Tag Archives: Vegetable

Tomato paella

It’s high tomato season here in California. They’re everywhere, those fragrant red orbs, and it’s hard not to just eat them all raw. But please, if you can bear it, set aside a few juicy specimens for this recipe. It’s my new favorite paella, and a truly wonderful late-summer party meal.

I’ve been trying for years to come up with a great vegetable paella. This blows away every other version I’ve tried. The difference is those tomatoes–ripe and juicy, cut into meaty wedges and scattered on top of the rice. Unlike other paellas I’ve made, this one starts on the stove and then gets a brief blast in a hot oven. The tomatoes wrinkle and slump, while holding their gorgeous form. Stick a spoon in, and you’ve got sweet tomato jelly on top of delicately seasoned rice. It’s a total winner.

This started its life as a Mark Bittman recipe. I’ve tweaked it a bit, swapping out the onions in his recipe in favor of peppers–both sweet and hot–and romano beans. I add a bay leaf for extra fragrance, and a splash of wine just for fun. To keep the tomato flavor front and center, I use water as the cooking liquid. Once the paella comes out of the oven, it gets strewn with parsley and scallion confetti. Serve with lemon wedges for folks who want a bit of zing, and the rest of that bottle of wine.

tomato paella

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Chicken and vegetable baked pasta

The great low-FODMAP experiment continues. Despite talking a big game about cooking, I’m actually a pretty big takeout junkie. Now–curse that garlic!–a lot of my favorite restaurant dishes and prepared foods are suddenly off-limits. So, to satisfy my grab-and-go impulse, I’ve been doubling down on freezer meals.

This has been an opportunity to break out of my (tasty, but repetitive) freezer-cooking rut: beans, soups, stews, chili. A couple weeks ago, I started asking around for recipe ideas, and a friend suggested baked pasta. With a new go-to tomato sauce recipe, it didn’t take long to put two and two together. From the fridge, I gathered a mishmash of cooked chicken, carrots, zucchini, bell pepper, dino kale, and provolone cheese. Together with a pound of brown rice pasta and a batch of homemade tomato sauce, these became one of the most delicious freezer meals I’ve ever made.

I love this just the way I made it: tender zucchini, sweet carrot, barely-wilted greens, tangy provolone cheese, and the occasional nugget of chicken. But baked pasta is perfect for cleaning out the fridge, so think of this recipe as a template. You can swap in another kind of cooked meat, or omit it altogether. Use whatever vegetables you like, or whatever’s in the fridge. In place of the provolone, try mozzarella, cheddar, smoked gouda, or a mix of cheeses–sliced or shredded, it’s up to you. Pretty much the only requirements here are pasta, tomato sauce, and a heap of grated Parmesan.

chicken veggie baked pasta

My lunch today–a pan of pasta, saucy and golden brown, baked straight from the freezer

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Green vegetable soup with miso

One of the first things Sam and I did after we got the keys to our new place was to sign up for a CSA membership. It’s been great fun so far, having a big box of exuberantly dirty produce show up quietly on our doorstep every other week. We stuff it all into the fridge, and then methodically cook or snack on it for the next fourteen days. Normally I relish this kind of cooking challenge–being handed a bunch of ingredients and told, “Go!” But, if I’m being honest, my creativity has been wearing a little thin.

So this recipe is a case of extremely fortunate timing. Last Tuesday, I opened our CSA box to find, among other things, a huge bunch of dinosaur kale, three bundled broccoli heads, a bunch of gorgeous carrots, and a lemon. On Wednesday, I opened up my RSS reader to find a Food in Jars post with a soup recipe calling for kale, broccoli, carrot, and lemon. All it took was putting two and two together, and I had lunch for the rest of the week.

Marisa from Food in Jars calls this “hippie soup,” which seems accurate. For one thing, it starts by boiling vegetables instead of sweating them in oil. You just toss a big pile of greens and herbs, an armful of broccoli florets, some alliums, and a grated carrot into a pot with water, and cook everything until it’s blendable. The recipe called for nutritional yeast, which I didn’t have and don’t intend to buy. But I had some white miso in the fridge, and figured that adding it would give the soup body and savory saltiness. I also tweaked the ingredients a bit based on my mood and the contents of the fridge, swapping scallions for onions and skipping the spinach in favor of more kale. The soup came out vividly Christmas-green, and the flavor was surprisingly complex–I was worried it’d be bitter, but it was mellow and herbal instead. It definitely tasted “good-for-you” green, but in the best way. (I suppose this is how people feel about green smoothies, but I like this soup way better than any green smoothie I’ve ever had.)

Normally, when I write recipes, I try to give approximate weights and volumes for things like “a bunch of kale” or “the juice of a lemon.” But I’m not doing that here, because precision really, really does not matter with this soup. This kind of recipe begs to be fiddled with, and the greens and herbs are totally interchangeable. I used kale and parsley, but this recipe is a great use-up for whatever greens and leafy herbs you have around–chard, spinach, radish greens, beet greens, turnip greens, collards, carrot tops, cilantro, arugula, watercress, etc. You want about half the mass of the soup to be leafy greens and herbs of some kind, and the other half to be broccoli, scallions, carrot, and garlic. Beyond that, go nuts.

green veggie soup with miso

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Vegetable and goat cheese lasagna

This has been a bonanza year for people who like to complain about the weather. Between the drought in California and the…well, not-drought everywhere else, it’s been a strange, unsettling, and dangerous stretch of time. But–and I may be jinxing myself by saying this–it seems like things are starting to return to a sort of normal. At least, it’s been somewhat rainy in NorCal, the way it should be in spring.

This is the time of year when burly, rib-sticking meals are giving way to lighter, livelier fare. And for a rainy weekend afternoon, I think a vegetable lasagna is the perfect kitchen project. It’s got lots of little steps, none of which is particularly demanding: lots of chopping, some stirring, some simmering. It involves a bit of construction, layering sauce and pasta and cheese in a pan, but there’s no reason to worry about making it pretty or neat–in fact, the chunkier and more homemade it looks, the better. And it includes some of that precious oven-waiting time that’s so lovely on a wet day, when you can sit at the kitchen table with a mug of tea and enjoy the fact that the rain is outside and you’re inside.

The other great thing about a veggie lasagna for spring is how flexible it is. Any combination of in-season and in-fridge vegetables will work beautifully, as long as they’re cooked tender but not mushy before layering. The lasagna can be made as rich or as restrictive as you like, depending on how much cheese and pasta you work into it. I like a tomato-based sauce, personally, but spring vegetables take perfectly well to a cream or cheese sauce as well–or you could use both red and white sauces, if you’re in particularly ambitious spirits. The only thing I think is required is a generous shower of Parm on top.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I went over to my parents’ house and puttered around for a few hours making a lasagna. I decided not to try for anything particularly seasonal, and just to go with the vegetables that seemed appealing and easy: mushrooms, carrots, bell peppers, zucchini, and broccoli. I also mixed in a fat log of goat cheese with the more traditional ricotta, figuring that the animal tang of it would do nicely to perk up the vegetables. It was a very good decision: the sharp goat cheese and milky ricotta tasted so good together that I couldn’t stop dipping my spoon into the mixing bowl. The lasagna came together just as I’d hoped, with tender vegetables, a bubbling tomato sauce, and that familiar ricotta graininess. As a one-pan meal on a gloomy day, it was just about perfect.

veggie goat cheese lasagna

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Vegetable udon

My boyfriend is a funny creature. Ask him what his favorite food is, and he’ll say, “Sushi.” Ask him where he wants to go for dinner tonight, and he’ll say, “Sushi.” Ask him what he had for lunch yesterday, and more often than not, he’ll say, “Sushi.” And yet, when we go to our favorite sushi boats restaurant, it’s not the sushi that gets him excited. It’s the vegetable udon.

I don’t blame him. At this particular restaurant, it’s sublime–shiitake mushrooms, zucchini, carrot, Napa cabbage, noodles, broth, nothing else. The mushrooms infuse the liquid and punctuate each bite, chewy and meaty and just the right size. The carrot and zucchini are julienned, and the cabbage is thinly sliced, so that they mimic the slither and slip of the udon noodles. The broth itself is soft and subtle, ideal for letting the fresh flavor of the vegetables burst through. It’s deceptively simple, and of course it was only a matter of time before I tried to recreate it at home. The result? A quick-cooking, feather-light soup, perfect for dinner on a cool summer night.

There are not many ingredients here. The key is a lightly-flavored broth, or dashi, and vegetables that are cut to maximize textural fun. The dashi itself couldn’t be simpler: a couple sheets of konbu–dried Japanese kelp–and a handful of shiitake mushroom stems, tossed into a bowl of cold water and left to soak overnight. The biggest challenge, unexpectedly, was finding the konbu; I got lucky, and knew of a Japanese market that sells it in resealable packs. If you can’t get your hands on konbu, you could use a very lightly-flavored vegetable broth.

As far as the vegetables, if you have a mandoline with a julienne blade, you’ll fare way better than I did. My knife skills are…well, lacking, and so I ended up with fat matchsticks instead of thin ribbons. It wasn’t a crisis, of course, but I did feel like the chubby vegetables competed with the noodles for attention, rather than gracefully flanking them the way they do at our sushi boat place. But that’s what happens in a home kitchen–things are coarser, stubbier, chewier and stranger than in the restaurant that inspired them. And that, I guess, is the whole charm of taking restaurant recipes like this one home.

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