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Fennel and Tomato Pasta Salad with Balsamic Dressing

12 Jul

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Last year I admitted to you all that I am no fan of pasta salads. The gloppy, the soggy, the mayonnaise-laden bowls of unappetizing sadness. Man, I’m really coming down hard on pasta salad, aren’t I? It’s almost as though I have forgotten how there are good pasta salads out there, but, sadly, not enough people seem to know about them. I am to change that, which is why I come to you today, armed with this utterly tasty and crisp, fresh and flavorful pasta salad.

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Found long ago on Epicurious, I’ve been making a version of this pasta salad for a few years now. Though I don’t follow the ingredient list to the letter, one element of the salad that remains unchanged is the dressing. With a perfect balance of flavors, this is a pasta salad dressing to keep on file for the duration of your life, and preferably the lives of your offspring as well. Never again shall you be steered towards the unsavory land of bland, droopy pasta salad dressings, for this dressing will make you demand a change for the better.

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It’s not dressing alone that makes this dish a stand out, however. Folded together with piles of fresh, crisp vegetables, the measure of pasta to not-pasta is spot on. The original recipe called for tomatoes and thinly sliced fennel to adorn the salad, but I love adding in whatever I have on hand to make the flavors and textures a bit different each time. Sometimes I throw in roughly chopped spinach leaves, thinly sliced ribs of red and yellow bell pepper, or a couple of cups of baby arugula. One thing I never leave out, however, is the fennel. It’s a must-have in this dish, adding a crunch and flavor that is impossible to replicate with anything else. Add this pasta salad to your summer repertoire, and I think you’ll agree.

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Last Year: Grilled Pineapple and Jalapeño Salsa and Lime Pecan Bars

Fennel and Tomato Pasta Salad with Balsamic Dressing

Adapted from Epicurious

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 medium garlic cloves, finely minced

3 cups diced, seeded plum tomatoes

2 cups thinly sliced fresh fennel (from about 1 large bulb)

1 cup chopped fresh basil

½ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

6 green onions, white part only, chopped

½ cup coarsely chopped Kalamata olives

juice from 1 large lemon

salt and pepper to taste

1 pound pasta (penne or farfalle work well here)

optional: Instead of 3 cups of tomatoes, use 1 cup of tomatoes, 1 cup of sliced bell peppers, and 2 cups of chopped spinach leaves

also optional: ½ cup crumbled feta cheese

Whisk olive oil, tomato paste, vinegar, and garlic in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Combine tomatoes (if you’re using a combination of vegetables here, leave out the spinach leaves until you toss everything together with the pasta right before serving), fennel, basil, parsley, green onions, and olives in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss to combine, and allow vegetable mixture to stand at least 20 minutes, or up to 2 hours, tossing occasionally.

Cook pasta in a large pot of salted water. Drain, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, then toss and set aside to cool a bit. Toss every few minutes to keep pasta from sticking together, and to help it cool.

When cooled, transfer pasta to a large bowl. Squeeze over lemon juice, and toss to combine. Pour dressing over the pasta, and toss to combine. Add vegetable mixture, and toss once more. If using, toss in crumbled feta. Taste for seasoning. Add more salt and pepper if desired.

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Aloo Gobi Parathas

13 Jun

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As I may have mentioned before, my son does not like Indian food. Because of this, every Indian item I make tends to be focused on an effort to get my kid to at least taste it, and, in hope, want to eat more. Futile? Perhaps. But, believe it or not, when it comes to introducing my kid to the food of my ancestors, Indian food is the safer road to travel, being as though I am half Indian and half Scottish, and it seems much kinder to introduce parathas to an innocent child rather than force upon him the culinary horror that is haggis. Sheep’s lungs and liver boiled inside its own stomach, or flatbreads filled with potatoes and cauliflower? Parathas it is!

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The interesting conundrum about making Indian food for a child lies in the fact that Indian food is generally rich with spices and very particular flavors, and many children are instinctively put off by this. While it is not as though my kid will only eat pasta and baby carrots, he is definitely hesitant when it comes to the fragrant spices of an Indian dish. My only course of action in this situation is to tone down the spice quotient in recipes while also testing out ways to make them more appealing to the eating desires of a first grader. Because naan is always such a hit with children, it seemed only natural that parathas were next in line to be tested.

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The dough for these parathas could not be simpler. A mixture of whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, salt, and water, the dough requires little more than mixing, kneading, and resting, which leaves you a nice window of time to cook up the potato and cauliflower filling. I may be alone in feeling this way, but the next step—the rolling, folding, and rolling again—is one of my favorites.

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The rhythm of constructing each paratha while one simultaneously cooks on the stove is almost soothing to me, and there is nothing quite so satisfying as fortifying the work with a snack of fresh, hot paratha, working in bites in between rolling, turning, and cooking. Gently spiced cauliflower and potatoes folded into crisp flatbread is almost impossible not to love. Almost. Unless you are my son, in which case you will take a single bite of a paratha then turn away briskly, robotically intoning, “Don’t like it.” Alas, what one rejects, another embraces. None for him, but more for me. It’s not an entirely bad situation in which to be.

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Last Year: Multigrain Sandwich Bread and Chocolate Coconut Marble Cake

So many more Indian dishes can be found in the archives!

Aloo Gobi Parathas (Indian Flatbreads Stuffed with Potatoes and Cauliflower)

Dough:

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out the dough

1 teaspoon salt

¾ to 1 cup water

Filling:

1 medium potato (about 8 ounces)

½ a head of medium-sized cauliflower, cut into florets (about 8 ounces)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for cooking parathas

½ teaspoon mustard seeds

½ teaspoon turmeric

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 small jalapeno or other chile, finely minced (remove seeds and ribs before mincing to tone down the heat)

½ teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flours with salt. Stir the flour mixture while slowly pouring in the water. The dough should need not quite the full cup of water in order to come together as a cohesive dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead for around five minutes, until smooth and supple. If you are using a stand mixer, mix the dough together with the dough hook, then, when the dough comes together, knead for an additional 4 to 5 minutes, until the dough is quite smooth. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and allow to rest for at least 1 hour.

While the dough is resting, make the filling.

Boil the potato, still in its jacket, until it can be easily pierced through with the tip of a knife. Set aside to cool. Steam the cauliflower florets until soft, about 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a large skillet or wok set over high heat, add the vegetable oil and swirl it around until it covers the pan. Add the mustard seeds and cook for about 20 seconds, until they begin to pop and sputter. Lower the heat a tad, add the turmeric and garlic, and stir until the garlic is fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the chopped onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft and just beginning to brown, about 8 to 10 minutes.

While the onion is cooking, peel the skin off of the boiled potato, and add it, along with the slightly cooled cauliflower, to a large bowl. Mash the cauliflower and potato together using a potato masher or, if you have strong forearms, a fork.

When the onions have become soft and slightly browned, add the chile and stir to combine. Add the mashed potato and cauliflower mixture, sprinkle with salt, and continue to stir and cook until the mixture is completely combined. The filling should be quite soft, and only slightly tinged with brown in places. Remove the filling to the bowl in which you mashed the potato and cauliflower. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.

While the filling is cooling, prepare the paratha dough. Cut the dough in half, then into 8 pieces. Use your hands to flatten each piece into a disc. Coat each disc with a light dusting of flour. On a floured surface, use a rolling pin to gently roll each disc into a rough 8-inch round, setting aside and covering each circle as you roll it out. Do not turn dough over while rolling.

Spread 2 to 3 tablespoons of filling over one half of a dough round. Fold the bare half of the dough round over the filling, then fold in half to make a quarter-round wedge shape. Lightly pat the wedge flat, then gently roll it into a rough 8-inch round. Do not turn rounds over while rolling. Some filling will most likely sneak out the sides, but that is all right. Repeat with remaining dough rounds.

To cook the parathas, have ready a small bowl of vegetable oil of melted ghee. Heat a heavy cast iron skillet over high heat. When the skillet is hot, add a tablespoon of vegetable oil or ghee, and tip the skillet to coat it as much as possible. Lower the heat under the pan to medium-high, and place a paratha, top down, in the skillet. Cook for almost a minute, then turn the paratha over. Brush the surface of the paratha with a bit of vegetable oil of melted ghee, and cook for another minute and a half. Turn paratha over once more, and continue to cook for an additional 30 seconds, until the paratha is well spotted with brown patches on both sides. Remove to a plate, and cover to keep warm. Cook the remaining parathas in the same manner, adding another tablespoon or so of oil or ghee to the skillet in between each paratha.

Makes 8 parathas.

Roasted Sweet Potato Salsa

16 May

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Foods can oftentimes lead double lives. A cake can masquerade as a bread (there are many instances of this), a breakfast can go undercover as a dessert, or vice versa, and a salsa can brand itself as such, when, in actuality, what it really happens to be is a salad. A hearty, healthy, super satisfying salad.

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The ever-changing identity of this salsa is, I think, one of its best attributes. Introduced to me by my sister-in-law, one of the first things I remember thinking about this salsa was, “I want to smear this on some bread and pile arugula on top of it.” I often think things like this, which is what, I assume separates me from people who just eat food that tastes good and then leave it at that. Sometimes I see food and immediately want to turn it into different food, but not because I think the original incarnation of that food is in any way bad. On the contrary, I am driven to play around with said food because it is so delicious, so multifaceted, that I think it should be given the chance to shine in every way possible.

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A salsa like this, hearty with savory roasted sweet potatoes and onions, can be moved in several directions. With chunks of fresh avocado and tomato, it certainly works as an appetizer to be scooped up by tortilla chip, but, piled on top of a bed of greens, it would also make a great salad. You can fold in some black beans and take it to a potluck as a summer salad to share. You can, as I mentioned before, slather it on lightly toasted bread and top it with some arugula and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice. Of course, you can also eat it as is, with no tortilla chips, which is what I initially did after mixing it together, taking a taste, then discovering that I was finding it difficult to stop tasting. Because even though this salsa makes a great starting point for many different dishes, it also happens to be pretty darn fantastic on its own.

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Last Year: Mexican Chocolate Zucchini Muffins and Spicy Ginger Garlic Potatoes and My Favorite Raita

Roasted Sweet Potato Salsa

Adapted from an Everyday Food recipe shared by my sister-in-law

1 large sweet potato (about 1 pound), peeled and diced into small chunks

1 medium red onion, diced into small chunks

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium tomato, diced into small chunks

1 medium avocado, diced into small chunks

1 small jalapeno pepper, finely diced, ribs and seeds removed it you want to tone down the spice. Alternately, you can just add 1/8-¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes if you don’t have a jalapeno pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

¼ cup fresh lime juice (from about 2 limes)

sea salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. On a large baking sheet, toss together the sweet potato chunks, diced red onion, and olive oil. Roast in the center of the oven until the sweet potato is tender and browned in spots, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and allow to cool completely.

When sweet potato mixture has cooled, add tomato, avocado, jalapeno or red pepper flakes, cilantro, and lime juice. Season with salt and toss to combine.

Makes about 4 cups of salsa.

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