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No-Bake Summer Squash Gratin (Sort of)

I meant to post this in August, but since some of us are still experiencing summer heat in September, and the markets still have summer squash (so. much. zucchini!), it seems fitting even now. I’m certainly happy not to be turning my oven on yet.

Squash Gratin For One:

  • 2 small to medium zucchini and/or summer squash
  • small onion or scallion
  • cheddar, grated, about 1/4 cup or more (I say more)
  • basil or thyme or parsley (fresh not dried)
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed a bit
  • breadcrumbs, about 1/4 cup (I based on the amount of squash, so use your judgment)
  • Splash of white wine or dry vermouth (the white one)
  • butter and olive oil

What to do:

Grate one of the squash and dice the other one. Or grate them both, if you prefer. I liked the difference in shape and texture but it is not mandatory. Just a bit of fun. Thinly slice the onion/scallion. Continue reading

Simple Summer Salad

Hot weather often leaves me reluctant to do any cooking, stove or no. So a steady fallback is the cucumber. Cucumber salad has so many possible variations , and this one is substantial enough to make a good lunch or dinner.

Cool cucumber salad with chickpeas:

  • One or two medium English cucumbers (European style has thinner skin and fewer seeds), or slicing cucumbers
  • 15 oz or larger can of chickpeas
  • sprigs of fresh parsley (optional) or perhaps mint or chives
  • white wine vinegar or rice wine vinegar, or a bit of both
  • mirin
  • walnut oil
  • salt

Peel the cucumber – I like to leave a few thin stripes for visual appeal. Cut cucumber into chunks (this is to match the chickpeas in size, approx). So, I cut it in half, then halve that, then half again and then slice into half-inch slices.

Rinse chickpeas and toss with cucumber slices in a bowl. Add chopped herbs.

Mix the dressing. I like a bit more vinegar, but use the  oil-to-vinegar ratio you prefer. I mixed white wine and rice wines vinegars here and added a splash of mirin, plus salt and a little bit of Spanish smoked pepper. Overall I had about 1/4 cup dressing or so. If you have more cucumbers and chickpeas, make more dressing as needed. Toss dressing and veggies, let stand in fridge for 10 minutes or so. Serve with a good crusty bread or a cheese tortilla aka quesadilla (fresh from the skillet).

Classic Broccolini Pasta

This is makes a good dish for the transition from winter to spring.

What you need: a bunch of broccolini (or a stalk or two of broccoli), one or two garlic cloves, some olive and walnut oil, a bit of dry vermouth or white wine (or water), red pepper flakes, and spaghetti.

Method:
Cut the thicker stems of the broccolini into small pieces and boil them along with the pasta. Chop the rest of the broccolini into bite-size pieces. While the pasta cooks, saute the broccolini pieces in about 1 -2 Tbs of olive and/or walnut oil over medium heat.

After 5 minutes or so, add minced garlic, then add a good splash of vermouth, cover the pan and turn the heat down a bit; let things steam. Add red pepper flakes towards the end of cooking, along with a pat of butter to finish (optional). Also optional: adding some chopped walnut or almonds.

Finally, add the drained pasta and stems to the pan, along with a splash of pasta water, stir to combine evenly. Salt and pepper to taste; serve with Pecorino or Spanish cheese or Parmesan.

Comfort Food: Roast Cauliflower

If you’re looking for a simple but comforting meal that can warm you up on cold night, you really can’t go wrong with roasted cauliflower. Apart from breaking down the head into smaller pieces, which can get a bit fiddly what with little florets flying around, roasting cauliflower is one of the easier dinners I can think of. Which is probably why you can find endless variations of it, and it’s been widely noted that cauliflower, when roasted, is nutty and delicious. The interesting thing is what you toss it with, once you’ve reached the desired state of caramelized nutty crisp deliciousness. Pairing roasted cauliflower with tahini sauce is a classic by now (see the Washington Post’s featured recipe, which is where I first encountered the idea), but you might also consider almond oil.

Take one small to medium head of cauliflower (or about half of one if it’s just you), break it down into smaller florets and pieces, coat with about a tablespoon or so of olive oil, and roast at 375  to 400 degrees.

Toss the roasted cauliflower with almond oil (again about a tablespoon or so, to taste), some chopped garlic chives (or chives, or parsley), and a bit of lemon tahini dip such as this one from The Kitchn (a combo of sour cream, tahini, lemon, apple cider vinegar, tamari, garlic – I left off the za’atar spices – that makes for a very good partner to any roasted cauliflower). If you have them, toss in some roasted almond slivers too. I really think it was the almond oil that made this dish such a hit for me.

Quick Hit: Fusilli and Peas (Secret Sauce)

Aka, how to make a quick, velvety pea sauce.

This is very easy, and I didn’t really measure anything. Take some frozen peas (about 1 cup), and gently heat them in a pan with a little pat of butter and a tablespoon or two of water, or chicken or veggie broth. Once the peas are defrosted, blend them with some crumbled feta. I used my stick/immersion blender but you could do this in a food processor too. Taste as you go so you get the right balance of sweet and salty – I think I used about 1/4 cup feta or less. I also added some sriracha to taste.

Use this sauce on fusilli or other ridged pasta (rigatoni or cavatappi perhaps). You can liven it up the next day for lunch by adding a few Sungold tomatoes (the little sweet orange ones), halved or whole, to the pan when you reheat the pasta and pea sauce.

Basic Bread Salad

Looking for a quick dinner and a good way to use up any slightly stale bread you have? The magic word is “Panzanella” – also known as bread salad. You can go basic on this and leave out the scallions and herbs if you don’t have those around. If you don’t have fresh tomatoes, try a bit of tomato sauce. Or leave it out entirely, and use a bit more olive oil.

I used about a quarter of a baguette-type bread loaf (it was a bit larger and softer than the classic French baguette), sliced. Continue reading

Summer Pesto Salad

This makes a nice dinner but also a good cold salad to take to potlucks, BBQs, and picnics.

For the pesto sauce:

  • A bunch of “cooking greens” – assorted leaves of kale, chard, etc.
  • 1/2 cup walnut halves (broken down into smaller pieces)
  • the green parts of 2 scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 clove garlic
  • 1/3 cup (about) grated Parmesan or Gran Padano
  • olive oil (good kind for salads, not for cooking)

Cut or tear the green leafy part off the stems (de-rib), and then into smaller pieces. Steam (or sauté quickly, if you prefer) the greens for about 5 minutes, until sightly limp. Chop up walnuts and garlic. Add greens, garlic, nuts, and scallions into food processor. Blend while adding olive oil until the mixture becomes smooth. Add in the grated cheese (unless using the pesto later), and mix together. Continue reading

Spring Fling: Cavatappi with Green Asparagus

After many months of winter squash, stored potatoes, and nothing green except kale and cabbage, I’m always particularly excited when the first spring produce appears at my farmer’s market (radishes! asparagus! scallions!). Since these portents of the new growing season also stick around into June, I don’t feel too bad for letting this entry sit around since early May. So even though it’s now almost summer, and we have the mugginess to prove it, here is a quick dinner to help you celebrate that first tender green asparagus. I’ve been making variations of this for a few weeks now.

Note: Cavatappi are a sort of corkscrew-looking pasta that look a bit like someone took a penne noodle, stretched and then twisted it. They hold all sorts of sauces well, and small lengths of asparagus can snuggle into their twists.

What’s involved: Continue reading

Quick Hit: Orecchiette Olio

Olio: a happy mix of various items. In this case, sort of like a pasta potpourri, a miscellaneous medley of delicious items, combined into a harmonious whole. This one also works as a cold salad the next day for lunch.

  1. Cook the orecchiette pasta according to package directions. The small “ears” indentations work well to hold the peas, etc. but other small shapes like farfalle or elbows would also work here. I used about a cup (dry pasta, maybe 4 oz), but adjust as needed to feed more people.
  2. You can cook the peas right along with the pasta. About a 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup should do well. If they’re fresh, wait to add them to the water until the pasta is nearly cooked. The frozen peas could join immediately or go in for the last 5 minutes or so. I’m still experimenting with that, so do whatever works best for you.
  3. While the pasta cooks, chop 2 -3 scallions (depending on size and how much you like them).
  4. Before draining the cooked pasta, reserve some of the pasta water for later.
  5. Toss the hot orecchiette and peas with the chopped scallions, about 15 oz of chickpeas, either canned (rinse those well first) or cooked from dried chickpeas (if you can plan ahead and have these on hand) and some crumbled feta cheese, about 1/4 cup. Add a bit of the reserved pasta water (start with 1 Tbs) to make a bit of a sauce. Add more if things seem too dry.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm, or let cool to room temperature or serve slightly cold the next day.

 

Green Bean Salad Surprise

The surprise here being just how good this salad turned out to be, considering I was simply tossing a bunch of things together to have a quick picnic to take out to a Thursday-night Fort Reno Park show. This was the perfect meal for sitting out on the grass in the evening sunlight, watching the gathered crowd, the families, and the romping dogs, marveling how velvet summer air can be when the usual July humidity lifts its suffocating embrace, and listening to some great music.

The take-away here is that it really is useful to have some prepped ingredients on hand, like par-boiled green beans. I had prepped these fresh green beans a day or two before, snipping the ends and cutting the longer ones in half to get a more even size distribution. Then I boiled them in salted water for about five minutes, or until just tender. You could also steam them, in which case you might want to salt them to taste before putting them in the fridge for later use. Continue reading