Tag Archives: garlic

plenty: multi-vegetable paella

To celebrate my new job(!!), my in-laws took Andrew and I to one of my absolute favorite restaurants, Jose Andres’ Jaleo. This is how I finished a memorable night of tapas:

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Back in our apartment days/my unemployed-days, I often stayed up to watch Chef Andres’ PBS show Made In Spain. His dishes looked remarkable, and I was especially envious of his children digging their forks into the paella he made on their backyard grill. Unfortunately for me, his paella consisted of many meat-lover’s ingredients, assuring me I might go my entire life without experiencing paella. Paella, meaning “frying pan”, is a saffron-flavored Spanish dish made with varying combinations of rice, vegetables, meat, chicken, and seafood. Those last three key ingredients just don’t fit in to my picky palate.

Then I bought this beautiful book last year that has rocked my kitchen over and over and over. To continue my series featuring the brilliant cookbook Plenty, I’m first going to tease you with this upcoming pistachio couscous recipe from said Cookbook-That-Delivers-Every-Time (then we’ll talk paella).

I did not have paella rice (though I realized yesterday I had risotto rice hiding in my pantry all along. Out of complete desperation I used long-grain white rice (you could use jasmine or basmati, though basmati has a strong flavor). I know using long-grain white rice means my chances of shaking hands with Chef Andres are now as slim as ever, surely I have embarrassed the entire country of Spain. But people: this is still the best damn rice you’ll have in your life, so don’t let a little grain get you down. Yes there are numerous ingredients, but this is very, very special. Bring this one out for company.

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Multi-Vegetable Paella

from Plenty, serves 6

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, cut into strips

1/2 fennel bulb, cut into strips

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 bay leaves

1/4 tsp. smoked paprika

1/2 tsp. ground turmeric

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 cup short-grain paella rice (however, I used jasmine)

6  1/2 tablespoons sherry (I used sherry vinegar)

1 tsp. saffron threads

2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock

3/4 cup fava beans (fresh or frozen)

12 plum tomatoes, halved

5 small artichokes in oil from a jar, drained and quartered

15 pitted kalamata olives, crushed or halved

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

4 lemon wedges

Saute the veggies.

Heat up the olive oil in a paella pan, or a large shallow skillet, and gently soften the onion for 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers and fennel and continue to cook on medium heat for about 6 minutes, or until soft and golden. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.

Add the spices and cook the rice.

Add the bay leaves, paprika, turmeric, and cayenne to the vegetables, and stir well. Then add the rice and stir thoroughly for 2 minutes before adding the sherry and saffron. Boil down for a minute, then add the stock and ⅓ teaspoon salt. Reduce the heat to the minimum and simmer very gently for about 20 minutes, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Do not cover the pan, and don’t stir the rice during the cooking.

(I omitted this step:) Meanwhile, pour plenty of boiling water over the fava beans in a bowl and leave for a minute, then drain well and leave to cool down. Now squeeze each bean gently to remove the skin and discard it.

Steam the vegetables.

Remove the paella pan from the heat. Taste and add more salt if needed, but without stirring the rice and vegetables much. Scatter the tomatoes, artichokes, and fava beans over the rice, and cover the pan tightly with foil. Leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Take off the foil with gusto to reveal this exquisite presentation. Scatter the olives on top of the paella and sprinkle with parsley. Remove the bay leaves and serve with wedges of lemon.

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Andrew and I haven’t been to Spain—yet—but this dish provided a divine cultural experience. We have been traveling abroad recently, more on that next time 😉

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pantry picnic

If you live on the East Coast, you know Mother N. hit the fast-forward button straight from winter to summer. I’m rocking sundresses on a daily basis these (80-degree) days and ready to eat outside. Andrew and I have re-opened Cafe Lindrew for the season—that is, our little stone patio looking out to the woods. This week has been barbeque with cousins and Mickey Mouse birthdays, and Happy Hour on the patio with the hubs (yuengling for Andrew, textbook for me).

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Isn’t it clear it’s time to get outside for some Vitamin D? In keeping with our humble canned-food quest, here’s a two-minute slaw to take on your next picnic—even if it’s in your backyard. Yes, I realize the contradiction: canned food + a $150 food processor? A big ol’ food processor makes this salad lightening-fast. In case you don’t have a large food processor, you could make this in batches in a small $14 food processor, or just chop up all the ingredients and stir in a big bowl! I never have luck with these hand choppers, but this slaw is the perfect use for one if you’ve got it!

I was missing several ingredients (indicated below) and this was still delightful—like the chicken salad solution for vegetarians. A surprising hit in both the teacher’s lounge and my hubby’s sneak taste-test. “Wow, that smells awesome,” he said over my shoulder. “Am I allowed to have some?” Don’t mention it’s missing meat 😉

Chunky Artichoke and Chickpea Salad

Vegetarian Times, serves 6

For a spring picnic or lunch, serve this dish as a dip with crackers or spread on pumpernickel and top with tomato.Or enjoy with your favorite sandwich (apple and cheddar). Don’t freak out at the number of ingredients until you see how many steps follow.
1  16-oz. can / jar artichoke hearts packed in water, drained
1  12-oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
¼ cup chopped onion
¼ cup chopped cornichons (French baby pickles)—I used a bread & butter spear
¼ cup chopped green bell pepper
¼ cup chopped fresh celery
¼ cup vegan mayonnaise (I used regular Hellmans)
2 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. capers (I omitted)
1 clove garlic, minced (1 tsp.)
1 tsp. seafood seasoning, such as Old Bay (I omitted)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard (I omitted)

Pulse all ingredients in food processor until chunky. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Chill at least 30 minutes, or overnight.

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Thank you Vegetarian Times for the nutrition facts! Per 1/2-cup serving (note the majority of the fat is not saturated):

Calories: 148, Protein: 5 g, Total Fat: 9 g, Saturated Fat: 1 g, Carbohydrates: 17 g, Cholesterol: 2 mg, Sodium: 435 mg, Fiber: 6 mg, Sugar: 3 g

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origanum majorana

Marjoram sounds like the name of a homely, studious girl in your mother’s eighth grade biology class.  I don’t know about you, but the scientific classification for the herb Marjoram, origanum majorana, sounds like a naughty phrase from the boy’s locker room. Utter its cousin, origanum vulgare, and it’s study hall for you.

However you like to address fresh herbs, I have a spunky friend for your new pal Marjoram. Oregano is her sneak-out-the-window older sister, so the same flavor rules apply. If you’ve visited A Pear to Remember before, cue palm-to-forehead smack as I gush over eggplant and feta YES SERIOUSLY AGAIN. (I find affordable, abundant varieties of eggplant at Korean/Latino grocers, discussed here).

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Andrew is a newly inducted member of the eggplant fan club and still weary of initiation rituals. When it’s not breaded or covered in cheese, eggplant in-the-nude lingers suspiciously longer on his fork on the slow ascend to his mouth. He liked this salad. Really, genuinely liked this salad. I like to think the Andrew-Stamp resides in the same circle of Kid’s Approval since, let’s face it, men aren’t always so excited about new veggies.

If you thought eggplant was only for Italian food, well, obviously you’re new here. Even if you’ve cooked it twelve ways, here’s a strikingly simple Middle Eastern salad for your expanding culinary repertoire.

Spinach Salad with Grilled Eggplant and Feta

from Gourmet, June 2009

serves 4 as a main dish, 8 as a side

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon minced garlic (I’ve got a sexy Brit to show you how)

2 teaspoons chopped marjoram or oregano

1 (1 1/4-pounds) eggplant, trimmed and cut into 8 (1-inch-thick) rounds (here’s how)

10 ounces baby spinach

1 cup crumbled feta (1/4 pound)

1/4 cup pine nuts (1 ounce), lightly toasted

Prepare grill for direct-heat cooking over hot charcoal (high heat for gas); we use this stovetop fellow year round. Whisk together oil, lemon juice, garlic, marjoram, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl.

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Brush both sides of eggplant slices with some of dressing. Season with 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper—you know, pinch it, don’t fret over measures. Oil grill rack, then grill eggplant, covered only if using a gas grill, turning occasionally, until tender, 12 to 15 minutes total. Cut into pieces.

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Toss spinach with enough dressing to coat and season with salt and pepper. Add eggplant, feta, and pine nuts and toss again.

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Serve atop fluffy couscous and sprinkle with some baby tomatoes. I imagine this salad would gladly accept an invitation from my juicy roast chicken to get together after school and “study”.

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greetings and bean-ings!

Hi friends, I’ve missed you, too! Where have I been? I have an exciting life-project (which may involve me reading 22 books) that I can’t reveal for some time—sorry for the necessary suspense. How have you been?

Here’s the quick catch up on me since August…

Andrew and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary at our favorite B&B

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I chopped my hair off (my students love the fairy resemblance)

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My sweet sister-in-law got engaged (while I snapped, surprise!, 201 photos)

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For Andrew’s 27th birthday this month, we threw a wildly successful Mad Men party (where Andrew had this genius idea to have everyone else bring the food)

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I honored my Grammy’s memory with her kick-ass thanksgiving stuffing

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And, kind of personal, but it’s been nearly 300 days since my last sinus infection so I lovvvvvvve being chronically healthy now (thank you, Symbicort) and in the kitchen every day!

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I realize last time I dropped in to chat, we were discussing corn, but the weather demands we move on. I don’t know where you live, but Virginia had a sunny, 60 degree Thanksgiving day quickly turned blistery-cold weekend. Let’s warm-up and snuggle up with a hearty, healthy dish before the neighbors start delivering cookies…

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Fresh herbs are vital in this simple stew, trust me. And grab a big, fresh, cheesey loaf of bread to scoop up every last drop.  We serve this with Trader Joe’s Alpine Gruyere bread. Click on the highlighted words should you like a demonstration on technique. In this dish, don’t concern yourself with precise vegetable measurements; the more veggies the tastier.

Tuscan White Beans

Adapted from Ina Garten, serves 6… or amazing leftovers

1 pound dried white cannellini beans, cooked (or about 4 15 oz. cans; I have always used canned)

3 tbsp. olive oil

2 cups chopped carrots (4 carrots)

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves; note jarred minced garlic will be too potent in this dish)

1 to 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I love the rich flavor of Pacific Organic)

1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or aged cheese like parmesan)

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Rinse and drain the white beans. Heat the olive oil in a large pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the pepper and carrots, and sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute more. Add the beans to the vegetables.

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Add 1 cup of the stock, rosemary, salt and pepper, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 12 to 15 minutes, until creamy.

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Stir in the Pecorino, season to taste, and serve hot with fresh bread. We’ve never used spoons.

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france’s third favorite dish

Pardon my absence, I’ve been graduating. And resting. And eating out. Now that I’ve completed my graduate courses in Nutrition, I feel hyper-aware of my responsibilities to promote good health—especially in my own kitchen. That’s why we’re talking whole grains today in their most loveable form. If you’re not aboard the couscous train, allow me to introduce this fluffy five-minute grain as your new weeknight wonder. Yes, a 2011 study published in Vie Pratique Gourmand showed couscous to be the third favorite dish of French people. And first place in East France! Oui.

Polish-raised folk—such as myself—can rarely resist a potato recipe. And when I saw this recipe as Vegetarian Time’s “top pick” for the April issue, I tested it in my own kitchen. If you don’t have these spices on hand, you will find plenty of excuses to use them in my favorite Eastern recipes. For a little bit of chopping, and 20 quick minutes, this simple dish offers a hearty reward.

Try this out on the deck with fresh pita and minty iced tea. Happy end-of-spring.

Quick Moroccan Tagine

Vegetarian Times April 2010, serves 6
Note: you can serve this spice-laced North African stew over bulgur, couscous, or rice.

Spice Blend

2 tsp. ground cumin

1 ½ tsp. sweet or smoked paprika

1 tsp. ground ginger (I didn’t have this, it was fine!)

½ tsp. ground turmeric

¼ tsp. ground cinnamon

Tagine

2 Tbs. olive oil

1 large leek, cut into 1-inch-thick rounds (watch prep tips here)

1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch triangles (how to cut bell pepper)

4 medium potatoes, scrubbed and halved (redskin or yukon gold)

1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas (or 1 15-oz. can, rinsed and drained)

2 cloves garlic, minced on a microplane or grater (2 tsp.)

8 dried apricots, quartered

½ cup dry-cured black olives, optional

¼ cup chopped cilantro

1 cup whole-wheat couscous

To make the spice blend, combine all ingredients in small bowl.

To make Tagine: Heat oil in pot over medium-high heat. Add leek and bell pepper; sauté 3 minutes.

Add potatoes, chickpeas, garlic, and Spice Blend; cook 30 seconds.

Stir in apricots, olives (if using), and 2 cups water; season with salt and pepper, if desired.

Cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender (my red potatoes were tender in 10 minutes).

While the vegetables are simmering, make the couscous: heat 1 cup water (or chicken broth) until boiling.

Once boiling, stir in 1 cup dry couscous. Cover and remove from heat. Let the couscous steam for five minutes. Regardless of the serving size, couscous always takes five minutes (glory be!). After the couscous steams, fluff gently with a fork.

Spoon the couscous into a bowl and top with the vegetables and sauce. Serve sprinkled with cilantro.

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is it a brie day or bulgar day?

When I’m not shoveling in pastry-wrapped brie, I try to plan healthy meals for Andrew and I. With our Charleston trip just a week away (and belly-aching memories of monstrous pancakes from last year’s visit), we’re trying to eat light before a week of Southern cuisine. After 350 days, I think I am ready to look at biscuits again.

I love the search engine on Epicurious.com, which provided an abundance of quick, easy and healthy recipes. I chose an herb-packed grain salad to accompany a different take on green beans. With almonds and lemons on hand, edamame in the freezer, and a healthy mint plant on my windowsill, the meal was budget-friendly with ample leftovers.

I grabbed bulgur, a whole grain, in the bulk bin for less than $2 and was pleasantly surprised to find it tastes fluffier than couscous and not at all bland like whole wheat pastas. It tastes buttery.

The following recipes—marrying here for a substantial meal—are adapted from the September 2009 issue of Gourmet magazine. Oh, and you need to be open to cilantro.

Bulgur with Herbs

1 cup bulgur wheat

2 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup sliced almonds

1 cup chopped scallions (from 1 bunch)

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1/2 cup chopped mint

1 tablespoon store-bought roasted-almond oil or olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus 1/2 tsp. lemon zest

In a medium pot, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Stir in the cup of bulgur, and cover, allowing the bulgur to simmer on low heat. Stir occasionally and cook about 20 minutes until the bulgur has expanded. Fluff gently with a fork. Drain any excess water.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a small heavy skillet over medium heat until hot, then cook almonds, stirring, until golden, about 1 minute.

Return drained bulgur to serving bowl and stir in scallions, herbs, lemon zest and juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and almonds (with oil).

Season with salt and more lemon juice if desired. Serve at room temperature. Oh how crunchy and loaded with lemony flavor!

Bevy of Beans and Basil

3/4 frozen edamame, thawed (soybeans; shelled saves time)

3/4 pound young fresh Romano beans (Italian flat beans), stemmed and cut diagonally into 1 1/2-to 2-inch pieces (I omitted)

1/2 pound green or wax beans, trimmed and halved crosswise

1/4 cup packed basil leaves

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons water

1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

2 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste

Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil; add thawed edamame for about two minutes, remove with slotted spoon and transfer to serving bowl. Cook Romano beans (if using) in same pot of boiling water, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 5 minutes. Drain well and transfer to a bowl.

Cook green beans in same pot until just tender, 6 to 7 minutes and add to other beans.

Cut basil into very thin shreds. Cook garlic in oil with a rounded 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 1 minute.

Add beans, water, zest and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through. Stir in basil and 2 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice and remove from heat. Season with salt and additional lemon juice if desired.

Serve beans warm or at room temperature.

It’s a record-hot spring already in Virginia, this is perfect picnic food!

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family dinner

Like my recent bean posts, today we’re talking about discovering new foods on my journey to be a Less Picky Eater. You say picky, I say vegetarian. Tomato, tomahto.

There are people who think they are not squash people. I did not grow up a squash person, only the occasional zucchini—which, I’m sorry, hardly counts. It was only three years ago I ventured into acorn squash (halved and roasted as cheesy basmati bowls), butternut, and mostly recently spaghetti squash.

I love that you can purchase butternut squash pre-cut in the grocer’s deli section (it makes this recipe a breeze). Despite my sharpest knife, I have nearly severed limbs attempting to break into that son-of-a-gourd. A few dollars more, this is true, but I find the cost of pre-cut butternut squash absolutely worth the 20 minutes, tears, and blood loss that accompanies the raw gargantuan gourd.

This is a spectacular, I mean truly remarkable soup worth adding to your repertoire. There are few dishes I make twice (too many new recipes bookmarked!), and this has already become one of them. It has two steps—roasting and blending—six ingredients, and can feed a grateful crowd without a drop of sweat on your end.

I recently served this for the entire family to accompany my favorite asparagus ravioli in brown butter sauce. Andrew does not consider himself a fan of squash or mushrooms, but he always gobbles this up with compliments to the chef (c’est moi). Pops, also not a known for a squash preference, took home the leftover soup! As Kramer would say: Oh mama.

Roasted Squash Shittake Soup

adapted slightly from Martha Stewart, serves 4 as an entrée, 8 as an appetizer

2 3/4 lb. butternut squash, pre-cut into 2-inch pieces

1 onion, peeled and quartered through the stem

4 shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps wiped clean with a paper towel

4 small garlic cloves, unpeeled

olive oil

5 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium vegetable stock (I love Pacific Organic)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Combine squash cubes, onion, mushrooms, and unpeeled garlic on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with enough olive oil just to coat (about 1/2 cup) and 2 teaspoons salt (sea salt or Kosher). Toss and spread in a single layer. Divide onto two baking sheets if needed; there should be space between all the vegetables or they will steam and not brown.

Roast until squash is tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 30 minutes, rotating pan and tossing vegetables halfway through. Let cool, then remove skins from the garlic by squeezing out the pulp.

Transfer vegetables to a medium saucepan; heat over medium. Pour in 2 cups stock; puree with an immersion blender until smooth (or you can do this in an upright blender, transferring the veggies straight from the oven to the blender).

With the blender running, slowly add remaining 3 cups stock, and puree until smooth. (If serving later, refrigerate in the pot at this point). Bring soup just to a simmer. Remove from heat, and season with salt and pepper. Cover to keep warm.

A brief bit about broth: I used vegetable broth upon the first trial of this soup, and while I usually do not prefer the flavor it did work well here. I used chicken broth on the most recent batch, and while the different was subtle, I preferred the vegetable broth. Moral of the story, use either.

For what soup was your grandmother best known?

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cheap eats

For over twenty years I was the vegetarian who didn’t like beans. It was a texture and taste thing, mostly a texture thing. So I found ways to disguise them: crunchy, roasted chickpeas became a favorite snack, followed by white bean dip.

As it’s important to vegetarians to consider iron-rich foods, I have been on a quest for more enjoyable bean recipes. I have two stellar recipes to share—the Tuscan Beans in next week’s post is unforgettable. Both are best enjoyed with fresh grilled bread, which makes such inexpensive dishes a dash more decadent. This lunch manages to be an elegant 5-minute meal as simple as it gets: bread and beans.

Mixed Bean and Parsley Salad

from Cooking After Five, serves 4, or 2 with leftovers


2 cans chickpeas, drained

2 cans canellini beans, drained

1 cup parsley, lightly packed, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced (on your microplane)

Juice of 1 lemon

Extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

In a large bowl, combine beans, parsley, garlic, lemon juice, and a couple splashes of extra-virgin olive oil. Toss to combine and season with salt and freshly cracked pepper. Grate enough cheese so it looks like a mound of snow, about 1/2 cup, then toss. Taste. Serve with grilled bread.

For grilled bread:

Slice a fresh loaf (cheese or herbed bread is extra fun)  into one-inch pieces. Brush both sides lightly with olive oil and grill over medium heat. If you don’t have a grill, place the oiled slices on a flat baking sheet and grill under the broiler until golden brown. With tongs, turn the slices and brown the second side. For fun, rub a halved garlic clove over each hot slice—it adds a special, tangy touch.

Note: Parsley has a grassy flavor not everyone prefers. Chives, basil, or a combination of fresh herbs would be a fantastic substitute for the parsley here. Basil and white beans are a wonderful combination.

Click here for my other favorite recipes featuring garbanzo beans.

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a firenze frenzy

This Sunday, I plan to eat delicious snacks and salty things as an ode to my American culture. I have no plans, however, to watch sporting events. My lifelong indifference to athletics led only to my parents teasing me I would surely marry a man who wanted to watch football every Sunday. Well, I married a film major (brags blogger wife whose laptop rests upon a 4th edition of The Screenwriter’s Bible). We’ll probably take the day to enjoy our own movie marathon. And eat snacks.

Last Super Bowl Sunday, I was home sick and eating this. This year, I am on the rebound to good health and endorsing some healthy appetizers (inspired by serious steroid-related weight gain). These were such a smash at our housewarming in August, and a nice treat again this week at a neighborly happy hour. Tis not the season for tomatoes and strawberries—I know, I know—but grape tomatoes help make the most of this Tuscan treat.

Note: I made this for 50 guests with nary a leftover and multiplied the recipe by six. Because the toasts and topping make excellent leftovers, it is worth at least doubling the recipe. I also used a multigrain baguette the second time around, and it was fantastic.

Crostini di Firenze

from Desperation Entertaining by Beverly Mills & Alicia Ross

makes 20 crostini

1 baguette (at least 12 inches long)

1 large clove fresh garlic

3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

1/4 lb. ripe strawberries (about 1/2 cup chopped)

1 lb. grape tomatoes, halved

5 or 6, fresh mint leaves (2 tsp. chopped)

Make the crostini

Turn on the broiler. Cut off one end of the baguette, then cut 20 slices, each about 1/2 inch wide. Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast in the hot broiler about 3 inches from the heat source until golden brown, about 1 minute. Remove, turn the slices over, and toast until golden brown on the second side, about 45 seconds. Remove the toasted bread from the baking sheet and let cool to room temperature.

Mix the topping

Mince the garlic (on a microplane, or like this) and place in a small bowl. Add the olive oil, vinegar, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk well to blend and set aside at room temperature until ready to serve. The vinaigrette and toast slices can be stored at this point for up to 8 hours. Cover the vinaigrette. Place the toast slices in an airtight container at room temperature.

Rinse and drain the strawberries thoroughly. Remove the leaf caps of the strawberries and cut the berries in half. Place the strawberry halves on a cutting board and chop coarsely to 1/4-inch pieces. Put the strawberries in a mixing bowl with the chopped tomatoes. Rinse and dry the mint leaves; finely chop and add to the fruit mixture. The strawberry-and-tomato mixture can be refrigerated and covered up to 2 hours.

Assemble the firenze

Whisk the vinaigrette to remix, pour over the fruit mixture and stir well to blend. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to your preference. Arrange the toasts on a serving platter and spoon the topping onto each slice.

Let the crostini stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes before serving to allow the vinaigrette to penetrate the bread. They will get soggy if standing too long, so better to assemble in batches—I promise, even in the midst of a party, this is a breeze. They will go fast.

Click to some other favorite dips and appetizers from A Pear to Remember

Jalapeno-Feta Dip

Mushroom Turnovers

Watermelon-Feta Bites

Blue Cheese and Walnut Crackers

5-Ingredient Trail Mix

Smoked Paprika Chickpeas

Savory Tartlettes

Goat Cheese Bruschetta

Stuffed Peppadews

Roasted Red Pepper Dip with Pita Chips

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five out of five

My college dining hall had very few vegetarian entrées, and I ate vegetable lasagna at least four days a week in my undergraduate years. It was one of those carrot-zucchini lasagnas with white sauce and cheese, and it was so comforting. The Mongolian grill installed during my senior year increased the variety in my dining hall diet, but I couldn’t resist the creamy lasagna every once in a while still.

I have always been intimidated by lasagna—making it, that is. The layers and the prep and the waiting all that time for it to bake just seemed like too much work—this from the gal willing to make homemade pasta. But I’m conquering all kinds of new dishes these days. You can, too.

Here’s what makes my adaptation of this lasagna simple in preparation: use packaged artichoke hearts, no-boil lasagna noodles, and pre-trimmed leeks. Trader Joes even has pre-chopped leeks in their freezer section! (Click here to watch a demonstration on cleaning and slicing leeks).

I came across this 5-star recipe and said to myself, This sounds amazing. and it’s screaming to be simplified. and I wonder if it would work with mushrooms?

The Ultimate Vegetable Lasagna

simplified a smidge from williams-sonoma.com

serves 8-10

1 box no-boil lasagna noodles

2 cups ricotta cheese

3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

2 Tbs. olive oil

5 leeks including 1 inch of  green, rinsed well and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 cup artichoke hearts (frozen or jarred), chopped

about 10 baby bella mushrooms, brushed clean, stems removed, and sliced

5 garlic cloves, minced (on a microplane)

3 cups milk

4 Tbs. unsalted butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

a pinch of nutmeg

1/2 lb. shredded mozzarella cheese

Make the vegetable filling

In a fry pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the leeks and sauté until very soft and lightly golden, about 15 minutes.

While the leeks are cooking, heat 1 tbsp. butter in a medium pot (large enough to use for white sauce) over medium-high heat. Sear the mushrooms by adding them in batches, leaving plenty of room between the slices. Set aside.

Once the leeks are tender, drain the artichokes and add to the fry pan with a pinch of salt and pepper. Continue to cook over medium heat until the artichokes are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.

Add the mushrooms, stir, and transfer the mixture to a bowl. Set aside.

Make the cheese filling

In a small bowl, stir together the ricotta, parmesan, salt and pepper; set aside.

Make the white sauce

In the buttered saucepan (from the mushrooms), melt the remaining 3 tbsp. butter over medium-high heat.

Whisk the flour into the butter and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. It should look like this.

Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the hot milk. Set over medium-low heat and cook, stirring, until thick and smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Remove the sauce from the heat.

Assemble and Bake

Position a rack in the upper third of an oven and preheat to 375°F. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with olive oil.

Cover the bottom of the prepared dish with a layer of the noodles. No-boil lasagna noodles just go into the pan straight from the box; it’s fabulous. Spoon one-third of the ricotta mixture over the noodles—this doesn’t need to be neat.

Top with one-third of the leek-artichoke mixture and then with one-third of the sauce. Repeat the layering twice.

Sprinkle the mozzarella evenly over the top. Bake until golden and bubbling, 40 to 50 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes (painful, I know!), then cut into squares and dig in.

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