Zoodles and Crispy Tofu in Spicy Peanut Sauce


Zucchini noodles (zoodles) were one of the first things I planned to make when I got my spiralizer a couple years ago. And then I proceeded to spiralize potatoes, sweet potatoes, and beets many times for a number of recipes, but not zucchini. As much as I wanted to replace my pasta with zucchini noodles, I just couldn’t—it was a cooked zucchini texture thing.

Even with the suggestion of doing half pasta and half zoodles, I still resisted. It wasn’t until I came across a few recipes where you—wait for it—leave the zucchini raw, that I saw the zoodle light. They wouldn’t be mushy, they wouldn’t be soggy. It would be an al dente experience and I was on board!

Making just a few tweaks to this Pinch of Yum recipe, we’ve got a new summer favorite that’s quick enough to pull together on a weeknight and there are always leftovers for brown-bagging the next day. When packing your leftovers, keep the sauce separate and mix it in just before eating, otherwise the zoodles will absorb the sauce and you’ll lose the creamy sauciness that makes for a truly special dish. Enjoy!

Zoodles and Crispy Tofu in Spicy Peanut Sauce


Adapted from this Pinch of Yum recipe

One 15 oz. block of extra-firm tofu (I like Trader Joe’s organic)

1 tablespoon peanut oil

3-4 medium zucchini, ends trimmed (a combination of green and yellow zucchini looks especially nice)

Sliced scallions, for garnish

Sesame seeds, for garnish (I like the look of black sesame seeds, but white are just fine)

Spicy peanut sauce:
½ cup smooth peanut butter, preferably natural (or make your own, recipe here)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil (then add water to measure 1/3 cup)

1/3 cup tamari (wheat free) or soy sauce, reduced sodium if you have it

¼ cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons Asian chili paste such as sambal oelek

1 ½ tablespoons sugar

1 large clove garlic, peeled and minced

1 heaping teaspoon of fresh grated ginger root

To remove excess moisture from the tofu, place the tofu block between a couple layers of paper towels and set on a cutting board. Top with another cutting board and weigh it down with a large can of tomatoes or a couple cookbooks. Let sit for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile spiralize your zucchini and set it aside.

To make the spicy peanut sauce, place all sauce ingredients in a jar and shake until well combined.

Cut pressed tofu into bite-sized pieces. Heat peanut oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, add tofu to pan and cook one side of tofu pieces until golden, about 3-4 minutes. Turn pieces and cook another 3-4 minutes.

Add ½ cup of the spicy peanut sauce to the tofu and let simmer for a few minutes. Using a spatula, turn tofu pieces, scraping sauce and any brown saucy bits from the bottom of the pan. Repeat the simmer, turning, and scraping a couple more times until tofu is crispy brown.

To serve, place zucchini noodles in individual bowls and top each with a ¼ cup of spicy peanut sauce, stirring to coat the zoodles. Top with some tofu pieces, sliced scallions, and sesame seeds. Makes 4-6 servings.

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Pasta with Sausage, Sage Butter and Parmesan


A couple weeks ago I featured a pasta dish with some of the fresh herbs I’m growing. One I didn’t use then was sage. Having not done a lot with sage other than almost burn the house down during my first attempt at making a sage brown butter sauce, lessons were learned and I was now ready to ease back into that sage/butter combination, but with a lot less butter.

Initially a bit concerned with the amount of sage in this recipe, there was no need to be. In fact, the quantity I include below could even be increased if you’d like. Using a modest amount of butter adds to the creaminess of the finished dish, but doesn’t make it overly rich. The addition of the freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano adds a comfort food factor, with no heaviness.

Fresh greens, either from your garden or the farmers’ market, dressed with homemade vinaigrette, would be a wonderful first course. Enjoy!

Pasta with Sausage, Sage Butter, and Parmesan

Adapted from this Mark Bittman recipe

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 ounces pasta, such as ziti or penne, preferably whole wheat

3 to 4 ounces Italian sausage, chopped (I used Trader Joe’s Sausage-less Italian, one link)

2 tablespoons butter

About 20-30 small to medium fresh sage leaves

½ cup or more freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Zest of half a lemon

Freshly squeezed juice of half a lemon

Bring a large pot of water to a boil; generously salt it. Cook pasta until it is tender, but not quite done.

While pasta water heats, brown sausage in a small pan until done. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a skillet large enough to hold the cooked pasta over medium heat. Add butter and sage leaves. Cook until butter turns nut-brown and sage shrivels, then turn heat down to low.

When the pasta is just about done, scoop out about ½ cup of the cooking water.

Drain the pasta. Immediately add it to the butter-sage mixture, stir in the sausage, and raise heat to medium. Add about 1/3 cup of the pasta water and the lemon juice; stir. Cook for about 30 seconds, or until some of the water is absorbed and the pasta is al dente.

Stir in cheese and lemon zest; the sauce will become creamy. Thin it with a little more reserved pasta water if necessary. Season liberally with salt & pepper to taste, and serve immediately. Sprinkle with more cheese if you’d like.

Penne in Herbed Yogurt Sauce

Penne in Herbed Yogurt Sauce
With us having prime growing weather lately, my patio herbs are going nuts and needed a good trim, so dinner featuring fresh herbs was a no-brainer. Tangy Greek yogurt and whole wheat pasta seemed like good vehicles for an herby dish and what’s not made better by buttery garlic and onions?

This meal comes together quickly so is perfect for a week night. Add a glass of chilled rosé and any stress from your work day will melt away while you recharge with a fresh and light supper, ideally al fresco. Enjoy!
Basil and Mint

Lemon Thyme

Fresh Herbs

Penne in Herbed Yogurt Sauce

Inspired by this Food.com recipe

10 oz. penne pasta, preferably whole wheat (I love Trader Joe’s organic)

2 tablespoons butter or non-hydrogenated margarine, divided

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, cut in small dice

¼ teaspoon salt (plus more salt for the pasta water)

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

¾ cup Greek yogurt at room temperature (I used 2%)

½ cup chopped fresh herbs, such as mint, basil and lemon thyme (parsley and regular thyme would work too)

Freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large pot of generously salted water to boiling. Cook pasta in boiling water according to package directions. Drain and return to pot.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon butter or margarine and the olive oil in a cast iron or other heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, add onion and salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions begin to brown, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 3-4 additional minutes. Remove from heat and add remaining tablespoon of butter or margarine and stir into onion-garlic mixture until it melts.

Toss drained pasta with yogurt. Add onion-garlic mixture and pepper to taste. Mix well. Stir in fresh herbs. Transfer to a serving platter. Makes about 4 servings.

 

Lemon Ricotta Stuffed Pasta Shells

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Whenever I see a photo or recipe for stuffed pasta shells, I think of my late Great Aunt Betty. Betty was my grandma’s youngest sister and lived in the far-off land of Los Angeles with her husband and kids. We took a family road-trip to visit them the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of high school, along the way camping in the mountains of Wyoming, a hotel night in Las Vegas, and on the return trip home, driving through California’s wine country and a stop in San Francisco, a city that stole my young heart.

In LA, we stayed with Aunt Betty and Uncle Tom and they and my cousins took us unsophisticated Midwesterners sightseeing to the worldly locales of Knott’s Berry Farm, Magic Mountain, Tijuana, Universal Studios, and beautiful sandy California beaches. But the best memories from that trip aren’t the roller coasters, bargaining at Mexican market stands, movie sets, or the Pacific Ocean. Me being me, aside from getting to spend time with extended family, the best memories are of the food Aunt Betty made. Specifically her stuffed pasta shells and Napoleons. This 14-year-old was uber impressed with both and we got the recipes so Mom could make them back home. The wonderful flavors are forever imbedded in my mind.

Recently  I saw a recipe for stuffed pasta shells on Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks, and thought back to Aunt Betty and her recipe. It wasn’t vegetarian, so maybe Heidi’s version could take its place? Yes, indeed!
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I’ve been cooking with whole wheat pasta almost exclusively for years, but have yet to find a source for whole wheat or whole grain jumbo pasta shells, even after searching ginormous supermarkets, my co-op, and online. Ultimately I opted for a package of unique (non-whole wheat) lumache giganti found in the Italian section at said ginormous supermarket. In retrospect, regular jumbo shells would have been better vehicles for stuffing, but I love the way these “snail” shells cook to a perfect al dente that held its toothsome bite even after baking.

To Heidi’s quick and simple tomato sauce I added some dried herbs for a little more depth and also sautéed some onion and spinach to include in the filling. Both Pete and I had to really hold ourselves back from eating till our bellies burst. A stuffed shells recipe that even outdoes Great Aunt Betty’s. Next time I might tackle Napoleons! Enjoy!
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Lemon Ricotta Stuffed Pasta Shells

Adapted from 101 Cookbooks Stuffed Shells

 

Zest of one lemon, divided

Sauce:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the pan

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more if you like lots of heat

1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

4 medium cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 28-ounce and 1 14-ounce can crushed red tomatoes (San Marzano, if you can find them)

1 teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon dried marjoram

Filling:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

½ large yellow onion, chopped

3-4 big handfuls fresh spinach, chopped

1 15 or 16 ounce container good quality ricotta cheese

1 egg, beaten

1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

1 cup grated mozzarella

Additional:
About 25-30 jumbo dried pasta shells or lumache giganti (if you can find them)

½ cup freshly grated parmesan

A couple tablespoons sliced scallions, green part only

Lightly oil a 13 x 9-inch baking pan and sprinkle half the lemon zest over the bottom of the pan. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boiling, and preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

To make the sauce, combine the olive oil, red pepper flakes, sea salt, and garlic in a cold saucepan. Stir while you heat the saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook only about 45 seconds or so until everything is fragrant – you don’t want the garlic to brown. Stir in the tomatoes, oregano and marjoram and heat to a gentle simmer, just a minute or two. Remove from heat, taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Set aside to cool.

For the filling, in a medium sauté pan, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chopped spinach and cook several more minutes until spinach is wilted and soft. Set aside to cool a bit.

In a medium bowl, lightly beat the egg, then add the ricotta and salt and mix to combine. Stir in the mozzarella and remaining lemon zest, followed by the onion-spinach mixture. Set aside.

Cook the shells according to package instructions the boiling, salted water until barely al dente. If you overcook, the shells will tear as you attempt to fill them. Drain and let cool long enough to handle.

Spread 1/3 of sauce across the bottom of the prepared pan. Fill each shell with ricotta mixture, and arrange in a single layer in the pan. Ladle the remaining sauce over the shells, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with the parmesan, and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes or until the shells are cooked through. Sprinkle with sliced scallions. Serve hot.

Mushroom Lasagna with Butternut Squash Sauce

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It’s been many years since I’ve made the main Thanksgiving meal, but this year I have the honor.  And of course, being vegetarian, Thanksgiving dinner at my house is anything but traditional. I remember one year making what essentially was a pile of veggies and seitan in a delicious sauce, covered with puff pastry, then baked (it was sort of supposed to resemble the shape of a turkey). It was a huge hit, but sadly, I didn’t keep the recipe and have never been able to find it, despite endless Google searches.

This year, the usual hosts are going to another side of their family for the big celebration, so we, I’m happy to say, will take over the hosting duties for the rest of the family. With a busy schedule leading up to the holiday, basing our meal around a entrée that won’t require a ton of advanced prep time and will allow me to actually participate in the appetizers and drinks part of the party, is important.

That’s the nice thing about lasagna. You can prep all the ingredients ahead of time and pop it in the oven while you and your guests enjoy time together before sitting down to dinner. The only extras needed are a salad and maybe some good quality bread; no menagerie of side dishes required. But not a conventional lasagna. I want something seasonal, with butternut squash and mushrooms, that isn’t too rich.

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Don’t forget to roast the seeds!

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I looked at a lot of recipes and most had a béchamel or white sauce in place of the typical tomato, which can be heavy. The recipe I chose to adapt replaces the béchamel with a squash sauce that is amazing! The lemon zest just takes it over the top and makes for a truly unique and memorable (in a very good way) dish.

It’s also a very adaptable recipe. You can change the cheese if you can’t find Gruyere, change up the mushroom variety to what’s accessible, and use any hearty green. You can even add some veggie sausage if you want a more robust meal. I made a half recipe in an 8 x 8 pan as a taste test and it’s definitely holiday company-worthy, and I’m quite sure no one will miss the meat. Enjoy!
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Mushroom Lasagna with Butternut Squash Sauce

Adapted from this recipe
Can easily be halved and cooked in an 8 x 8 pan—cooking time remains the same

1 pound no-boil lasagna noodles, preferably whole wheat

2 to 2 1/2 pound butternut squash (or 2 pounds chopped squash)

Extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1 large bunch chard, kale, or beet greens, washed, ribs/stems removed and cut into thin ribbons

1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

½ pound oyster mushrooms, cleaned and broken apart

3 cloves garlic, finely minced

1/4 dry white wine

1 cup milk (between 2% and whole), plus additional if needed

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Zest of one medium-sized lemon

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves, plus extra for the top of the lasagna

2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese

½ cup shredded parmesan

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Peel and seed the squash, then cut into 1-inch cubes and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast for 40 minutes or until soft, tossing a couple times to ensure even cooking. Remove from oven and set aside to cool a bit.

While the squash is cooking, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat in a 10-12-inch frying pan. When the oil is hot, add the mushrooms. Cook without stirring until brown, about 5 to 7 minutes. Turn them over and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the chopped chard leaves and the white wine and cook until the greens are tender and wilted. Turn off the heat and season the vegetables lightly with salt and pepper.

Place the cooled squash into a large bowl and add 1/2 cup milk, the nutmeg, lemon zest and thyme. Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture, adding the remaining milk as you go (this can also be done in a regular blender). Add extra milk if necessary to make the sauce smooth and creamy, but not too thin. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Lightly oil or butter a 9×13-inch baking pan. To assemble the lasagna, spoon about 1/4 of the butternut sauce into the bottom of the prepared pan and spread to thinly coat the bottom. Place 1/4 of the noodles on top and then spread 1/3 of remaining sauce on noodles. Top with 1/2 of the mushroom/greens mixture, and 1 cup of Gruyere cheese. Add another layer of noodles, then sauce, then the rest of the vegetables, and the remaining Gruyere. Top with the final layer of noodles and spread the last 1/3 of the sauce over top. Sprinkle evenly with the parmesan and a pinch of thyme leaves.

Cover the lasagna with foil and bake at 375°F for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the top is golden and the cheese is gooey. Remove from the oven and let stand uncovered for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting and serving. A nice green salad and some good bread make this a meal.

Cauliflower Alfredo Pasta with Roasted Mushrooms & Brussels Sprouts

Cauliflower Alfredo Pasta with Roasted Mushrooms & Brussels Sprouts

Cauliflower Alfredo Pasta with Roasted Mushrooms & Brussels Sprouts

Supper tonight was a delicious and relatively quick (less than an hour from start to finish) dish incorporating a few farmers market and grocery store finds I wanted to use up before we head to the cabin later this week for a fall trip to paradise. You could vary the roasted vegetables to what you have on hand or to your liking too—carrots, golden beets, onion, all would be good.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Mushrooms

Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Mushrooms

You can’t go wrong with the Brussels sprouts, portabella & hen of the woods mushrooms, along with cauliflower I had on hand. I was going to roast all and do a pasta with an olive oil sauce, but then I thought of doing a cauliflower Alfredo. Similar in taste to traditional Alfredo, but dairy-free, with cauliflower being the main ingredient. I think I’ve eaten traditional Alfredo sauce once in my life and with it being way too rich for my liking, never again. Plus, it feels like my arteries are clogging just reading the ingredients. This version is just as flavorful and extremely healthy.

Creamy Cauliflower Alfredo

Creamy Cauliflower Alfredo

Both Brussels sprouts and mushrooms rise to new culinary heights when roasted and are perfect with the creamy sauce and whole wheat pasta. It’s comfort food that satisfies without the guilt. Enjoy!

Cauliflower Alfredo Pasta with Roasted Mushrooms & Brussels Sprouts

½ pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved, if large

½ pound assorted mushrooms (I used hen of the woods and portabella), cleaned and cut into bite-sized pieces

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 small head cauliflower

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 ½ cup milk of choice (I used almond)

½ cup nutritional yeast

Juice of one lemon

1 pound whole wheat (or gluten-free) pasta (elbows, fusilli, penne), prepared in salted water, according to package directions, drained and returned to pot to keep warm

Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place Brussels sprouts in a medium bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt & pepper, to taste. Transfer to a large baking sheet, place cut side down. Put mushrooms in same bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt & pepper, to taste. Transfer mushrooms to baking sheet along with the Brussels sprouts. Spread out so as not to crowd the vegetables. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until veggies are tender. Keep warm.

Meanwhile, remove leaves and core from head of cauliflower and roughly chop into like sized pieces. In batches, process in food processor until the consistency of rice. Put cauliflower “rice,” along with minced garlic, in a microwave safe, non-plastic container and microwave uncovered for 8 minutes, until cooked.

Transfer cauliflower-garlic mixture to a food processor or blender. Add milk, nutritional yeast, lemon juice and salt & pepper and process/blend until completely smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Transfer sauce to a large saucepan and heat over medium heat until warm.

Mix warm roasted veggies into cooked pasta and toss. Then toss with most or all of the cauliflower Alfredo sauce. Serve in pasta bowls, garnished with chopped parsley, if desired. Makes 6-8 servings.

Carrot Top Pesto

Big bowl o' pasat
On Sunday while stocking up on produce for my first foray into kimchee making (more on that in a future blog post), I saw the freshest looking bunch of carrots, complete with lovely green tops still intact. I’m always drawn to carrots displayed that way rather than the trimmed and packaged ones, even though each time I end up cutting off those pretty tops and throwing them away, and feeling terrible about it.

This time was different. A little voice out of nowhere said, “Make carrot top pesto and stop being so wasteful!” And so I did. And I’m happy I did. And Pete is happy I did.

I made it pretty much the same way I’ve made pesto with other green stuff, not expecting to be wowed by it, but surprisingly, carrot top pesto is a wonderful thing! Last night we had it over whole wheat spaghetti with some red onion, grated carrot and red and gold cherry tomatoes. The flavor of the carrot greens is subtle and I think that allowed the other ingredients to not be overshadowed like they tend to be with the bolder flavor of basil or arugula.

In addition to serving with pasta, this pesto would be great on roasted veggies, taters, as a spread for a hearty sandwich, in scrambled eggs, drizzled in a hot bowl of soup, as a pizza sauce—there are unlimited ways! Have fun with it!
Spoon full of pestoPlated Pasta

Carrot Top Pesto

1 tightly packed cup carrot top leaves (stems removed)

½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted

1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Place carrot top leaves, walnuts, garlic, lemon juice and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until combined. With food processor running, add olive oil in a slow, steady stream and process until smooth. Taste and add more salt, if necessary. Keeps for a day or two tightly covered in the fridge. Enjoy!