Category Archives: Vegetarian

Sicilian Spaghetti and Gravy

Do you slave over a hot stove for hours perfecting your generations-old spaghetti sauce? The one your grandmother made, the one your mother made, the one your aunt across town made and to whom you traveled on Sundays because “her Romagravy was THE ONE!”

I don’t.  At least not any more.

Blame it on Nino.

He is Nino Elia.  He’s a chef of note here in the Lancaster PA area, who specializes in-home dinner parties, small events, and private cooking classes. Ellen and I met him doing a cooking-class presentation at my new favorite gourmet shop in the area, Zest!  They called it Date Night with Nino!, and boy was it ever.  Sixteen (mostly) cooking enthusiasts who love to get together and have a good time.  This particular event was all about cooking Sicilian.

Nino presented pan-fried Kalamata olives with rosemary and ricotta salata, pollo alla vucciria–which he called Chicken Chaos (aptly named!), and spaghetti con pomodoro arrosto al forno, which basically is spaghetti with oven-roasted tomatoes and basil.  It was all amazing.

When I was single and living in Olde City Philadelphia I used to make the spaghetti dish almost every night, because it is filling, healthy, cheap, and simple.  But I didn’t know it had a name–to me it was spaghetti with a quick, fresh tomato and basil condiment.

Nino has raised this dish to an art form, taking it to a place beyond what I knew of Sicilian cuisine.  It isn’t actually very far from what I used to make, but far enough to have awakened in me a new appreciation for what gets made for dinner in Sicily.  I can imagine this dish being served nightly at homes all over the Italian island, and no one ever tiring of it–in fact, one can imagine alterations from time to time to keep the idea fresh.

So no more long, loving hours in the kitchen with red gravy (save that for some other recipe).  Don’t cook your sauce to death.  This one reeks of fresh ingredients.  But also, it is so quick and simple that you will likely want to make this one of your go-to “dinners in a hurry.”  That’s the way it ought to be.Sicilian Spaghetti

Spaghetti con pomodoro arrosto al forno

Ingredients:

12 ripe Roma tomatoes

5-8 cloves fresh garlic, minced

1 bunch fresh basil, divided

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

kosher salt and pepper to taste

Parmesano Reggiano

Preparation:

For the sauce:  Cut the tomatoes in half and place on an olive-oiled baking sheet, skin side down.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic, chopped basil, and olive oil.  Bake for 20 minutes in a pre-heated 400-degree oven.  After 20 minutes turn the tomatoes cut side down an bake for another 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven, cover loosely with foil, and set aside until just before the pasta is finished.  Pick off the skins and half the sauce in a large saute pan over low heat. Chop or mash the tomatoes into chunks, taste for salt and pepper and adjust the flavor.

For the pasta:  Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil.  When the tomatoes come out of the oven, add a tablespoon salt to the boiling water and stir once. Then add a box of spaghetti, stir once or twice, and cook for 2 minutes less than the recommended time on the package for al-dente pasta (the timing is important–the pasta will continue to cook after you remove it from the water).  With a slotted spoon, remove the pasta from the water and place it in the pan with the sauce.  Toss lightly to coat the pasta with the sauce.

Serve the pasta topped with the remaining sauce, garnished with more freshly chopped basil, freshly grated Parmesano Reggiano, and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Want to see more of Nino?  Check him out at:  https://www.facebook.com/Nino-Elia-145679935496202/

Mangia!

Red Lentil Soup with Curry and Coconut Milk

Meatless Monday.

It’s become a thing in our house, like, I suppose, some of yours.curry

It’s something Ellen has instituted here, and it happens most of the time (except when it doesn’t).  The kids often object, but not all that strenuously unless I produce something with bulgur or faro or some other grain that they perceive tastes like packing peanuts.

So we’re constantly challenged to come up with vegetarian offerings that are packed with nutritional value and interesting genealogy and, oh yes, flavor.

Such is the case with this tasty and fragrant Indian-influenced soup adapted from a recipe taken from the pages of Vegetarian Times.  It’s loaded with flavor—it will perfume your whole house as it cooks—and protein and fiber, and will gain props all round as you serve it up with an interesting hunk of artisan bread or pita wedges or toasted naan, or a scoop of brown rice on the side.

Try this one.  It’s simple to make and memorable, too.

By the way, if you’ve avoided getting an immersion blender, this is the perfect excuse to get one, or ask Santa to deliver one to you this holiday season.

Red Lentil Soup with Curry and Coconut Milk

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 cups cold water.

2 cups sweet onions, chopped

1 cup red lentils

3 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

1 14-ounce unsweetened (light if possible) coconut milk

1  teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon finely round white pepper

1 bay leaf

3 cloves garlic, roughly minced

1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly minced

1 tablespoon Indian (or try Jamaican) curry

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Preparation:

In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat.  Add onions and cook, stirring often, until they begin to brown, about 10 minutes.  Add water, lentils, carrots, coconut milk, salt, pepper, and the bay leaf.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until the lentils are tender, 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small non-stick skillet, heat the remaining oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic, ginger, curry, and cilantro.  Cook, stirring often, until fragrant, 2-3 minutes, then add to the soup.  Remove the bay leaf.

Puree the soup, either in the food processor or blender in batches, or in the pot with an immersion blender, until velvety smooth.  Taste and add a bit more salt and pepper if necessary.

Serve hot with fresh sautéed vegetables, brown rice, and/or a nice fresh bread.

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie (Really!)

Children hate the idea of “Meatless Monday.”pie

Truth be told, I’m not so crazy about it either. Butcher’s son, you know.

On the other hand, my wonderful life partner puts up with most of my foibles, so I figure the least I can do is humor her in her craving for “meatless Monday.”

I try all kinds of ways to deal with the concept—I’ve done risottos, pasta dishes, bean burritos, vegetable pot pie—and I haven’t even scratched the surface of the Moosewood empire, where meatless is a way of life.

So when my beloved handed me a recipe for vegetarian shepherd’s pie (which, I think, is an oxymoron—I mean, have you ever heard of a shepherd rounding up his—or her—lentils at the end of the day?

I mean, “Git along, little legume?”

Somehow it just doesn’t ring right.

On the other hand, I’ve made a bunch of shepherd’s pies over the last few weeks, and I think I’ve got the flavor profile down pretty well, and I have, after all, been making my shepherd’s pies from ground turkey (“Git along, little turkey?”), so why not vegetarian. I have been fairly successful making dishes using lentils of a variety of colors, and the recipe appeared to me to be reasonably open to experimentation, so Lentil Shepherd’s Pie it is.

Guess what?

It turned out to be really good. As most of you vegetarians will attest, lentils can be (a) healthful; (b) tasty; (c) brown; and (d) flexible. And pretty easy to work with, too, taking on the flavor of whatever seasonings one might be tempted to use.

I highly recommend this recipe, and I will actually make it again, amending it as I go to see what other interesting taste profiles I can come up with.

Here, then, is my version of Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie. Adapted from a recently posted recipe from Eating Well, I’ve changed it up some to suit my and my family’s taste buds, and while getting the children to eat it was somewhat of a challenge (getting my children to eat anything beyond mac-n-cheese is somewhat of a challenge), any families whose kids are open to this sort of thing will, I think, actually like this recipe a bunch.

Here it is:

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients:

1 ½ pounds Yukon Gold or Russet potatoes

½ cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons margarine or butter spread (I use Smart Balance)

1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

¼ teaspoon fine-ground white pepper

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Olive oil spray

1 large onion, diced

2 medium carrots, diced

½ cup baby peas

1 teaspoon fresh (or ½ teaspoon dried) thyme

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cup vegetable broth

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons tomato paste

½ cup red table wine

1 ½ cups cooked brown lentils

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:

Place the lentils in a small saucepan and cover with water, at least 1 inch over the lentils; bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Then turn off the heat and set aside.

Cut the potatoes into 1- to 2-inch cubes and place in a pot of boiling, salted water, turn the heat down to medium and cook until soft, about 20 minutes. Drain and return to the pot. Add the buttermilk and butter spread, mash with a potato masher and whip until smooth. Set aside.

While the potatoes are boiling, spray an 8×8 or 9×9 baking dish with olive oil spray. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, add the remaining olive oil, add the onion and carrots, and sauté until soft, about 5-6 minutes. Add the thyme, ½ teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of black pepper and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Sprinkle with flour and stir to combine. Add the broth and cook, stirring, until the sauce begins to thicken, about three minutes. Add the Worcestershire Sauce, tomato paste, and wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Drain the lentils and add, along with the peas, and stir to combine completely.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Spoon the lentil filling into the prepared baking dish and spread evenly. Top with the mashed potatoes, spread evenly, and draw lines into the potatoes with a fork to create ridges. Spray the top with olive oil spray and bake for 30 minutes. Then turn on the broiler and brown the top lightly, rotating once to brown evenly, 6-8 minutes.

Serve immediately.

%d bloggers like this: