Friday, March 25, 2016

Spring Green Pasta

Last Year's Post: Citizen Public House Chopped Salad
Two Years Ago:   Lentil Salad with Bacon and Walnuts

Pasta Primavera is a great classic spring dish filled with bright vegetables.  The standard version often has a cream-based sauce which seems counter to the light, fresh feeling of the dish - a fragrant basil pesto seems better suited to the spring spirit.  I decided not to call this Pesto Pasta Primavera, however, because that level of alliteration seemed pretty annoying.

The good news is that you can make this dish before spring vegetables are actually available locally, using fresh produce from the store.  Then you can make it again using produce from the local farmer's market in a month or two.  I like the fact that it's vegetarian, but you could certainly add some cooked chicken or turkey if you want.  It's a fast, easy and healthy dish to get you in the mood for spring - you just do a fast vegetable saute while the pasta is cooking.

About the pesto: feel free to make your favorite recipe or buy some at the store.  A friend of mine introduced me to Costco's pesto sauce, which is excellent but like everything else at Costco comes in a large jar.  I divided it up between smaller containers and froze most of it - pesto keeps very well as long as it's thawed in the refrigerator and not the microwave.  Be sure to go light on the pesto at first while you toss everything together because you want it to be a fairly light coating on the pasta.  You can always add more if you want.

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Spring Green Pasta
Serves 4

8 ounces sugar snap peas
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 leek, white and light green parts only, chopped
1 small zucchini, diced
½ cup frozen peas
1 bunch thin asparagus spears, stalks diced, tips left whole
1 pound linguini pasta
½ cup prepared pesto
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.  Drop the sugar snap peas in the water for 15 seconds, then remove with a mesh strainer and immediately place in a bowl of ice water.  (Do not discard the boiling water.)  When the sugar snaps are completely cool, drain and pat dry, then cut into thin pieces on the diagonal.

Cook the pasta in the boiling water according to package directions, then drain.

While the pasta cooks, add the olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the leek and sauté for a minute or two, then add the zucchini, peas, and diced asparagus stalks.  Sauté for 2-3 more minutes, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are crisp-tender.  Add the asparagus tips and sauté for one more minute. Remove the skillet from the heat.  Add the drained pasta, sugar snaps, and sautéed vegetables back to the pasta pot and toss, adding some of the pesto at a time, until the pasta is coated to your liking (it should be lightly coated).

Serve in shallow bowls topped with Parmesan and coarse black pepper.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Vietnamese Chicken Salad

Last Year's Post:  Lemon Chicken Teriyaki Rice Bowl
Two Years Ago:   Filipino Chicken Adobo

I seriously love the bold, clean flavors of Vietnamese cuisine, and I equally love that it typically emphasizes more veggies and less meat - just the way we're supposed to be eating.  This salad is a great example:  big flavors, plenty of veggies, and a little bit of shredded chicken that's treated as a garnish rather than as a big heavy chunk of meat.  The Chinese cabbage, carrots and peanuts give it plenty of crunch and substantial volume.  Plus it's pretty.  And easy.  What more could you want?

If you buy a roasted chicken breast at the store, prep will take about 20 minutes tops - it's mostly chopping, plus you have to soak the rice noodles.  The salad is served at room temperature and makes an easy and healthy dinner any time of the year.

If you're not familiar with Chinese cabbage, it may also be referred to as Napa cabbage and looks like this.

You can find rice noodles in the Asian section of any grocery store, and ditto with the fish sauce.  Don't be scared of fish sauce - it adds some underlying pungency to Vietnamese dishes but it's not fishy.

This is a great example of eating healthy while still having a pretty special meal.

print recipe
Vietnamese Chicken Salad
Serves 4

For the dressing:
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 2 limes (about ¼ cup)
¼ cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar

For the salad:
3-4 ounces dried rice noodles
1 cooked chicken breast, bones removed and meat shredded
1 red or green jalapeno, stemmed, seeds removed, thinly sliced
4 cups shredded Chinese (Napa) cabbage
1 ½ cups shredded or julienned carrot
½  cup shredded fresh basil
½ cup shredded fresh mint leaves (plus extra for garnish)
1 cup coarsely chopped peanuts
1 lime, cut into thin wedges

Combine all dressing ingredients in a small bowl, whisking to dissolve the sugar.  Set aside.

Prepare the rice noodles by placing in a medium bowl and covering with boiling water.  Let stand 10 minutes, then drain.  Toss with 1/3 of the dressing.  Toss the cabbage with another 1/3 of the dressing. 

Combine the shredded basil and mint in a small bowl.  Divide the rice noodles, cabbage, carrot and shredded chicken among four shallow bowls.  Top with jalapeno slices, fresh herbs, peanuts, lime wedges and additional mint leaves for garnish.  Drizzle with the remaining dressing and serve immediately.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Cabbage and Spring Onion Tart

Last Year's Post:  Mushroom & Pea Risotto
Two Years Ago:   Sausage Rolls with Mustard Cheese Dipping Sauce

Before you turn up your nose at the idea of a cabbage tart, let me tell you that I'm not all that huge of a cabbage fan either.  It's just so cabbage-y.  But when cabbage is slowly cooked down it turns into something wonderful, both tender and sweet.  Paired with mild spring onions and nutty Gruyere cheese, it makes an excellent tart for a vegetarian lunch or dinner.  It somehow seemed appropriate for this time of year because the cabbage gives it a vaguely St. Patrick's Day feeling and the spring onions make it sound like spring.

If you're not familiar with spring onions, they're halfway in size between green onions and full-sized onions.  They're also called Mexican onions and have a relatively mild flavor.  If you can't find them, green onions or leeks would work just as well.  I just liked the idea of spring onions.

The recipe calls for blind-baking the crust, which means you bake it before filling it and baking it again.  That ensures the crust is golden and crisp.  Just be aware that the blind-baking and cooling of the crust will add an hour of prep before you fill and bake the tart.

OK, so this isn't the best picture in the world (the red thing in the upper left is my rolling pin) but I was trying to show a tip for how to neatly cut the extra edges off a tart crust by rolling over them with a rolling pin.

The original recipe from the New York Times called for 1/2 medium cabbage, shredded.  I was basically lazy and bought coleslaw mix that included a few shredded carrots which I figured only added to the nutrition.  I pawed through the bag and tossed out any really big pieces of cabbage before cooking and it worked great.

Cabbage and Spring Onion Tart
Serves 4-6

1 refrigerated or homemade pie crust dough
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped spring onion
1 pound shredded coleslaw mix (or shredded cabbage)
½ teaspoon caraway seeds
2 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
2/3 cup milk
3 ounces Gruyere, grated

For the crust:
Preheat the oven to 400d.

Ease the dough into a 9” tart pan with removable bottom, pressing onto the bottom and fluted sides of the pan.  Place a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil in the tart pan, making sure to press it into the fluted edges of the dough.  Fill the foil-line crust with pie weights, dried beans or uncooked rice.  Make sure the weights cover the entire bottom of the crust. Bake for 15 minutes, then check to see if the crust is ready by pulling up one corner of the foil.  (If it sticks, put the crust back in the oven and check every two minutes until the foil doesn’t stick.)  Carefully remove the foil and weights and put the crust back in the oven for 10-15 minutes until light golden brown.  Remove and cool on a wire rack.

For the tart:
Preheat the oven to 350d.

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet and add onions.  Cook, stirring often until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add a generous pinch of salt and continue to cook 3 to 5 minutes until beginning to color.  Add cabbage and cook, stirring often, until cabbage wilts, about 5 minutes.  Add another pinch of salt and caraway seeds and continue to cook for another 10 minutes until cabbage is sweet, very tender and lightly colored.  Tasted, adjust salt, and add freshly ground pepper.  Remove from heat.

Beat the eggs and egg yolks together in a medium bowl.  Set the tart pan on a baking sheet.  Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the bottom of the crust with some of the beaten egg and place it in the oven for 5 minutes to seal the crust.

Add ½ teaspoon salt, pepper and milk to remaining eggs and whisk together. 

Spread the cabbage and onion in an even layer in the crust.  Sprinkle cheese evenly over the top.  Slowly pour the egg custard over the filling until almost to the top of the crust (you may not need it all – do not overfill).  Place the tart, on baking sheet, in the oven and bake for 35 minutes until set and lightly browned.  Remove and allow to sit for at least 10 minutes befo

Friday, March 4, 2016

Baked Oatmeal

Last Year's Post:  Chicken and Mushroom Gratinate
Two Years Ago:   Chicken Parmesan with Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce

Everyone knows that oatmeal is really good for you, but it's tough to make on a weekday.  I've tried a slow cooker overnight version, but that resulted in a gooey soft mess after cooking so long.  Baking the oatmeal in advance not only solves the problem, but it also gives the top a nice brown crispness while the inside remains tender.

If you bake the oatmeal the night before, it's easy to reheat single servings in the toaster oven or microwave so you could even bring a container to work.  Health food at work!  What a concept.  It might seem that the recipe really won't result in the number of servings listed, but oatmeal is very filling.  I made a half recipe and it truly was four servings.  OK, maybe three if you're really hungry.

Although the recipe calls for bananas as a bottom layer I'm not overly fond of the texture of cooked bananas so I substituted some fresh raspberries I had on hand to supplement the frozen wild blueberries.  Feel free to use any single fruit or combination of fruits that you like, and the same for the nuts.  And although the recipe suggests using a sweetener such as maple syrup I made it without any sweetening at all and was very pleased with the result.  It's important to add something on top when it's served, however, since oatmeal can be a bit dry.  Vanilla yogurt works well, as would milk if you serve it in a bowl.  Of course, warm maple syrup would be fabulous.

If you wanted to be a little fancy and serve it for a brunch, you could bake the oatmeal in individual ramekins and serve it topped with a few fresh berries alongside little individual pitchers of maple syrup or cream.  Yum.

Baked Oatmeal
Serves 6-8

Note: Feel free to substitute your favorite in-season berries or any other fruit, and your favorite nuts.

2 cups/7 oz rolled oats (not instant)
1/2 cup/2 oz walnut pieces, toasted and chopped
1/3 cup/2 oz natural cane sugar or maple syrup, plus more for serving (optional)
1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Scant 1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
2 cups milk
1 large egg
1.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 ripe bananas cut into 1/2-inch pieces (or additional berries)
1 1/2 cups/6.5 oz huckleberries, blueberries, or mixed berries
Vanilla yogurt, optional

Preheat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the top third of the oven. Generously butter the inside of an 8-inch square baking dish.

In a bowl, mix together the oats, half the walnuts, the sugar (if using), the baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.  In another bowl, whisk together the maple syrup (if using) the milk, egg, half of the butter, and the vanilla.

Arrange the bananas in a single layer in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle two-thirds of the berries over the top. Cover the fruit with the oat mixture. Slowly drizzle the milk mixture over the oats. Gently tap the baking dish on the countertop a few times to make sure the milk moves through the oats. Scatter the remaining berries and remaining walnuts across the top.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the top is nicely golden and the oat mixture has set. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. Serve with optional sugar, maple syrup, or vanilla yogurt on top.

Can be made ahead; reheat individual servings in a toaster oven or microwave.