Monthly Archives: June 2015

Summer Vacation and Italian Three Bean Salad in the Kitchen of Love

It’s hard to believe that my summer vacation will be over in a week. As the saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun. To be honest, I will still have a generous portion of each afternoon to do all the summer type things that I am remembering how much I enjoyed. While I’m not riding my bike or trying to go “over the bars” on a swing, I am taking time to enjoy the simpler things that made the Midwestern summers of my childhood so special, warm days, long evenings, and now, time in the kitchen.  I am loving the time that I can spend planning and preparing meals. Produce abounds from the garden, farm stands, and the grocery store. The colors and textures paint visions of meals that are vegetable driven, healthy and dare I say it, fabulously delicious.

I’ve gone back to dinners around a theme. Recently we had an Italian inspired dinner. Okay, lots of my dinners have an Italian vibe. What do you expect? I’m Italian and proud of it. “Italian-ness” aside, I do love pork. Tenderloins are my current favorite because they are versatile, quick cooking and the perfect size for two. I wanted to do another version of the pork wrapped in pork that is always so succulently yummy. I had a little thin sliced pancetta that I carefully uncoiled to create a delicate casing for the pork.

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The seasoning for the meat had a very sausage like taste…red pepper flakes, fennel, and Italian herbs. In the summer, if you are Italian, and you think sausage, the next thing to pop into your head is peppers. Of course, peppers fried in olive oil with a bit of onion had to become the side.

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Now what? In what I feel was a stroke of brilliance, a bean salad came to mind. Then the gears in my Italian brain meshed and I decided to make an Italian version of Three Bean Salad. We all remember the traditional Three Bean Salad that often appears at picnics and many salad bars. Varying combinations of green and kidney beans swim in a decidedly sweet vinegar dressing. Can this become a Paisan? I kept the green beans and added garbanzo and cannellini beans. The dressing went from sweet to tangy with the addition of lemon juice and white balsamic vinegar. Garlic and olive oil completed the transformation.DIGITAL CAMERA I opted to use rosemary and parsley as the herb component because I love how they taste with lemon. I chose red for the onion and pepper because they’re pretty and it gave a little nod to the Italian flag. As with any marinated salad, I made it early in the day so that everything had time to become as friendly as the goombahs from the old neighborhood.

Italian Three Bean Salad
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Italian Three Bean Salad
Print Recipe
Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Cook the green beans in salted boiling water for about 2 minutes. You want them quite crisp, but with a tender heart.
  2. Drain the beans and cool quickly in a bowl of ice water. Drain well again and place in a large bowl.
  3. Add the cannellini and garbanzo beans to the bowl. Let the peppers and onions join in the fun, too. Toss everything together.
  4. Combine the olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice & zest, garlic, mustard, rosemary and parsley in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake vigorously until the dressing is completely blended.
  5. Pour the dressing over the salad ingredients and toss to coat everything. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, overnight if you have the time.
  6. Give it one more good toss before you serve it and taste again, making any adjustments. It's ready.
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This was a wonderful partner for the pork and peppers, but it would go well with any grilled meat and would be a hit at any party you brought it to. Another plus for this dish is that it can easily function as a one dish meal. The beans provide plenty of protein and fiber, but if you wanted to up the ante, add some cheese.

I did just that for lunch the next day. A little feta cheese, some tomatoes and a nice bed of baby greens from the garden made for a lunch that was as tasty as it was pretty.

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Waiting (Impatiently) on a Garden and Pesto Pasta Salad

I love our community garden. Ever since I put my tomatoes, peppers, and squash in the ground I’ve been excited to reap the rewards. Here’s the problem. Gardens take time. The whole sunshine, rain, and TLC thing is not an overnight process. Our weather has been far from cooperative. It got a little too cold right after we planted. Then it got really hot and we were watering everyday. We of course wished for rain and guess what? You know the saying, “when it rains, it pours”? Yeah, that’s what’s been going here for a few too many days. In spite of all that, the garden is flourishing. The plants seem to enjoy the constant precipitation with little sunny interludes. They are bigger everyday and I can even see growth from morning until evening.049

While there is an abundance of baby lettuce, some tender young kale, and lovely radishes, the big-ticket items have yet to set fruit (an industry term). I’m like a child waiting for Christmas. I’ve been good and my proverbial stocking has been hung, so where is the big payoff? This is where patience comes into play. Mama D’s summer kitchen (and imagination) is swimming with ideas for healthy summer dishes bursting with garden fresh produce. Until my very local thing comes along, grocery store produce will have to do. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

A recent supper was a one dish wonder, Pesto Pasta Salad. Multigrain rotini joined green beans and tomatoes in a homemade pesto dressing. Smoked Mozzarella added a bit of protein and a dusting of Pecorino Romano topped it all. It is easy to make and lends itself to all kinds of variations. It all began with my Roasted Garlic Pesto. This is a recipe that I have revised and tweaked over the years until it is perfection, at least in my eyes. It involves the usual suspects; basil (from the pot on my balcony),

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parsley, olive oil, pine nuts, and of course garlic. This is where my version takes a right turn from the traditional recipe. I roast the garlic. Forty minutes or so in the oven and the bitter edge of garlic-ness is mellowed into something more subtle, slightly sweet and dare I say it, more complex. I also give the pine nuts a quick toast to enhance their flavor as well.

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Everything gets blended in the processor to create a rich and savory paste that improves anything it touches. For this recipe, I made just what I needed, but when the basil is plentiful, a big batch is just as easy to make and it freezes beautifully. I usually measure 1/4 cup portions into individual zip top sandwich bags. The small bags go into a larger freezer bag and can live happily for several months in the freezer ready to ad that yummy touch to soup, pasta, or grilled meats.

Roasted Garlic Pesto
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Servings
1-1/2 Cups
Servings
1-1/2 Cups
Roasted Garlic Pesto
Print Recipe
Servings
1-1/2 Cups
Servings
1-1/2 Cups
Ingredients
Servings: Cups
Instructions
  1. Cut the top off the head of garlic (just enough to expose the cloves a bit). Place in the center of a square of heavy duty foil. Drizzle with a little olive oil and wrap sealing completely but leaving a little breathing room. Place in a 350 degree oven and bake for 40 minutes or until the kitchen smells wonderful and the garlic feels soft. Unwrap and allow to cool.
  2. Toast the pine nuts on top of the stove. Place them in a dry non-stick pan and toast over low heat shaking frequently to prevent burning. This should take 6 or 7 minutes.
  3. Place the basil and parsley leaves in the bowl of a processor. Squeeze the cooled garlic into the bowl. Add the pine nuts. Pulse to coarsely chop the ingredients.
  4. Add the grated cheese and pulse to combine.
  5. With the motor of the processor running, stream the olive oil into the feed tube. Stop as soon as the mixture is the texture that you like. (Do not process until smooth).
  6. Scrape the pesto into a bowl. Check for seasoning Add some ground pepper and a pinch of salt if you want.
  7. It is now ready to use. It can be frozen in 1/4 cup (or whatever amount you like) packages. It will keep in the refrigerator for a week. Pour a thin layer of olive oil on the pesto before you put it in the refrigerator to help preserve color and flavor.
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This pesto was transformed into a dressing for my pasta salad. Multigrain rotini was my pasta of choice. I like how the dressing clings to the spiral ridges. My vegetable additions, alas, came from the refrigerator instead of the garden. In spite of all of  my coaxing, the beans aren’t even a glimmer in the plants’ eyes and the tomato plants are bearing some tiny yellow blossoms, but nothing more. While the mini heirloom tomatoes and haricot vert made a delightful salad, I look forward to making this again in a few weeks with my own homegrown bounty.

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I turned my pesto into a lighter dressing by adding some vegetable stock and a shot of white balsamic vinegar. I used a Smoked Mozzarella because I had it on hand (this may be becoming my new mantra), but any cheese with a bold flavor would work. Some grilled chicken would also make for a wonderful main dish salad. Prepare this salad the day ahead to give the flavors some time to get to know each other better, just take it out about an hour before serving for maximum flavor.

Pesto Pasta Salad
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Pesto Pasta Salad
Print Recipe
Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. About 3 minutes before the cooking time is over add the green beans.
  2. At the end of the cooking time drain the pasta and beans and rinse well with cold water. Pour the beans and pasta into a large bowl.
  3. Cut the tomatoes in half and add them to the bowl.
  4. Whisk the pesto, stock, and vinegar together until well blended. Pour the dressing over the ingredients and toss to coat well. Taste and add salt and/or pepper if needed.
  5. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Overnight is better.
  6. When you are ready to serve, toss well and check for seasoning. If the salad seems dry add a little more vegetable stock or a splash of olive oil. Sprinkle the Romano cheese on top and serve.
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So, the garden keeps on growing in spite of a visit from some hungry deer last night. I’ve waited this long, I guess a little longer won’t hurt.  Love, Mama D

 

 

 

Summer Vacation, Scarborough Farro, and Artichoke & Tomato Salad

Summer has arrived in Mama D’s Kitchen. I’m officially on Summer vacation for 3 whole weeks! Instead of rising before 5 every morning to get on a school bus, I can get up early (if I want) and do what I want. Morning walks, afternoon swims, puttering in the garden, and more than a little time with my grandsons. It also means that I have more time to spend in the kitchen and with the bounty of fresh produce around, inspiration is always arriving.

Once summer is firmly entrenched meals just naturally get lighter. Recently we feasted on Grilled Turkey Italian Sausage that was accompanied by a simple Artichoke and Tomato Salad and a riff on my Farro Risotto that I affectionately call Scarborough Farro.

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Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme, of course, feature prominently in this dish. If you haven’t listened to  Scarborough Fair lately, take a few minutes to go back to a time that was simpler, yet very complex. Superficially a peaceful song based on an old English ballad, it intertwines with an anti-war song not so subtly protesting the Vietnam War.

Farro has been cooking up in my kitchen a lot lately. I followed the same steps that I did for the Farro Risotto, cooking onion as well as garlic along with the uncooked  farro in some olive oil. I added some chicken stock and let it cook for a good 20 minutes.Towards the end I added my herbaceous quartet. These four herbs get along really well together with a sweet harmony much like Simon & Grafunkel. The best part was they all came from our garden.

Click on the link to the farro risotto recipe above. Once you’re there, do a few substitutions. Leave out the spinach and roasted peppers (though I think they could stay in if you like) and add a good 1/3 – 1/2 cup of chopped fresh herbs near the end of the cooking. My personal preference was to let the thyme and parsley take the lead vocal while the rosemary and sage provided the harmony. Make a blend that will sing your own song. 

Now to that Artichoke  and Tomato Salad:

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I used a can of whole artichoke hearts, I find that I get better pieces when I cut them myself. If you can find fresh baby artichokes, by all means go for it. They are hard to find in this part of the country, but if you do find them it will make this salad even more amazing. I used a combination of red grape and yellow cherry tomatoes, mainly because it’s what I had on hand. Sweet onion was the final component.

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I made a straight forward vinaigrette. I added just a touch of Agave Syrup. Since my dressings tend to be light on the oil, this bit of sweetness balances the acidity and creates a better texture. Everything went together early in the day so that when it was time for dinner everyone was well acquainted.

Artichoke and Tomato Salad
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Servings
3
Servings
3
Artichoke and Tomato Salad
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Servings
3
Servings
3
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Combine the artichokes, tomatoes, and onion in a bowl. Toss gently to mix.
  2. Combine the remaining ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Close tightly and shake until all of the ingredients are thoroughly blended.
  3. Pour the dressing over the vegetable and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (more is better).
  4. Serve with your favorite grilled meat, fish, or poultry.
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Summer is here and the Kitchen of Love is bursting with inspiration. I have lots of adventures to share with you and a memory or two as well, so keep tuning in.             Love, Mama D

 

 

I’d Like That On The Top, Please

When Harry met Sally she always wanted things “on the side” I’ve spent a lot of time sharing recipes for great main dishes and sides. Sometimes I include a garnish or topping, but for the most part I present my recipes”naked” or with the sauce served separately. This does not mean that I do not like toppings on my food. Often it’s because my healthy eating practices make me want rich toppings “on the side.” I do make and enjoy toppings on occasion and its high time that I share some with you.

Toppings can be the dressing on a salad, the crowning touch on a vegetable, or a sauce that enhances an entrée. It can be a garnish that adds that irresistible touch to something. Looking back in Mama D’s Archive of Love, I did find a few recipes.

The Orange Mocha Barbecue Sauce that topped some ribs last summer was wonderful and really made the ribs sing an octave higher. A lightened up vinaigrette has given life to many a salad with a lot less fat but plenty of big flavors. Mama can’t rest on her laurels so I’ve come up with a new idea that will be perfect for summer’s lighter fare. I’ve also put a recipe together for an avocado dressing that would make an old shoe taste good.

First up, that light topping. I was grilling some sweet potatoes a few days ago and wanted to top them with something. I wanted to keep it on the light side as well as use a lime whose time had come. Since the whole meal had a southwestern theme, I thought I’d use some cilantro from the garden. 003006Speaking of the garden…we have lots of little lettuce shoots, a hardy batch of radish leaves and budding tomato and pepper plants. That’s the nature of gardens; they grow just enough to get you excited and slow enough to make you appreciate the time involved.

Back to what was to become a Cilantro Lime Yogurt Sauce. This was super easy and will be super easy to adapt to other flavors and dishes. A carton of plain non-fat Greek yogurt, a handful of chopped cilantro and the juice and zest of a lime were all I needed to make a refreshing sauce that was great on the sweet potatoes and found its way onto the chicken and zucchini as well.

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I added a little Agave Syrup to tone down the sour and a pinch of Chipotle Powder to crank up the heat. I’ll make this easy and call it a non-recipe recipe. Those are the measurements I used and I’m sticking to them.

The Avocado Buttermilk Dressing was another spur of the moment idea inspired by what was on hand. A ripe avocado, some buttermilk and the desire for something that was like guacamole but really not.

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I wasn’t sure if I was making a dip, a soup, or something entirely different. The avocado flesh and buttermilk went into a bowl. I heated some garlic in a little olive oil to tame the flavor. This is a technique I use often as I’m not a fan of raw garlic (nor is my stomach). A little lemon juice brought out all of the flavors. A few seconds contact with my immersion blender and it was ready. It was absolutely delicious. So good in fact that I couldn’t relegate it to being “on the side.”

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The recipe is a blank canvas that would enjoy the company of any herbs and spices of your choosing.

Buttermilk Avocado Dressing
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Servings
1 Cup
Servings
1 Cup
Buttermilk Avocado Dressing
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Servings
1 Cup
Servings
1 Cup
Ingredients
Servings: Cup
Instructions
  1. Heat a small fry pan and add the olive oil, swirling to coat the bottom of the pan.
  2. Add the garlic and saute for 2 minutes or so. The garlic should be fragrant but not brown. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes.
  3. Scoop the avocado flesh into a deep bowl or the pitcher of a blender. Add the buttermilk and cooled garlic and olive oil mixture.
  4. If using the bowl, blend with an immersion blender until smooth. If using a blender, whirl until smooth.
  5. Add the herbs and spices, if you choose, along with a pinch of salt. Whirl/blend one more time and give it a taste.
  6. Adjust the seasonings to your liking and transfer to a bowl or jar with a tight fitting lid. Refrigerate for an hour or so to let the flavors get better acquainted.
  7. Serve as a dressing on salad, a sandwich spread, a dip for veggies or chips, a topping for chicken, or just lick it off of a spoon.
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On the side, on top it’s all relative. Use these ideas as a springboard to your own sauce inspiration. A little something extra may be the perfect addition to lighter summer meals.