Tortellini Summer Salad

Tortellini Summer SaladI know, I know… I kind of fell off the end of the blog world for a bit there. I’ve been in the midst of the worst case of writer’s block I’ve experienced in a long time, but I’m coming out of it, creating new recipes, and am happy to be sharing with you again.

This week’s creation occurred when I realized I had been a bit too enthusiastic in my tomato and avocado purchasing. When those first “Grown in California” produce options roll out, it’s so hard to say, “No.” It’s so easy to get greedy at the start of summer, and suddenly, you have more ripe produce than you can easily consume.

I added to the abundance of tomatoes and avocados with items I had in my pantry and freezer — and counter top. I paired it with a red blend of Italian varietals. The fruit forward flavors of red fruit and leather, along with a nice structure, made it the perfect combination with the sweet, savory, and tangy tastes in the salad. While you may not have access to a bottle of Montoliva Vineyard and Winery’s Sierra Bella, other options would be Montepulciano, Super Tuscan, or even a Primitivo.

Tortellini Summer Salad

Serves 6

2 cups of dried cheese tortellini
4 oz of pancetta, browned and chopped
1 small yellow onion, sliced
juice from one lemon
3 tomatoes
2 avocados
10 oz grilled red peppers (I used frozen and defrosted them by draining the hot pasta over them in a colander.)
balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Boil a pot of water and add tortellini. Cook until pasta is softened, about 14 minutes. Drain pasta and rinse under cold water to remove most of the heat.
While the pasta cooks, warm a pan over medium heat and brown the pancetta. Remove to cool and, using the same pan, saute onion slices. Pour a drizzle of balsamic vinegar over the onions and stir, cooking until the onion has browned. Remove from heat.
Chop tomatoes and cube avocados. Add them to a large bowl and toss with lemon juice, olive oil, another drizzle of balsamic vinegar, and black pepper. Add onions, drained pasta, grilled peppers, and chopped pancetta. Toss together and taste to see if any more olive oil, vinegar, or pepper is needed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for about an hour.
Toss again to redistribute the liquid, and serve.

Kitchen Sink Chickpea Salad

garbanzo bean saladWhile the light is beginning to change and speak more strongly of autumn, our local produce bounty is just now reaching its peak. Harvest and crush is already in full swing in the wine world, and tomatoes are so bountiful, the kitchen is saturated in their heady scent.

I happened across a recipe from PBS that featured chickpeas and fresh produce, and wonder of wonders, I had a can of garbanzo beans in the cupboard., so I thought I’d give the salad a shot. Of course, I wasn’t content to leave it as it was. I had to add to it a bit, as I had some feta that wanted to be used and some mache, and oh, an avocado that had refused to ripen for a week and a half until I decided to make this salad. Like so many instances with me in the kitchen, if there’s a chance for a dinner filled with produce, I’ll opt for even more produce.

We paired dinner with a dry Riesling. It went pretty well, but nothing like last week’s pairing. There were no fireworks, but sometimes, when you have a dish that incorporates a whole host of flavors like this one does, pretty well is good enough.

Kitchen Sink Chickpea Salad

Serves 4

1 can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 lemon cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 cup of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/4 cup of green olives, sliced
1/2 cup of feta cheese, crumbled
1 avocado, cut into small cubes
1 cup mache or green salad mix
2/3 of a red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 of a red onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
juice from half a lemon
drizzle of lemon-infused olive oil
drizzle of champagne vinegar
salt and black pepper to taste
20 mint leaves, chopped

Put everything in a large bowl. Using tongs, or your hands, toss until everything is well mixed. Cover and place in the refrigerator. For best results, save it for dinner the next day, as it gives the beans time to absorb all the flavors, but if you’re hungry NOW, it can be eaten fresh, too.

Not-so Traditional Panzanella

panzanellaYou have a sourdough loaf that’s a couple days past its prime, a whole lot of tomatoes, and a grumbling belly. What do you do? Make a bread salad for dinner!

The reason this post is titled, “Not-so Traditional Panzanella” is because traditionalists usually only create it using bread, basil, tomatoes, and onions. Like the way I feel about making stock, I think you should make your meal with what’s already in the kitchen. If that means you open the refrigerator door and spy, say, olives and a bit of mozzarella — and maybe there’s an avocado sitting on the counter that has to be used today or it will be too old for anything but guacamole — well then, use them! If the flavors seem like they’d meld well, go for it. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but the best way to stick to a food budget is to eat what you buy. Wasted food is money down the drain, or into the compost heap, so make sure to figure out how to use those random leftovers you have hanging around the kitchen.

I paired the panzanella with a Dolcetto, and it was phenomenal! It’s the type of pairing one dreams about, that perfect harmonizing of food and drink. There was a lovely counterpoint to the tomato, basil, avocado… even the olives. If I had more Dolcetto in my collection, this would be our meal for the rest of the summer. Unfortunately, I only have one more bottle, and it can be a hard wine to come by in California. People don’t know what it is, so they’re hesitant to try it. It’s a beautiful wine, but because folks won’t buy it, winemakers don’t make it. Please, don’t be scared! Search it out, and have it with this recipe.

Not-so Traditional Panzanella

Serves 4

Most of a leftover sourdough baguette, cut in one-inch pieces
pinch of dried sage
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
drizzle of olive oil
3 tomatoes, cut in chunks
1 avocado, cut in chunks
4 ounces of mozzarella
7 ounces of kalamata olives
20-30 basil leaves
drizzle of olive oil
drizzle of balsamic vinegar

Warm a skillet over medium heat. Drizzle in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the skillet. Toss in bread, sage, and pepper and stir until bread begins to golden.
Remove from heat and toss the bread, with the rest of the ingredients, in a large bowl. Cover the bowl and set in the refrigerator for a couple hours so the flavors have a chance to combine well.
Remove and serve.

Avocado Pesto Pasta

avocado pesto pastaToday’s recipe began as a pin on Pinterest. I saw the beginnings of what looked like a pretty tasty – and vegan – meal, only to discover that my pin linked to a different recipe than the image shown. The recipe was not to be found on the blog. Sad face.

Anyone who uses Pinterest on a regular basis knows this is a danger, but dang it, I really wanted that recipe! Since I am who I am, I would not be foiled. I would make my own. And it was successful – and so very, very easy, too!

This concoction was paired with a Sangiovese, just right with the garlic tang and the avocado creaminess of the pasta sauce. The leftovers were a bit homely, as avocado browns quickly, but it was just as delicious as the first night.

Avocado Pesto Pasta

  • Difficulty: super easy
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Serves 4

pinch of salt
1 package whole wheat spaghetti (I used einkorn pasta.)
2 ripe avocados
juice from 1 lemon
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 head of fresh basil, stems removed
½ teaspoon of salt
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
1 package of grape or cherry tomatoes

Set a pot of water over high heat. Add a pinch of salt, and cook spaghetti to package directions. Drain.
While pasta cooks, toss the rest of the ingredients (except tomatoes) in a food processor or high performance blender. Pulse until everything is combined, then run until creamy.
Toss avocado pesto with pasta and tomatoes, and call it dinner.

Freezing Meals

When planning meals in advance, your freezer becomes your best friend. Foods like casseroles, lasagnas, and soups can be prepared ahead of time, frozen, and then moved to the refrigerator the night before the dish will be reheated.

When prepping foods for the freezer, where do you start? Airtight seals are a must in order to prevent freezer burn. Casserole dishes that come with seal-able lids are a good choice as well as containers with lids that can be pushed down to squeeze out the extra air. Freezer bags are also a great option – just make sure to empty it of as much air as possible before sealing.

Don’t feel limited to dinner foods when planning meals. Cooked pancakes freeze nicely and are a snap to reheat. Cook home style potatoes or hash browns and freeze them for a quick side dish for breakfast or even brinner – breakfast for dinner.

When getting soup ready to be set back, cook, then let cool. Pour into airtight containers, leaving an inch or so for expansion. To prevent freezer burn, place a sheet of plastic wrap on top of the soup before putting on the lid.

Meat freezes wonderfully as does bread and rice. When contemplating fruits and vegetables for freezer habitation, think about the water content. If they’re watery, like melons, lettuce, or cucumbers, they probably won’t freeze well. Other types of produce will soften, so it’s best to use them in cooked foods or smoothies.

Speaking of smoothies, those brown bananas that usually go to the compost heap make wonderful drinks. Cut them into slices and freeze in bags. They’re a great base for other fruits, juice, and yogurt, and they’ll make your smoothie smoother and sweeter without needing to add anything extra, like honey.

Organizing foods by preparing them ahead of time will save you last minute trips to the grocery store as well as meal time stress. A little planning and freezer prep will help make your kitchen a peaceful oasis.

Quick freezer use-by dates for quality:
•    Bread – use within a month.
•    Fruits and Vegetables – three to six months
•    Soups – three to six months
•    Casseroles – use within a month

Freezer Tomato Sauce

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small organic yellow onion, finely chopped
3 organic garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp dried oregano
2 dried bay leaves
5 leaves fresh organic basil, chiffonade or torn
2 (32-ounce) cans or about 15 fresh and blanched, organic crushed roma tomatoes
Additional salt & pepper to taste
1/2 to 3/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock

In large heavy pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion. Sauté for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is slightly translucent. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper and sauté another 3 to 5 minutes or until the onion is translucent and the veggies are tender, being careful not to brown the garlic.

Add in the tomatoes, bay leaves, basil, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Simmer, uncovered, over a low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 to 2 hours, checking the seasonings occasionally. When the sauce has thickened, remove from heat and let cool slightly. Remove the bay leaves. Working in batches, puree the sauce in a food processor or blender until smooth.
Pour into airtight containers and freeze for up to one month or refrigerate for up to one week.

When ready to use:
Allow the sauce to defrost overnight in the refrigerator. Put sauce in a large pot over medium heat. Add the stock to thin the sauce out to the desired consistency. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Heat through and serve with your favorite pasta.

I Can Never Get Enough Tomatoes

The intense heat of summer may feel overwhelming at times, but without it, those luscious, red orbs of tomato-y goodness would not exist.

Of course, even one plant can create a ton of fruit, and man can only eat so many tomato sandwiches. This recipe is sure to jump-start your cooking creativity.

Rustic, Creamy Tomato Sauce

Serves 4-6

2 pounds slicing tomatoes
2 jalapeños
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chicken stock
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup crème fraiche

Preheat broiler. Set rack about 5 to 6 inches from heat. Cut tomatoes and jalapenos in half. Place them on a baking pan. Broil on both sides until tomatoes are lightly charred and skins are wrinkled and peeling off, approximately 5 to 7 minutes per side. Use tongs to rotate. Jalapenos will blacken and brown as well, and shrink down.

Let cool, then peel and coarsely chop tomatoes, saving juice. Remove seeds and stem, and coarsely chop the jalapenos and set aside with tomatoes.

While tomatoes and jalapenos are cooling, sauté onion in 1 tablespoon oil in a sauce pan or cast iron skillet until very soft and lightly browned. Add garlic and cook for another minute Add onion-garlic mixture to tomato-jalapeno mixture along with salt, and puree well in a food processor or blender.

In same pan, heat 1 more tablespoon oil to very hot. Add puree to pan (it should sizzle and bubble) and cook for about 5 minutes. Stir continuously. Warning: it may splatter as well. Stir in stock and return to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, uncovered or until sauce begins to thicken.

Remove from heat and stir in crème fraiche. Season with more salt if necessary.

Amazing served over polenta.

Cheesy Tomatoes

Though it’s not quite time for tomatoes, the full-speed-ahead-to-summer temperatures are making me crave them.

This is a recipe that I’ve made for the past two summers, and every time I make it, I wonder why I don’t have it for dinner more often.

Cheesy Tomatoes Love Herbs

Serves: 4

1/2 cup bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon water
1 egg
1 package 8 oz Sierra Nevada Cheese Company Chevre, made into four rounds
4 very thick slices of fresh tomato (heirloom or slicing)
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, plus a drizzle for dressing
1 small head of curly endive (or frisée)
1 bunch cilantro (or you could use fresh basil)
1 bunch wrinkled cress (or you could use radicchio)
drizzle of red wine vinegar (If you use the basil & radicchio, use balsamic vinegar instead.)

Mix breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Add water and work until crumbly.

Beat egg is a small bowl. Dip Chevre rounds in the egg and then the bread crumbs. Place in fridge for 15 minutes.

Place tomatoes on plate and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Add olive oil to a skillet and heat on med/high until the oil is hot but not burning. Carefully place the Chevre rounds in the oil and cook 45 seconds, then flip and repeat. Place rounds on tomatoes.

Toss greens with the drizzles of red wine vinegar and olive oil. Add a little seasoning if desired. Heap 1/4 of the greens on each tomato slice, and voila!

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