Category Archives: Side Dishes

Roasted Green Beans, and a simple supper idea

Yes, roasted green beans!  No more soggy beans, or canned beans.

The secret is:  the pan must be really hot.  If you place the beans in a cold pan, and try to roast them like that, they will be rubbery.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Place a rimmed metal sheet pan or metal cookie sheet or metal cake pan in the oven at the same time so the pan heats up.

Just snap the ends off of plain old fresh green beans.  Place them in a bowl and drizzle them with a really little amount of oil:  a good quality olive oil or pure avocado oil is my preference.  What is important in this step is that the beans aren’t drowning in oil.  They should just lightly glisten.  The beans shouldn’t be in a puddle of oil.

Next, season them.  My favorite seasoning for the beans is Montreal Steak Seasoning (I know!  This isn’t steak, but somehow it’s an amazing combination).  I put plenty on the beans, and they taste great!  You can use lemon pepper, or just salt, or pretty much whatever seasoning you like.  I season them generously because I enjoy the peppery bite on the beans.

When the oven is hot and the pan is hot, dump the beans with their oil and seasoning in the pan and quickly try to spread them out so they’re in a single layer.  They don’t need to be neatly lined up like soldiers, just not piled up.

Roast them for about 15 to 20 minutes, shaking the pan every few minutes so the beans char evenly on all sides (or stir them about with a spatula).  When they’re lightly charred, they’re done.  They’re good as a side dish, or as a snack.

Another idea for a simple supper:  to the green beans in the bowl, prior to cooking, add shelled edamame (out of the pods).   A couple of big handfuls of beans, and about half that amount of shelled edamame (frozen is fine, or pods that you’ve cooked and shelled), with the small amount of oil and a hearty sprinkling of Montreal Steak Seasoning, or lemon pepper or salt.  Do the same thing with the pan: preheat it while the oven’s preheating to 425 degrees.  Dump the beans and edamame on the hot pan and roast until lightly charred.  Then grate fresh Parmigiano Reggiano cheese over them and return to the oven for just a minute or two until the cheese begins to melt.  That’s it!  It’s almost no work, vegetarian, and really simple and satisfying.   Fresh cornbread is a nice accompaniment.

A One-Ingredient Pasta Sauce (well, one ingredient plus some water, to be precise)

You’ll need a blender or food processor for this sauce, but little else.  Here’s how to make a one-ingredient pasta sauce, plus some variations.  I’ll include a brief summary for those of you who prefer just a simple overview, and then I’ll provide details for the readers who like a more complete recipe with explanations.

Ingredient: One winter squash.

The quick version:  roast a squash and puree it, adding just enough water to make a smooth consistency.  (A little pasta cooking water is excellent).  Add to hot cooked pasta, stir gently and enjoy!

Variations:  stir in grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and a little freshly grated nutmeg.  Add salt to taste (how much salt you need will depend on the sweetness of the squash you chose, which can only be determined by tasting it).  Instead of fresh water, or water left over from cooking the pasta, use chicken stock for a richer sauce. Top the pasta and roasted squash puree with chopped toasted walnuts, or bacon, or roasted prosciutto.

Now for the detailed version:

You can use an acorn squash, butternut squash, or a pumpkin (make sure it’s a pumpkin grown for baking or for use in recipes, not the large inedible ones intended for carving and decorating only) – almost any winter squash except for a spaghetti squash will work.  Most grocery stores identify the pumpkins that can be cooked as “pie pumpkins” or “sweet pumpkins”, and they call the others “carving pumpkins” or “Jack-O-Lanterns”.  The produce manager can tell you whether the pumpkin is intended for eating or for decorative purposes only.

Line a baking sheet with non-stick foil or parchment paper.  You can either cut the squash in half, remove the seeds and lay the squash halves cut-side down on the pan, or you can simply put the whole squash on the pan.  There’s some debate as to whether a whole squash should be pierced a couple of times prior to baking.  Some cooks say to pierce the squash with a sharp knife or fork, as you would when baking a potato, and some cooks say this allows delicious steam and flavors to escape and they don’t pierce the skin.  I’ve roasted whole winter squashes and I simply make one small knife slit in the skin – I don’t feel like using my oven as an experimental pumpkin explosion testing center.

Anyway, roast a winter squash: halved, seeded and cut-side down, or whole.  Just roast it until the squash is very tender, when a fork inserted into the squash pierces it easily with no resistance.  That will take about 45 minutes to an hour, at 350 degrees, unless you are roasting an unusually large squash, which may take longer.

Let it cool, and then either scrape the flesh from the skin, or cut the whole roasted squash in half and scrape out the seeds and then the flesh.  Transfer just the flesh to a blender or food processor.  Puree it, and add just enough water to make a smooth sauce.  The best choice would be the water left over from cooking pasta: when you drain the pasta just save about a cup of the water.  The goal is to have a sauce that is a similar consistency to a cheese sauce, like when you’re making macaroni and cheese, not too thin and watery, and not too thick.

Now you can use the pureed squash as is – just stir it into hot cooked pasta   Or you can add some grated parmesan cheese and a little nutmeg (freshly grated nutmeg is best).  If the squash was very sweet, you might need some salt, but that’s up to you.  You’ll only know how sweet the squash was by tasting it.

I toasted some prosciutto on a baking sheet until the prosciutto was very crispy and crumbled that over the pasta and squash puree just before serving.  Crumbled cooked bacon would also be good.

Toasted and chopped walnuts or pecans would also be delicious on this pasta, as would chopped dried cranberries, and/or grated Parmigiano cheese.

But, if you just use the roasted and pureed squash, with a little water added to it to make it a smooth puree, you’ll have a very healthy and simple sauce made from just one real food.

More adventures with baked avocados: Roasted Guacamole!

Ok, I know.  This is NOT true guacamole.  Guacamole is an amazing blend of fresh avocado, lime juice and salt, with the addition of certain raw vegetables according to one’s preference and traditions.  There are hundreds of variations.  Some people prefer a specific type of onion, or leave the onion out altogether, and some add garlic.  Some cooks insist that tomatoes do not belong in guacamole and some wouldn’t call it guacamole if it didn’t have tomatoes.  Some people use hotter peppers, and some are minimalists, using simply avocados.  Then there are the people who add in sour cream or their own favorite additions, or who will argue over whether the guacamole should be creamy or chunky.  But nearly every guacamole recipe involves time and fine chopping or mashing, and requires that it be served immediately.

Thanks to my daughter, our family has a wonderful guacamole recipe.  It involves a lot of fine dicing (usually that’s my job) and then she is the perfecter of the proper ratio of spice, saltiness, raw vegetables, and acid, mixing with precision.  It must be served immediately, and it’s delicious.  Fresh guacamole starts to turn an dull brown after it’s exposed to air, and the myth of keeping an avocado pit in a bowl of guacamole to preserve it is just that: a myth.  A thin layer of water or olive oil will help keep leftover guacamole fresh for a short time, but the best way to deal with guacamole is to devour it completely right away!  More chips!  Tequila, anyone?

But since I’ve been experimenting with baked avocados lately, I wanted to try a simple roasted “guacamole”.  This will not be a beautiful blended typical guacamole, but more like a rustic roasted avocado salsa.  The upside of this is that it only takes seconds to prepare, and there’s no fine dicing needed.  You only need to know how to pit an avocado, and how to hack a vegetable in half.  Plus, since everything’s roasted, there’s no need to rush to serve it while it’s still bright green;  it’s already golden brown and tender! It could be served with chips, or as a topping for tacos or fajitas or nachos.

To prepare it, line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  (That’s not essential, it means you can simply toss the parchment paper and have no cleanup afterwards.)

Gather your favorite guacamole or salsa ingredients.  I peeled and cut an avocado into quarters and then cut a few jalapeños, tomatoes, onions and limes in half.  Make sure to use several limes.   Throw everything on the baking sheet.

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Feel free to add different types of hot peppers and/or garlic and use more or less of a certain ingredient, according to your taste and what’s available.  Generously salt everything, and drizzle a bit of olive oil over all.  Roast at about 400 degrees until it’s all golden and tender.  This might take a half hour, but there’s no tending to it, no need to stir or fuss.

When it’s done, remove the limes and squeeze the juice from them over all the roasted guacamole/salsa.  You can let your family or guests choose their roasted ingredients, or you can place everything on a cutting board and roughly chop and combine everything.

This photo shows what it looks like just after roasting, before chopping into more manageable pieces,  with the lime still in there.   It’s not beautiful, but it sure is delicious!

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Baked Stuffed Tomato Pies with a Savory Crust

Here’s something new to do with large tomatoes.  You could use a large heirloom tomato, or one of the bigger ones that are still hanging on in your garden.  This can be a side dish, or a hearty entree, depending on the filling you choose and on the size of the tomatoes.

First, prepare a filling.  Really the only rule to follow is that any raw meats or proteins should be cooked before stuffing them into the tomato.

I used mozzarella cheese, some Panko bread crumbs, fresh chopped basil, cooked chopped bacon, grilled corn, salt, pepper and some freshly grated Parmigiano cheese.

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You could use Mexican inspired fillings, like cooked taco-seasoned ground beef, chili peppers, shredded Cheddar cheese, sliced jalapenos, and chopped fresh cilantro.

Another nice choice might be broiled shrimp, chopped or sliced garlic, lemon zest, and chopped scallions, with Panko bread crumbs and just a bit of mayonnaise to moisten the stuffing.  Season with a spicy Cajun seasoning if you like.

Or for a more gourmet choice, how about rare or medium-rare steak (cut into bite-sized pieces), grilled corn, chopped seeded tomatoes and a little blue cheese?

Go completely vegetarian with roasted or grilled chopped vegetables (zucchini, summer squash, corn, tomatoes, mushrooms,and any other seasonal vegetables that are available and affordable)!  Mix the vegetables with a little Panko bread crumbs, some fresh herbs and a little olive oil.

Or make a Greek stuffed tomato, with cooked lamb or beef pieces, chopped red onion, Kalamata olives, chopped tomatoes and crumbled feta cheese, with fresh oregano.

The filling should be moist.  The Panko bread crumbs can be eliminated but they do add a little crunch and texture.  For a gluten-free option, crumble up some lightly toasted gluten-free bread and substitute that for the Panko crumbs.

Completely scoop out the insides of the tomato, and lightly fill with the mixture (don’t pack the filling in).

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Place the tomatoes in a baking dish, or if you’ll be cooking this on an outdoor grill, in a grill-safe pan or dish.  Drizzle with a little olive oil.

You can roast the tomatoes now, or bake them, until the tomatoes are soft and the filling is heated throughout (about a half hour at 375 degrees).

For something extra delicious, top the tomatoes with a savory crust.  I made a basic pie crust with flour, butter and ice water, and added chopped fresh basil to the crust.  I cut out a circle of dough roughly the size of the tomato and baked the tomato with the dough on it.  It was like a fresh tomato pie!  You could use a store-bought crust or even thawed puff pastry crust, and you can omit the basil or substitute another appropriate herb.20140727_175438

 

 

 

 

 

If you need a pie crust refresher course, it’s really easy.  The basic rule is 1 part flour, 1/2 part butter or other shortening (vegetable shortening or lard or a combination of those), and 1/4 part ice water.  So if you use 2 cups flour, use 1 cup shortening and 1/2 cup ice water.  For a smaller recipe, use 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup shortening and 1/4 cup ice water.   Simply place the flour in a bowl, use a pastry cutter or a fork to distribute the shortening into the flour (or pulse in a food processor) until the flour and shortening resemble coarse wet sand and stir in the ice water.  Knead the dough briefly and gently on a lightly floured surface, and form the dough into a disk.  Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for about 45 minutes or an hour.  Then roll or pat the dough to the desired thickness and cut to the desired size.

For this tomato pie, I used all butter and kneaded in several large basil leaves that I finely chopped.  I wanted a savory rustic crust and didn’t make the butter pieces too small.  I also sprinkled some coarse salt over the crust before baking the tomato.

Let me know what fillings you can think of for these individual baked tomato pies!

Crispy Asparagus Bites

This “recipe” is pretty open-ended, but easy to follow.  The precise amounts of ingredients will depend on how many asparagus spears you plan to use, and how many crispy bites you’d like to end up with.

Quick recipe (detailed instructions below):

Wash and dry asparagus spears.  Trim the bottom ends off.  Lightly dredge in seasoned flour, then in a basic egg wash, and finally in Panko bread crumbs combined with grated parmesan cheese (the cheese is optional).  Bake on a baking rack placed over a sheet pan at 425˚ for about 15 minutes or until golden and crispy.  Cut with kitchen shears into approximately 2 inch lengths, and garnish with lemon zest or a little fresh lemon juice or minced preserved lemon peel and a little freshly ground black pepper.  Serve immediately or chilled or at room temperature.

The recipe, step-by-step, with more detailed instructions:

First, wash the asparagus spears.  I used one and half bunches of regular thick-stalked asparagus.  Dry them with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel.  Then, trim the woody thick ends off.  To do this, bend one asparagus spear down near the end with both hands, as if you’re going to break it in two.  You’ll feel it begin to snap, and then a section of the bottom of the spear will automatically snap off.   It’s usually about a 2 or 3 inch section. Where it naturally snaps off is where it should be trimmed.  You can just line up the rest of the spears and cut the rest of the ends off with a knife to match the size of your sample spear.

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You’ll need three shallow containers:  one for flour, one for an egg and water mixture, and a third for bread crumbs.  I used three cheap oblong plastic storage containers that were long enough to hold the entire spear.  You could use cake pans, or even gallon-size zip top plastic bags.  You’ll also need a sheet pan or cookie sheet, and a baking rack (the kind you’d cool cookies on).  Preheat oven to 425˚.

In the first container, place enough all-purpose flour to coat the spears.  Add a half-teaspoon of salt and stir with a fork or clean hands so the flour and salt are combined.  (You could also add a little cayenne pepper or paprika or garlic powder, if you want a little spice kick.  I just stuck to flour and salt.)  The spears don’t have to be buried in the flour, just tossed to coat thoroughly.  For my one and a half bunches of asparagus, I used about a heaping half cup of flour.

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In the second container, mix 2 eggs and about a quarter cup of water.  The desired result is enough egg mixture to be able to coat the asparagus spears, so that the bread crumbs (in the next step) will stick to the spears.  Again, the spears do not have to be completely immersed in the egg mixture, just coated all over.  Lay a few spears in the egg mixture, and use your clean hands to make sure each spear gets an “egg bath”.

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In the third container, place about a heaping cup of Panko bread crumbs.  Panko crumbs are flaky and made from bread specifically crafted to produce these light crumbs.  They’re inexpensive and, in a regular grocery store, they’re usually found with the other bread crumb types or in the Asian section.  If you’d like, grate some fresh parmesan cheese (a couple of tablespoons) into the Panko crumbs.  Remove the asparagus spears from the egg bath, lightly shake off any excess egg, and place the spears into the bread crumbs, rolling to coat thoroughly.  The spears will not be completely coated like a corn dog, but there will be crumbs clinging around the entire spear.  You’ll still see plenty of the green asparagus through the crumb coating.

Place the baking rack on the sheet pan or cookie sheet.  I put parchment paper over the sheet pan just to catch any crumbs that fell off, for easier cleanup.  Lay the spears gently on the rack, making sure they are not too crowded.  Air should be able to circulate around each one.

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Bake them for about 15 – 18 minutes, until the crumbs are golden and the asparagus is crispy.  They won’t be crunchy like a potato chip, but they will not be soggy.

Then, to finish them, I used kitchen shears to cut each spear into bite-size pieces, about 2 inches long.  I think they’re easier to eat that way, and more appealing to kids.  For people who aren’t accustomed to eating asparagus, tasting a bite-size little crunchy bit is less intimidating than picking up an entire spear, and even if you’re an asparagus lover, the smaller pieces are neater to eat than a whole crumb-covered spear.  They’re also easier to pack (easier than finding a container long enough to hold entire spears).  I added a touch of lemon over them:  you could use the zest of a fresh lemon peel, or a spritz of fresh lemon juice, or – even better – if you’re lucky enough to have some preserved lemons (that’s for another blog post!), a little finely minced preserved lemon peel.  I also grated a little freshly ground black pepper over them.  Lemon pepper (if it’s not loaded with salt and sugar) would be a great seasoning to shake over these little bites, too. They can be eaten right away, or enjoyed chilled or at room temperature.  I packed them loosely in a container and brought them for a crispy picnic treat.

 

Springtime Fruit and Vegetable Salsa

This is a pretty simple recipe, not too precise, and easy to make.  It’s a citrus-y, springtime salsa that’s good with tortilla chips or crackers, and it can be served with ham or pork chops or grilled chicken.   I’ll add suggestions after the basic recipe as to how you can adjust it to your personal preferences or according to what’s in season or available at a good price  at the store or farmer’s market.

Dice a couple of peaches and/or mangoes (if using mangoes, peel them).                                   Pit, peel and dice an avocado or two.                                                                                                                     Dice a cucumber. (see note below)                                                                                                                Seed and finely  dice a jalapeno or serrano pepper.                                                                                     Chop a handful of cilantro or fresh mint leaves.

Combine them all gently together in a bowl and squeeze a lemon or lime (or both) over the mixture.  Sprinkle with a little salt, and chill the salsa briefly before serving.

Notes:  if you’re using a regular cucumber, you should probably peel it and remove the seeds or else the salsa will be too watery.  To remove the seeds, cut the cucumber in half the long way, and slide a regular spoon along the seeds, scooping them out in one long swoop.  They’ll come out quite easily.   Those English or Hothouse cucumbers don’t have the same watery seeds or waxy skins and you can just cut those up.

You can add a peeled cut up kiwi to this, and you can use more peaches, fewer avocados, etc., according to what you like and what’s available.  You can use both peaches and mangoes.  You can use just a little bit of the peppers or, if you need to avoid spicy foods, you can omit them altogether.  But this is best, I think, with a little heat.  And mint is a good substitute for those who don’t prefer the taste of cilantro.  Have fun with this one!

 

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