Zucchini and Fettuccine Alfredo

The other day two of my favorite things combined in a glorious moment of food zen. Zucchini and smoked gouda cheese. Wait, you haven’t had smoked gouda cheese, you say? Get thee to the store and a wedge as quick as you can. I find it at Whole Foods in the giant cheese section. This cheese is awesome. It’s like Parmesan but with a nuttier flavor and a dark orange color. It’s fairly stinky with lots of good sharpness on your tongue. I like to enjoy it on crackers. Or plain. Oh, and melted into a creamy alfredo sauce.

I realized as I went through my blog archives the other day that I have posted a lot of recipes revolving around zucchini. I can’t say that I’m sorry about the saturation of zucchini-related posts….it’s an awesome summer time veggie that everyone loves. I hope. It’s also incredibly versatile. You can make it into breads and muffins or you can grill and saute it. Just tonight I shredded it and used it in a ground meat mixture for stuffed peppers.

But enough about that. Let’s talk about alfredo. I think alfredo sauce is one of those things that people often fear because of its creamy nature. Cream sauce requires some nuance to get the thickness without scalding or burning. Let me tell you. It’s not that hard. As long as you use the right ingredients, you can do it without much difficulty. Heavy cream, real milk (not skim) and cheese are all required ingredients. It’s just not something you can make ‘light’ without sacrificing the taste or texture. So, compromise. Use whole wheat noodles and bulk up the dish with shredded zucchini. Yes, I might be a genius.

Also, this is possibly the fastest recipe ever. You might need 15 minutes to get this one ready. If you boil the noodles while preparing the sauce, it should all be ready at the same time. Again, genius. You’re welcome.

Zucchini and Fettuccine Alfredo
serves two

4 ounces whole wheat (or brown rice) fettuccine noodles

2 cups shredded zucchini

Several sprigs of fresh basil

for the sauce

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup water

1 cup milk

3 ounces smoked gouda

1-2 teaspoons flour

black pepper, garlic and salt to taste.

In a large sauce pan, bring the noodles to a boil. Cook until tender. Remove the noodles from the water, reserving the hot water. Drain the noodles.

Place the shredded zucchini in a small metal colander or a steaming basket over the reserved noodle water. Steam the zucchini until just tender. Toss with the noodles, lightly season with salt and pepper. Toss several sprigs of fresh basil in with the noodles and zucchini.

In a small sauce pan, combine all sauce ingredients over medium heat. Stir every thirty seconds with a spatula to keep the sauce from sticking. Once the sauce begins boiling, whisk gently to incorporate all the ingredients. Let the sauce simmer to thicken for 5-7 minutes. The sauce will also thicken upon standing. If you’re having a hard time getting the sauce to thicken, sprinkle a small amount of flour into the pan and whisk to combine.

Pour the sauce over the zucchini and noodle mixture. Garnish with fresh ground black pepper and light sprinkle of shredded smoked gouda and some extra basil. Serve immediately.


Roasted Pumpkin Orzo

Weather plays such a big role in what we eat and when we eat it. Lately I’m having a hard time thinking up new recipes. I think it probably has something to do with the fleeting hours of daylight, the sub-zero temperatures and knowing full well that at least in Minnesota, nothing is growing any more. It makes it harder to figure out what to make and I usually end up resorting to some old favorites. Beef bourguignon. Beef stroganoff. French onion soup. Senor’s pasta. Lasagna. Essentially, a lot of meaty or carby dishes and a lot of soup. Oh, and a LOT of squash, cut in half and roasted. Eaten with a pat of butter.

Honestly, it makes me feel like I’m stumped. I know that Senor loves a lot of these recipes and looks forward to them as the reward for enduring cold weather. I do too. I never remake a recipe we don’t both love. This is definitely a time of year where I have to look for inspiration from other sources though. In spring, summer and fall I walk through the farmer’s market and look to see what’s ripe and delicious looking. I feel inspired by all the food in season and every single meal is based off of what produce is in season right that moment. Whole meals are inspired by a giant bunch of super fragrant cilantro. It’s a lot harder to be creative, I think, when the only things in season are essentially what you’ve got in your freezer. On the off chance that I do make something new and creative and delicious….you’re probably not going to see a picture of it. The sun rises at 7:40 and sets at 4:30. I’m either at work or en route to work during that entire time. Maybe, just maybe we’ll get lucky. Maybe we’ll have a bright sunny weekend and I will be inspired to make a variety of new dishes to share with you all.

I made this recipe right as the fall vegetables started to finish off here. For now, we’ve got root veggies and citrus fruits from Florida. I’m trying to make the best of it. You’ll see some additional squash recipes coming soon. And ultimately I’m probably going to break down and buy the asparagus from Peru and the green beans from Chile. I’m not happy about it. Whether or not I can make anything really delicious and interesting out of them remains to be seen. I promise to do my best.

Luckily pumpkin can be bought in a can if you can’t find a fresh one. Eggplant is one of those fall veggies that stores pretty well so you can still find it and enjoy it during the colder months. And the really great news is that pumpkin, eggplant, sliced almonds and orzo go really well together. This was satisfying but not nearly as heavy as spaghetti with meat sauce, or a giant square of lasagna.

Roasted Pumpkin Orzo
serves four

1 medium baking pumpkin

1 large eggplant, cubed

8 ounces whole wheat orzo

3/4 cup sliced almonds

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup dry white wine

Salt, Pepper, garlic powder, smoked paprika

If using a fresh pumpkin, cut it in half and clean out the insides. Situate the halves face-down in a baking dish, along with a half-inch of water. Roast in a 400 degree oven until tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

If you’re using canned pumpkin, you may not be able to cut it into pieces to toss with the pasta. It will probably work better if you simply simmer the canned pumpkin with the white wine and olive oil and make a thick sauce to coat the pasta. It’ll be delicious either way.

Let the pumpkin cool so it’s workable. Meanwhile, boil the orzo. When tender, rinse and drain the orzo until you’re ready to use it.

Once the pumpkin is cool enough to work with, peel the skin off of the flesh. Cut the pumpkin into small cubes. It should be soft but not overly squishy.

In a large skillet, heat the oil and add in the eggplant. The egg plant will absorb the oil, so occasionally add a few tablespoons of water to keep the pan from drying out. Saute the eggplant until soft. Add the white wine, pumpkin and drained orzo. Reduce the heat to low.

Sprinkle the skillet with salt, pepper and garlic. Add a few shakes of smoked paprika and toss gently. Let the mixture simmer lightly until the sauce is slightly thickened and the pumpkin has spread evenly.

Remove from heat. Stir in the almonds, saving a few for garnish. Serve immediately.

Chicken Stuffed with Figs

Seemingly ‘fancy’ dinners do not have to take a long time to make. Sometimes they do, if you’re roasting whole birds or smoking a brisket or something of that nature. But truly, they don’t all have to take hours and hours.

The more recipes I create the more and more I recognize how the best recipes are seasonal and use produce that’s in abundance at that time. Food tastes better when it’s in season. This is easy enough to understand. But it goes further. It goes on to meals, side dishes, and whole recipe schemes. They are all better when you base them off food that is ripe for the picking. Although it’s always sad to say goodbye to delicious berries, peaches and plums, those fruits are officially over for the year. I tried both strawberries and nectarines last week. It was a wasted effort. Food that tasted amazing a few months ago is now mediocre at best.

Figs are one of those fruits that only last for so long. Just like berries and other tender-bodied fruits, they are easily bruised and much too easily turn to mush when their season is over. I keep seeing pictures of turkeys roasted and presented with figs. That’s great for magazines since they are doing the cooking and photographing for their Thanksgiving issues in August when figs are in season. Less helpful for the rest of us. The magazine I’m working on now won’t come out until December. The writers are working on stories for January. A Thanksgiving issue would come out in October to give plenty of face time. The holiday cookie guides are already out. It’s difficult to find seasonal ingredients for Christmas cookies when you’re putting the guide together in the summer. Unless of course, you do everything a year in advance.

Anyway! Figs. Use them now while you still can and don’t cling to the hope that they’ll still be around in a month. They won’t be. I’m sad just thinking about it.

Creamy Chicken Stuffed with Figs
serves two

2 boneless chicken breasts

6 ripe black figs

2 ounces cream cheese, cold

2 slices bacon

Slice the figs into quarters and set aside. Measure out the cream cheese and shape each ounce into a flattened bar shape. You may pop them in the freezer so they harden. This helps keep the cheese from oozing too much.

Place one chicken breast on a plastic cutting board. Cover lightly with a paper towel. You may use boneless skinless breasts, or breasts that have been cut off the bone.

Use the flat side of a meat tenderizer to flatten the chicken. You want to a large, thin breast. This will give you more area to stuff and will let you roll the figs and cream cheese more easily.

Place the cream cheese and figs in the center of the breast. Lay the cream cheese width-wise across the breast. Line the figs up two by two. Season with salt, pepper and garlic.

Starting with the narrow tip of the breast, (bottom) roll the breast tightly towards the rounded top, keeping the figs and cream cheese tucked in tightly. You are rolling the breast up from bottom to top, not from side to side.

Once rolled, keep the chicken in place with one hand. With the other, grab a piece of bacon. Start the bacon on the top of the breast and wind it around at least twice. As you wrap the bacon around spread it out so it covers more of the breast. This will help keep everything in place.

Secure the bacon and close the chicken breast with a toothpick. If your breast is not cooperating, use three toothpicks to truss the meat closed on the underside. Simply remove these after cooking.

Heat oil or butter in a skillet. Place the chicken in the pan and cover. Turn the chicken a quarter turn every five minutes. Use a thermometer to check the chicken. The filling and chicken at the thickest point should reach 180º. Be sure to rotate the bird evenly so the bacon becomes crispy all around.

Once the chicken is done, remove from the pan and cover with foil for 10 minutes.

To bring the meal together, roast some Brussels sprouts, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and sea salt in the oven until brown.

For a second side dish, toss one cup of cooked chickpeas with two chopped tomatoes into the pan that you used to cook the chicken. Heat over medium, seasoning with salt, pepper, garlic and smoked paprika. Add sour cream, cream cheese or milk to the mixture to give it a slightly creamy sauce. Just a few tablespoons will do. Toss together until the entire mixture is coated in sauce and the tomatoes are soft.

Roasted Squash and Sweet Potatoes

I stepped away from my tart pan today to bring you one of my other loves. A few years ago I had a mild obsession with butternut squash. I made risotto, fries, soup, ravioli, pastas, salads, you name it I probably made it. My trademark dish is butternut squash lasagna. I make it every year for Christmas…and never any other time. I meant to blog about it last year but in the rush of Christmas cookies, gift wrapping, and other shenanigans, it fell through. I promise to share it this year. It’s really good. And not difficult.

Butternut squash is by far my favorite squash, although it is my very least favorite one to clean. The others like acorn and spaghetti are so much easier because you just cut them in half and scoop out the seeds. Butternut squash have a really horrid shape and when you aren’t just mashing them up, it’s a pain to clean them. To make it easier you can do what I do. Delegate the peeling and cleaning job to your dishwasher. If you’re stuck with the task, don’t worry. It can be made easier. First, buy a tall, straight squash. If you’re just going to roast it and mash it up, go ahead and get a squat, round squash. But if you’re going to use cubes or fries of squash, go for a long one.

Peel the straight portion of the squash and cut it off. Trim the skin off the round section by slicing the skin off with a sharp knife. Set the squash on a cutting board to do this. Spoon out the seeds and you’re all set.

This recipe was completely and totally influenced by the awesome purple sweet potato I bought at the market, on a whim. I am an impluse-market buyer for certain. I bought the squash this weekend, not really knowing what I wanted to make with it but knowing that it was ‘time’ for squash. I figured something would come to me.

This recipe was inspired by the Sweet Potato and Leek Hash that I posted about last spring. Senor loved that breakfast and I’ve made it several time since. Probably not as often as he would have liked though. Instead of pairing the squash and sweet potato with bacon and leeks though, I kept things even simpler. Just a chopped onion and a sprinkle of salt. Sweet and savory meet in your mouth.

The purple sweet potato is actually white on the inside and when cooked, looks almost green. It’s incredibly delicious. I love sweet potatoes and this one did not disappoint. Add in a green veg and you have a perfect meal. I brought leftover to have for lunch today and added some chopped zucchini. Perfect as a main course. Or, you can use it in place of your classic meat and ‘potato’ side dish. This works as a side with eggs, or with a big green salad. You can add a sauteed veggie in there too, just before serving. SO good. I can’t wait to eat my lunch.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Sweet Potatoes

1 large butternut squash

1 large sweet potato

1 red onion

olive oil

salt, garlic and dried thyme

Peel the squash and sweet potato. Chop both into cubes, slightly bigger than one inch. The smaller the pieces are, the faster they will cook.

Chop the onion. Add the chopped veggies to a 9×13 baking dish. Toss with salt, garlic and thyme. You can always season additionally later, so a light sprinkling covering the tops of the veggies should be enough.

Drizzle olive oil over the top of the chopped pieces. Mix with a spatula until the oil is evenly distributed. Use just enough oil to cover all of the pieces.

Place in the oven at 400º. After 20 minutes, remove the pan and toss/flip the roasting squash and potatoes. Use a thin metal spatula to scrape up any caramelizing bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Return to the oven for another 20 minutes. Remove after 40 minutes. Test the squash and potatoes with a fork. They should be soft and easily stabbed. If more seasoning is needed, adjust and taste before serving. Serve with roasted broccoli, sauteed zucchini, grilled chicken, fried eggs or eat it plain.

Carrot and Zucchini Tart

I made a trip to our garden plot earlier this week. I think most of the other gardeners have given up for the season. I was happy to find a ton of stuff growing, even though we really haven’t been very diligent in our care and watering regimen. I took home around 100 bright red cherry tomatoes, one large green tomato, and an armful of heirloom carrots.

The garden is by no means done, a new head of broccoli has sprouted and we have several small peppers and tomatoes that will hopefully keep going. The basil is flourishing too.

I could have left the carrots but I had plans for them. This spring we ate some carrots that we’d missed the previous fall. Apparently they are Minnesota-winter hearty. Most things are not so that’s impressive.

With my arms full of purple heirloom carrots I headed home to try out a new recipe. One that Senor and I both loved. Senor so much that he said, ‘See, we could be vegetarians if we wanted to.’ This recipe was really an excuse to use my tart pan. Its been sitting in my cupboard since June.

I thought about simply roasting the carrots. I’ve been on a roasting kick lately. They would have been delicious, I’m sure. But my carrots were all different sizes. Plus, I wanted to incorporate zucchini into the meal. I figured zucchini and carrots baked into a pie crust couldn’t be gross. I was right. It was delish.

Carrots, zucchini and leeks were all finely chopped and sauteed until the leeks were transparent. Baked in a pie crust and topped with crumbled goat cheese, this dish offers sweet, savory and pie crust all in one. Yes, pie crust is one of the major food groups. Clearly.

Carrot and Zucchini Tart

for pie crust

1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup lard

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons cold water

for filling

4 medium carrots

2 medium zucchini

1 leek

1 egg

3/4 milk

1 tablespoon butter, melted

2 ounces crumbled goat cheese

Mix the flour, lard, salt and water in a bowl with a pastry cutter or fork. Form together with your fingers until the crust is a dense ball of dough. Roll out the dough and place in a greased tart pan. *You can use butter or shortening in place of lard if desired. Lard lends to a flakier crust than the others. Unless you’re vegan, please don’t use vegetable shortening.

Bake at 375º for 15 minutes with pie weights, dried beans, or rice in the shell to keep from puffing. Remove after 15 minutes.

For the filling:

Chop one zucchini and two carrots into small cubes. Slice the leek into thin pieces. Add a tablespoon of butter to a skillet and saute the veggies over medium heat until the leeks are translucent and the carrots are just starting to soften.

Place cooked vegetables in pre-cooked pie crust. Top with crumbled goat cheese.

Whisk egg and milk together in a separate bowl. Gently pour egg and milk mixture over the vegetables.

Top the tart with thinly sliced rounds of zucchini and carrot. Spray lightly with olive oil and season with a sprinkle of garlic.

Bake for 35 minutes at 350, or until the carrots are tender and the edges are slightly blackened. Serve with raw carrot shavings.

Roasted Ratatouille Soup

I guess it’s officially fall when I have a fridge full of veggies and instead of chopping them into a salad, I’m pulling out my stock pot. I love soup, so I guess I have to embrace the seasonal change for what it is. A chance to make a lot of different soups and put some twists into old favorites.

Strictly speaking, Ratatouille is not a soup per se. It’s generally sauteed vegetables covered in a tomato sauce. It’s cooked slowly and the sauce is not canned tomato sauce, but the sauce from roasted or sauteed tomatoes. The dish is often baked after the veggies are sauteed and it’s sometimes a filling or topping on rice, pasta or bread. Delicious, absolutely. But I was looking for something that stood on its own, perhaps with a hearty broth. To be completely honest, I had been itching to get my stock pot out and this was the perfect opportunity.

Ratatouille is a peasant dish that food snobs often argue about. What’s the right way to serve it, make it, eat it. What are the ingredients and how must you prepare it? Everyone from Julia Child to Wikipedia has an opinion on Ratatouille. The beauty of a peasant dish is that, in all likelihood, there is no wrong way to make it. Undoubtedly this dish evolved with the realization that summer and fall harvest veggies could be cooked together to make a very hearty meal for very little money. It was true in the 18th century and it’s still true today. I doubt very much that any two Ratatouille dishes are the same. I would guess though, that they’re all really yummy.

Ratatouille generally consists of tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, onion, bell peppers, carrots, garlic and herbs. I had the tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, onion and garlic, but no zucchini. I had stuffed it earlier in the week and hadn’t replaced it yet. I did have potatoes though, so I swapped those two items. Although zucchini would have been delicious too, the pot was so full of delicious food it didn’t really matter.

I decided before I started cooking that what I really wanted was a roasted veggie soup. Too often vegetable soups are just plain broth with lots of veggies cooked in boiling broth. This can be delicious but it can also get old. Vegetables take on a completely different and delicious flavor when they’re roasted. The skins get crisp and a little charred. The insides are sweet and there’s a smoky flavor that you can’t get without high temperatures. And potatoes are always best when they have a bit of brown on them. So instead of just dumping everything into broth, I started by roasting bell peppers and onions. I cooked the potatoes in butter and olive oil over medium-high heat right in the stock pot. I roasted the tomatoes. I cooked the potatoes and eggplant in chicken broth and eventually added in the roasted vegetables. I added a healthy dose of garlic and a few shakes of smoked paprika and let it all boil into a warm, savory soup.

I burned my tongue tasting it. I added some aged cheddar, thinly sliced to the top. I buttered some bread. I burned my tongue again. Senor grew impatient waiting for it to cool and had to add an ice cube. I added an ice cube too. It was too good to wait. No one complained of being cold even though it was only 50 degrees outside.

Roasted Ratatouille Soup

1 large eggplant, cubed

2-3 pounds small potatoes, quartered

4 tomatoes, cut into pieces

1-2 onions, sliced

2 red bell peppers, sliced

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 quart low-sodium chicken broth

Garlic, sea salt, crushed red pepper, smoked paprika

Chop peppers and onions into small slices. Place on a foil-lined tray and roast at 450º for 15-20 minutes.

While the peppers and onions are roasting, add one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil to a stock pot and heat over medium-high heat. Chop the potatoes into quarters and dump into the pot as you go. Use small potatoes or, if you only have large ones, chop them into pieces small enough for a spoon. Stir the potatoes every few minutes to prevent burning. Partially cover the pot with the lid to help the potatoes soften. Be careful not to drip any steam condensation into the pot or you will get splattered with hot oil.

Chop the eggplant into large cubes. Toss with sea salt and let stand in a strainer. Toss occasionally. Before adding to the pot, rinse well with cold water.

When the potatoes are well-browned, add the eggplant and chicken stock. Turn the heat medium and cover. Stir occasionally.

When the peppers and onions are slightly roasted with black char marks and slightly wrinkled skin, remove and set aside. Add four chopped tomatoes to the oven/toaster oven and continue roasting.

Once the eggplant has softened and the broth starts to thicken, add the peppers and onions. Add the tomatoes once they are roasted. They don’t have to be completely done, a slight roast throughout will do.

Stir the entire pot and add generous portion of garlic, either fresh or powdered to the pot. Add sea salt slowly. Be sure to let it dissolve and give the broth a taste to see whether more is needed. Add about a teaspoon of smoked paprika and a small pinch of crushed red pepper. Let the entire pot simmer for ten minutes.

Taste the broth one more time and adjust seasoning as needed. Spoon up each bowlful and let sit at least ten minutes before eating. Top with cheese and serve with bread if desired.

Zucchini Bread

The first time I ever made zucchini bread I was living in an apartment, freshly graduated from college with very few kitchen utensils. I had bought a 5-in-one cheese device at a garage sale for a quarter. It was a knife, shredder/grater, slicer, poker and also, a bottle opener. Not sure how that works in with the cheese but I needed something and it was only a quarter. The holes for shredding were five across and four deep. That’s right. A postage-stamp-sized area for shredding. Still I could shred.

So when the urge to make zucchini bread hit me I realized I could shred the zucchini on my tiny little cheese grater! It took me almost an hour to finely grate two medium sized zucchini. After that day I told myself never again would I use such an inadequate tool for my beloved zucchini bread.

Senor often wonders and grumbles at my insistence of keeping my kitchen stocked, overflowing even, with gadgets, tools and cookware. It’s because of memories like this one, after which I vowed to myself to keep my kitchen fully stocked. I once made chocolate chip cookies using tea cups because I had no measuring cups. I’ve frosted cupcakes with ziploc bags. Frosted cakes with a butter knife. And you know, every time I get the proper implement, my life changes dramatically. A bit over zealous? Yes, of course. That’s how I roll. But you will never catch me trying to puree soup sans immersion blender, knead bread dough without my Kitchenaid, make bean dip without my Cuisinart, or make zucchini bread without a proper cheese grater. The big box kind with four options is best. Unless you have a food processor, you would be better off buying pre-grated zucchini for this recipe. You have been warned.

I’ve always loved zucchini. When I was a kid I would find the biggest, most giant ones in my mom’s garden and would cradle them like a baby. Yes, it was love. They’re delicious, who wouldn’t love them? At our house we devour them this time of year when they are plentiful. The only reason I even made this bread was because I had bought so many zucchinis that when I roasted them, I had a few too many. If you find yourself in the same predicament, please make this bread. It’s so easy. It’s so dang delicious. And the longer you let it sit on your counter, the more delicious it gets. Amazing right? Do it right away, you won’t be sorry. And if you have more patience than me and can wait until it’s slightly cool to cut it.

Zucchini Bread

3 eggs

1 cup oil

2 cups shredded zucchini

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons vanilla

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 cups flour

Shred 1-2 medium size zucchinis. You want at least 2 cups of shredded zucchini, although the measurement does not have to be exact. Once shredded, place the zucchini in a mesh strainer. Using paper towels on the top, push the water out of the zucchini. This is the most important step of this process. Try to get as much water out of the zucchini as possible.

Using a whisk, mix together the oil, sugar eggs and vanilla.

Switch to a wooden spoon and add the zucchini and stir.

Add the salt, soda, powder, cinnamon and flour. Stir until well incorporated.

Pour the batter into a well-greased bread loaf pan. 9×3 works best. Bake at 350º for 60-75 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center of the bread should come out clean.