almost spring soup

spring vegetable soupAs spring nears, for me it feels like time to have some lighter fare.  This recipe ~ and all others on this blog ~ was given to me by my close friend and mentor.  And, like all others on this blog, it made for both a delicious meal and a valuable learning experience.

A broth-based soup, it is easy and versatile and can be whipped up weekly with no two batches the same.  While creamy-cheesy soups appeal in the winter months, this could provide a nice transition when temperatures begin to warm slightly.

  • Dice up two or three sweet onions, mince a head of garlic cloves and slice five or six carrots
  • In a medium stockpot heat some olive oil and saute these veggies until onions are translucent, about 8 minutes
carrot and onion saute

an easy base for spring veggie soup

  • Stir in a couple of pinches of each:  garlic powder, onion powder, curry powder {or your preferred seasoning} and s&p
  • Add 3 quarts of vegetable broth and a hunk of parmesan cheese to the pot; bring to a boil then simmer until carrots are tender
  • Add 1-1/2 cups small pasta such as ditalini or elbows; turn off heat
  • Serve when the pasta is cooked, about 8-10 minutes
tubettini pasta

tubettini pasta is perfect for soups

I like to break up the parmesan hunk and have mini-bits swimming in the soup, but you can always remove it or omit it altogether and maybe sprinkle some ground parm on each bowlful.

This simple recipe can be changed up in so many ways ~ canned tomatoes, potatoes instead of pasta, shrimp with a splash of soy sauce ~ and it all sounds good to me!

spring soup

veggie ‘meatballs’

veggie meatballsThe other day I watched a great episode of Chuck Eats the Street on the Cooking Channel where he visited Marabella Meatball Company in Philadelphia and sampled their famous vegetarian “meatballs”.  Using primarily cauliflower and broccoli as a replacement for beef and/or pork, most of the other ingredients are what you’d expect for achieving a moist and tender meatball.  The results looked ~ and apparently tasted ~ really good.

The following recipe is inspired by theirs ~ with the addition of various spices, cheeses and roasting the vegetables to bring that smokey, caramelized flavor I remember from traditional meatballs.  There are a few steps involved so I will break it down for as much clarity as I can.

Roast the following on a baking sheet at 375F in a sealed foil packet for 40 minutes, then open packet and continue roasting for another 20-30 minutes or until vegetables are soft {can be easily cut with a spoon}

  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 1 cup cauliflower florets
  • 1/2 cup roasted red peppers, roughly chopped
  • 7 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • Toss with 1/3 cup olive oil that’s been mixed with a pinch of s&p and a tablespoon of your favorite Italian Seasoning blend

When done roasting, use a slotted spoon to transfer vegetables from packet to a bowl, then take a couple of tablespoons of marsala wine or very dry sherry and splash it onto the bottom of foil packet.  Deglaze packet with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, scraping any and all brown bits and olive oil left on the foil; add to the bowl of vegetables and set aside to cool.

deglaze

don’t forget those yummy brown bits

While vegetables are cooling, in a large glass or ceramic bowl whisk together the following dry ingredients:

  • 2 cups breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/4 cup grated provolone
  • 1/4 cup grated cheddar
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts {optional}
veggie meatballs

cheesy breadcrumb mixture awaits its fate

Set dry ingredients aside; place the following into a food processor:

  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta
  • 1/4 cup cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream
  • 1/2 cup chick peas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons date or fig preserves
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard

Pulse quickly once or twice, then add the bowl of roasted vegetables and pulse until combined but retaining some texture ~ not pureed.

vegetarian meatballs

cheesy veggie goodness ready to go

Using a rubber spatula, turn wet ingredients into the dry and gently fold until blended and formed into a large ball ~ don’t overmix.  Cover bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, then take out and preheat oven to 400F.

Line a baking sheet with foil and grease with olive oil; also have a small bowl/ramekin of olive oil beside you.  Using a small ice cream scoop or a soup spoon/tablespoon, place a scoop of mixture into your hands and roll between palms to form a pingpong-sized ball.  Gently dip ball into the ramekin of olive oil and roll again between your palms to coat the ball with the oil.  Set each ball onto the oiled baking sheet; bake at 400F for 30 minutes, until golden brown.

The top photo is how they looked when they just came out of the oven; at this point they tasted like a combination of a meatball, a falafel and a dumpling.  How they’ll taste from here will be based on which type of sauce you serve them with.  To me they’d be great in an Indian-style cream sauce or even a brothy Asian mix.

I decided to heat up some marinara sauce and place the “meatballs” into the sauce pot so they could soak up and plump up.  Then I transferred that mixture into a lasagne pan, topped it with mozzarella and baked it off for about 35-40 minutes, until brown and bubbly.

A hunk of bread for making a sub sandwich, along with some red wine, made this a tasty veggie version of a traditional Italian meal.

vegetarian meatball sub

abondanza!

jack n’ blue quesadilla

jack n' blue quesadilla

Today I was watching an episode of Mexico:  One Plate at a Time on my dvr and Rick Bayless was making me drool, as usual.  But this time it wasn’t with lots of complicated chiles roasting and vegetables chopping ~ the episode was called “A Case For Quesadillas” and he basically makes and eats a bunch on them.

So it wasn’t much later that I found myself standing in front of my fridge pulling out ingredients to make one for myself.  Locally made flour tortillas, monterey jack cheese, avocado, tomato, sour cream… but I wanted something new in there.  And then I saw it ~ maytag blue cheese.

I got out the griddle and fired up the flame while getting the jack ready.  It wasn’t long before cheese was oozing and I was ready to flip.

quesadilla

Oh joy!  How simply satisfying, and how easy to pull together.  Everyone, well nearly everyone, has a few different cheeses hanging around their fridge.  I keep flour tortilla packages in the freezer and have one on hand in the refrigerator, ready for instant gooey happiness.  The blue cheese was an amazing addition, not traditional Mexican but that tangy salty bite was great with the sweet avocado and creamy sour cream.

As Rick said in the opening of his show today, there’s something about melted cheese and bread ~ what could be better than that?

sweet greens ~ honey roasted broccoli

honey roasted broccoliI suppose it’s a cliche to say that not everyone likes to eat broccoli.  Unless it’s smothered in melted cheese ~ which isn’t a bad thing by any means ~ sometimes this vegetable can be a challenge to make into deliciousness.

A great way to get your broccoli is to mix it in with other, less fibrous vegetables but what else can we do?  Well, I’ve tried roasting vegetables in general with some maple syrup or honey and they always turn out yummy.  So I decided to experiment with a half honey steam-bath and half roasting technique.

honey roasted broccoli

After cutting up 2 heads of broccoli into small florets I made a honey steam bath by combining the following in a mason jar and shaking it up until well blended:

  • 2 tablespoons honey dissolved in 1/4 cup hot water
  • about 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence
  • pinch each s&p

I covered a lined baking sheet with a large piece of tin foil and placed the florets in the center, then poured the honey mixture over them.  With my hands I tossed this all together to coat everything evenly, then made a neat little foil packet to keep the steam in.

roasted steamed broccoli

This goes into a 375F oven for about 30 minutes, at which time I take it out and open up the packet.  After giving it a stir and a taste I might add a bit more s&p if I’m in the mood, and maybe a drizzle more olive oil or lemon juice.

Then it’s back into the oven ~ foil open this time so the water can evaporate and the broccoli can get a nice char on it.  If you like your broccoli with some crunch, only go another 15 minutes or so.  I like it soft so they stay in for about another 30 minutes.

honey roasted broccoli

Sweet honey, tangy lemon and a dash of herbs all combine well to make these florets tasty enough to just pop in your mouth and enjoy.  They’re great with a salad or antipasto ~ would they be good with some cheese melted on top?  Absolutely!

herb-crust pizza with charred tomatoes

herb crust pizza

Although I am yet to make my own pizza dough from scratch, I’ve been playing around with a local pizzeria’s dough and this experiment turned out quite tasty.

As mentioned in this post, I place the dough balls in a coating of olive oil and let them sit in the fridge for several days, up to a week.  This time I sprinkled a generous pinch of Mediterranean seasoning into the oil before adding the dough.  After a flip in the oil bath and a cover for each bowl, into the refrigerator they went.

herb-infused pizza dough

As also mentioned in the earlier pizza entry, one of the main issues with oiling up the dough as I do is stickiness.  Flouring the pizza peel very generously helps, and as the dough sits for those days the top of the ball is less oily so that goes face-down onto the peel.

Hands floured, peel floured and once the dough is on the peel, work quickly with the toppings.  A great trick I was taught is to lift an edge of the pie and blow under it to loosen it from the peel ~ it really works!

herb-crust pizza with charred tomatoes

Most of this recipe is the same as my previous pizza post linked above.  But this time I charred some grape tomatoes, a technique I picked up from an episode of Alex’s Day Off.

Just heat a bit of oil in a cast iron skillet, add your grape tomatoes in a single layer ~ my large skillet could hold 2 pints ~ then sprinkle them with a tablespoon of dark brown sugar and a pinch or so of salt.  Allow the skins to blister, stirring frequently to keep them moving.

After the skins start to blister and break open, pour in 1/2-cup of dry sherry {or wine of your choice} and turn heat down to low.  Cook for about 10 minutes and you’re done!

pickled cucumber & red onion salad

pickled cucumbers and red onion

Cucumbers are one of my favorite salad vegetables.  They go so well with vinegar and other veggies, and their high water content makes them very refreshing as the weather heats up.

A lot of Mediterranean countries make their cucumber salad with red wine vinegar, which is delicious.  For this recipe I use rice vinegar instead, a bit more delicate flavor to balance out the pungent red onions.

ingredients:

  • 5 or 6 large cucumbers
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 5 or so whole cloves

directions:

  • Peel the cucumbers, cut off ends and slice in half lengthwise; using a tablespoon, scrape out seeds; slice cucumbers crosswise about 1/2-inch thick
  • Place cucumbers and the red onion slices into a large glass or ceramic bowl
  • In a smaller bowl, mix together the vinegar, sugar, s&p and cloves; stir well until sugar is completely dissolved
  • Pour mixture over the cucumbers and onions; gently stir to coat thoroughly
  • Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight, occasionally tossing gently if possible
  • When ready to serve, add your favorite cheese, either crumbled or cubed, along with sliced tomato, lettuce or other fixings

pickled cucumber saladI love the combination of cucumbers and feta cheese, so that’s how I usually serve this dish.  Much like a Greek salad, this would be nice with olives or capers and would be perfectly fine using a red wine vinegar.  It’s a great side dish for heavier meals like creamy pastas or on its own for lunch with some crusty bread.  Yum!

zucchini tomato & baguette gratin

gratinThis is a simple dish that is based on one of Jacques Pepin’s recipes.  He uses elbow macaroni and eggplant rather than bread and zucchini; I liked the idea of using baguette slices, sort of a warm bread salad.  And I added in several herbs and spices ~ still it’s very easy to make.

ingredients:

  • 5 or 6 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise about 1/2-inch thick
  • olive oil, for roasting and drizzling
  • few pinches s&p
  • 2 or 3 medium tomatoes, sliced crosswise about 1/2-inch thick
  • about 1/4 of a day-old french baguette, sliced about 1/2-inch thick
  • 8 slices sharp provolone
  • about 1/2 cup grated fontina
  • about 1/2 cup grated mozzarella
  • about 1/4 cup grated parmesan
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons Herbs de Provence
  • 1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
  • pinch onion powder
  • pinch allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon each s&p
  • 1/4 teaspoon dark brown sugar

directions:

  • Preheat oven to 400F
  • On lined baking sheets, drizzle some of the oil and pinches s&p; arrange the zucchini slices on sheets, coating bottom side with the oil, then flipping to coat the other side
  • Roast zucchini for about 15 minutes, until sweating and sizzling
  • In a small bowl, combine the Herbs de Provence, garlic and onion powders, allspice, s&p and sugar
  • In a 9-inch oval or round baking pan, drizzle a small amount of olive oil, then arrange half of the zucchini to fully cover the bottom; add half of the tomatoes, then sprinkle with the spice mixture
  • Top with 4 slices of the provolone and half of the grated cheeses
  • Arrange the bread slices as the next layer, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with spice mixture
  • Top with the remaining zucchini and tomato; sprinkle with remainder of spice mixture
  • For the final layer, add the remaining cheeses
  • Bake for about 30 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and browning

zucchini tomato baguette gratinLots of room for interpretation, changing up the vegetables and cheeses to taste ~ delicious and even more so the next day.

easy onion confit

onion confit

I love the smell of onions sauteing in a pan, it fills the house and mouths begin to water.  Onions fried in olive oil and a bit of s&p is just about the perfect accent to nearly any savory dish.

So the question is, can the perfect condiment get any better?

sauteed onionsOnion confit is sweet and tangy, a great variation on the oh so perfect sauteed onion.  Not better, just different.  Basically an onion jam, it is packed with flavor and would be delicious on anything from grilled cheese to spinach salad.  And it’s really easy to make.

ingredients:

  • 5 medium Vidalia onions, sliced into thin rings
  • a few tablespoons olive oil, for frying
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup very dry sherry {I use Sheffield}
  • 1/4 cup apricot preserves
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter

directions:

  • In a large pan, saute the onions in the olive oil on low heat for about 40 minutes
  • Add the remaining ingredients except the butter
  • Continue to saute on low for another 20 minutes
  • At the last minute add the butter to finish

I am considering making a big batch and canning it.  The trouble is sauteing thirty onions, so I’m going to try roasting them on a couple of baking sheets ~ or maybe a big dutch oven ~ for several hours.  That will really make the house smell amazing!