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)
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
- 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
- Heat oven to 375 degrees and grease a deep 13 x 9 baking dish.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- For the cheese layer: In a small bowl, mix together the mozzarella and Gruyere.
- 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.
- 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.
For the past few weeks I’ve been on a “brown bag lunch” kick. It started with mixed green salads and veggie sandwiches, things that I could whip up easily in the morning without being late for work. I slowly increased the difficulty, incorporating cooked and chilled ingredients like quinoa and beets.
When I started running out of ideas, I remembered my love for leftovers. Leftovers make one great meal extend into two, and they help make lunch more flavorful (and enjoyable) overall.
Some things make for better leftovers than others, but my favorite dishes are the one’s that actually taste better the next day. These noodles fall into that category.
What stood out for me about this recipe was the use of tahini instead of peanut butter. Tahini is made out of ground sesame seeds instead of nuts, adding a subtle flavor that really improves the taste of the sauce. While I still love traditional peanut sauce, this is definitely a keeper.
To make this dish healthy, I added tons of vegetables. I chopped up some typical cold salad vegetables, including red peppers, carrots, and cucumbers, but anything would really work here. I also had some pre-steamed broccoli in the fridge, so I threw that into the mix. Topped with some tofu, this turned out to be a great vegetarian main dish.
Sesame Noodles with Tofu and Vegetables Recipe (adapted from Mark Bittman)
- 1/4 cup tahini
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp garlic
- 2 tsp ginger
- dash of sriracha
- 3-4 tbsp hot water
- 4-5 oz soba noodles
- 1 cup steamed broccoli
- 1/4 cup sliced carrots
- 1/4 cup cucumber, chopped
- 1/4 cup red pepper, chopped
- 7 oz tofu, cubed
- 1/4 cup scallions, sliced
- sesame seeds, for garnish
- Mix together the tahini, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, sugar, garlic, ginger, and sriracha. Slowly add in the 3-4 tbsp of hot water and stir until smooth (if you like your sauce thicker, add less water).
- Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add soba noodles and cook until done, about 4 minutes.
- Heat canola oil in a large skillet. Stir fry tofu for 2 minutes on each side, until evenly browned.
- Move soba noodles to a large bowl. Pour in sauce until the noodles are evenly covered (you may have some extra sauce at this step). Toss in all the cooked and raw vegetables. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired.
- Spoon noodles into bowls and serve.
*This serves 2-3 as a main dish.