bruschetta with chickpea puree

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I wouldn’t say I have a black thumb, but I certainly don’t have a green thumb. Every spring I get really excited about gardening. Besides the quality and convenience of produce from the backyard, I love to watch things grow. I especially enjoy watching seeds sprout, as the green shoot springs up and then slowly uncurls, stands tall, and spreads its first two leaves. I like creating something so impressive from almost nothing at all.

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Gardening in southern New Mexico is relatively easy. Our growing season, from last frost to first frost, extends from March all the way to November. Overwatering and mold certainly aren’t problems, since it almost never rains here. Our soil is hardpacked clay, but it wasn’t difficult or expensive to build a small raised bed. A layer of mulch and the lack of rain keep most weeds at bay. With a timed sprinkler system, there’s little effort involved with keeping a garden beyond the initial planting.

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Except for the bugs. Squash bugs always get my zucchini plants eventually. And last year I think grasshoppers ate more tomatoes than I did. This year, even worse, I bought a diseased tomato plant and it spread its fungus to the rest of the bunch. They’ll have to be pulled, I’m afraid.

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So my hopes for panzanella, slow-roasted tomatoes, BLTs, pasta with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, big pots of sauce to freeze, and a whole long list of other tomato recipes I love – this isn’t the year for that. Instead of topping grilled garlic-rubbed slices of Tartine’s country bread with fragrant tomatoes from my garden, I’ll have to find other ideas.

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While nothing is going to live up to perfectly ripe summer tomatoes, I won’t complain about this chickpea spread. Something that could so easily be bland – a bowl of mashed beans – is kicked up with all sorts of good things, like tangy bits of red onion, spicy red pepper flakes, sweet balsamic vinegar, and tart lemon juice. Then it’s topped with crunchy toasted nuts and fresh herbs. It’s not garden-fresh tomatoes, but it’ll do in a pinch.

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One year ago: Stuffed Squash Flowers
Two years ago: Dried Fruit Compote
Three years ago: Sautéed Shredded Zucchini

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Bruschetta with Spicy Chickpea Purée (adapted from Rick Tramonto’s Fantastico via epicurious)

8 slices rustic bread
4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved lengthwise
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 (16-ounce can) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½ small red onion, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (use more or less to taste)
½ teaspoons honey
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
8 lemon wedges

1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the chickpeas, onion, 2 tablespoons of oil, lemon juice, vinegar, red pepper, and honey. Scrape down the sides of the bowl several times and pulse until the mixture is smooth. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. The texture of the paste should be that of spreadable peanut butter; if necessary, thin it with water and pulse again.

2. Prepare gas or charcoal grill or preheat the broiler or a panini press. The heating elements or coals should be medium-hot. Cut the slices in half and brush both sides with a generous amount of olive oil. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Grill or broil the bread, turning once, until lightly browned on both sides. Rub 1 side of the toasts with garlic.

3. Spread the bean paste on the bruschetta. Sprinkle with pine nuts, tarragon (if using), and parsley. Drizzle with olive oil, and serve garnished with lemon wedges for squeezing over the bruschetta.

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slow cooker spinach mushroom lasagna

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Lasagna cooked in the slow cooker is not that different from lasagna cooked in the oven. It has the same ingredients, the same layers, the same browned cheesy top – and the same amount of effort required to make it. Really the only thing that’s different is the amount of time it takes to cook.

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This was good news in a way. I was surprised that the lasagna wasn’t watery and that the top looked almost exactly the same as a baked lasagna. The problem, of course, was that it wasn’t any easier to put together.

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Another problem is apparently that béchamel sauces curdle in the slow cooker. This recipe was originally based on a cream sauce instead of tomato sauce. Since béchamel didn’t work, the recipe called for a jar of Alfredo sauce.

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I’m not usually one for dumping jars of prepared foods into my recipes, but after a scan of the jar label revealed no unrecognizable ingredients, I had just about acquiesced to buying it – until I looked at the fat content. Jarred Alfredo sauce (like homemade Alfredo sauce) is almost pure cream, and I just couldn’t stomach the idea of adding all that fat to what I intended to be a weeknight meal.

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Replacing the cream sauce with tomatoes made this recipe very similar to my favorite vegetarian lasagna, but that’s okay, because they’re flavors I like. In fact, the lasagna had a lot of qualities I love, with its meaty flavor without any meat, plenty of cheese, and plenty of vegetables to even out the cheese.  While it wasn’t any better than oven-baked lasagna, it wasn’t any worse, and it can’t hurt to have the option for a longer cooking time.

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One year ago: Basic Pancakes
Two years ago: Brioche
Three years ago: Salad with Herbed Baked Goat Cheese

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Slow Cooker Spinach Mushroom Lasagna (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Slow Cooker Revolution)

Serves 6 to 8

I have a 4-quart slow cooker, but I don’t see any reason this wouldn’t work in a 5- or even 6-quart cooker.  The lasagna just won’t be as tall.

I did not line the slow cooker with foil, because it seems so wasteful. Individual slices of lasagna were still surprisingly easy to serve intact, although the first one was messy.

I used half this amount of cheese. I’m sure the full amount is great, but I was trying to lighten it up a bit.

nonstick spray
8 curly-edged lasagna noodles (7 ounces), broken in half
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1½ pounds white mushrooms, trimmed and sliced thin
2 garlic cloves, minced
16 ounces fresh baby spinach
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
1¼ cups (2½ ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup minced fresh basil
1 large egg
4 cups (1 pound) shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Line the slow cooker with an aluminum foil collar: Layer and fold sheets of heavy-duty foil until you have a six-layered rectangle that measures 16 by 4 inches. Press the collar into the back side of the slow cooker insert. Fit two more large sheets of foil into the slow cooker, perpendicular to each other, with the extra hanging over the edges of the cooker for a sling to help remove the lasagna later.

2. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot. Add the broken lasagna noodles and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until the noodles are al dente. Drain the noodles, rinse them under cold water until cool, then spread them out in single layer over clean kitchen towels and let dry. (Do not use paper towels; they will stick to the noodles.)

3. Heat the oil in the same pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the mushrooms, garlic, and ¼ teaspoon salt, cover, and cook until the mushrooms are softened, about 5 minutes. Uncover, add the onions, and continue to cook until the mushrooms are dry and browned, 5 to 10 minutes longer. Stir in the spinach, cover, and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and ½ teaspoon salt.

4. In a bowl, mix the ricotta, 1 cup (2 ounces) Parmesan, basil, egg, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper together. Spread ½ cup of the mushroom-spinach sauce into the prepared slow cooker.

5. Arrange 4 lasagna noodle pieces in the slow cooker, overlapping if necessary, then dollop 9 rounded tablespoons of ricotta mixture over noodles. Sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella, then spoon 1 cup more mushroom-spinach sauce over top. Repeat the layering of lasagna noodles, ricotta mixture, mozzarella and mushroom-spinach sauce twice more. For the final layer, arrange the remaining 4 noodles in the slow cooker, then top with the remaining mushroom-spinach sauce and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and remaining Parmesan.

6. Cover and cook until the lasagna is heated through, about 4 hours on low. Let the lasagna cool for 20 minutes. Using the sling, transfer lasagna to serving platter and serve.

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pizza bianca with goat cheese and greens

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When it comes to grilled pizza, I’m a slow learner. We’ve made crusts so burned that we had to chip flakes of blackened bread off before we could eat it. We’ve also made pizza with doughy undercooked crusts and with unmelted cheese and raw toppings. About the only problem we haven’t had is the dough sticking to the grate, so at least there’s that.

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This was my most successful attempt at grilling pizza so far, but even so, it’ll be a while before there’s any kind of grilled pizza tutorial from me. Instead, I will provide my standard foolproof oven method for a very non-standard pizza. My ears perk up whenever anyone mentions goat cheese, which is no surprise since it’s so creamy and tangy. But I like kale almost as much, which is maybe more surprising.

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This is the first time I’ve eaten them together, but it’s a combination that makes good sense, because the tart goat cheese will balance the earthy kale. With crushed red pepper spicing things up and mozzarella holding everything together, this was one different and delicious pizza – with charcoal flavor or not. It was almost as good as the pizza margherita we made to go with it, and that’s really saying something.

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One year ago: Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
Two years ago: Sourdough Bagels
Three years ago: Salmon Clubs with Avocado Butter

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Pizza Bianca with Goat Cheese and Greens (adapted from Love and Olive Oil)

1 pound pizza dough (½ of this recipe), fully risen and at room temperature
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 bunch kale, washed, stems removed
salt
4 ounces (½ cup) part-skim mozzarella, shredded
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

1. Place a pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 500ºF. Divide the dough in two and shape each portion into a ball. Set the balls of dough aside, loosely covered, to allow the gluten to relax.

2. Heat the oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper in a Dutch oven over medium heat until the garlic sizzles. Add the kale, ¼ teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons of water; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the kale wilts, about 5 minutes. Remove the lid and continue cooking and stirring until the water evaporates, about 1 minute.

3. Work with one ball of dough at a time on a lightly floured surface or a damp cloth. Flatten the dough, then pick it up and gently stretch it out, trying to keep it as circular as possible. Curl your fingers and let the dough hang on your knuckles, moving and rotating the dough so it stretches evenly. If it tears, piece it together. If the dough stretches too much, put it down and gently tug on the thick spots. Transfer the round of dough to a large square of parchment paper; slide onto a pizza peel.

4. Top one round of dough with half of each of the kale mixture and cheeses. Slide the pizza with the parchment onto the hot baking stone. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the crust is browned around the edges. Transfer the pizza to a cooling rack without the parchment. Let the pizza rest for 5 minutes before serving. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

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baked eggs in mushrooms with zucchini ragout

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When Cara asked me to guest post and offered the suggestion of focusing on a vacation that I’m excited about, I jumped at the chance to chatter to a new audience about my upcoming trip to Italy. Italy! Venice! The Cinque Terre! Tuscany! Rome! And then there’s the stuff that I’m really excited about – wine and espresso and cheese and pesto and bread and seafood. Also wine. Check out Cara’s blog to read about the Baked Eggs in Mushrooms with Zucchini Ragout I made, which involves no wine or espresso or pesto or bread or seafood. At least there’s cheese.

creamy taco mac

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I rarely miss eating meat on weekdays. I was never big on “meat and three” types of meals, so vegetarian food suits me just fine. Besides, it’s usually easy to replace meat with a substitute, and by substitute, I don’t mean fake meat (“smeat”, as my friend calls it). I mean beans, especially black beans.

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Making this recipe vegetarian was no problem, but I was also determined to make it all in the same pot. I’ve made Cooks Illustrated’s Skillet Lasagna many times, in which the pasta is cooked right in the simmering sauce, so I adapted the same cooking method for taco mac. The different ratios of pasta to tomatoes complicated finding the right ratio of liquid to pasta, but after a few tries, I landed on the right amount.

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What really gave me fits was how to make the sauce creamy in a healthy way – and if this was going to be a weeknight dish, it needed to be healthy. First, I tried Cara’s method of stirring in pureed cottage cheese. This worked fine, but I knew I was too lazy to puree cottage cheese for such a simple meal. Both unpureed cottage cheese and ricotta cheese looked curdled and barf-like. In the end, the answer, like it so often is, was Greek yogurt. It perfectly mimics the sour cream called for in the original recipe but with dramatically less fat and more protein.

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Finally then, this fills all my qualifications as a great weeknight dish. It’s vegetarian, it’s healthy, it’s nutritionally balanced – all that and the only dishes you need to dirty are a cutting board, knife, and the cooking pot. With meals as good as this, it’s no wonder I don’t crave meat on weekdays.

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One year ago: Pasta with Asparagus and Goat Cheese
Two years ago: Pork Tenderloin with Rhubarb Sauce
Three years ago: Pigs in a Blanket

Update: I changed the recipe to use ½ more water. Two cups might be enough, but it cuts it close. If your sauce is too liquidy at the end, it’s simple to simmer it down for a few minutes.

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Creamy Taco Mac
(adapted from Delish via Annie’s Eats and from Cook’s Illustrated’s Skillet Lasagna recipe)

6 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped small
1 red pepper, chopped small
Table salt
3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon ground chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne
16 ounces dry pasta
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2½ cups water
1 (30-ounce) can black beans, drained
1 (7-ounce) container Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons cilantro
1 avocado, diced (optional)

1. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, pepper, and ½ teaspoon salt and cook until the onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and spices and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

2. Add the pasta, diced tomatoes with juices, water, and beans. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender, about 20 minutes.

3. In a small bowl, stir about half of the simmering pasta mixture into the yogurt. Stir this tempered yogurt into the pasta. Cover and simmer over low heat until heated, 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and avocado, if using. Serve.

carrot avocado salad

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The problem with just about every recipe that contains avocado is that there isn’t enough avocado. The only exception I can think of is guacamole, because it’s almost entirely avocado. My favorite way to eat avocado is on toast with a sprinkling of kosher salt.

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My usual way of eating it, however, is as an accent in which there’s just enough avocado so that most bites have a tiny portion. And all the bites without avocado are just sad.  And all the bites that do have avocado need more of it.

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And that is what I love about this salad – avocado is the main event, or at least it shares equal billing with the sweet caramelized carrots. It might sound like an unusual combination, but it works. The radishes add a nice touch as well, crisp and spicy. I’m pretty sure the only way I could like this salad more would be if I left out the carrots, pepper, cumin, olive oil, and radishes. And maybe added in some toast.

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One year ago: Spinach Artichoke Pizza
Two years ago: Tofu Mu Shu
Three years ago: Crockpot Pulled Pork

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Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

4 servings

I prefer to use a regular olive oil to roast the carrots and extra virgin olive oil in the dressing.

1 pound carrots, scrubbed or peeled and cut into two-inch segments
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons lemon juice
4 radishes, chopped small
1 avocado, pitted and sliced

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. On a large baking sheet, toss the carrots with ¼ teaspoon salt, ⅛ teaspoon pepper, cumin, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Roast for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the carrots are tender and browned.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and the remaining tablespoon olive oil. In a medium serving bowl, combine the carrots, avocado and radishes. Drizzle the vegetables with the dressing, adding more salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

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green pea ravioli in lemon broth

My notes call this Saturday night cooking adventure “Light Italian Meal”. I was experimenting with wet scallops – scallops that have been treated with sodium triphosphate to help them retain moisture. Cooks Illustrated has a recipe designed to make wet scallops palatable, so I gave it a go. I tried to keep the rest of the meal relatively light to compliment the scallops, starting with these ravioli, then moving onto insalata di crudita before serving the seared scallops with almond cream sauce. Pinot grigio and whole wheat ciabatta accompanied every part of the meal.

This was the only recipe I made that night that I was really excited by. The only reason the ciabatta doesn’t qualify is because I didn’t follow much of a recipe, and the salad, although crisp and fresh, was a fairly typical side salad. The scallops were a disaster. Not only was the almond cream sauce too rich, but the scallops themselves didn’t brown until they had overcooked into balls of rubber. What’s worse, while I set them aside to finish the sauce, the cooked scallops released a freaky blue liquid. I choked a down few and filled up on bread.

I wish I had made enough ravioli to fill up on those, rather than teasing myself with a small starter course serving. These pasta pouches with their vibrant filling were the highlight of my meal that night. There aren’t many ingredients in the filling, but each one has something to offer: the peas are both sweet and earthy, the shallots are bright, the parmesan salty. This humble mixture might have not had much to live up to compared to the rest of the meal, but it would have been just as special on its own.

One year ago: Vodka Gimlets
Two years ago: Pasta with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Three years ago: Cinnamon Rolls

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Green Pea Ravioli with Lemon Broth (adapted from Gourmet via epicurious)

6 servings

I’ve doubled the amount of filling, because I only had enough filling for 9 ravioli, not the 18 the original recipe indicates.

Pasta:
1⅓ cups (6.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Filling:
2 cups baby peas, defrosted
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, minced
Salt
6 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
6 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs

Broth:
4 cups chicken broth
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
Squeeze fresh lemon juice

Garnish: fresh chervil or parsley and cooked peas

1. Combine the flour and eggs until smooth (either by hand, with a food processor, or with a stand mixer). Add more flour if the dough is sticky or more water if it’s crumbly. If you stick a dry finger into the center of the dough, it should come out nearly clean. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and set aside to rest while you prepare the filling.

2. Force the peas through the fine disk of a food mill into a bowl to remove their skins. Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat; add the shallot and a pinch of salt; cook until shallot is softened, 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Combine the pea puree, cooked shallot, parmesan, and bread crumbs.

3. Divide the dough into 6 portions. Working with one portion at a time, flatten it and fold in thirds, like a letter. Roll it through the widest setting on a pasta roller. Repeat the folding and rolling 3-4 more times, flouring the dough as needed to prevent sticking. Adjust the pasta roller to the next thinnest setting; roll the pasta sheet through. Continue thinning the pasta until the next-to-thinnest setting. Lay the thinned pasta sheet on a dry dish towel. Repeat with the remaining portions of pasta.

4. Place one rounded teaspoon of filling every 3 inches along the length of a pasta sheet. Using a pasta brush or your fingers, wet the pasta in between the rounds of filling. If the pasta sheet is at least 4 inches wide, fold it lengthwise over the filling. If the pasta sheet is too thin to fold lengthwise, lay a second pasta sheet over the filling. Press around each ball of filling to seal the two layers of pasta together. Use a pizza roller to cut between the filling to form squares of ravioli. Store the ravioli on a dry dish towel (there’s no need to cover it). Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

5. Combine the broth, garlic, lemon zest, and salt and pepper to taste in a saucepan; bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and cover to keep warm.

6. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add a tablespoon of salt and lower the heat until the water is at a lively simmer. Cook the ravioli in small batches until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes, using a skimmer or large slotted spoon to remove the ravioli from the boiling water. Divide the cooked ravioli between six soup bowls.

7. Discard the garlic in the broth. Ladle the hot broth over the ravioli. Garnish with herbs and cooked peas, if desired; serve immediately.

pasta with tomatoes, swiss chard, and goat cheese

I think people have the wrong impression about meals around here, particularly on weeknights. The assumption seems to be that someone who loves cooking must be hanging out in the kitchen making elaborate meals every single night. If only.

The reality is that my weeknight evenings are so full of other necessary chores that any meal that takes longer than half an hour stresses me out. A delay in dinner puts me behind schedule for the laundry folding and showering and ultimately ends up cutting into my sleep. And the less sleep I get, the more hateful my alarm is in the morning and the slower I get ready for work and the later I get to work and the later I have to stay at work and the less time I have for cooking the next evening.

Pasta dishes that can be made in the time it takes to boil the pasta are a great option for a quick meal that breaks that cycle.  But the original version of this one wasn’t quite working for me.  I loved the idea of roasting the grape tomatoes before combining them with the other ingredients to accentuate their sweetness.  However, that extra step of heating the oven and throwing in the tomatoes apparently put me over the edge, because I felt vaguely flustered every time I made this.

I needed to simplify it somehow, but I didn’t want to lose that step of concentrating the tomatoes’ flavor.  I love roasted tomatoes, but in this case, where they’re roasted quickly instead of low and slow, it seemed like the stovetop could get the effect right in the same pan used to cook the greens.  In fact, the juice released from the tomatoes helped the chard cook.  With only two dishes, one appliance, and half an hour, this was the perfect weeknight-friendly version of the dish.

One year ago: Artichoke Ravioli
Two years ago:  Cooks Illustrated’s Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
Three years ago: Spinach Feta Pine Nut Tart

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Pasta with Green, Tomatoes and Goat Cheese (adapted from Food and Wine via Savory Spicy Sweet)

1 pound fusilli pasta
Salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, sliced
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
½ pound swiss chard, rinsed and coarsely chopped
½ pound soft goat cheese, thickly sliced
½ cup walnut halves, toasted
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. Bring 4 quarts water to rolling boil, covered, in stockpot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta, stir to separate, and cook until al dente. Drain and return to stockpot.

2. In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, heat the oil, garlic, and pepper flakes until the oil flows like water when the pan is tilted. Add the cherry tomatoes, swiss chard, and ¼ teaspoon salt; cover the pan and simmer, stirring occasionally and smashing the tomatoes, until the chard is tender and the tomatoes are soft.

3. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water; drain pasta. Return the pasta to the cooking pot; stir in the goat cheese and ½ cup of the reserved cooking water. Add the chard and tomato mixture, walnuts, and cheese; stir to combine, adding more pasta water to loosen sauce if necessary.

lentil goat cheese burgers

Burgers are just sandwiches with patties in the middle. I don’t care if that patty is beef, bird, or beans. What I do require is that it not be bread.

A carb-filled patty between two ends of a bun doesn’t make nutritional sense, but it does seem like most vegetarian burgers are bound by large amounts of bread crumbs, oatmeal, or other grains. Whether whole or refined, these are still grains where I want there to be protein.

Cara is a great source for high-protein, low-carb ideas like these lentil burgers, which are bound with just a tablespoon of bread crumbs per serving. The protein – and, more importantly, the flavor – is increased even more with the addition of creamy, tangy goat cheese, one of my favorite ingredients.

While certainly healthy enough for a good weeknight dinner, prepping these burgers is not a short process from start to finish. However, the active time is not unreasonable, making these a great option to make ahead of time, leaving just the final searing for dinner time. It’s nice to have a meal as hearty but nutritious as this one stashed in the freezer.

One year ago: Brown Soda Bread
Two years ago: Deli-Style Rye Bread
Three years ago: Rice Pudding

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Lentil Goat Cheese Burgers (adapted from Cara’s Cravings)

Make 4 burgers

Don’t be shy with the salt. I always need more than I expect in these.

¾ cup dried lentils
1 bay leaf
salt
1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
2 large shallots, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
4 ounces goat cheese
¼ cup breadcrumbs (fresh or dried)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 egg
for serving: buns, mustard, lettuce, tomato

1. Combine lentils, bay leaf, ½ teaspoon salt and 3 cups water in medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils are tender, 18-20 minutes. Drain the lentils, discarding the bay leaf.

2. Meanwhile, process the carrot, shallots, and garlic in the food processor until finely chopped but not pureed, about 5 seconds. (Do not clean processor bowl or blade.) Heat 1½ teaspoons olive oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat; sauté the vegetables with a pinch of salt until softened and the shallots just browns around the edges, about 5 minutes. Add the vinegar; cook, stirring occasionally, until it has reduced to a syrupy consistency, 1-2 minutes.

3. Combine the lentils, sautéed vegetables, cheese, bread crumbs, and pepper in the food processor; process until evenly mixed and finely ground. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Add the egg; pulse until just combined.

4. Divide the dough into four portions; shape each one into a disk about ½-inch tall and 4 inches across (or approximately the diameter of your burger buns). Chill, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days (cover if longer than 30 minutes).

5. Heat the remaining 1½ teaspoons of oil in a 12-inch nonstick pan over medium to medium-high heat. Using a spatula, carefully lower each patty into the pan; cook without moving for 4 minutes, until the bottom side is browned. Flip the patties and continue cooking for another 6 minutes until the second side is browned. Serve immediately with buns and toppings.

roasted tomato soup

When I was a kid, my friend Katie and I played a game in which we had a restaurant. We wrote up a menu and would let our parents order food from it, and then we’d bring them what they ordered. In other words, our parents paid for their food twice – once at the grocery store, and then a second time to Katie and I after we heated it up in the microwave for them.

Among other delicacies, our menu included nachos (Cheez Whiz and chips) and tomato soup. Tomato soup was probably our specialty. At Katie’s house, the Campbell’s concentrate was mixed with milk, but at my house, we added water. Katie and I were nothing if not accommodating to our customers’ preferences.

This tomato soup is not that tomato soup. It’s brighter, fresher, but still deeply flavored from the roasted tomatoes. The shallots make it just a little sweet, and a pinch of allspice adds warmth. This soup, topped with whole wheat macaroni noodles and served alongside cheese toast, is my favorite meal. It’s even worth ordering in a real restaurant.

One year ago: Masa Pancakes with Chipotle Salsa and Poached Eggs (I’m about halfway through that same bag of masa harina.)
Two years ago: Spinach Bread
Three years ago: Raspberry Bars

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Roasted Tomato Soup (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

6 servings

This recipe is messier without an immersion blender, but I made it that way for years. Use a large slotted spoon to transfer the solids to the blender with a cup or two of liquid and blend to puree. Pour the pureed mixture back into the liquid; stir in the brandy. You can blend everything instead of just the solids, but the soup will turn orange instead of red.

Feel free to add in a few tablespoons of cream (or pureed cottage cheese for a healthier alternative) at the end if you’re like Katie’s family and prefer your tomato soup creamy.

2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes in juice
1½ tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
4 shallots, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
⅛ teaspoon allspice
1¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
¼ cup brandy

1. Adjust an oven rack to the upper middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees. Line the bottom and sides of two 8- or 9-inch round pans with aluminum foil. Use a slotted spoon to remove the tomatoes, one by one, from their juice. Open the tomato on the side opposite the stem. Holding the tomato loosely in a fist, gently squeeze the tomato to remove most of its juice. Place the tomato stem-side up on one of the prepared pans. Repeat with the remaining tomatoes. Sprinkle the tomatoes with the brown sugar.  Roast the tomatoes until they are dry and lightly browned, about 45 minutes. Reserve the tomato juice.

2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the shallots, tomato paste, and allspice to the pot; stir, then cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken broth, reserved tomato juice, and roasted tomatoes. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer 15 minutes. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Stir in the brandy and serve.

This recipe is in one of my earliest blog entries, but I have simplified and healthified (but not de-tastified) the soup since then, so I thought it was worth posting an updated version.