Vegetable Spanish Rice, But Not Paella

The New York Times featured an article recently titled “7 Ways the Pandemic Has Changed How We Shop for Food”. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Americans are spending more money at the supermarket today than at restaurants where other people prepare their food. Amidst this rise in home cooking, people are also moving to more complex ways of cooking, which includes a variety of grains, a staggering 600% increase in sales of yeast, and an uptick in demand for dried beans which has remained through the summer even after the initial “stock the pantry” craze of the spring. I admit, I purchased a 10 lb bag of rice that I’m stilling working on.

There is no downside to having a 10 lb bag of rice in the pantry. We love experimenting with deconstructed and mixed rice and grain bowls in our house. And my favorite kitchen gadget HANDS DOWN is my Instant Zest Rice and Grain Cooker. This little love has multiple settings that adjust timings for the types of rice or grain you are cooking. I literally switch it on to help the kids with remote learning or finish up a work Zoom or lock myself alone in the bathroom and cry and it makes perfectly hot, fluffy rice every time.

This week I thought I’d try a short-cut version of a paella swapping out the meat for a variety of Mediterranean vegetables. Traditional paella requires cooking the rice directly in a cast iron skillet and simmering it for a long period of time without turning it creating a thick, crunchy rice crust. This quick version infuses the rice with smoky and salty flavors directly in the rice cooker, and highlights all the complex flavors of smoky Spanish saffron, briny olives, sweet fennel, roasted peppers and hearty artichokes but with much less effort. So while this Vegetable Spanish Rice is not a traditional paella, I wasn’t at all disappointed with the results.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups brown rice
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 3 cups jarred or whole artichokes packed in water, quartered, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1 yellow and 1 red pepper, seeded and sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 fennel bulb, stalks removed and cut into thin slivers
  • 1 14.5oz can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas, defrosted
  • 4 TB olive oil
  • 2 TB lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
  • Salt and pepper

In the rice cooker add rice, vegetable broth, tomatoes, paprika, and saffron. Stir to combine then close lid and turn on cooker. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss artichokes, peppers and olives with 2 TB olive oil on a sheet pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast about 20 -25 minutes, or until vegetables are browned around the edges. In a large skillet or dutch oven (I used my Staub), add 2 TB olive oil and minced garlic with fennel and onion and cook until softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Turn off heat, add the roasted vegetables and peas to that same dutch oven and combine. Stir in the hot cooked rice and top with fresh squeezed lemon juice. Serve hot.

My son and I both recently celebrated our birthdays and enjoyed the tail end of summer with beautiful views, great food, and home cooked meals.

Summer Rustic Herb Linguini

It’s August, 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! For me, this means harvesting the beautiful bounty of fresh herbs that have been growing wild and with abundance in my planters.

Many summer pasta recipes depend on sweet aromatic basil, but this Summer Rustic Herb Linguini is a simple dish that features an surprising twist by combining bright mint, woody thyme and bitter parsley all tangled with linguini and tossed in a briny sauce of capers, olives, freshly squeezed lemon juice and a fresh pop of garlic. It is a rich and flavorful bite that requires minimal effort, and best of all complements any seasonal vegetables and grilled proteins to help honor these summer months.

The key to using fresh herbs in a recipe is in how you harvest and store the plants. Fresh herbs are best harvested in the early morning before the heat of the day. They will stay fresh wrapped in a damp paper towel in the refrigerator for the day until ready to prepare and serve.

If you do not grow your own herbs, there are plenty of proven tips on keeping herbs fresher for longer from the grocery store. First, trim the stems and place the herbs in a glass of cold water, but be careful not to immerse the leaves. Basil is an herb that thrives uncovered at room temperature sitting on a sunny windowsill in a cup of water. All other tender leafy herbs like parsley, cilantro, dill, and tarragon should then be covered loosely with a plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator. For heartier leafy herbs like rosemary, mint, thyme, sage and chives, you can store these in the refrigerator in a cup of water and then cover loosely with a plastic bag, but the leaves may actually stay fresher if immersed in water. I recently stored fresh mint completely submerged in a covered Tupperware container of chilled water for two weeks and it stayed bright, fresh and crisp. Just make sure to change the water on herbs every few days, like you would for fresh flowers.

pasta close-up

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3/4 lb linguini
  • 1 cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh mint
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 Tablespoons drained nonpareil capers
  • ½ freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Fine sea salt and pepper

Prepare the herb mixture by placing the olives, capers, diced herbs, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil in a medium bowl and toss to combine. Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes, while pasta cooks. Drain pasta then stir all together in large serving bowl to ensure flavors come together. Salt to taste, and enjoy!

glencoe beach

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…

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

Three Bean Squash Chili

I’ve been making winter bean chili for years with the same tired ingredients. It was SO refreshing to enjoy a summer chili with white beans and butternut squash! The cornmeal added some mild thickness and texture to the broth. Surprisingly this was not a sweet dish,  and it paired perfectly with some white wine while sitting on the porch. Bam! Summer. 


Ingredients 

  • 2 red bell peppers, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash
  • 1 (28-ounce) can no-salt-added tomatoes, undrained and chopped
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

Add oil to pan and swirl to coat, with pan on medium heat. Add garlic and onion, cook 5 minutes. Stir in dry spices and cook for 5 more minutes, stirring frequently. Add bell peppers, broth, squash, and tomatoes; bring to a simmer. Cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cornmeal and beans; simmer 25 minutes or until slightly thick, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with green onions.

Cold Peanut Noodle Salad

 
With Labor Day just around the corner, it seemed appropriate to prepare one final cold pasta salad before bidding farewell to summer. This fresh Asian salad uses good old spaghetti, roughly chopped cool Napa cabbage, crunchy shredded carrots and whole edamame for a family-friendly feast. It’s tossed in a velvety smooth salty peanut butter dressing and is dreamy for a picnic or in the fridge as leftovers. It’s also easily adaptable if you want to throw in fresh peanuts, diced apples, cucumber, peppers or other favorite ingredients. The secret is the amazing peanut sauce, which you could also use as a nice tofu marinade. I like to have some spicy garlic chili sauce on hand to throw on top. So simple!
COLD PEANUT NOODLE SALAD
1 lb spaghetti, cooked and drained
1/2 head Napa cabbage, roughly chopped
1 cup shredded carrots 
1 cucumber, peeled and julienned
1 red pepper, seeded and julienned
1/2 cup cilantro, diced 

PEANUT DRESSING
1 cup creamy peanut butter 
1/2 cup soy sauce
2/3 cup warm water
3 Tbs ginger, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
1 Tbs toasted sesame oil
1 Tbs honey
3 Tbs rice wine vinegar 

In a small mixing bowl combine all ingredients for peanut sauce and briskly whisk with fork for 2-3 minutes until it is a smooth, consistent texture. In large serving bowl combine cooked spaghetti with fresh salad ingredients, then toss in peanut sauce and thoroughly combine using tongs. Serve fresh!
  

Brussell Sprouts, White Beans and Italian “Sausage”

brussell sprouts Trader Joe’s has the most amazing selection of vegetarian “meat” products. Their meatless beef crumbles are a steal at $2.99, the Soyrizo is heavenly, and I also favor their Italian Vegetarian Sausages over any other brand. This week I was craving some sweet and salty roasted brussel sprouts and have heard of a meat-lovers Italian dish with which I decided to make vegetarian. It LITERALLY couldn’t have been easier. This was a big hit as a summer lunch that cost around $10 to make, but I will definitely be making it as a Thanksgiving side dish this year too!

BRUSSEL SPROUTS, WHITE BEANS AND SAUSAGE
2 lbs brussel sprouts
1 can cannellini beans
1 package of Trader Joe’s vegetarian Italian Sausage (4 large links)
Freshly shaved Parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut each sprout cut in half and toss on ungreased baking pan. Cut Italian sausages on an angle into 1/4” slices and add to the baking pan. Pour olives oil over the mixture then toss with your hands. Season with some salt and pepper, then bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Drain can of cannellini beans and add to the brussel sprout mixture in a large bowl. Add some freshly shaved Parmesan before serving.