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 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