t think that either family was thrilled about it. The reasons for that are both simple and complex, but what it came down to was that it made the holiday stressful for both of us.
After my partner and I broke up, the Thanksgiving meal shifted to my parents’ house, and it’s been there for the past decade.
But early this year, my father passed away, and my mother, understandably, no longer wanted to do any holidays. It fell on me to do it.
It was a bit more difficult for me to deal with it this time around because a) I’m a decade older than the last time I did it, and b) my job situation is different, and I wasn’t able to take off the same amount of time that I used to years ago.
Having said that, I was able to take off the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day, and my current partner flew in to help me. This was tremendously helpful to me, because I truly wouldn’t have been able to get anything done otherwise.
I actually starting prepping my house about a month before. No, really. That’s how long it took me to put things away, organize, and move things around to optimize the space.
The one good thing about all this was that I was so busy prepping, cooking, and serving/cleaning that I didn’t have a whole lot of time to dwell on the fact that it was the first Thanksgiving without my father. I know my mother was depressed, and I felt bad that I couldn’t spend any time comforting her. But I know others did, and I’m glad. It was early on in my preparations, that the emotions hit me, and now, after it’s all over, it’s hitting me again. It’s been strange and surreal not seeing him sitting there at the table with us.
Anyway, my recipe this week is one that comes from the utilitarian in me, and my desire to not waste food and not take for granted the bounty that we’re fortunate to have in this country.
I call this dish Leftover-Thanksgiving-Stuff Chili. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a bunch of stuff I had leftover from Thanksgiving dinner, plus a couple of other things. The nice things is, you can make your own leftover chili with whatever you have in the fridge, or you can follow this recipe, because you know what? It came out great. It’s full of flavor, and because some of the individual elements were made as separate recipes with their own ingredients, the flavors of the chili are layered and complex.
I’ve said this before, but it bears saying again—use leftover cranberry sauce in chili. Its sweet and tart taste adds a great dimension to the dish.
(By the way, the reason you see olives in the photos is because the marinated peppers that I used had olives thrown in there. It was part of the antipasto that I served at dinner. When I say I use everything, I mean it!)
A couple of tips: If you have any beer or wine leftover, use that to deglaze the pot after the tomato paste cooks in, or add it later for a more pronounced flavor. Also, although I’ve listed salt as one of the last items, add the salt a little at a time as you add ingredients, starting with the onions. This ensures that you coax out the maximum flavor from each individual ingredient. Chefs do this regularly, but you will rarely see it written in a recipe because it makes the recipe cumbersome to instruct adding a quantity of salt at each step. But you should do it. 🙂
So, here’s my utilitarian chili. Enjoy!
1 tablespoon olive oil 1 cup chopped yellow onion 1/3 cup chopped red onion 2-3 large garlic cloves, minced 1½ cups chopped green bell pepper 1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons chili powder 2 cups broth (you can make part of this beer or wine) 1½ cups chopped tomatoes 2 celery ribs, chopped 1 cup cranberry sauce ½ cup chopped roasted peppers (optional)
3 cups cooked beans (pinto, Roman, Navy, any kind you like)
3 teaspoons kosher salt ½ cup chopped parsley Freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a medium-large sauce pot. Add the onions and sauté over medium-high heat until they’re soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.Add the garlic and sauté another minute. Add the green pepper and sauté until it softens, about 3 or 4 minutes.Add the tomato paste and stir it in well. Mix in the chili powder. Cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Deglaze the pot with broth (and or beer/wine). Scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to get up any browned bits. Bring it to a boil. Add the remaining ingredients, except the parsley. Mix well. Bring it back to a boil, then lower the heat to medium-low, partially cover, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.Check for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, as desired. Stir in the parsley and serve.
Jalapenos are great chiles. They provide a little heat and a little chile flavor without blowing your head off. If you’re anything like me, eating a dish that’s too spicy numbs your palate and you can’t taste anything else. So, jalapenos are one of my favorite chiles to use because it’s low on the Scoville Scale.
If you’re not familiar with it, the Scoville scale was created in 1912 by Wilbur Scoville to measure the heat of chile peppers, indicated by Scoville Units. The more capsaicin a pepper has, the higher the Scoville Units. A jalapeno has 2,500 to 8,000 Units. Lower on the scale is the poblano, which has 1,000 to 1,500 Units. Cayenne peppers have 30,000 to 50,000 Units. A Scotch bonnet, one of the hottest peppers in the world, has 100,000–350,000 Units. Now THAT will blow your head off.
However, as much as I may like jalapenos, and as versatile as they are, there are only so many peppers I can use in a week. I have found that when I have an abundance of them (thanks to a backyard garden), pickling them is a great way to use them.
It’s incredibly easy to pickle jalapenos, and they can be used in so many dishes to add a special zing to it. Use them on burgers and sandwiches, in stews and chilis, in casseroles, and anything else you want to have a zippy flavor.
Easy Pickled Jalapenos
½ pound jalapenos 1 cup apple cider vinegar 3 large garlic cloves, sliced thickly 1 tablespoon kosher salt 1 teaspoon peppercorns 1 small carrot, sliced ¼-inch thick
Rinse and dry the jalapenos. Cut off the tops, then slice them into 1/4-inch rings.In a small-medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, garlic, salt, and peppercorns with 1 cup water.Bring the pot to a boil; lower the heat to a simmer.
Add the jalapenos and carrot, and simmer 2 minutes. Remove the pot from heat and let cool about 10 to 15 minutes.With a slotted spoon, transfer the jalapenos and carrot to a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid.Pour the brine into the jar, making sure that everything is submerged.Seal the jar and refrigerate for a week.
As we’re coming into the fall season—and I say that lightly because we’ve been having higher-than-normal temperatures for this time of year—we’re beginning to see the first offerings of the autumn harvests. A little.
Anyway, at my farmers’ market, I spotted cipolline, which are a specific kind of onion and very popular in Italian cuisine. I usually buy a batch and make cipolline in agrodolce (sweet and sour cipolline) for Thanksgiving. But since I spotted these way too early for the holidays, but couldn’t resist buying them, I decided to experiment with my recipe a little. The difference here is booze. I wanted to see what a little alcohol would do to the mixture.
The question was, what type of alcohol did I want to add? I debated between bourbon, vodka, and a liqueur. Ultimately, I went with apricot brandy. It gave the onions a sweet but—not surprising—boozy edge. In short, they’re really good. Give it a try.
Cipolline in Agrodolce (Sweet and Sour Cipolline Onions)
1 pound cipolline onions, outer skin removed 2 tablespoons sugar ½ cup apple cider vinegar ½ cup apricot brandy ½ teaspoon kosher salt ½ teaspoon peppercorns 1 bay leaf ½ teaspoon oregano
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the onions and lower the heat. Simmer for about a minute or two and drain. When the onions are cool enough to handle, trim them and peel off the tough outer layer.
Combine the sugar and ¼ cup water in a medium pot. Bring it to a boil; lower the heat and simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes.
Add the vinegar and bring to a boil again. Simmer until thickened.Add one cup water, the cipolline, and the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Simmer about 45 minutes.
Remove from the heat and let them cool. Transfer everything to a jar or sealable bowl and refrigerate.
Well, for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, summer is coming to a close. Garden aficionados are gathering up the final crops of their summer vegetables and herbs, and are preparing their autumn and winter larders.
But there’s still time to enjoy some summer savory dishes. Pick some tomatoes and snap off a cucumber (or get them at the farmers’ market) to make this simple, yet savory, classic dish. Plan one last picnic or barbecue, soak in the warm sun while it lasts, and serve this to hold you over until next year. Pretty soon, it will be time for pumpkins, fireplaces, and warm fleece blankets. And that’s a different kind of joy.
Summer Tomato-Cucumber Salad
1 cup cherry or pear tomatoes, halved ½ medium cucumber, sliced 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil ¼ teaspoon sea salt Freshly ground black pepper to taste Few leaves fresh basil
Place all the ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix well. Taste for seasoning and adjust, if necessary.
Serve at room temperature. You can make this a few hours ahead of time. Keep it stored tightly sealed in the refrigerator.
One of the dishes that I remember my mother always making is a cold potato and green bean salad. I considered it such a standard of my mother’s repertoire that I included it in my cookbook, Vegetarian Italian: Traditions. (That book, by the way, is now out of print, but those recipes, including the one below, are available in individual ebooks. This recipe appears in the volume called “Antipasti.”)Anyway, at the farmers’ market, I found one of my favorite things, purple potatoes. I bought some, not really knowing what I was going to do with them. Then, as I moved on down the stalls, I found wax beans, the yellow variety of green beans. I didn’t know what I was going to do with those either, but they were so beautiful, I bought a small bagful.Then I found chocolate tomatoes, which I can never resist (I’m not sure if it’s their color that draws me, or because they’re called “chocolate”). It then hit me what I was going to do with these ingredients—I would combine them to make what I consider to be a classic dish. I got a red onion, and I had the typical, and yet different, ingredients for this salad. You can most certainly make this dish with standard potatoes, ordinary red tomatoes, and average, everyday green beans, and it will be delicious. But using variations on these ingredients, such as the ones I suggest below, will give the dish just a little pop for a fun party or barbecue dish.
Wax Bean and Purple Potato Salad
2 lbs. purple potatoes 1 lb. wax beans, trimmed 1½ lbs. tomatoes ½ medium red onion, thinly sliced ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil 2 teaspoons kosher salt Freshly ground pepper to taste ½ cup olives (such as Kalamata, black cured, or Gaeta
Cut the potatoes as necessary so that the pieces are roughly the same size.Place them in a medium pot and cover them with water. Bring to a boil; lower the heat and simmer until tender, about 10 to 12 minutes (but start checking them earlier). Drain them in a colander and set aside to cool. When they’re cool enough to handle, peel and place them in a large bowl.Meanwhile, place the beans in a medium pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil; lower the heat and simmer until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes.Combine the potatoes with the beans, tomatoes, onion, oil, salt, and pepper. Mix gently. Add the olives and mix again. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed. If it seems dry, add a little more olive oil. Transfer the salad to a serving bowl and serve.