Salad

Israeli Couscous with Grilled Vegetables 

Israeli couscous is one of my favorite grains for a few reasons – it’s incredibly quick (coming together in less than 15 minutes), it has a unique, fun texture, and it’s almost impossible to mess up. For those of you that are like me and constantly fight for rice to be fluffy but not-to-wet and soggy, Israeli couscous might be here just in time to save the day. The special part about this grain is that it behaves more like pasta than anything else, so it will maintain its texture no matter how much water you add. Just be sure not to overcook it!

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In this dish, Israeli couscous is mixed with all of my favorite vegetables, cooked somewhat painstakingly over the grill until just tender. The key to easing the grill process here is to quarter the vegetables and cook them in large chunks, dicing them up for the salad later. This makes the vegetables easier to turn over, and drastically reduces the number of vegetables sacrificed to the hot coals.

This recipe is very flexible, and different ingredients can be swapped in and out depending on what you have on hand. Don’t like asparagus? Try eggplant instead. Like onions? Go ahead and throw them in. I encourage you to use your creative license here to make this dish your own!

Israeli Couscous with Grilled Vegetables (adapted from The Food Network)

Ingredients:

  • 2 zucchini, quartered lengthwise
  • 2 summer squash, quartered lengthwise
  • 2 red peppers, quartered and seeded
  • 12-14 spears of asparagus
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 3 cups Israeli couscous
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • Couple of handfuls of basil, chopped

Vinaigrette:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients. Add a generous amount of salt and pepper, as this will be your main source of seasoning in the recipe.
  2. Cut all veggies according to the directions and add them to a large bowl. Pour half of the dressing on top. Let veggies marinade for ~15 minutes, if time allows.
  3. Remove veggies from the marinade and place carefully on the grill. Cook veggies until just tender, and remove from the grill. Cook cherry tomatoes in a grill pan designed for outdoor grilling (or use something similar, depending on what you have available).
  4. Make couscous: Add broth and water to a stockpot and bring to a boil. Pour in couscous and cover; let simmer for about 10 minutes, or until couscous appears tender but retains its texture.
  5. Once veggies have cooled, cut them into 1/2 inch chunks and toss into the couscous. Add remaining vinaigrette slowly, until salad is sufficiently dressed (based on your taste).
  6. Serve and enjoy!
Dinner · Vegetarian

Ratatouille Spaghetti

Even though the temperatures this week undoubtedly hint at fall, the vegetables at the farmers market still speak of summer. Nothing makes me happier than the colors and flavors of tomatoes, summer squash, corn, and eggplant, and I’m happy to extend their season way into September.

This brings me to one of my favorite recipes, ratatouille.  This success of this dish is rooted in its components – bring together all your freshest summer vegetables, throw them in a pot, and you’re sure to get a winning result.

What’s more, the cooking directions are entirely informed by sturdiness of the vegetable. Curious where to start? Eggplant is notorious for its long cooking times, so why not saute it in a batch by itself. Ready to move on? Add in your peppers and onions, which typically take about 5-7 minutes to begin breaking down. Follow up with your summer squash and zucchini, since both vegetables have relatively similar textures and will cook at about the same speed. Top the dish off with your tomatoes and continue cooking until the flavors and fresh and sweet – you’ll know it’s ready when you taste it!

A few tips: chop your vegetables so that they are fairly comparable in size. This will help to control cooking times, ensuring that each vegetable is cooked through (but not overcooked!). In addition, don’t forget your seasonings. Salt and pepper go a long way with fresh summer vegetables, and the basil adds a special last touch.

Ratatouille Spaghetti (adapted from Alice Waters’ recipe at Food 52)

Ingredients:

  • 2 Japanese eggplants, cut into 1/2 inch slices
  • 1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 summer squash, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 red pepper, cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup corn kernels (from one ear of corn)
  • handful of basil, chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • olive oil
  • cooked spaghetti, for serving

Instructions:

  1. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat in a sturdy skillet. Once hot, add eggplant slices and saute until lightly browned and softened, about 7-10 minutes. Remove eggplant and set it aside.
  2. Heat another tbsp olive oil and add in the onions. Stir for 5 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add in the garlic, 1/2 the basil, and red chili flakes and stir for 30 more seconds.
  3. Add in the diced red pepper and stir for a few more minutes. Once slightly softened, add in the zucchini and summer squash. After 2 to 3 minutes more, add in the tomatoes. Salt and pepper as needed and cook for 10 minutes over low to medium heat (tomatoes should not come to a boil).
  4. Add corn and eggplant to the skillet and cook for 10 more minutes, or until all vegetables are softened and flavorful. Top with remaining basil and serve over spaghetti or pasta.

Serves 2-3

Dinner · Vegetarian

Butternut Squash, Kale, and White Bean Stew

Lately, temperatures in the teens and single digits have encouraged me to spend more time in the kitchen. With plenty of ingredients on hand and time to spare, I’ve had the chance to try a handful of recipes that take longer than I’m usually willing to spend over the stove.

This winter stew is one of my latest creations. It’s a combination of some of my favorite winter vegetables, including kale, squash, root vegetables, and beans. The end result is both colorful and hearty; the perfect thing to eat when the temperature drops below freezing.

squash stew

The key here is to roast the squash and carrots in the oven before adding them to the stew with the rest of the ingredients. The roasting process allows the vegetables to caramelize while cooking, bringing out their natural sweetness. I also went for a broth that was tomato-based rather than broth-based, making the stew thicker and more flavorful than similar recipes.

Butternut Squash, Kale, and White Bean Stew Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 small butternut squash, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 3 carrots, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 cups whole tomatoes, with juice (from a 28 oz. can)
  • 1 bunch lacinato kale (about 8 leaves)
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp basil
  • salt, to taste
  • olive oil
  • 32 oz. vegetable broth

Instructions:

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss butternut squash and carrots lightly in olive oil and spread on a sheet pan lined with foil. Roast 25-30 minutes, or until squash is tender when poked with a fork.
  2. Heat oil in a medium saucepan. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add garlic, and cook for 1-2 minutes more.
  3. Chop whole tomatoes and add them to the saucepan. Add thyme and basil and let simmer.
  4. after 5-10 minutes, remove half of the tomato liquid. Place it in a blender and puree for 30 seconds.
  5. Add tomato mixture back to the saucepan. Pour in vegetable broth and bring back to a simmer. Add in kale and cook for 30 minutes at a gentle simmer.
  6. Add white beans, squash, and carrots. Cook until heated through and serve.
  7. Makes 6-8 servings.
Dinner · Vegetarian

Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna

My favorite thing to cook for big groups is lasagna.  Especially in the winter, lasagna is the perfect comfort food for cold nights.  So, when a few people came over to watch football this weekend, I knew immediately what to put on the menu.

lasagna cooked

I have a few reliable recipes that I go to time and again (especially this one with butternut squash and mushrooms), but I wanted to try something new. I also wanted a seasonal recipe, which is inarguably difficult to find in the middle of January.  Without popular fillings like summer squash, eggplant, and asparagus, I decided to go with mushrooms, onions, and spinach. I also left out the ricotta, which makes the lasagna less traditional but a bit heartier and more filling.

ingredients

To really improve the flavor of my lasagna, I did two major things.  The first was to cook my own tomato sauce, which is pretty easy (it only takes about 10 minutes) and tastes much better than the jarred stuff from the store.  The second was to vary up the cheeses in my recipe, going beyond the typical mozzarella and Parmesan combination.  I ultimately chose to include Gruyere and Pecorino, adding a sharp and salty flavor to the cheese layer.

making the lasagna layers

A few notes: I’m a huge fan of no-boil noodles, but you have to be careful.  Make sure to coat them thoroughly in sauce, otherwise they won’t soften up during baking.  Also, feel free to swap in other veggies.  In the future, I plan on trying variations with broccoli, cauliflower, and eggplant.

Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna Recipe (inspired by Cooks Illustrated)

Ingredients:

  • olive oil
  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar (optional)
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 15 no boil lasagna noodles
  • 1 pound mixed mushrooms (button, crimini, and portobello), sliced or chopped
  • 1 pound frozen spinach (or fresh), thawed
  • dried herbs (I used thyme and oregano)
  • red pepper flakes
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 8 oz mozzarella, grated
  • 6 oz Gruyere, grated
  • 2 oz Pecorino Romano, grated
  • 3 oz Parmesan, grated

Instructions:

  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees and grease a deep 13 x 9 baking dish.
  2. For the tomato sauce: In a large skillet, heat 1-2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat.  Add half the minced garlic (about two tbsp) and swirl around the pan for about a minute.  Add crushed tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Bring to a steady simmer and let cook for 10 minutes, or until thickened.  Add 1/2 cup water, red wine vinegar, and tomato paste.  Simmer for a few minutes longer to meld flavors and then remove from heat.
  3. For the vegetables: Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large skillet. Add onions and let cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add mushrooms and remaining garlic and sauté for 5-7 minutes, until mushrooms are fully cooked and most of the liquid has evaporated.  If there is still liquid in your pan, strain mushrooms to remove as much liquid as possible.
  4. Place thawed spinach in a large colander and squeeze to remove excess liquid (Don’t skip this step! If you do, your lasagna will be too wet). Combine spinach and mushrooms in a large skillet or bowl. Set aside.
  5. For the cheese layer: In a small bowl, mix together the mozzarella and Gruyere.
  6. To assemble: Coat bottom of the 13 x 9 pan with a light layer of olive oil and 1/2 cup tomato sauce.  Place three noodles on top, making sure that they do not touch the edges of the pan.  Cover the noodles with 1 cup cooked vegetables, 1/2 cup sauce, and 3/4 grated cheese mixture, 1 tbsp Pecorino, and 1 tbsp Parmesan. Place three noodles on top, and continue repeating layers of vegetables, sauce, and cheese three more times.  When you get to the top layer, lay down three more noodles, remaining sauce, remaining cheese, and 2 tbsp Parmesan.
  7. To bake: Cover lasagna with foil and bake for 25 minutes.  Uncover and bake for 15 minutes more, until top is browned and bubbly.  Remove and let cool for 5-10 minutes.
Dinner

Bucatini all’Amatriciana

bucatini

Looking at the picture, you might be confused and think, “This looks like just another pasta with red sauce.” If you did, you’d be partially right.  The dish is just as simple when it comes to ingredients, and it takes about the same amount of time.  But, there are a few things here that separate it from the pack:

1. The pancetta. This was the first dish that I ever cooked with pancetta, and I have to say I was skeptical.  Post-dinner, I can tell you that the pancetta makes a huge difference in the dish.  Instead of being just ordinary pasta, the pancetta turns this recipe into one of my go-to “nice meals” to cook at home.

2. The bucatini.  Before cooking this, I had never heard of this pasta type.  It’s essentially a mix between spaghetti and penne, and the end product reminds me a bit of a twizzler.  I bought mine at Eastern Market, where this great stand sells tons of fresh pasta in all shapes and sizes. If you’re in DC, I definitely suggest stopping by (but try not to get distracted by all the other stands, otherwise you’ll stay far longer than you planned).

Bucatini recipe

Bucatini all’Amatriciana Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 3 oz. pancetta, sliced and cut into thin slivers
  • 1/2 an onion, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 2 cups crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 pound fresh bucatini
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Pecorino romano for serving

Instructions:

  1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet and add sliced pancetta. Cook until browned and then remove from the pan.
  2. With pan still over medium heat, add onions and garlic and saute until translucent.
  3. Pour tomatoes into the skillet.  Bring them to a boil and let simmer for 15 minutes (the longer the better with sauces). During the last 5 minutes, add pancetta back to the sauce mixture and stir to mix the flavors.
  4. Bring water to a boil.  Cook fresh pasta for 2 minutes (or follow package directions if they are different).  Drain in a colander.
  5.  Once sauce is finished, add pasta into the pan and cook for 1 minute, or until the pasta is fully coated with sauce.
  6. Serve on two plates and top with freshly grated pecorino cheese.
Dinner · Vegetarian

Homemade Pizza

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My first attempt at homemade pizza was a complete flop. My friend decided to make it using a bread maker, assuming that the huge machine would make the process rather foolproof. But, boy were we wrong.  When we went to remove the dough after kneading, the entire thing was a liquid mess.  We tried as hard as we could to mold it into some semblance of a pizza, but it just wasn’t meant to be.  To salvage the meal, we cooked up a quick batch of penne and topped it off with our prepared pizza sauce and chopped veggies.  While there was no nicely bubbling crust or melty mozzarella cheese, we were still happily full.

After that experience, I pretty much gave up on making my own pizza dough.  I found a local shop that sold it pre-made, and that became my go-to way of hosting a pizza party. I still experimented with homemade sauces and fancy toppings, but the dough was not something I was eager to try again.

Recently, however, I had a renewed desire to make my own dough.  My coworker always talked about how easy it was, and I wanted to get over my fear of yeasty doughs.  So, I googled a dough recipe, took out my KitchenAid mixer (definitely instrumental in this process), and got to work.

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In just a few steps, I wound up with a stretchy, fluffy, perfect dough.  The dough rose perfectly within two hours, held up to some pretty aggressive shaping, and served as a great vehicle for all my toppings.

The sauce here is also wonderful.  The great thing about pizza dough sauces is that they don’t have to be cooked (since they’ll be baked in the oven for at least 10 minutes), so they can be whipped together very quickly.  Feel free to experiment with the herbs (or use fresh ones), but definitely give it a try!

Homemade Pizza Recipe 

Ingredients

For the dough (recipe from Simply Recipes):

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour (spooned and leveled)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar

For the sauce (adapted from Peter Reinhart):

  • 16 oz. crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • dash of ground pepper
  • 1/ 2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar

Toppings (these were great, but feel free to use whatever is in the fridge):

  • asparagus (cut into 1-2 inch spears)
  • zucchini, quartered and diced
  • red and green peppers, chopped or sliced thinly
  • mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • mozzarella cheese, grated
  • cornmeal (for the crust)

Instructions

For the dough:

  1. Combine warm water and yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer.  Make sure that the water isn’t too hot! Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes, or until the yeast foams on top.
  2. Using a wooden spoon, mix in olive oil, salt, and sugar.  Slowly add the flour until it is too difficult to stir.
  3. At this point, attach the dough hook to your stand mixer.  Mix the dough on low or medium speed for around 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and stretchy.
  4. Place the dough in an oiled bowl.  Cover with a tea towel and let sit in a warm place (I chose the top of my fridge) for 1-1.5 hours.  During this time, the dough should double in size.

For the sauce:

  1. combine all ingredients in a blender.  Mix for 10-15 seconds, depending on the strength of your blender and your preferred sauce texture.  I like to leave it pretty chunky so there are pieces of tomato on my pizza.

Making the pizzas:

  1. Prep your pizza pan by covering it in cornmeal.  I use square pans, either 11″x18″ or 9″x13″.
  2. Heat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and punch down the dough.
  3. Split your dough evenly in half and mold each piece into a small round ball.  Let sit on a tray covered with a tea towel for 10-15 minutes, or until you are ready to start baking.
  4. Working with one ball at a time, start stretching the dough.  To start, I like to put the dough ball on top of my knuckles and let the dough stretch around my hand.  Then I work with the edges, letting the dough hang down and stretch as I work my way around the circle. It’s OK if the dough isn’t perfectly stretched yet, since you can continue to work with it once you lay it on the pan.
  5. Place your stretched dough on the prepared pan.  Cover with olive oil first (this helps the sauce stay on top, and not soak into, the crust).  Then lightly coat with sauce, top with mozzarella cheese, and add toppings.
  6. Slide pizza into the oven and bake for about 10 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Check the bottom of the pizza to make sure that it’s browned as well.
  7. Let cool for a few minutes and then cut into pieces to serve!

This recipe makes 2 doughs (or pizza for roughly 4-6 people).