Monday, December 28, 2009

Pasta with Sugar Snap Peas and Prociutto

the bottom of the bowl...
I know, I know, there's pork in this. Loyal readers many be pointing fingers at my hipocracy refering to an earlier post outlining my recent diet guidelines. I did mention, however, that there are a few exceptions. This is one of them. Try it, and you'll know why. Even though there is pork in this, it's a very small amount, not like I'm eating a pork chop or something, and it does amazing things for the flavor. With that said, my Mother-in-law found this recipe in the newspaper last summer, and prepared it as a side for a family dinner. It became an instant, and I mean first bite instant, favorite. The flavors are fresh and simple... The procuitto-pea combination is really nothing new, but it was to me, and it came just in time to take advantage of the fresh, Michigan peas and asparagus that were so readily available. Unfortunately, the produce is not local this time of year, so I have to settle for peas and asparagus of a slightly lower quality, but it's still worth it. Often times pasta can be considered a budget meal, but you have to be careful with this one. A very nice gentleman at a local market tried to persuade me with a new prociutto they were carrying that customers raved about. I was intrigued, but not at $30 a pound (!), especially since this is a great meal for entertaining, and in that case I usually double or triple the recipe. Even picky eaters go back for seconds, and will be surprised at how many vegetables they'll eat when spiked with the flavors of parmesan and the bacon-y goodness of sauteed prociutto. Omitting the prociutto would make this an outstanding vegetarian dish. For Thanksgiving, I took some liberties and made this without the pasta and prociutto for a non-traditional vegetable side dish, reducing the amount of oil and spices, and everyone was delighted. I decided not to share it then because I wanted to present the recipe in its entirety.

Pasta with Sugar Snap Peas and Prociutto
adapted from the Detroit News

4 oz. prociutto, chopped
3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes as desired
1 tablespoon fresh, crushed garlic
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2 inch peices
1/2 lb. sugar snap peas, trimmed
1/2 lb. bow-tie pasta
3/4 c. freshly grated parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 oz.), divided
fresh ground black pepper

1. Saute prosciutto in 1 Tbsp. olive oil until crisp. Remove from pan and drain on paper towel.
2. Add the remaining 2 Tbsp. oil to the pan along with red pepper flakes and garlic, and heat until fragrant.
3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add pasta and cook according to package directions. Add asparagus and snap peas 2-4 minutes before the pasta is completely cooked. Drain pasta and vegetables.
4. Add the pasta and vegetables and prociutto to the oil mixture and toss to coat. Add 1/2 c. parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately with extra cheese.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Black Bean and Pumpkin Soup

This recipe was a result of a lonley can of pumkin that had been sitting in my pantry for over a month, and would stare at me every morning begging for a purpose.  I was desperately searching for a savory and healthful application all while being taunted by the Pumpkin Roll recipe on the back of the can. As I said before, sometimes you just have to back away. The web, and many other blogs did not disappoint. Pumpkin soup recipes are more common that I would have thought. Many are sweet, rich, and thickened with cream. I chose beans, surprise, surprise. I was pleased with how it turned out, but I'm still trying to convince that picky guy I live with. Give it a whirl, and let me know what you think.

Pumpkin Soup
compiled from many sources, inspired by smitten kitchen

2 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 c. finely chopped onion
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. curry powder
pinch of cinnamon
2 cans (15 oz.) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14 oz.) No Salt Added diced tomatoes
1 can (15 oz.) pumkin puree
1 quart (4 c.) low sodium vegetable stock
2 tsp. white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a 6 quart stock pot, combine butter, oil, oinion, garlic, and spices. Cook over medium heat until onions are translucent and just starting to brown.
2. Meanwhile, coarsely puree black beans and tomatoes in a food processer. It should only take a few long  pulses.
3. Add bean mixture, pumpkin, and vegetable stock to the pan. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to a simmer.
4. Continue cooking uncovered for about 25 minutes or until the soup begins to thicken. Add vinegar and continue simmering for an additional 5 minutes. Serve plain or garnish with pumpkin seeds, sour cream, or an extra splash of vinegar.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Vegetable-Bean Spirals

I finally won something. Not once, but twice in the same day, at the same event! Perhaps my inherent "unlucky-ness" has taken a turn. The fact that these wins may have been a phenomenal guess at a candy-filled estimation jar and Christmas carol worksheet at a recent holiday party is irrelevent. I am soaking it all in. :) I would also consider these little veggie bites a win, considering that I had never made them before, and did so in a hurry in the interval between work and pre-party beautification. They came together rather quickly and without any cooking! Since I was hurried, their uniformity was compromised, but were still tasty, healthy, and pleasing to the eye. I don't know about you, but nothing screams "eat me" like a colorful, fresh, veggie-filled spiral of an island in the middle of the crashing sea of cream cheese-laden dips that frequent holiday buffets. Please don't get me wrong, I do love my cheese, but sometimes, you just need to back away slowly. Did I mention that I was rushed when I made these? Future veggie spirals will have a bean mixture made with hot salsa, some onions, added spices like cumin and paprika, and significantly larger slices of avocado in the center.

Vegetable-Bean Spirals
lifted from vegetarian times

Bean Mixture:
1 can (15 oz.) black beans, rinsed and drained
3-4 Tbsp. salsa
1/4 c. packed cilantro leaves and tender stems
salt to taste

Vegetable Spirals:
4 9-to-10 inch spinach tortillas
1 1/3 c. packed finely shredded red cabbage
4 thin carrot sticks, about 8 inches long and 1/2 inch wide
4 strips red bell pepper (you'll probably need 8), about 1/4 inch wide
8 slices ripe, firm Hass avocado, sprinkled with juice of 1/2 a lime

1. To make Bean Mixture: In food processor, blend beans, 3 tablespoons salsa and cilantro into thick paste. Add more salsa, if needed for spreadable mixture. Add salt.
2. To make Vegetable Spirals: Using spatula, spread 3 tablespoons bean mixture on a tortilla, leaving about 1/2 inch around edges. Sprinkle on 1/4 of cabbage, and gently press in. Place a carrot stick horizontally about 1 inch from bottom of tortilla, and place 1 strip red bell pepper above it. Arrange 2 slices avocado, end to end, on top of carrot.
3. Wrap bottom edge of tortilla over vegetables, and roll tightly. Moisten top edge lightly with bean paste or water to seal. Gently press roll to shape it into log. Fill and roll remaining tortillas.
4. To serve, set each roll seam side down on cutting board. Use sharp knife to trim off edges. Hold roll firmly, and use gentle sawing motion to cut into 5 or 6 pieces, making every other slice on the diagonal. Divide among 8 salad plates, or arrange on party platter, diagonal sides up.

A special thanks goes to the husband who permitted me to bring this item, rather than individual cheesecakes, to the aforementioned soiree.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cashew Apple Salad

It's been a while since I've been in a yoga class, and I really miss it. I miss the routine relaxing feeling of going through a sun salutation in a room full of friendly strangers, where all other thoughts and worries seem to float away. I haven't really thought about it this way before, but I kind of have an alternative to this feeling in the kitchen. Cooking in general (and apparently writing about it) has a therapeutic effect on me especially if what I am cooking is something that I know and love, and I don't have to worry about following a recipe. Making salads compounds this feeling. I have always enjoyed chopping fresh, colorful veggies with no real exactness and piling them high into a bowl. There is something very zen about it. I happen to love eating salads too, and crave them almost as much as chocolate chip cookies, and am a total sucker for a good salad bar or deli with a variety of vegetable, pasta, fruit, and potato salads to delight the palate. My daydreams have been preoccupied with this particular combination for several months, ever since some good friends introduced us to it. This salad really is perfect any time of year. The dressing is light and bright and accompanies a summer barbeque quite nicely-which is how we first had it-while the apples and nuts make it somewhat harvesty (my blog-I'll make up words if I want to) and wintery. Now that I think about it, some dried cranberries might make an aesthetically pleasing and flavorful addition.

Cashew Apple Salad
adapted from the Chicago Sun-Times and

1 head romaine lettuce, red romaine, or red leaf lettuce
2 Granny Smith apples, sliced thin
1 c. lightly salted cashew halves
1 c. shredded swiss or mozzarella cheese

1/2 c. canola oil
1/3 c. white wine vinegar
1/4 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. red onion, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. poppy seeds
1/2 tsp. dry mustard

1. Combine dressing ingredients in a well sealing container and shake vigorously to mix.
2. In a large bowl, combine lettuce, apples, and cashews, and toss with desired amount of dressing. (I use less than half of what this makes)
3. Serve immediately topping each serving with cheese. Alternatively, add the cheese in step 2 with the other ingredients. We add it to each serving becuase of the swiss vs. mozz battle in my house.

Another option for the dressing is to combine the ingredients in a food processor or blender to create an emulsion by drizzling in the oil, yielding a creamier dressing.