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Mediterranean Grilled Vegetable Salad

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Time: 45 – 60 minutes (ideally with a couple of hours cooling time for the grilled veggies midway). Grilled veggies and dressing can be prepared ahead.

Serves: 6

Inspired by: My friend Rikke who always makes delicious food brought this to a party recently. I made just a few modifications. The dish was fabulous and will be something I make often.

Salad Ingredients:

  • 3 small bell peppers (red, yellow, orange) – about 1 pound, stemmed, seeded and quartered
  • 5 slender zucchini (about 1 pound), trimmed and cut lengthwise in half
  • Olive oil, salt, and pepper to toss the peppers and zucchini in before grilling
  • 4 small Persian cucumbers, halved, and cut into 1/2 inch cubes (or English cucumber… or if you use another type, remove the seeds and some of the peel)
  • 1 cup of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
  • 4 ounce square of feta cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup (packed) finely chopped mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup (packed) finely chopped Italian parsley
  • 2-3 teaspoons ground sumac to sprinkle on top

Dressing Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 clove garlic crushed (optional)

Preparation:

  • Heat your grill (medium).
  • Toss or rub zucchini and peppers with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Grill peppers and zucchini until slightly charred and just tender, turning often, about 12 minutes.
  • Transfer to a baking sheet to cool. Once cooled, refrigerate if you are preparing this ahead.
  • To make dressing: whisk 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup lemon juice, cumin, and optional garlic in small bowl to blend. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Cut peppers lengthwise into 1/2 inch wide strips, then crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces.
  • Cut zucchini lengthwise in half, and then into 1/2 inch pieces.
  • Put zucchini, peppers, cucumber, tomato, olives, mint and parsley into a large bowl and toss with dressing.
  • Add feta and toss gently.
  • Transfer to a large, shallow bowl. Sprinkle ground sumac over the top.

Wine Suggestions: A medium bodied red with some spice and earthy flavors is ideal. The first time we made this, it was with a vegetarian dinner of spiced lentils. A red burgundy, or earthy rustic Italian red or Southern Rhone would all be good pairings.


Creamy Mushroom Soup

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Time: 40-45 minutes

Serves: 8-12

Inspired by: I’ve always loved creamy mushroom soup and have thought about trying to make it, but prefer not to eat soups with a lot of cream. Once I tried my version of a healthy creamy zucchini soup that turned out well, I thought I’d use a similar approach to a mushroom soup – creamy without the cream! This turned out even better than I had thought it would. Wow! Yum! It’s amazing how much creamy texture yellow potatoes can add!

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • 1 large white onion
  • 2 small to medium yellow potatoes
  • 2 pounds cremini mushrooms
  • 2 (14.5 oz) cans chicken broth (don’t use low fat or low salt – get the ones with all the flavor or make your own)
  • Approximately 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Approximately 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 2-4 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley for garnish

Preparation:

  • Wash the mushrooms and let them drain in a colander.
  • Wash, peel and dice the potato.
  • Pour the chicken broth into a medium sized soup pot and add the diced potatoes (the broth should cover the potato). Simmer for about 15 minutes until potato is soft.
  • While potato is cooking, slice the onion and sauté it on medium heat with 1 tablespoon olive oil until it’s well cooked and translucent.
  • Once the onion is cooked, add it to the chicken broth and potato.
  • Slice and dice the mushrooms. In the same pan, sauté the mushrooms on medium heat with 1 tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper until cooked through – about 5 minutes. Taste and add more salt if needed.
  • Remove 2 cups of the sautéed mushrooms and place in a bowl. Add the rest to the soup pot and cook for 1 more minute.
  • Using a cup or ladle, take about half the mixture from the soup pot, put it in a blender and puree – about 1 minute. Taste and add salt if needed and then pour into a large serving bowl. Repeat this with the rest of the mixture in the soup pot until it has all been pureed and salted to your liking. Add half of the reserved mushrooms to the soup and stir in.
  • Chop some fresh parsley.
  • Serve the soup into bowls, garnishing each with fresh parsley and the rest of the reserved sautéed mushroom slices.

Wine Suggestions: This would be fabulous with a Red Burgundy. Mushrooms and an earthy Pinot Noir are awesome! We drank this with a yummy older earthy Bordeaux last night and it was also a fantastic combination.


Spicy Shrimp – Pan Fried

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Spicy Shrimp - Pan Fried

Time: 5 -8 minutes

Serves: 2 – 4

Inspired by: Minimal ingredients in the kitchen and being so hungry that I want to make something yummy in minutes! These are great on salad, pasta and quinoa or just to nibble on their own. Normally I prefer not to cook during a party, but I hosted a party last night and it was so easy to make these while everyone was hanging around the kitchen because it just took minutes.

Ingredients:

Preparation: Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a cast iron skillet or saute pan. Once it is hot, add the shrimp. Sprinkle with the spice (any amount to your liking – a small amount goes a pretty long way) and cook for about 2 minutes on each side and serve.

Wine Suggestions: These are yummy with any off-dry white such as a Riesling or possibly a Viongier or Condrieu. They are also nice with a medium-bodied red with some nice fruitiness or spice such as a fairly ripe Spanish Rioja, Southern Rhone or Merlot.


Stuffed Mushrooms

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Stuffed Mushrooms

Time: 1 hour

Serves: 45 “bites”

Inspired by: I can’t remember when I first had these. I just know that I’ve always loved mushrooms of any type, and every time I’ve had these I’ve thought they were decadent. With something close to these ingredients as the stuffing, I don’t know how you can go wrong. I love that they are easy to prepare ahead for parties and I think they still taste good even when they cool off and are only at room temperature.

Ingredients:

  • 45 cremini mushrooms
  • 1 onion, chopped well
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced very fine
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter
  • 5 stalks celery, chopped well
  • 1 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 1/2 cups grated parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 – 1 cup bread crumbs

Preparation:

  • Wash mushrooms; remove stems carefully to keep mushrooms whole – keep the stems
  • Slice off a very small sliver on the rounded side of the mushroom and lay them on a cookie sheet (that keeps them from rolling around)
  • Chop all the excess mushroom stems and pieces well
  • Melt the butter in a large saute pan and saute the onions, chopped mushroom stems and garlic  – about 10 minutes on medium heat
  • Add the chopped celery, parsley and black pepper – saute another 10-20 minutes until everything is cooked through
  • Add the parmesan and then begin adding some breadcrumbs until the mixture is your desired thickness for stuffing the mushrooms
  • Stuff the mushrooms so that they are very full and rounded at the caps
  • Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes

Notes: You can prepare these and wrap them up well in the refrigerator a day ahead of cooking. It’s best to bring them to room temperature before baking. And a note to myself – I think chopping all this stuff should work just fine on “pulse” mode in the food processor. Every time I make them I think about that when I’m almost finished chopping.  It would save a lot of time!

Stuffed Mushrooms - Pre Baked

Stuffed Mushrooms – Pre Baked

Wine Suggestions: I love mushrooms with a Red Burgundy, but I think the flavors here would go well with most high-acid crisp whites (White Burgundy, Gruner Veltliner, Sancerre, Chenin Blanc), and light to medium-bodied reds (Red Burgundy/Pinot Noir, Rioja).


Crab Cioppino

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Crab Cioppino

Time: 60-75 minutes

Serves: 4  – just the two of us had this tonight with fresh whole grain bread and roasted brussel sprouts. We could have easily had two more people join us – we ate way too much and we’ll still have awesome leftovers for tomorrow.

Inspired by: It’s the end of December and for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been seeing Dungeness crab at the fish counter. I’ve been thinking that I must get some of these before the season is over! I LOVE crab and it brings with it a lot of memories for me – mainly related to my dad. I remember as a child going out for crab with my family, and my brother and I would leave the restaurants still playing with the claws. I also think of my dad ordering crab cioppino at restaurants and wearing a bib because it was so messy. When I started thinking about what I wanted to have for dinner tonight, crab and tomatoes came to mind… and that got me googling crab cioppino recipes. The first one I found was “Judith’s Dungeness Crab Cioppino Recipe” from Food and Wine (Judith was chef Michael Mina’s late mother-in-law who apparently used to make it for Christmas Eve dinner). It looked great and easy, but I had to make a few modifications based on ingredient availability and the fact that I was cooking for 2, but it turned out so amazing, I’ll do it exactly the same way next time! This recipe makes a very thick soup with a LOT of kick! Yum.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 small red bell pepper – chopped
  • 1 small onion – chopped
  • 1 large jalapeno – minced
  • 4 medium garlic cloves (2 minced; 2 whole)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 14 oz can of fire roasted organic tomatoes – diced
  • 1 10 oz can of whole baby clams
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups hot water
  • 1/2 – 1 cup packed basil leaves
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 steamed Dungeness crab
  • 8 mussels
  • 8 littleneck clams
  • 12 shrimp – shelled and deveined
  • some small scallops or halibut pieces (optional)

Preparation:

  • In a large soup pot, sauté the onion for about 2 minutes on high heat. Add the red bell pepper and sauté for about 2 more minutes. Add the minced garlic and jalapeno and sauté for another 6 minutes or until it is all very soft and beginning to brown.
  • Add the tomato paste, stir well, and cook for another minute.
  • Add the tomatoes, wine and bay leaf and cook for another 5-10 minutes – until thickened.
  • Add the can of clams with their broth and season with salt and pepper.
  • Bring to a boil and cook on medium heat for about 20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile – in a food processor – combine the basil leaves, whole garlic cloves, and red pepper flakes – chop well. Add 1/8 cup of olive oil and puree until smooth. Then prepare the crab by removing the top shells and the flap on the undersides – pry out any brownish insides and feathery lungs and discard. Rinse the crab bodies in cold water and break them up into pieces that are a few inches in length – or however you’d like to see them presented in your dish when serving.
  • Now it’s time to add the clams, mussels and shrimp to the pot – be sure to push them into the hot broth. Once the shells of the clams and the mussels open (about 2 minutes), add the crab pieces and push into the broth as much as possible – put the lid on the pot and continue to cook for another 2-4 minutes until everything is hot.
  • Use tongs to take out all the shellfish and distribute evenly into bowls – then scoop out broth evenly into bowls.
  • Drizzle/spread the basil puree over the top of each and serve with fresh bread.

 

Notes: I would have liked including some scallops, but they weren’t available. White fish, such as Halibut, would have been good too. If you like your broth thinner – replace the can of clams with 16 oz of clam broth (I wasn’t able to find it – the stores were probably sold out from Christmas, but it’s what the original recipe called for). I’m sure you could also double the diced tomatoes without losing flavor – this is a VERY flavorful and spicy dish! It can also be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Wine Suggestions: We drank this with a 2003 La Spinetta Barbera d’ Asti Superiore. It needed some decanting, but it was a fabulous pairing with the rich tomato and spice of the dish.


Grilled Vegetable Lasagna

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Grilled Vegetable Lasagna

Time: Approximately 4-6 hours total to prepare and cook; 2 hours to make the arrabbiata sauce, pesto, and cut/marinate/grill vegetables, 30-45 minutes to assemble lasagna, and between 1-3 hours to cook (depending on whether it’s fresh or frozen).

Serves: Approximately 30 main course servings (2″ x 2.5″ x 5″).

Inspired by: My friend Rikke Johansen brought “individual” grilled vegetable lasagnas to a party at my home once that were amazingly delicious! I know she slaved all day over making fresh pasta for them, homemade sauces, and my favorite ingredient was the surprise layer of grilled sweet potatoes that were very subtle in the dish, but added a unique flavor and awesome texture! Reviewing her recipe and a few other similar ones, I concocted this one. It’s a dish full of beautiful flavors! It also makes great leftovers for about a week if kept wrapped well in the fridge. I also love that it can be made the day ahead of a party and sit one night night in the refrigerator covered before being cooked.  My friends with kids love that it can be made in smaller batches and then wrapped well and put in the freezer for whenever it is needed.

Supplies: Ceramic or glass baking dishes that are 2.5-3 inches in height. 3 makes cooking easier.  This quantity of ingredients yields about 300 square inches of lasagna. I use a 10 x 15 inch dish, a 9 x 13 inch dish and an 8 x 4 dish.  If you plan to freeze them for small meals, consider using several small baking dishes. Lastly, you will be grilling a lot of veggies – a large grill will save time!

Arrabbiata Sauce Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 small onions, finely chopped
  • 8-10 garlic cloves, minced
  • 5, 28 oz cans organic fire roasted crushed or diced tomatoes with juice
  • 3-4 teaspoons dried basil
  • 6 teaspoons of red pepper flakes (this gives it a great kick; reduce this to 2 teaspoons if you don’t like too much heat)
  • Salt to taste (approximately 1 teaspoon)
  • 8 large portabella mushrooms chopped into 1/4 inch pieces (for a meat version use 3-4 pounds of your favorite Italian sausage – for parties I often make both  – I get 4-5 portabellas and 2 pounds of Italian sausage – cook them separately, split up the finished arrabbiata sauce and add them in to make two different sauces.

Pesto (see ingredients and recipe)

Filling Ingredients

  • 3 lbs sweet potatoes – peeled and cut lengthwise into ¼ inch slices
  • 8-10 medium zucchini – cut lengthwise into ¼ inch slices
  • 1 large or 2 medium eggplants, cut into ¼ inch slices
  • Approx. ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Approx. ¼ cup balsamic
  • Approx. 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons pepper
  • Fresh pasta lasagna noodles – enough to give you three layers in your pan sizes (900 square inches if you are sticking with the quantity of this recipe). This can be tricky because the packages usually only tell you the weight. My favorite fresh pasta shop closed so I’ve been purchasing pasta carried by Whole Foods from the Pasta Shop in Oakland. Each 12 oz container has 3 sheets that are approximately 12 x 12 each so I get three containers and end up with some extra. The leftovers can be cut into ribbons for pasta and frozen to keep longer as well.
  • 3 lbs coarsely grated fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 2 lbs ricotta cheese
  • 2 lbs coursely grated fresh asiago cheese (I often use a pound each of fresh and aged)
  • 1 cup of grated parmesan or manchego

Preparation:

  • Start with the arrabbiata sauce. While it is simmering, make the pesto, sauté the portabellas, and prepare and grill the vegetables.
  • Arrabiata Sauce: Heat the olive oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft and translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tomatoes and the remaining ingredients and simmer uncovered until the sauce is thickened and slightly reduced, about 1.5 hours. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Cover and set aside.
  • Portabellas: For a “meatier” lasagna, chop up your portabellas in 1/4 inch pieces, sauté them with olive oil and a bit of salt (smoky salts is nice), until they release most of their water. Add them to the Arrabbiata sauce when it is finished. If you are using Italian Sausage, just break up the sausage into small pieces while you are sautéing it and brown it a bit.
  • Pesto: Make pesto according to recipe and set aside until ready to assemble lasagna.
  • Cut and Marinate the Vegetables: Prepare a small bowl with a mixture of equal parts olive oil and balsamic. Cut the vegetables according to the ingredient list above. Long thin slices is easier to grill than a lot of small pieces. Use your hands to lightly and quickly coat veggies with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and pile them onto cookie sheets or something easy to carry them to your grill.
  • Grill Vegetables: Grill in batches, until they are tender and browned. Besides adding that beautiful flavor that comes from grilling, your main goal of grilling is getting them to release a lot of their moisture so when the lasagna cooks it will have a perfect moistness and will not end up sitting in a lot of water. At times I’ve thought I’ve overcooked some of the vegetables and they still turn out well in the finished product.
  • Assemble Lasagna:
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In one bowl, combine your grated asiago and parmesan cheeses. In another bowl, blend your ricotta cheese with 1/2 cup of the pesto (or enough so that it gives it a nice flavor without being overly salty).
  • Layer 1: Spoon 1/2 of the arrabbiata sauce onto the bottom of each baking dish.
  • Layer 2: Single layer of lasagna noodles so they do not overlap.
  • Layer 3: Single layer of grilled sweet potatoes so they do not overlap.
  • Layer 4: As equally as possible, spread the ricotta mixture combined with pesto. Sprinkle a handful of mozzarella over the top.
  • Layer 5: Layer of lasagna noodles.
  • Layer 6: Layer of zucchini.
  • Layer 7: Layer 1/2 of the mozzarella
  • Layer 8: Layer of eggplant.
  • Layer 9: Layer 1/2 of the asiago/parmesan mixture.
  • Layer 10: Final layer of lasagna noodles.
  • Layer 11: Spread the rest of the arrabbiata sauce.
  • Layer 12: Sprinkle the rest of the mozzarella and asiago/parmesan cheeses – pack it all down at this point if necessary to keep it all from overflowing the pan.
  • Top it all off by drizzling pesto over the top. This is a fairly salty mixture so you can also reserve a bit to top off again when you are eating if it needs more, or to spread on some warm bread to accompany the lasagna.

Cook Lasagna from Fresh: Preheat oven to 350. Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil, place your dish on a cookie sheet in case there is some spill over, and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until it is bubbling and golden brown (20-30 minutes longer). Let the lasagna rest for 10 minutes before serving, and if you’d like, drizzle again with some of the remaining pesto oil. Or put a “smear” of pesto on the plate under each piece you serve.

Pre-Baked Grilled Vegetable Lasagna

Pre-Baked Grilled Vegetable Lasagna

Cook Lasagna from Frozen: Preheat oven to 400. Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil, place your dish on a cookie sheet in case there is some spill over, and bake for approximately 120 minutes. (Add 20-30 min if not completely hot all the way through). Remove the foil and drop temperature to 350 and continue baking until it is bubbling and golden brown (20-30 minutes longer). Let the lasagna rest for 10 minutes before serving and if you have it, drizzle with pesto oil.

Notes: Using fresh ingredients (pasta, cheeses, sauces, and fresh organic vegetables) is what makes this dish so good.

Wine Suggestions: Italian! Any Sangiovese-based wine from Tuscany such as a Brunello di Montalcino or Rosso di Montalcino. If you like something less expensive and a bit more rustic try a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. While Barolo is typically paired with heavier and spicy meats, the spiciness and grilled flavors in this lasagna would probably also be yummy with older Barolo with some age that has had some time to soften. Anything too tanic might class with the spice.

Grilled Vegetable Lasagna

Grilled Vegetable Lasagna


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