Saturday, March 27, 2010

Recipe Time: Creamy Pumpkin Pasta, Vegetarian-Style

Last October or November, I happened upon a recipe for pasta with creamy pumpkin sauce. It sounded tasty, and as I had a couple of cans of pumpkin lying around, I decided to give it a go. For a variety of reasons, it never quite worked out for me (once it was too salty, once the sauce didn't thicken properly, etc). I was ready to give up on the recipe, but decided during this Lenten time to give it one more shot, this time with a vegetarian twist. While I can't find the original recipe I used, this one is very close. But, to make it vegetarian, what follows is how I made it.

4 cloves of garlic, minced
2-3 T butter (I almost always use unsalted butter...for everything)
1/2 small Mayan onion, chopped (optional, but yummy!)
1 pkg baby bellas or shitake mushrooms, sliced (optional)
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin (about 2 cups fresh, if you have it--I didn't)
2 cups vegetable broth (I used Pacific Organic Vegetable Broth)
1/4 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup light sour cream
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 tsp dried sage
1 lb rotini

In large skillet (I used my 12" All-Clad), melt butter. Add garlic, onion and mushrooms (if using) and saute a bit over medium heat until soft and onions start to turn translucent. Stir in the red pepper flakes and sausage crumbles, cover and cook for about 8 minutes, until the crumbles are cooked, stirring once or twice.

While the sausage crumbles are cooking, in a medium bowl, mix the half-and-half, sour cream, pumpkin, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and sage. Also, start the water for the rotini and cook it according to the directions.

Once the crumbles are cooked, remove the garlic/onion/mushroom/crumbles/paprika mixture from the pan and put them aside. Pour the broth into the skillet to deglaze the pan. When the broth is very warm, whisk-in the pumpkin mixture. Simmer for 10 minutes, allowing the mixture to thicken, stirring as needed.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and return it to the pot. Pour the pumpkin mixture over it, then add the sausage crumble mixture to that. Stir and cook over low/medium heat for 3-4 minutes, until the sauce is thickened and sticks to the rotini. Serve with fresh chopped parsley mixed in and/or shredded romano cheese, if desired.

This time, when I made the dish, it turned out amazingly well. I usually divide dishes with a whole pound of pasta into 8 servings, and I ate 2 servings the night I made it. I loved the leftovers, too! I may never try it with real sausage again! If you wanted to make a non-vegetarian version of this dish, you could substitute 1 lb of Italian sausage (sweet or hot, turkey or pork) for the sausage crumbles and use chicken broth instead of vegetable broth. I didn't end up serving it with the cheese, mostly because I didn't have any on-hand. Let me know if you try this, and if you have any other suggestions.

Monday, March 15, 2010

What's for Dinner: A New Spin On Black Bean and Corn Salad

Sometimes, I'm too darn lazy to take much time to cook. One of my favorite go-to "quick" dinners is black bean and corn salad:

1 can corn (I use Niblets), drained
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 - 1/2 red onion, chopped (optional)
fresh cilantro, chopped
avocado, diced (optional)
salt to taste
pepper to taste
hot sauce to taste (optional)
extra virgin olive oil (optional)
juice from a lime
chicken, chopped (optional)
mango, diced
diced yellow or red bell pepper (optional)

In a large bowl, mix the corn, black beans, onion (if using), cilantro, chicken (if using), bell pepper (if using), and mango. Mix in the lime juice and the hot sauce (if using). If a little more liquid is desired, use a little bit of olive oil or more lime juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If serving immediately, mix in the avocado and serve.

I love this dish because it scales well to make more, it can easily be made vegetarian (by omitting the chicken), and it is great as a leftover. Recently, I ran across a recipe on the Budget Bytes blog that put a spin on my "classic" recipe: instead of mangoes, it uses roasted sweet potatoes and also adds some roasted poblano peppers. The recipe, as I made it, is:

2 large (about 2.5 lbs.) sweet potatoes
2 large poblano peppers
one 14 oz. can black beans
1 can corn
1/4 diced red onion (optional)
1 medium lime
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 bunch cilantro
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees on the broiler setting. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray your poblanos with non-stick spray. Place the baking sheet with the peppers about 4 inches below the broiler coils. Roast the peppers under the broiler for 15 minutes on one side, flip them over then broil for another 5 minutes on the other side. You want the skin on the peppers to be all blistered and blackened. This will give them a nice smokey flavor. Don't worry, you will be peeling away the charred skin.

2) While the peppers are roasting, peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into even chunks about one inch square. Place the chunks in a bowl and toss them together with 3 Tbsp of olive oil, 2 tsp of cumin, 1/2 tsp of salt and about half a bunch of chopped cilantro leaves. Mix it all up until the sweet potato chunks are well coated.

3) When the peppers come out of the oven, put them into a resealable freezer bag and let them cool. The peppers will steam themselves in the bag as they cool allowing you to easily peel away the skin.

4) Turn the oven from broil to bake (still on 400 degrees), pour out the bowl of sweet potato chunks onto the baking sheet that was used for the peppers, and roast the sweet potatoes for 30 minutes, stirring halfway through.

5) Drain and rinse the can of black beans. Drain the corn. Finely chop 1/4 of a red onion (if desired). Put the beans, corn and onion together in a bowl. When the poblanos have cooled, peel off their skin, open them up to remove the seeds, seed pod and stem then cut the flesh into chunks. Put the chopped poblanos in the bowl with the other vegetables.

6) When the sweet potatoes are done, let them cool for about 10 minutes. In the mean time, chop the other half of the cilantro, and juice the lime. Mix the sweet potatoes, cilantro and lime together with the rest of the ingredients and serve. This dish can be eaten warm or cold!

I had an issue with my broiler, so it didn't quite roast the poblano peppers like I would have liked, but I felt that the sweet potatoes worked well in this dish, and added a new texture. I didn't get a ton of flavor from the poblanos, but they added volume. I think next time, I'd use 4 poblanos.

The website also suggested using this salad in an enchilada, by putting a bit into a tortilla, adding cheese, then rolling and topping with enchilada sauce and more cheese. I did this, making 6 enchiladas, and found it to be surprisingly tasty. I wasn't sure how the cheese and enchilada sauce would work with the salad, but it was much better than I thought it would be.

So there you have it. 2 black bean and corn-based salads. 3 dishes. A lot of flavor. And a good bit of health. :)

Sunday, March 07, 2010

What's for Dinner: Pasta with Kale & Parmasean

Before last night, the only time I'd had kale was when it was in such small quantities, it might have been considered a garnish. I've never cooked with it, but came across a recipe that used it for a pasta dish, so figured I'd give it a try. The original recipe comes from Bon Appetit, though I modified it slightly.

2 bunches of kale, leaves ripped off the stems and ripped/cut into small pieces
extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, minced (original recipe called for 8, I used what I had)
~10 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, sliced (I had some leftover from a previous recipe)
1/2 pound pasta (I used ditalini)
~1 cup vegetable broth
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Finely grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse and drain kale.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add garlic and onion and cook until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, sprinkle with salt; cook until onion is golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add kale, a little more olive oil, and about half of the vegetable broth and toss until the kale is wilted, about 3 minutes. Cover pot and reduce heat to medium-low. Continue cooking until kale is very tender, stirring occasionally and adding broth as required.

Meanwhile, cook pasta al dente in medium pot of boiling salted water. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid. Add cooked pasta to kale mixture in pot. Add lemon juice and ~2 tablespoons broth or reserved cooking liquid; toss to combine, adding more liquid by tablespoonfuls if dry. Sprinkle spaghetti with grated Parmesan cheese and serve.

This dish turned out pretty tasty, though I don't think it requires the pasta. I think it would be equally good served with (but not tossed with) rice. I also think I'd add some white beans to add protein, so it's a complete meal. I'll definitely be making this one again.