Summer Herb Garden Ratatouille

It’s almost the end of July, and that means the long hot days of humidity smelling like wet grass are followed by roaring thunderstorms and heavy rains all through the night. And if you garden, this is most certainly your garden’s favorite time of year!

This summer I set up two planters on our back patio and pretty much threw in whatever plants and seeds I could fit. Along with some festive patio lighting, a clean-up of our table and chairs, and a shrub trimming, the space is finally livable again. It also smells wonderful with a fresh lavender plant, a bountiful herb garden and two very healthy and fast-growing cherry tomato plants beside a lettuce bed and assortment of vegetables that are currently fighting for nutrients and light!

If, like me, your herb garden and zucchini plants are ready to burst forth, this herb garden ratatouille is the perfect summer dish to showcase your summer harvest. I’ve made a few variations of this sliced vegetable ratatouille over the years, but this version from Tasty has a rich sweet tomato sauce base to help soften the vegetable slices as they bake, and is topped with an incredibly robust herb sauce that really celebrated my home-grown herbs. It’s also a beautiful display and can easily be shared for a potluck. My adaptation from the original recipe was to remove the eggplant (not my husband’s favorite vegetable), double up on zucchini and add one sliced potato, but you can easily eliminate that for a simple low-carb summer dish.

Ratatouille Ingredients:

  • 3 large zucchini, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
  • 2 large yellow squash, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
  • 1 Idaho potato, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
  • 6 roma tomatoes, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1 yellow pepper, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, finely diced

Herb Sauce:

  • 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 8-10 fresh basil leaves, diced
  • 2 TB fresh parsley, diced
  • 2 tb fresh thyme, diced

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large pan, add olive oil, garlic, onions and peppers and cook on medium heat until onions are soft and translucent, then stir in crushed tomatoes. Transfer this sauce base to bottom of a large casserole dish. Arrange sliced vegetables in alternating patterns on top, however you like! I prefer rows in a rectangular dish, but you can also arrange in a circular pattern in a round baking dish. Mix herb sauce and add to top of ratatouille. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes, then uncover and for additional 20 minutes. Serve while hot, but also tastes great cold the next day!

Final version bubbling up right out of the oven…

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Healthy Butternut Squash Mac n Cheese

Well it’s January, which means we all eat healthy about 50% of the week but with better intentions. To kick off the new year, I was searching for something crave-able and satisfying that didn’t feel like diet food. I’ve been reading about and this butternut squash mac n cheese for a while now and decided to give it a try. It’s a clever riff on a classic comfort food that’s low on calories and high on fiber, and completely guilt-free!

I learned a few things on my first go here. I cut out the butter and flour from the original recipe and substituted fat free cream and low fat shredded cheese. My sauce to pasta ratio was a bit off and it came out a bit dry so I would add pasta slowly until you have a thick base, almost like a stew-like consistency. I also used a whole wheat rotini instead of the traditional macaroni. Big mistake! Everybody asked “Where’s the mac?!” Finally, I added a vegetarian spicy sausage which I have to say is a DEFINITE KEEPER. The puréed squash provides a surprisingly sweet and luxurious sauce paired with sage flavors of the sausage.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large butternut squash, cubed
  • 1/2 pound elbow macaroni
  • 1 cup fat free cream
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup aged low fat cheese, shredded
  • 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 package Lightlife vegetarian sausage
  • 2 TBs olive oil (for frying and roasting)

Pan fry the entire package of sausage until the chunks are nice and browned. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and drizzle butternut squash chunks with olive oil on baking sheet. Roast for 20-30 minutes or until tender. While the squash is roasting, cook the macaroni according to package directions then drain well and set aside. In a medium sauce pot, add the cooked squash, cream, nutmeg and vegetable broth then use a hand blender to purée to a smooth texture, like a thick soup. Add the sausage, cheese and pasta to mixture and fold together. Pour into a greased casserole dish and sprinkle breadcrumbs on top. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes.

Hazelnut and Chard Ravioli

Some pasta dishes are best served room temperature on a cold day when you just wanna stress eat like a pro with little prep, AKA Thanksgiving.

This year we avoided airports and opted for an overnight stay at the nearby Great Wolf Lodge waterpark with friends followed by a lovely dinner with family. I love the simplicity and versatility of this fresh lemony, chard recipe combined with the sweet caramelized onions from 101 Cookbooks. I skipped the fresh pasta prep and used fresh, ready to eat ravioli from Trader Joe’s which means lunch was ready in about 20 minutes total — not bad!

Ingredients

  • 1 container Trader Joe’s butternut squash ravioli
  • 2-3 TB olive oil
  • 2 small onions, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 cups chopped Swiss chard, deveined and chopped
  • 2 TB fresh lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped (I purchased whole toasted at Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Prepare ravioli as directed, about 3 minutes in boiling water and cooled in colander then tossed gently with about a teaspoon of olive oil to prevent sticking. In pan, caramelize the onions over medium high heat with 1 TB olive in a pan, turning constantly for about 10 minutes and then cooled. Meanwhile, squeeze the lemon juice over the Swiss chard and top with salt, then massage the leaves gently for 2 minutes in a mixing bowl and set aside. When you are ready to serve, combine Swiss chard salad with ravioli on serving dish then top with crunchy hazelnuts and Parmesan cheese. My version was heavy on the Swiss chard and looked more like salad but next time I would serve on a long, flat dish to really make the ravioli shine.

My amazing friend Shaun once again had dessert covered and prepared the most amazing Coconut Cream Pie – and I don’t even like coconut! Recipe found here.

Tofu Banh Mi with Pickled Carrots and Daikon

Nothing says summer more than street food and beer – but it’s even better when you can make it at home! I was looking for a reason to use the fresh basil, mint and cucumbers picked from our neighbors Dory and Andy’s garden who thankfully have quite the green thumb and are so generous with the neighborhood kids tramping through their carefully tended vegetables and raspberry bushes.

This tofu and veggie Banh Mi with pickled daikon and carrots is fresh, bright and crunchy with a hint of spice and is totally crave-able. Sadly, it doesn’t compare to the outstanding lemongrass tofu Banh Mi we used to buy at Nhu Lan Bakery in Chicago but hey it definitely hit the spot. I also experimented with adding the same ingredients to lower calorie Vietnamese rice paper wraps which was also a big hit.

Ingredients

  • 2 jalapeños, seeded and sliced
  • 1 English cucumber, julienned
  • 1 tofu block of your choice (I would recommend Trader Joe’s baked sriracha tofu)
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro
  • 1 bunch free Thai basil
  • 1 bunch fresh mint
  • French bread roll or Vietnamese bread roll, both toasted slightly in oven or toaster oven until crunchy
  • 2 TB mayonnaise (vegan or regular)
  • 1 TB sriracha
  • Juice of 1/2 lime

Pickled Daikon and Carrots

  • 2 carrots, peeled and julienned
  • 1 medium daikon, peeled and julienned
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt

Bring the pickle mixture to a boil in medium sauce pot, then sit and let cool. Pour over carrots and daikon in a mason jar or glass Tupperware container, then seal and let marinate at least 1 hour in fridge but up to 12 hours overnight is ideal. To make sriracha mayo just combine mayo, sriracha and lime juice in small bowl. If you want it thicker to smear on bread base just leave out lime juice and squeeze on top of sandwich once assembled instead. Assemble sandwich with all ingredients and gulp down with beer!

Lemony Bulgur Tabouleh

Ok. I admit it. I googled what Jennifer Aniston eats. Turns out she’s a fan of salads, no surprise there!

Apparently her favorite go-to salad is a crisp cucumber, bulgur, chickpea salad with fresh mint and parsley. Bulgur is actually a great grain to add to your diet as it’s in rich in vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, iron and other vital minerals as well as making it a solid plant-based protein. Bulgur is also a low glycemic food with fewer calories yet twice the fiber of rice – about 25% of your daily needs in one cup. And seriously it is THE quickest and easiest grain to prepare; just add 1.5 cups hot water to 1 cup of bulgur and let it sit in a bowl for 10 minutes then fluff it with a fork!

For this lemony tabouleh I omitted the feta and pistachios that are featured in The Jennifer Salad but I will try that next time for some crunch. I opted for medium grain bulgur but you can also try coarse grain or fine grain depending on your palette. Just combine all ingredients once the bulgur is cooled. I paired this with kalamata olives, tomatoes and whole wheat pita pocket which was great after a summer’s July 4th bike ride and day outside. Remember – don’t skimp on the fresh herbs!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cooked bulgur
  • 1 cucumber, skinned and diced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 – 2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mediterranean Fennel Barley Soup

One of my all-time favorite ingredients are lemons. It’s such a versatile citrus packed with vitamin C and adds a distinct tartness to any roasted vegetable. It’s also become my go-to for soup broths that are laden with heavy grains or beans. The lemon juice complements the soft creamy fennel, earthy fire roasted tomatoes and hearty barley in this stew so nicely along with a sprinkle of salty Parmesan on top!

This original recipe came from Eating Well but I switched the white beans to chickpeas and added the lemon juice which really brightened it up. This ones in my fridge for the entire week and only cost about $20 (I doubled the recipe).

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, cored and chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
  • 1 14-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • 6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • ¾ cup quick-cooking barley
  • 1 5-ounce package baby spinach (6 cups)
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, fennel, garlic, and basil; cook, stirring frequently, until tender and just beginning to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the chickpeas, tomatoes, broth and barley into the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the barley is tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice then add spinach and cook until wilted, about 1 minute. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat. Serve and top with Parmesan cheese.

A little summer stroll…

Enjoying a rare date night dance at friend Tom and Haeley’s wedding… whiskey in hand

Not Yet Summer Cobb Salad

Well it’s spring here in Chicago which means either it’s the 97th day of January OR the sun busts out after a long, dormant winter and vibrant baby green blooms burst forth! The last few days have been rather fickle, but thinking of summer gardens and long walks on the beach got me in the mood for a nice salad so today I opted for a vegetarian Cobb salad which I especially love because it can be adapted with so many ingredients if you feel adventurous. I used a spinach base topped with freshly boiled red and white baby potatoes tossed in a balsamic vinegar and freshly squeezed lemon dressing. But the biggest surprise here was the salty blue cheese, creamy egg and tart green apple combo which I will definitely be making again!!

Not Yet Summer Cobb Salad

  • Spinach salad base, chopped roughly
  • 1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
  • 1/3 cup canned chickpeas
  • 1/2 Granny Smith apple, largely diced
  • 1/4 avocado, diced
  • 1 TB blue cheese crumbles
  • 1 cup boiled red and white potatoes, cut into quarters