Saturday, June 21, 2014

Recipes in Translation: Summertime Vegetable Ragù

It's the first day of summer, and I can't think of a better time to share this summertime recipe for Vegetable Ragù sauce for pasta.

I'm translating the recipe for Ragù di verdure from an Italian website called "Butta la pasta."  I was excited to find it because it's nearly identical to a recipe I made often when we lived in Italy, and it's a wonderful way to celebrate the amazing produce that's in season right now.

My English version of this recipe is not a word for word translation.  I'm using my years of experience in both American and Italian kitchens to create an interpretation of this authentic Italian recipe written with directions that should seem comfortable and familiar to an American home cook. 

The recipe as written in Italian calls for a kilogram of mixed, diced vegetables, such as red onion, zucchini, eggplant, and bell pepper, plus half a kilo of tomatoes.  I used two peppers, two zucchini, a medium red onion, and a small eggplant.  Half a kilo of tomatoes is about four Roma tomatoes.

If you want to invent your own vegetable blend, the volume measure is 8 cups of diced vegetables (not including the tomatoes)

Tomatoes when peeled, de-seeded, and diced, should be about three cups.  

To peel tomatoes, drop them into boiling water for 30-45 seconds.  If you're lucky you can slide the skins off with your fingers.  You may still need to use a vegetable peeler to remove some of the peel, but this job is much easier after the tomatoes have been dunked in boiling water. 

Scoop out all the seeds with a spoon.  Then dice.

Sauté the vegetables (except tomatoes) in 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil for 7-9 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, salt, and cayenne pepper, and sauté another 7-9 minutes.

When the tomatoes begin to melt into the sauce, add fresh basil.  Stir basil into the sauce and immediately turn off the heat.

Now you have a beautiful vegetable ragù, perfect for a warm or cold pasta dish.

This is enough vegetable ragù for a one pound box of pasta.  Here are my detailed instructions on how to cook pasta (including whole wheat pasta, as pictured here).

Summertime Vegetable Ragù

Servings: makes enough to dress a 1 pound box of pasta, serves 8

1 red onion, diced
2 bell peppers, diced (mix colors to make it pretty)
2 zucchini, diced
1 small eggplant, diced
4 Roma tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded, and diced
4 T extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 t fine sea salt
1/2 t cayenne
1/2 fresh basil, chopped

Heat the olive oil on medium high heat in a large sauté pan.  Add onions, peppers, zucchini, and eggplant.  Sauté uncovered for 7-9 minutes, until vegetables begin to soften.  Add the tomatoes, salt, and cayenne, sauté another 7-9 minutes, until tomatoes just begin to melt.  Add the fresh basil, stir quickly, then remove from heat.

Add to 1 pound of cooked pasta.  

If making a cold pasta salad, be sure cool the ragù and to rinse the boiled pasta under cool water before combining.

Buon appetito!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Strawberry Spinach Salad of Wellbeing

Dinner for one should be fun and easy to make.  I have fond memories of a delicious salad I used to order: spinach and fresh strawberries, feta cheese and candied nuts.  When I came across this similar recipe for Strawberry Spinach Salad from Emma's Little Kitchen, I couldn't wait to try it.

If you check out the recipe you'll notice it serves 4-6, which is 4-6 times 1, the only person around to eat the salad this evening.  Despite the fact that my amazing Paprika Recipe App will scale the recipe to a quarter, giving me the exact number of grams of each ingredient to put in the ideal salad for one, I decided to estimate amounts off the cuff.  After all, it's a salad.  Exact proportions are only a matter of taste, right?

The result of my hasty estimation:

If it isn't obvious from the photo, it was certainly apparent from the taste: the cheese and nuts (and to some extent the strawberries) were way to much for the amount of spinach in my bowl.  When not paying careful attention, I had generously piled on the yummiest ingredients- the parts of the salad that really excited me- in complete disregard for the salad as a whole.  So much nuts and cheese made the salad a bit too dry and salty.

Mae West tells us that too much of a good thing can be wonderful.  I say any amount of a good thing can be wonderful- until it isn't.  

There's a sneaky line between wonderful and not, between wellbeing and not.  It's in a slightly different place from person to person, and the only way I know to find it is through paying attention to my personal experience.  Sometimes I worry I'm tossing too much of the yummy stuff into my days- too much sofa time with a book and a kitty in my lap.  And, since I really do enjoy worrying, at other times I worry my life is too much spinach- too many days that are just checks off my todo list, leaving me low on energy and feeling like there's no fun in my life.

Wellbeing is a dynamic balance, kind of like making a good salad- only without a recipe.  The best way to figure out the balance of ingredients in a salad is to eat it.  The best way to figure out balance between what I should do and what I want to do, is to experience how I feel as my days, weeks, and years weave work and play.  When eating salad alone, I can sneak extra spinach leaves onto the plate as I eat, to get the proportions back in balance.  And as I try to find the balance of wellbeing, I get a new opportunity every morning, every hour, every breath, to adjust and recalibrate.

Once brought back into balance, the Strawberry Spinach Salad was delicious.  For convenience I subbed balsamic vinegar for champagne vinegar, and sesame seeds for the poppy seeds.  But the recipe impressed me enough that I'd splurge for the champagne vinegar next time, just to try.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Lentil and Veggie Taco and Burrito Filling

This weekend I was so excited to try a new Vegetarian Times recipe for Super Veggie Lentil Taco "Meat."  The name, itself sounded so encouraging: veggies, lentils, super- I'm in!

Although the idea of using lentils as taco filling, and the veggie mix listed in the recipe were both awesome, I knew the minute I got into the kitchen that I was going to completely ignore the method suggested by the recipe.  As written, the recipe would have been mush, vegetables boiled for half an hour in water together with lentils- then pulsed in the food processor?  No way!  Since I was throwing the directions out the window, I tossed out some of the ingredients, as well, choosing to infuse the lentils with my husband's favorite taco seasoning mix, instead of the recommended spices.  The result was the super yummy the original recipe promised.

This filling would work great in tacos- we used it in burritos, assembled with salsa, low fat cheese, and our signature Greek yogurt sauce for a protein packed, delicious lunch.  It's fantastic to have the veggies already cooked into the filling, and with this method you can still enjoy the texture, taste, and color of the veggies.

Lentil and Veggie Taco and Burrito Filling 

1 cup dry lentils
1 package taco seasoning

1 Tbs. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ large red bell pepper, chopped
5 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1/4 C tomato puree (or 1/2 C canned diced tomatoes or 1 fresh tomato, diced)
salt if needed

1. Cook the taco flavor right into the lentils!

I pressure cooked 1 C lentils with 1 3/4 C water and the contents of our favorite taco seasoning packet for 19 minutes.

If you don't use a pressure cooker, you can combine 1 C lentils with 2 C of water.  Bring the water to a boil.  Lower the heat and add the seasoning.  Then simmer for 30-45 minutes until all the water is absorbed.

2. Sauté the veggies.

I prefer to sauté with the lid off for the first minute or two, then cover with a lid for the remaining time.  Don't forget to lift the lid and stir from time to time.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Sauté all the vegetables except mushrooms together in a large wok for about 5 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and sauté another 5 minutes.

3. Finishing touches.

Add cooked lentils and tomatoes of your choice to vegetables and cook another 3-5 minutes, uncovered.

The packet of taco seasoning probably already has enough salt for the dish.  If not, add a little more to taste.