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the pastabilities are endless ( and a giveaway )

June 28th, 2012 | 21 Comments »

In moving past the continual consumption of meat with our meals, it brings to light an entirely new way of going out to eat, as I’m left wondering how up to date any restaurant will be with their meatless options. There are those places that soar, offering a wealth of meat-free entrees that dazzle, while others places rely on pasta dishes as their sole vegetarian fare.

Pasta isn’t bad, mind you. I do enjoy it. But these days, having just a pasta dish or two with vegetables as your meatless menu offering is pretty unimaginative for a restaurant.

But that being said, pasta has it’s virtues.

Hodgson Mills Pasta is running a recipe contest on Pinterest and I’m participating with this recipe. Are you on Pinterest? There’s a special page for Hodgson Mills that has all the recipe entries on it. 

I’d appreciate a vote if you’re so inclined. There are some pretty nice prizes. You must go to the page linked above to vote. Pinning this recipe from my blog won’t count.

And Hodgson Mills was nice enough to offer $25 dollars of assorted pasta to one lucky winner from my blog. That’s a lot of pasta! All you need to do to enter is leave a comment on my blog stating your favorite way to prepare pasta (US residents only, with a valid mailing address, please) You have until Thursday July 5th to leave a comment and be entered for the giveaway. I will choose one commenter through Random.Org and contact you via email, so be sure to leave that information. Hodgson Mills will ship directly to you.

Do you love your pasta rich and cheesy? How about chock full of rich tomato sauce and italian sausage? Plain with simple garlic and olive oil? I’ve been enjoying Hodgson Mills whole wheat pasta with summer fresh pesto and grilled vegetables, and creating this recipe was a deliciously fun way to use up a huge box of basil that I’d been given. Food gifts are the best, aren’t they?



Summer Pesto Pasta with Grilled Zucchini

1-lb Hodgson Mills Bow Tie Pasta
2 medium zucchini
1/4 c. olive oil
2 T. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 t. prepared spicy mustard
1 c. prepared pesto (or make your own from scratch, method included)
Fresh Cherry tomatoes, optional

Prepare zucchini:
Heat gas grill on high for 10 minutes. Just prior to cooking, reduce heat to medium-low and brush grill grates with canola or other neutral oil. Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice and prepared mustard; set aside. Wash zucchini thoroughly and trim off root end. Slice zucchini the long way into three strips about 1/4″ thick. Brush with the mustard oil and place, oiled side down on prepared grill grates. Cook without moving for 5 minutes. Using tongs, carefully turn zucchini over and continue to cook until tender, about 7-10 minutes more. Remove from grill and set aside to cool. Cut zucchini in to bite sized pieces.

For the Pesto:

4 cups loosely packed basil leaves
1/3 c. olive oil
2 T. shredded parmesan cheese, plus more for finished pasta.
2 T. pine nuts (optional)
1 T. kosher salt
1 t. fresh cracked black pepper

Place all ingredients in the work bowl of a 2-quart food processor. Process in pulses until thoroughly combined, adding more olive oil if needed and scraping down sides as necessary. Scrape prepared pesto in to a bowl and press plastic wrap over the surface to prevent discoloration.

In a 6-quart stockpot, bring water to a boil. Add pasta and salt, if desired. Cook pasta until just al dente. Reserve one cup of the cooking water, drain pasta and place back in the stock pot. Add half the pesto to the hot pasta. Drizzle in a little of the cooking water and stir to combine, adding in a bit more cooking water if needed. Add more pesto if needed, along with the cooking water until it’s to your preferred consistency. Stir in the grilled and chopped zucchini and more parmesan cheese, if desired. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Chill pasta for up to an hour before serving, or overnight if desired. Taste prior to serving to adjust for seasoning, and add sliced cherry tomatoes for garnish and color.


simple meals

May 1st, 2011 | 7 Comments »

We’re trying so hard to go full steam ahead in to Spring. But around here, it seems like Mother Nature just wants to tease us, here with a lovely day then a blast of cold and rain, then yet another lovely day, then once again cold, and more rain. Lakes, streams, ponds, rivers and especially the people are overflowing their limits. We’ve had enough. Bring us the sunshine please, and for more than just one day.

So here we are, the first day of May. Our expected high likely won’t even reach 50 degrees. It feels weird to offer you a delicious crispy flatbread recipe, topped with a rich verdant pesto and some sassy caramelized onions because instinct is telling me to braise something hearty and warm. But it’s May and I refuse to get out my cast iron dutch oven anymore. In fact, I sure hope it got cleaned well the last time I used it because I’m desperately trying not to get reacquainted with it until October.

So, let’s move on to this, shall we?

This was actually a recipe covered on this site back in November of 2009. For most of the year previous to that, I’d made this simple and delicious herb flatbread about a half dozen times for various meals, or really, even to just snap a piece off here and there to snack on. It’s ridiculously easy, it tastes amazing and it works for so many meal options, especially something very simple like being topped with fresh pesto, a smattering of caramelized Vidalia onions and several dollops of goat cheese. Run that under a broiler for a few minutes and the simplest meal is yours, delicious and light, packing a flavorful Spring-like medley for your mouth.

Every day I’m at work I pass a display of enormous Vidalia onions. It’s set up right by the entrance for easy access, and every day I see them I think about this flatbread, those golden burnished onions and the deep dark green of this pesto. I’ve experimented with lots of greens for pesto, and two of my most favorite ones are beet greens or spinach. Beet greens make the most earthy, dark and appealing pesto, and spinach offers a lighter, fresher touch. When fresh spinach is available at the Farmers Markets by the bucketful, I will buy several loads of it and make pesto, freezing it for future use.

I’ve done large batches of caramelized onions, slicing up to four of them at a time and slowly cooking them down to a glittering golden mass. They’ll keep in the fridge for up to a week, and you can freeze them too. The pesto freezes beautifully as well, or simply use your favorite commercial brand to make it even easier. A batch of this flatbread comes together in no time, so you can get out to find the sunshine.

Well, whenever it comes back, that is.


Herb Flatbread

1 3/4 c. unbleached flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1-2 T. fresh herb of choice
1/2 c. water
1/3 c. oil

Heat oven to 450° with a pizza stone on middle rack. Combine dry ingredients and herbs. Make well in center and pour in oil and water. Stir with spoon until a soft dough forms. Turn out onto parchment paper and knead about 5-6 times to bring dough together. Can be divided into 2-3 small balls and rolled flat, or rolled out as one large circle. Drizzle olive oil over top, sprinkle with sea salt and more herb and transfer, parchment and all to heated stone. Bake until browned in spots and fragrant- time will depend on how thin dough is rolled. Remove from oven and cool (don’t cool on stone- it will continue to bake). Slice with pizza cutter and enjoy.

Recipe from Gourmet magazine


Spinach Pesto

4 c. washed spinach leaves, stemmed
1/3 c. olive oil
3 T. toasted pine nuts
1 clove fresh garlic, chopped

Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth, scraping down sides as needed. This pesto can be frozen for quite some time with only minimal loss of flavor. Do not add cheese to pesto if planning to freeze, otherwise, add to taste your preferred hard cheese.


Pine nuts are ungodly expensive right now. I love subbing cashews in pesto for the meaty flavor, and have dabbled with the idea of using almonds too, as they’re my favorite nut. And instead of using traditional parmesan in my pesto, I love the addition of Manchego or Trugole, which is really similar to Asiago, only creamier and with a milder taste.

Glorious Greens, part 2

July 15th, 2009 | 6 Comments »

So you want to hear something that sounds a little weird to me? I like beets, and not only do I like beets, but I absolutely LOVE beet greens. I think I can officially be called a grown-up now. I think….

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Anyway, why is this such a revelation? Due to the fact that just a few short years ago, I couldn’t be persuaded to even consider the beet, it stands to reason that for me to kindly elbow my way to the front of my favorite Farmers Market organic vendor and snatch the last bunch of his bi-colored beets off the table is little short of miraculous. What’s more miraculous is that he is but one of only a few vendors that I see at my local weekly stops that A) actually has beets other than red ones, B) has beets with stunningly gorgeous greens and C) has beets with the green still attached, period.

Why farmers hack off those nutrient rich leaves I’ll never know. Beet greens are nutritional powerhouses, chock full of Vitamins A, B-6 and C, antioxidants like beta carotene and lutein and they are full of fiber, zinc, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and iron. There’s no saturated fat and no cholesterol in beet greens, and with a quick saute and a few seasonings, you get a delicious option for your plate. A cup of greens will set you back a measly 10 calories or so.

I recently experimented with Spinach Pesto, much to our delight (and Griffin’s chagrin) and so it wasn’t without much thought that I considered another go-round of Pesto with the slowly growing pile of beet greens that I was accumulating. A quick search for recipes or methods turned up little on actually making a Pesto with the greens, and not like it’s much to consider what with a food processor, some good olive oil, a little garlic and a few seasonings, that I would be well on my way to a glistening dish of green goodness without much of a recipe to follow. Pesto is pesto…. the method is still the same.  I knew the greens couldn’t be used raw like spinach can, so I decided a quick sauté was in order.

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I decided to use caramelized leek and garlic as a good base for this pesto, something that would have a lot of flavor to stand up to the commanding taste of the beet green. After a slow saute to a deep golden brown, I dropped the beet greens into the same pan, stirring and tossing them with the hot leeks, and watched carefully to get them to a point of losing their crunchy texture, but not so far as to make them fully cooked. I left them dark green with some toothsome bite, then scraped them onto a baking sheet to cool. The whole thing was placed in the food processor, with olive oil, kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, then whizzed to the perfect consistency.

Wow. This is one amazing flavor, let me tell you. Perfect for pasta, as would be expected, but also good for spreading on my favorite herb flatbread and topping with an array of roasted and julienned beets, a drizzle of good herb vinaigrette and a sprinkle of nuts.

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Perfect Herb Flatbread

1- 3/4 c. AP flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2-3 T. fresh herb of choice
1/2 c. water
1/3 c. good quality olive oil

Heat oven to 450° and place a round baking stone in oven.

Blend dry ingredients, including herbs together in a bowl. Slowly add water and oil and blend until a somewhat stiff dough forms. Turn out onto parchment paper and knead gently about 4 or 5 times to pull the dough together. Roll into a large 10-12″ circle with a rolling pin, sprinkle with sea salt and a drizzle of oil and place, with parchment, on heated stone. Bake for about 8-10 minutes or until browned in some spots. Remove from oven and cool. Do not leave on baking stone or it will continue to bake!

Dough can be divided into smaller portions and rolled out separately to smaller circles.

If you don’t have a baking stone, place the dough (on the parchment) right onto the rack of your oven. It may come out a little rippled.

I roasted these beets, wrapped in foil and in a 400° oven until they were nice and tender. The skins slip right off once cooled and they keep for several days in the fridge.

Glorious greens and Spinach Pesto

June 8th, 2009 | 4 Comments »

Maybe I was a rabbit in another life. Or maybe it’s just my normal summertime affliction, but greens have dominated my meals as of late.

What fuels this obsession, and it can certainly be called one, is the availability of the ‘live’ lettuce heads my grocer has started carrying. I found these last summer and the love affair was ignited like an inferno; a big bunch of varied lettuces are packaged with the root ball intact. They can be planted and grown at home, or like I do, simply chopped off at the root, washed and held in the fridge. The amount of lettuce one gets in these offerings is grand, the quality is terrific and the price is exceptional, a bargain if there ever was one. I’ve bought two at a time and happily dug into their depths for countless meals, relishing the ease, the taste and the light fare. The bonus is that it’s a locally grown product by Minnesota’s own Bushel Boy.

Still, I’m chomping at the bit to get into Market season, where farmers by the score sell buckets of fresh lettuces for insanely cheap prices. A dollar gets me a five-quart buckets worth of fresh lettuces, almost more than I can manage, but that never seems to stop me. Once June is ever-present and the weather beckons me to other options, ones that don’t include standing over a stove, having fresh greens in the fridge gives me endless options for meals. I’m satisfied to have a plate of leafy goodness that hides all sorts of other crunchy vegetable options, a grain and legume for protein with a simple squeeze of a fresh lime and a dash of balsamic, and maybe a piece of chicken for Griffin to help his carnivorous cravings. With these offerings, and a few decent salad dressings, my young man surprised us all recently, including himself, when he ate a grilled chicken salad with amazing gusto and exclaimed  “That was the best salad I’ve ever had. And I never expected to use the words ‘best’ and ‘salad’ together ever!!”

Well, neither did we, and it was an awfully nice thing to hear.

So it was with great anticipation that I awaited the start of one of my favorite local satellite Farmers Markets and drove towards it with excitement. Imagine my disappointment when the normally over-crowded parking lot where it is held instead was home to just about half a dozen vendors, with only one selling any type of green stuff. I felt like a slowly deflating balloon, but shouldered on, purchasing a sackful of organic spring greens, spinach and radishes. At least it was a good start, and while I was heading back home with my goodies, the sack of spinach, crammed full of dark green curly leaves, gave me the idea of making Spinach Pesto and then dinner was born.

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Pesto is a favorite around here, well- of the adults anyway. A few summers in the past, I had a garden bounty of basil that I turned into approximately 20 cups of pesto that I coveted in the freezer for months to come.  I’ve been slow to experiment with other forms of pureed greens, but no more; this spinach pesto, combined with some remaining roasted red peppers that I found in the fridge, was so light, delicious and flavorful that now the craving for pesto, in any form, can be squelched with nary an effort outside of cleaning a bounty of my favorite leafy green.
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And it turned a plain box of pasta into a superb weeknight meal.

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Spinach Pesto
by Kate

4 c. washed spinach leaves, stemmed
1/3 c. olive oil
3 T. toasted pine nuts
1 clove fresh garlic, chopped

Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth, scraping down sides as needed. This pesto can be frozen for quite some time with only minimal loss of flavor. Do not add cheese to pesto if planning to freeze, otherwise, add to taste your preferred hard cheese.

For the Pasta-
Heat water to cook pasta.

I diced two ripe tomatoes and sliced a medium shallot. Sautè the shallot in olive oil, in a deep sided pan, until soft and starting to turn slightly golden. Reduce heat and add tomato, cooking over low heat until it begins to break down only slightly. Stir minimally.

When the pasta is ready, lift all the pasta with tongs straight from the cooking water and into the saute pan. Stir to coat with the tomato mixture, then spoon in about a half cup of the prepared pesto. Using a little of the pasta water, thin the pesto slightly and toss to coat. Add more pesto if so desired. Top with grated cheese and toasted pine nuts and season to taste.

I stirred about a cup of chopped spinach leaves into this as well for a little more color and texture.

Simple Tip of the Day:
When you use spaghetti for a pasta dish, do you break apart the strands before placing them in the boiling water? Does tiny shards of broken spaghetti fly all over the kitchen?

Try this instead:
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Leave the pasta in the box and bend the box over the edge of your counter. All the broken pieces stay in the box, eliminating the annoyance of finding them scattered around your kitchen for days to come. Also, if you salt your pasta water, pour the salt directly into the box with the pasta while you wait for the water to boil. That way, you’ll never forget to add it.

Pesto Magic!
Pesto is so endlessly versatile. Have you ever stirred pesto into burger meat? It’s one of my favorite ways to use it. The oil helps to keep the meat moist and it gives the finished product huge flavor. Griffin won’t eat pesto on pasta, but when I turn the remains into a grilled and fragrant burger, he spares no restraint in consuming it without question.

Pesto is also wonderful in a grilled cheese. We didn’t get around to utilizing this method with the spinach pesto this time, even with wonderful Jalapeno Cheddar bread available as a base, but in the foreseeable future, I’m pretty certain this will be dinner.

Spread some pesto on slices of french bread, a pocketed ciabatta or crusty semolina sesame and sprinkle a little grated hard cheese over the top. Try something different than parmesan or asiago- maybe manchego?- and then place the slices under the broiler for a few quick minutes. Watch carefully! This is an excellent appetizer. Thick slices of fresh tomato can also be spread with pesto and cheese and broiled to a sizzling snack.

Roasted vegetables get a nice enhancement from being served with pesto, especially potatoes.

Pesto salad dressing is wonderful. A tablespoon or two can be added to your standard oil/vinegar mix, or thinned slightly and simply tossed with your greens.