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Tag Archives: vegetarian

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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Roasted Cauliflower with Pine Nuts and Lemon Brown Butter Breadcrumbs

19 Nov

You read that right. Lemon brown butter breadcrumbs. Can you think of any other possible word combinations that manage to sound even half as heavenly? I have been sitting here for the better part of ten minutes, trying to think of something clever to offer up as a possible contender, and my mind is totally blank. Lemon brown butter breadcrumbs have become my new best friend.

As it turns out, lemon brown butter breadcrumbs are incredibly friendly little fellows, because they just so happen to be the perfect companion for roasted cauliflower, one of my all-time favorite vegetable side dishes. The simplicity of roasted cauliflower is nearly perfect on its own, but when paired with a sprinkling of deeply flavorful, crunchy, and nutty breadcrumbs, cauliflower rises to a whole new level of distinction. It’s a good lesson for me, really. Just when I think that I know exactly how I like a certain food to be, something new appears that completely changes the way I look at a food. Roasted cauliflower by itself is wonderful, but baked in a gratin or dotted with crispy breadcrumbs, it’s even better.

It’s no mistake that I am publishing this recipe this week, when people all over the country are getting ready to fire up their stoves and partake in a day-long marathon of cooking, baking, basting, and then, thankfully, eating. I have long thought that the very best part of Thanksgiving dinner is not the plates of meat that sit proudly at the head of a table, but rather the small plates and bowls that surround said meat. Eating a holiday meal made almost entirely out of side dishes is the most special of meals, in my mind, almost like an American version of tapas. What? Too much of a stretch? Mashed potatoes and bread-based dressing a little too far away from Spain to make that connection? All right, I agree. To a point. But, still, sit down to a serving of this heavenly cauliflower, a scoop or two of something savory and oh-so-autumnal, and a glass of wine, and it’s tough to muster up any reason why a meal shouldn’t be centered around a dish as fine as this one.

Last Year: Pear and Chocolate Bread Pudding

Roasted Cauliflower with Pine Nuts and Lemon Brown Butter Breadcrumbs Recipe

The breadcrumbs that adorn this dish are almost the same as a sauce polonaise, save for the fact that this version swaps out crumbled hard boiled eggs for briefly toasted pine nuts. If you are looking to make this dish more of a one-meal affair, adding a chopped hard boiled egg or two would certainly up its protein quotient, making it stretch a bit further towards being a complete meal on its own.

1 large head of cauliflower, leaves and core removed, florets cut into roughly 2-inch long pieces.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon minced shallots

¼ cup panko breadcrumbs (or other dry, unseasoned breadcrumbs)

¼ cup pine nuts

salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss cauliflower florets with 2 tablespoons of olive oil (I do this directly on the same heavy duty baking sheet I use to roast the cauliflower), then sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Arrange cauliflower on a heavy duty baking sheet, placing as many of the cut sides down as possible, then roast in the center of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until the cauliflower is deeply caramelized on the bottom and lightly golden on top.

While the cauliflower is roasting, melt the butter in a small skillet or pan over medium-low heat. When browning butter, it is always best to do so in a light-colored pan so you can closely gauge the changing of the butter’s color. Slowly cook the butter, swirling the pan around every few seconds so the butter cooks evenly. The butter will begin to foam, then spatter a bit, and then you’ll see the little dots of milk solids begin to turn brown at the bottom of the pan. This can take anywhere from 4 to 8 minutes, so be sure to watch the butter very carefully to keep it from burning.

When the dots of butter solids have turned a nice medium brown and the butter begins to emit a lovely nutty aroma, stir in the lemon juice. The mixture will spatter a bit, but that is to be expected. Immediately stir in the minced shallots, then cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots have softened (this should take 3 to 5 minutes). When the shallots have softened, stir in the breadcrumbs. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the breadcrumbs turn golden brown. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Remove breadcrumb mixture from pan. With the pan still set over medium-low heat, toast the pine nuts in the pan, stirring frequently, until they are golden brown all over, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Arrange cauliflower on a serving platter. Spoon breadcrumb mixture over the cauliflower. Sprinkle over toasted pine nuts. Add chopped parsley. Serve as soon as possible.

Roasted Cauliflower and Black Bread Gratin

1 Nov

Though I know these words will eventually (say, in May, when the temperature is 55 degrees and I am crying about the nonstop rain) come back to haunt me, I have to admit that I have been absolutely loving the chilly fall weather we’ve been experiencing around here. The morning fog, the hoodie I have to don each night to stave off the cold while reading in bed, even the torrential rain pounding against the windows—it’s autumn in Portland, and that means it’s time to break out the gratin dishes.

Not that one is prohibited from eating a warm, crisp-yet-soft gratin in the summertime, but a gratin in autumn is just so much more fitting than a gratin in the summertime. Of course, a lot this rationale of mine centers around what, exactly, makes a gratin in the first place, and, as with many things in the kitchen, the definition of a gratin is certainly up for debate. Traditionally, a gratin is a dish with a crunchy lid baked on top, that lid being, more often than not, bread crumbs, cheese, or a combination of both. The word gratin itself refers specifically to the crisp, crunchy bits left behind in a pan after baking, but, as most of us know a gratin, it means a baked dish itself, topped with something crunchy or cheesy, then baked into a state of complete heavenly bliss.

As far as gratins go, this one is low on the cheesy scale, but high on the crunchy bread factor. Big chunks of crisp, dense black bread get folded amongst roasted cauliflower, speckled with Parmesan cheese, and dotted with garlic, then baked into a warm, crisp mass of perfect autumn eating. If you’re in the mood for something a bit more decadent, you can up the cheese presence, even using something a bit more melty and gooey, like fontina. As it appears here, however, this gratin is a great balance of autumn comfort and roasted vegetable goodness. If I can somehow make all my meals as enjoyable as this one, the cold, rainy weather and I should be able to get along just fine.

Last Year: Ranchero Sauce and Mexican Rice, plus a few words on my unparalleled admiration of Tamra Davis

Roasted Cauliflower and Black Bread Gratin Recipe

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

4 cups cubed black bread (the densest, most flavorful black bread you can find–I used the leftovers from this enormous loaf of black bread)

1 large head cauliflower, core removed, head cut into medium-small florets

2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped

¼ cup chopped Italian parsley

¾ cup shredded or grated Parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

On a large baking sheet, combine bread cubes with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Toss the bread cubes to thoroughly coat with olive oil. Bake bread cubes in center of oven for 5 to 8 minutes, until the bread is crisp, but not hard. Remove bread crumbs from baking sheet and set aside.

On the same baking sheet, combine cauliflower florets with remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add salt and pepper, and toss everything to combine. Roast cauliflower in center of oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the undersides are well-browned and the tops are golden.

Remove cauliflower from oven, then, while still on the baking sheet, combine with toasted bread cubes, chopped garlic, and chopped Italian parsley. Carefully toss together to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Lower temperature of oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lightly spray or brush a casserole dish or baking dish (9” by 13” would be a good size, but I used one that was 10” by 7.5” and it worked out wonderfully) with olive oil. Add half of the cauliflower and bread mix, then sprinkle with ½ cup of the Parmesan cheese. Add remaining cauliflower and bread mixture, sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese, then bake in center of oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until the top of the gratin is crisp and golden brown.

Serve hot or warm, sprinkled with more chopped Italian parsley. Serves 6 to 8 people as a side dish, or 4 people as a main dish.

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