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A Little Vegetarian Minestrone

Minestrone

Minestrone is a staple throughout Italy, and while we will from time to time feature others of this soup, this particular vegetarian version is actually one of our favorites, for a lot of reasons. Unlike a lot of this soup, this minestrone has plenty of good bean broth for starters and lots and lots of fall roast vegetables. 

If you’re not as well-versed in minestrone (like most people aren’t) it is actually a very ancient soup made mainly from whatever veggies you happened to have around the kitchen. This version, like most these days in Italy, has tomatoes and beans and broth from the beans as the main ingredient, which gives it a very vegetable taste that we happen to like a lot. And fortunately, the broth itself really doesn’t take so very long to make. And this one has leeks, turnips, carrots, onions, celery and a little basil and oregano to spice up the flavor. 

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Orzo and Rice Pilaf

orzo and rice pilaf

Here is a very good summer dish to help take care of those zucchini, which must now be about to take over your garden. It’s a simple orzo and rice pilaf, with lots of veggies and plenty of chicken broth (or vegetable broth), and with a finishing touch of zucchini at the end that just steams lightly and gives it a nice crunch.

I like the idea of using orzo with a rice pilaf, it make the whole dish a little more interesting and, I don’t know, adds a really nice pasta effect to the dish that smaller pasta just seems to miss. You can also make this a more or less vegetarian dish by using vegetable pasta. Personally, I use the chicken version because it adds a bit of (what I think is necessary) flavor, but if you had some really good vegetable sauce, by all means feel free to give it a try.

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Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus, Lemon-Garlic Aioli and Grated Egg

bacon-wrapped asparagus

Winter is a time when, like most home cooks who try their best to use locally sourced ingredients, I struggle to find fresh appealing vegetable side dishes to put on the table. Root vegetables are readily available, of course, but the real winter gem is asparagus, which comes into season in February and is only locally available through early April, and that’s stretching it. I’m anticipating the start of the season with this recipe, which is simple and elegant. And because of the two-stage cooking method, it’s a perfect accompaniment to quickly sauteed meats and fish.

The prep for this dish starts with a couple of (peeled) hard-boiled eggs. The yolks and whites are separated and grated with a grater (or finely chopped). They’re done separately to keep the moisture in the whites from turning the yolks into a paste, which can happen easily if they’re grated together. The aioli is really a home-made mayonnaise flavored with lemon and garlic. It’s relatively easy to do and worth the bit of effort it takes.

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Pan Seared Monkfish Over Ratatouille

Pan Seared Monkfish Over Ratatouille

monkfishUntil a few weeks ago, I’d never thought much about monkfish. I’d seen monkfish fillets sitting in the seafood case at the grocery, but it wasn’t familiar, didn’t look like the other fish and so I pretty much ignored it. Then I was researching ratatouille, looking for a way to take advantage of the summer bounty from the farm market and for a traditional take on that classic dish, when I noted that many of the recipes for ratatouille from southern France also featured monkfish. 

Now I’m wishing I hadn’t ignored monkfish for so long. Apparently, it’s known as poor man’s lobster, among other things. I can see why. The flesh is dense, white and has roughly the same texture as lobster when it’s cooked. The flavor doesn’t resemble lobster much, but it is — like lobster — very mild. It can be cooked many ways, but still being a bit leery, for my first time cooking it, I opted to make the fish separately and serve it on a bed of ratatouille, keeping the flavors apart and distinct. 

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Vegetables à la Grecque

vegetables a la grecque

A couple of months ago, I came across an article in the New York Times that focused on a French dish called Vegetables à la Grecque. It’s essentially lightly poached vegetables served at room temperature or slightly chilled, with a savory sauce that somewhat resembles a pickling liquid. That launched me on a research quest, which turned up a bounty of variations, and convinced me that as soon as the local farmer’s market is in full swing, I’ll be making this a mainstay dish for summer lunches and dinners.

Vegetables à la Grecque, despite the name, has nothing to do with Greece, but refers to a French imagining of Greek “style” food. The methodology is the same across the dozens of recipes I uncovered in my research. Whatever fresh vegetables are at hand are simmered in a liquid made up of olive oil, white wine, vinegar and sometimes vegetable stock. The only trick is to time the adding of the vegetables to the liquid to make sure they’re done properly — cooked but still a little bit firm when you bite them. This isn’t much of a problem, since the dish is intended to be served cool. 

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Gougères and Crudités Vegetables with House Remoulade

gougeres-crudites-remoulade

A typical Thanksgiving dinner is pretty substantial, regardless of the particular style of cuisine, so it’s important to keep the appetizers light, without sacrificing flavor. Some crisp veggies and a tasty dip, and these light gougères fit the required profile perfectly. And they’re especially welcoming when paired with a well-made sparkling wine.

Gougères are a French invention, apparently, that are simply a pâté au choux (puff pastry) flavored with cheese. That doesn’t really tell the story, however. They’re light, filled with flavor and air — a perfect way to start a formal dinner. The gougères can be made a day or two ahead of time and frozen before baking. You can then pop them, frozen, into the oven.

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