Tag Archives: Italian

Spicy Italian Lentils

Lentils are one of my favorite legumes. Compared to other common beans, they’re higher in protein and lower in carbs per serving. Even better, they cook up from dried in just 20 to 30 minutes, which means much less planning and cook time. I was fully prepared to make them my usual way, but I had an extra chili pepper rolling around in my vegetable bin, so I started to chop that up. Hot peppers made me think of spicy Italian sausage, so I decided to go with the detour and came up with this recipe, which I hope y’all will love as much as I do.

Spicy Italian Lentils

  • 2 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 chili pepper, deseeded and minced or 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning mix
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 2-3 cups of water
  • 1 tsp salt or to taste

Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, chilies or pepper flakes, and herbs and cook until very fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add lentils and cook until glistening. Add water and salt, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes, adding water if needed. Serves 4.

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Classic Marinara

This time of year for canning is a bit odd. While it has cooled off enough that I’m not miserable canning and my favorite fruit and vegetable is in season (TOMATOES!), I’m losing my canning drive and inspiration. The first time I made Ball Canning’s basil-garlic tomato sauce, I was excited that it didn’t require pre-peeling all the tomatoes and figured I could knock it out in a few hours. I rapidly came to the realization that there was no way my largest pot could hold 20 pounds of tomatoes. I dirtied every pot, liberally smearing my white counters and stove top with tomatoes, as I tried to cook down all those tomatoes, and ensure equal distribution of the ingredients. I gave up after a few hours, packed everything away in my fridge, and decided to start again the next afternoon. Day 2 showed me that putting tomato puree through a colander was an impossible task, but pureeing whole tomatoes with the skins on left the sauce bitter. I spent an hour burning my finger tips as I fished peels out of sauce and pureed the denuded fruit in batches. The final defeat was the fact that the recipe says it made 7 1/2 pints, when in fact it made 7 1/2 quarts. Slight difference there, y’all.

Anyways, my disaster is to your benefit. This version might take a little more initial prep, but is a lot less frustrating in the long run. And this winter when you pull out a jar of farm fresh tomato sauce on a cold night, you’ll be glad you did this. When you’re ready to eat, add a pinch a sugar before you heat. And as always, follow standard canning procedures for preparing jars and lids.

Classic Marinara

  • 10 lbs Roma or San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion (1 small)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • 8 tbsp commercial lemon juice, divided
  • 4 tsp salt, divided
  • 4 quart canning jars OR 8 pint canning jars, with lids and rings
  1. Working in small batches (~2 lbs), drop tomatoes in boiling water for 1 minute, then transfer to a bowl of ice water.
  2. Over a trash bowl, pull off tomato skins and squeeze out seeds,then set aside tomatoes.
  3. Heat oil in a large nonreactive pot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic, and cook until translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Add tomatoes, bring to a simmer and cook uncovered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Puree sauce in batches, return to the pot and bring back to a simmer.
  6. Transfer marinara to prepared jars, add 1 tbsp lemon juice and 1/2 tsp salt to each pint jar (2 tbsp and 1 tsp respectively for quarts), wipe off rims, and close off with prepared lids and rings.
  7. Process in a hot water bath for 30 minutes for pints, 45 for quarts.

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Pesto!

I realize that fall has arrived in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, but here in Nor Cal, summer is hanging on. But, the summer crops are about to give out and many people are getting sick of them, so it’s time to scoop up some great produce for a bargain. I saw a post on Freecycle offering basil, replied “Yes, please!” and went home with an armload. Of course, a girl can only use so much pesto in one sitting, but fortunately it freezes beautifully. I like to put it in ice cube trays, then transfer the pesto cubes into freezer bags and drop them into my tomato sauces, etc all winter long when I want a kick of basil.

I don’t use the pine nuts in this version, since I’m freezing it, and quite frankly, I don’t like them. Feel free to report me to the Italian authorities. Also, I make this in my food processor. I’ve used a blender, but it required periodically stopping it to push down the leaves. Don’t have either? In the ancient Roman tradition, finely chop the basil leaves. It’ll take a while and you’ll end up with a rougher product, but it will be delicious.

Pesto!

  • 1 large bunch of basil, removed from stems (about 6 cups, loosely packed)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 cup good parmesan
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Makes about 1 1/2 cups. If desired, spoon into ice cube trays and freeze.

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Pizza Pasta Salad

Lately I’ve been going through a wee bit of a pizza fixation. But eating that much pizza even with whole grain crusts can’t be all that healthy, plus cranking my oven up to 500 F at the end of a hot day is sometimes a bit much. So in order to enjoy those pizza flavors, increase the vegetable quotient, and avoid heating up my entire house, I came up with this pasta salad recipe. I should warn you that my pasta salads tend to be heavier on the salad and lighter on the pasta, so if you want a more traditional dish, double the amount of pasta. Also, for you meat eaters out there, this would be really tasty with pepperoni or prosciutto. The banana peppers give it a little bit of a kick, but if you want more heat, try peperoncinis. Not a fan of any amount of spiciness? Use 2 tbsp red wine vinegar instead.

Pizza Pasta Salad

  • 6 ounces short pasta (like penne) cooked and cooled
  • 1 large tomato diced, or 1 pint cherry tomatoes halved
  • 4 baby zucchini or squash, thinly sliced (you want the smallest squash you can find)
  • 1 medium or 1/2 large red onion, diced
  • 6 ounces mozzarella, diced or shredded
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pickled banana peppers, drained & chopped
  • 2 tbsp fresh oregano or 1/2 tbsp dried
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Allow to refrigerate for at least one hour before serving so flavors can meld. Serves 4 as a main dish, 8 as a side dish.

Enjoy!

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Zucchini Pizza

Apparently pizza is now my go to dish for when I have friends over. Homemade pizza is impressive but easy to make, can be topped with whatever you feel like, and only takes 10 minutes in the oven. If I’m feeling ambitious, I set out a bunch of sauces, cheeses, and toppings, and it becomes a make your own pizza fest. This weekend, we kept it simple and topped it with the last of last year’s marinara, local mozzarella, oregano from my garden, and thinly sliced zucchini from the farm. I was surprised by how much I liked the zucchini, it didn’t get mushy and instead added a bit of crunch and a really fresh flavor. This crust recipe is adapted from my boyfriend, Mark Bittman, and resembles the crust from an upscale pizzeria. It makes 2 pizzas and serves 4 to 6 officially, though with 4 people I only had 1 slice leftover.
Basic Pizza Dough

  • 3 cups all purpose or bread flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 cup warm water
  • additional vegetable oil or cornmeal
  • additional flour

Mix first four ingredients. Stir in water until a slightly stick ball forms. (This would be a great place to use a mixer or food processor) Set in a lightly greased bowl and cover with a kitchen towel. Allow to rest until doubled in size, ~1 to 2 hours. Divide dough into 2 even parts, flatten into discs, put on wooden cutting board sprinkled with flour and cover with the kitchen towel. Allow to rest for ~20 minutes, and preheat the oven to 500 F. If using a pizza stone, sprinkle with cornmeal, if using a cookie sheet sprinkle with cornmeal or coat with oil (I like the cornmeal better). Roll out one crust at a time, using more flour if needed to prevent sticking. Transfer the first crust, top as desired, then bake for 10 minutes.

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Fennel

Earlier today, I was asking myself why I publish recipes for less than common vegetables. I realized that I got into CSAs and farmers markets at first because the produce was soooo good, way better than what I was used to. After a while, I realized that I was eating a lot more fruits and vegetables but spending less on them than I would a the grocery store. Now, this isn’t true for every farmers market, but it is for a lot of them. And a big part of eating this way is that what you have available is only what is in season, which often forces farmers to expand their repertoire beyond broccoli, zucchini, tomatoes and lettuce, into other types that aren’t usually available at the supermarket.

One such vegetable that I’ve discovered through the my CSA is fennel. At first, I put it solidly in the weird boy category, but now I’ve got a few ways to prepare it in my repertoire, and they never let me down. My favorite is roasted, which isn’t surprising: it’s hard to go wrong with olive oil and garlic. Regardless it’s delicious, good for you, and highly affordable from your friendly local farmer.

Roasted Fennel

  • 1 ½ lbs fennel bulbs, thinly sliced (reserve the fronds)
  • 2-4 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 400F. Combine all ingredients, and toss to coat. Spread on foil lined cookie sheet or 9 x 13 casserole.  Cook for 20 to 40 minutes, until fennel is fork tender. Serves 4. This is also delicious with 1/2 cup parmesan sprinkled over the top before putting in the oven.

Fennel and Orange Salad

  • 1 ½ lbs fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
  • 1 large orange, peeled, separated and membranes removed
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • salt & fresh cracked pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients. Serves 4.

Fennel Pesto

  • 1 bunch fennel fronds
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ¼ to ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup shredded good parmesan
  • salt to taste

Put fennel fronds and garlic in a food processor. While it’s running, slowly pour in olive oil until desired texture is reached. Fold in cheese, and add salt to taste. Toss with pasta, dip bread in it, etc. I’ve even put it on a pizza, topped with more parmesan and slices of tomatoes.

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Mediterranean Lentils

Today, I was reading a column in the NY Times about the challenges of going vegan. While, I’m not vegan, as a vegetarian, I have to disagree with a lot of the so-called challenges mentioned in the article. There is absolutely no need to shop at vegan-only stores or buy expensive fake meat. All my food options are available at farmer’s markets and regular grocery stores, and I spend a whopping $100 a month for this. My food philosophy is the simpler, the better, and as a result, I shop mostly on the “edges” of my grocery store. The vegan parts of my diet focuses on fruits and veggies (fresh, frozen, canned and dried), nuts, rice, and beans. In case you haven’t walked down the bean aisle lately, dried beans are incredibly cheap (usually less than $2 per pound), make a ton (I can get 16 servings out of a bag) and are naturally high in fiber and protein. A serious downside of cooking with dried beans, is, well, cooking them. Most of them take an hour or more to cook, and not everybody has the time to deal with that.

That’s where my love for lentils really began, since a pot of lentils cooks up in only 20 minutes or so. Also, by serving, they are higher in protein than most other beans. With their smaller size, they don’t suffer from that bean-y texture that a lot of people dislike. Finally, they do great with flavors from a large variety of cultures. This version I think of as my Mediterranean recipe. I serve it along side Greek salads, throw it into marinara to add a protein punch to my spaghetti sauce, and it’s perfectly welcoming to all kinds of root vegetables: potatoes, carrots, celery, fennel, beets, parsnips and turnips. If you want to make it into soup, add 2 more cups of vegetable broth.

Mediterranean Lentils

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 in ginger, minced
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 2 cups vegetable broth

Heat vegetable oil in a medium sauce pan over medium high heat. Add onion, garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant and soft, about 5 minutes. Add lentils and cook for an additional minute or two, until they are shiny. Add vegetable broth, bring to a simmer, then cook covered until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. If the cooking liquid gets too low, add more vegetable broth or water. Serves 4.

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