Friday, September 2, 2011

Vegetarian Pasta Lunches

Obviously it’s a challenge to move into a vegetarian direction when you’ve eaten meals planned around meat your entire life.  Getting started on this transition to being “almost vegetarian” was really tough.  Early on I found vegetarian spaghetti to be my “go to” lunch, and personalized my own easy spaghetti recipes.  I have a few other vegetarian pasta favorites too, like tortellini. 

I start many of my vegetarian pasta lunches with a simple sauce of crushed tomatoes simmered down with lots of fresh crushed garlic and some olive oil. 

My runaway favorite combination of vegetables is sautéed onions, mushrooms and spinach.  Most any onions will do, but my favorite is purple onion.  It cooks up nicely sweet, and keeps its texture well.  I throw these in the pan first.  Then I throw some sliced mushrooms into the hot pan.  I like the baby bellas.  Lastly I sauté spinach. 

Our local organic produce plan has yielded lots of zucchini this year.  I cut a zucchini in half length-wise, then cut it crosswise in slices.  Sauté zucchini in olive oil, then toss with pasta and sauce.  How easy is that? 

Our local organic produce plan has also yielded lots of fresh basil this year.  I decided to try making pesto, and it is a new favorite!  I use a food processor, and start with about a half cup of raw almonds, and process until fairly small.  Cashews or walnuts work well too, but the almonds are my favorite.  Then I add about a half cup of grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese, and about a cup lightly packed basil, and process.  Then I drizzle in olive oil until my pesto is like a spread. 

Don’t always have fresh produce?  No problem.  You can still have a tasty vegetarian spaghetti.  I keep a few cans of artichoke hearts, sliced carrots, and English peas in my pantry.  Just slice the carrot rounds into about 4-5 matchstick pieces, and slice artichoke hearts lengthwise 3 to 5 times.  Mix into your tomato sauce along with peas. 

My new favorite jarred spaghetti sauce is Mezzetta Napa Valley Bistro Arrabbiata pasta sauce with crushed red chilies.  It’s about $4.50 for a 25 oz jar at HEB, and a bit more from their website.  I can eat it over pasta with nothing added, but it’s also good with some purple onion and Kalamata olives.   

For a decadent treat, I like Bertolli Garlic Alfredo pasta sauce over cheese tortellini or bowtie pasta, with sautéed spinach, mushrooms, and onion.  The Bertolli is super thick, so I thin it out with a little white wine.  To me, the Bertolli is far superior to the other Alfredo sauces on the shelf. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Caprese Salad


This year my household decided to participate in the Scott Arbor local organic produce program.  We’ve gotten fresh basil almost every week, and had a short run of small but terrific, flavorful tomatoes.  I decided to do my take on Caprese Salad.  You know, the tomato and mozzarella “salad”, with basil and balsamic vinegar. 

I’ve really loved making fresh pesto with the basil, so decided to use pesto rather than just sprinkle with basil leaves or chopped basil.  I also thought it would be a nice touch to make a balsamic reduction, instead of just drizzling with balsamic vinegar.  Since my chunk of mozzarella was fairly large, and my tomatoes very small, I decided to chop both!  I told you it was “my take” on Caprese Salad. 

For the pesto, I put about a half cup of almonds in the food processor and processed until fairly small.  Then I added about a half cup of grated Asiago cheese, and my basil, which was probably about a cup lightly packed, and processed.  Then I drizzled in olive oil until my pesto was like a spread.  I have also made pesto with cashews and Parmesan cheese, and I have heard others use walnuts. 

The balsamic reduction was super easy.  I put one cup of balsamic vinegar in a small skillet, and heated on low until it was reduced by about half. 

Finally, I mixed my chopped mozzarella and tomatoes, topped with basil, then topped with my balsamic reduction.  This Caprese Salad was absolutely fabulous!  I sure wish the tomatoes were still producing, but alas the Texas heat is not kind to tomatoes.  I haven’t found Texas to have the great tasting super ripe tomatoes that I always enjoyed in the Carolinas- except those few weeks of small tomatoes from Scott Arbor.  At least I can enjoy my fresh pesto and pasta each week.