apple salad with hazelnuts, pancetta, shallots, and roasted parsnips

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Now that it’s October in the Northeast, we are deep into pumpkin spice season (even though maple is the new pumpkin spice, and I will keep saying it until everyone listens).  But neither pumpkin nor maple are the only fabulous flavor of this perfectly crisp couple months. We should be embracing the full bounty that fall affords us.

For example, if you haven’t tried every varietal of apple at your local farmers’ market yet, you’re doing fall wrong.  From Spencers (my personal favorite) to Honey Crisps to Macouns, each one has its own je ne sais quoi. Some are meant for pies, others for snacking; but no matter how you eat it the apple is one of the most defining tastes of autumn.  Throw them into any salad and their crunch and unique sweetness will transport you to an orchard on a cold day in soft flannel–and there are no crowds. And it’s sunny. Can you imagine.

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This salad may seem a bit busy…it has more than a handful of ingredients, but each one brings that extra something that gives it the capacity to be a stand alone meal.  Sweet apples, crunchy hazelnuts, salty pancetta, earthy parsnips, and a good bite from the raw shallots.  What’s so wrong with a salad chock full of tasty bits anyway? Nothing, because then you don’t have to force yourself to eat it.  You will want to eat it.

Time to get on the apple train. Sorry pumpkins (and maples).

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apple salad with hazelnuts, pancetta, shallots, and roasted parsnips
serves 6-8

2 large apples (of your favorite variety)
2 medium sized parsnips, cubed
1/2 pound of pancetta, cooked
1/3 cup roasted hazelnuts, chopped
1 medium sized shallot, sliced thin
shaved ricotta salata cheese to taste (cheddar or chevre would be equally tasty)

Suggested dressing
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon agave or honey
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Set your oven to 350 degrees. Peel the parsnips and cut them into bite size cubes, then toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Roast for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and soft. Let cool and set aside.
  2.  Fry the pancetta until crispy.  Place on paper towels to absorb the grease and to cool.  Once cooled, crumble and combine with parsnips.
  3. Chop up your hazelnuts.
  4.  Slice shallot and apple thinly. Add to big bowl of mixed greens.  Throw in hazelnuts, pancetta, and parsnips.  Add salad dressing and combine until everything is well coated.  Shave cheese of choice atop the salad and serve immediately.

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apple salad with hazelnuts, pancetta, shallots, and roasted parsnips

succotash & shrimps

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Like most kids, I was not always a huge fan of eating my vegetables.  I have vivid memories of crying shriveled peas that had to be consumed before I was allowed my dino-shaped chicken nuggets, and of stealthily hiding florets of browning boiled broccoli in my hands and then sneaking them into the trash can to gain access to the evenings offering of macaroni and cheese.  To my parents’ credit they did try to encourage healthy habits (a success for the most part; as adults my sisters and I are all still of the mind there must be a vegetable somewhere on the dinner table), but clearly I was a bit of a vegetable evasion MacGyver back then.

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But those days are behind me.  I have evolved.  I love vegetables now, particularly in the months of the year when I can get them fresh from farmers’ markets.  That has been the true difference.  That, and knowing that most vegetables can be utterly transformed into the part of the meal I am most eager to eat with the help of a little love and seasoning.  The shriveled, overcooked, and unseasoned veggies-0f-yore are long gone.  And good riddance.

This succotash is an ode to what a vegetable dish can and should be.  Simple, but tasty. Quick, but memorable.  In June corn is sweet and super affordable, and is as delicious raw as it is thrown on a grill.  Shelling peas would be a treat but frozen are just as effective.  And the zucchini are just starting to appear.  All sautéed together quickly in a hot pan of slightly browned butter et voilà, all former fears of vegetables are eradicated.  Alongside a little bit of lemon-drenched shrimp and you have a full meal.  Just add white wine.

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succotash & shrimps
serves 4

2 medium zucchini, diced
2 ears of corn, kernels removed from the cob
1/3 cup red onion, diced
1/2 cup shelled peas
4 tablespoons butter
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
salt, pepper, and lemon to taste

  1. Dice the red onion and zucchini into bite size bits to match the corn kernels and the peas.  Over medium heat, melt the butter in a sauté pan until it just begins to brown (it will have a nutty smell and appear golden).  Immediately add the zucchini and onion and cook for 5 minutes or until they soften and begin to brown.  Add in the corn and peas and cook until just warm, about two minutes.  Season with salt and pepper then remove from heat and set aside.
  2. Pat shrimp dry (this will help them brown), and salt and pepper to taste on both sides.  Cook over medium-high heat with a bit of olive oil for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until they are just pink.  Turn heat to low and squeeze fresh lemon juice over the shrimp (the heat from the pan my cause some splatter).  Stir to coat all the shrimp and pick up the tasty brown bits at the bottom of your pan. (If you’ve got a grill, cooking your shrimp on it instead of on the stove would be a wonderful deviation).
  3. Place shrimp on top of succotash and give an additional hit of lemon, salt and pepper if necessary.  If you have fresh herbs, say basil or chives, they would be a great way to add from brightness sprinkled over the dish. Serve immediately.

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succotash & shrimps

roasted three squash soup (with spiced yogurt)

IMG_6689Few things are as satisfying on a cold October day than a mug of soup.  Something that is equally satisfying is finding a way to use the different varieties of squash that came out of your CSA farmshare that have been serving merely as decorative gourds because you didn’t know how to use them all.IMG_6693Whenever I am at the farmers’ market I find myself staring longingly at all the crates of squash, they are just so festive.  I am particularly drawn to the miniature ones.  Be honest, you are too.  So while you’re digging around in the back of your closet for your thick socks and your sweaters, this is the perfect thing to have bubbling away on the stove.

Butternut squash soup is easy and a standby once fall comes around, but every now and again it needs a reboot to keep things exciting.  The delicata and buttercup squash add other flavor dimensions, roasting them brings out their sweetness, and generally I am a sucker for anything with pumpkin pie spice — and it really just makes this soup that much better.  You can use other squash varieties (like sugar pumpkin which would fit perfectly in this crew), these are just what I had on hand.

IMG_6712I had considered getting ambitious and caramelizing some roasted pumpkin seeds to put on top, but lost steam and got hungry so I ate it with a hunk of baguette instead (a choice I don’t regret).  I encourage you to eat it however you see fit.

IMG_6688roasted three squash soup with spiced yogurt

SOUP
1 medium butternut squash
1 medium delicata squash
1 medium buttercup squash
1 cup yellow onion, diced
3 ½ cups vegetable stock
1 cup apple cider
½ cup heavy cream
2 tbs butter
1 tbs pumpkin pie spice (OR ½ tsp each of cinnamon, cardamom, clove, nutmeg, and ground ginger)
½ tsp each of fresh thyme and fresh sage, finely diced
salt and pepper to taste

YOGURT TOPPER
1cup plain greek yogurt
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or a tiny pinch of each of the spices listed above)

  1. Set oven at 350 degrees. Slice each squash down the middle lengthwise and remove the seeds. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet flesh-side-down and bake for 30 minutes or until fork tender.
  2. Let the squash cool and using a spoon scrape out the flesh from the skins and set aside.
  3. In a large heavy bottom pot over medium heat, melt butter and sauté the onions until soft and translucent. Add in the spices, herbs, and squash, salt, and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes. Add in the cider and stock, cover, turn down the heat to medium low, and let simmer for 20 minutes stirring occasionally.
  4. If after 20 minutes everything is softened (if not, give it 5 more minutes or so), remove from the heat and blend (either with a hand blender or transfer the mix in batches to a traditional blender). Return to pot and stir in the cream. Test the flavor for seasoning, adding more spice, salt, and pepper if needed.
  5. Stir spices into the yogurt and serve a healthy dollop on top of each cup of soup with an additional dusting of spice.IMG_6709
roasted three squash soup (with spiced yogurt)

roasted vegetable lasagna

Well, we have arrived at the sweet spot.  These few early weeks of September: it’s getting cooler so fall crops are appearing, but it’s still warm enough that the summer goodies haven’t completely disappeared.  It’s the epitome of produce.  There are too many vegetables to choose from! Raspberries are still available! There are apples!lasagna 1

What’s to be done with an excessive farmers’ market hall and a change in season? Dinner parties.  That’s what.

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Lasagna is the perfect food for a crowd, and with this veggie version you don’t even miss the meat.  As with all things, I looked to Ina Garten for guidance on this one.  She has a wonderful roasted vegetable lasagna recipe in her Make it Ahead cookbook, which I followed closely (because I trust her implicitly) but I also made some tweaks to suit my tastes and clean out my fridge.

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Roasting the vegetables takes out some of their water, so as to avoid a soggy bottomed lasagna.  I mean, could anything be worse than that?

So invite your friends over and celebrate summer. Or fall. Whatever your preference.

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roasted vegetable lasagna
(adapted from the incomparable Ina Garten)

3 small to medium sized zucchini (some green and some yellow makes for a real pretty lasagna)
1 large eggplant
2 cups fresh spinach
1/2 pound button mushrooms
1 cup ricotta cheese1 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
1 jar preferred tomato sauce (you could of course make your own, try this one)
1 package dry lasagna noodles

1. Slice the zucchini and eggplant lengthwise to 1/4 inch thickness.  Arrange on parchment paper covered cookie sheets, brush liberally with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then roast for 40 minutes in a 375 degree oven.  Set aside.
2. Slice the mushrooms thin and sauteé over medium-high heat until just cooked. Set aside.  Wipe out the pan and cook down the fresh spinach over medium heat until it just begins to stick to the pan.  Remove from heat and run with cold water. Squeeze the spinach (in your hands or with a cheese cloth) to remove as much liquid as humanly possible, then chop it up. Let cool.
3. Mix together cooled spinach with ricotta until combined.
4.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt the water well (like, more than you think is appropriate). Cook the pasta for 7-8 minutes.  It should still be quite al dente, just cooked.  Strain it and run it under cold water.
5. AASSSSEMMBLLEEEEEE.  In a 13 x 9 inch pan, start with a thin layer of tomato sauce.  Add base noodle layer. Dollop 1/3 of the ricotta mixture evenly (it will spread out in the cooking), sprinkle evenly 1/3 of the mushrooms, then do a layer of the roasted squash and eggplant (some of each), cover with sauce, and sprinkle 1/3 of the mozzarella over it.  Then start again with noodles and build up until you’ve used all the goods.  The top layer should be pasta, spread with a tiny bit of sauce and sprinkled with some saved mozzarella.
6. Bake tented with tinfoil (you don’t want all that gooey top cheese stuck to the tin foil so make sure they aren’t touching!) for 30 minutes at 350 degrees, then remove the foil and cook final 10 minutes to let the cheese get good and melty.  When you see sauce bubbling up the side of the pan, you’ve nailed it.

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roasted vegetable lasagna

caprese & roasted garlic bruschetta

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The tomatoes are coming.  You can see them popping up here and there, in glorious shades of yellow and orange, and even bits of red. They will continue gain glory as the summer progresses. It’s all terribly exciting.

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Tomatoes tend to pair well with a lot of different flavors since they somehow manage to be sweet and acidic and unique all at once. However one of the simplest, and most pleasurable ways to enjoy them is unadorned with some basil and mozzarella. And bread, obviously. Because bread makes everything better. You add roasted garlic and it just becomes aggressively addictive.

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Sometimes you have to just eat this standing up at the kitchen counter, because to take it all the way to the table is just too long to wait.

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Caprese & Roasted Garlic Bruschetta

The caprese piece of this is as you expect, but the roasted garlic is the secret weapon that sets it apart. It’s such an easy way to add another element to an already delicious situation.

3 medium beefsteak tomatoes (or 2 quarts of cherry tomatoes), diced
2 large balls fresh mozzarella, cubed
fresh basil to taste
1 head of garlic
1 baguette, sliced
fresh basil, balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper to taste

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Slice the head of garlic horizontally and place on a baking sheet flesh side up and drizzle with olive oil.  Cook until fragrant and slightly browned. Set aside.
2. Dice tomatoes and mozzarella, mix together in a bowl with salt, pepper, chopped fresh basil, and balsamic vinegar.
3. Slice the baguette (or other equally delicious bread) and drizzle with olive oil and toast in oven until just browned on the edges. Dig the roasted garlic cloves out of the husks and spread one or two cloves on each slice of bread (the beauty of roasted garlic is that it becomes creamy and takes on a nutty, dreamy flavor. If you don’t like it though, you can omit it or use butter).
4. Top the slices with the tomato and mozzarella mixture, and eat immediately while the bread is warm and the mix is cool.

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caprese & roasted garlic bruschetta

“gluten is not the devil” – Jenn Louis

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I realize I keep talking about pasta.  But it’s because not only do I believe it deserves constant love and praise, but also because I recently went to a dinner completely dedicated to it with things that looked like this:

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So how could I not talk about it? Chef Jenn Louis of Portland, Oregon was in Boston promoting her new cookbook Pasta By Hand, which is beautiful and drool inducing.  She showcased some of the book’s goodies in a collaborative dinner at Alden & Harlow in Harvard Square with some of Boston’s finest chefs. Swoon.

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Each chef took one of the pastas from her book and created a dish around it, and what came out of the kitchen was incredible. Silly delicious. And beautiful to boot.

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The pièce de résistance for me was Louis’ own dish. Strozzapretti (a Florentine dumpling whose name Louis explains translates to “priest strangler” – just so you know) are made with seasonal greens and ricotta.  Louis served them simply with butter and Parmagiano-Reggiano. I could eat them every day. I may even move to Florence so I can. Or attempt to make the recipe from Louis’ book. Either way.

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All of this eye candy is merely to remind us of some really important mantras: everything in moderation, treat yo self, and carbs are lifeblood.

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“gluten is not the devil” – Jenn Louis

farfalle with zucchini greek yogurt and lemon

It’s true, there is yogurt in this pasta. Your first inclination might be to think that is not quite right, but think again my friends. Everyone secretly loves a creamy, cheesy pasta dish, but it inevitably makes you feel super bloated and full for about 2.37 days. Greek yogurt is the solution.IMG_6082Tangy is Greek yogurt’s most widely recognized characteristic, and it definitely brings that to the table here. But paired with a tiny bit of cream cheese, a healthy dose of salt, and the brightness of lemon zest–it really works.  And it’s just creamy enough to give that element of comfort minus the food hangover.
IMG_6074Rainy spring nights are the perfect setting for a heaping bowl of pasta, and thankfully (albeit slowly) vegetable isles across the northeast are once again showing signs of life. Grated zucchini is a pop of color and a subtle flavor that melts right into the mix and doesn’t event require additional cooking.  Frozen peas add a sweetness that offsets the zing of the yogurt and lemon. Someday I will swap them out for fresh peas…someday.
IMG_6083Important note to leave you with: feel free to get heavy handed with that parmesan cheese. It’s for your own good.

farfalle with zucchini, greek yogurt, and lemon
…slightly tweaked from Al Forno in Providence, RI via Food & Wine
serves 4-6

1 pound dried farfalle pasta
1 cup frozen peas
2 large zucchini, grated
3/4 cup plain greek yogurt
2 tbs plain cream cheese
2 tbs unsalted butter
zest and juice of half a lemon
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnishing
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt the water, and cook pasta for 10 minutes or until just cooked.  In the last minute throw in the frozen peas to flash cook. Drain (reserving a cup of pasta cooking water) and set aside.
2. In a pan over medium heat, melt the butter and then turn off the flame. Add in the yogurt, cream cheese, lemon zest and juice, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
3. Incorporate the zucchini, peas, and pasta.  Stir together, incorporating reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce if desired.  Add the parmesan cheese and taste for seasoning, add additional salt and pepper if needed.
4. Serve hot with extra cheese (see note above).
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farfalle with zucchini greek yogurt and lemon