Monday, November 30, 2015

Meatball & Butternut Squash Penne

An easy weeknight pasta dish, Meatball & Butternut Squash Penne, uses up the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers without reminding anyone of last week's feast. 

Meatball & Butternut Squash Penne
Serves 4

For the meatballs
2 tablespoons bread crumbs (try panko for extra lightness)
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4-1/3 cup milk (buttermilk can be used) 
1/3 pound hamburger meat
1/3 pound mild or spicy bulk sausage
1-2 tablespoons olive oil to brown meatballs 
1/3 cup water (broth or white wine may be substituted)

Remaining ingredients
1/2 box (4 servings) penne pasta
2 cups cooked, cubed butternut squash (roasted or steamed)
1 small red bell pepper, seeded, roasted and peeled (canned roasted red peppers OK)
2 cups raw spinach, rinsed well, stems removed
2 tablespoons cream cheese
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

  1.  Make meatballs: Combine breadcrumbs with next three ingredients.  Stir and let stand for 5 minutes for bread crumbs to soften.  Mix in ground beef and sausage.  Use a small spoon to form one-inch meatballs.  Heat oil in a wide skillet over medium heat.  Brown meatballs.  Add water and scrape up any drippings.  Cover skillet and lower heat to simmer for 5 minutes, until meatballs are cooked through.
  2. Boil a large pot of salted water for pasta while meatballs cook.
  3. When meatballs are cooked, add cooked butternut squash, red bell pepper and spinach to meatballs.  Cover skillet again to allow vegeatbles ot heat througha dn sinach to wilt.
  4. Cook penne pasta as directed on box. 
  5. While pasta cooks, finish meatballs by adding cream cheese and Parmesan cheese.  
  6. Drain pasta reserving about 1 cup of the pasta water. Add drained pasta to skillet with half the past water.  Stir to combine all ingredients. Let cook a minute or two.  Add more pasta water if too dry.  

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Tomato Pumpkin Soup

This year's anecdote to Thanksgiving transforms leftover pumpkin or winter squash into a creamy tomato soup.  It goes great with a turkey sandwich or a quick snack.

Mix leftover pumpkin puree with tomato juice as the base of this easy soup.  The pumpkin thickens the soup without adding cream, butter or flour.

Pumpkin Tomato Soup
Serves 2, recipe easily doubles

6 ounces tomato juice
1/2 can pureed pumpkin (about 1 1/4 cups)
salt & pepper 
optional: 1/2 cup cooked pasta like ditalini or cooked rice
optional garnish: garnish: sour cream, cream

  1. In a small saucepan, bring tomato juice to a boil, lower heat and simmer until reduced by about 1/3. 
  2. Stir in pumpkin puree.  Use a whisk or  fork to create a smooth consistency.
  3. Taste and add salt & pepper as needed.  Low sodium tomato juice will require a little more salt.
  4. Add cooked pasta or rice.

  • Leftover baked or roasted squash can be substitued.  Mash it before adding or use an immersion blender for a smooth texture.   
  • Other seasonings for this soup, fresh or dried: basil, thyme, dill, cumin (best to try one to get the purest taste).

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Filo-Wrapped Mozzarella Sticks

Filo-Wrapped Mozzarella Sticks are a quick and impressive hot appetizer to pass around or place on top of a simple green salad.  By wrapping each stick of cheese in prosciutto, you get extra flavor and prevent the cheese from oozing out before the filo is browned.  The saltiness of the Prociutto ham is nicely balanced by the sweetness of the quince paste.  If you cannot find quince paste, any good quality jam or an apple butter would work well.  Experiment with fig or apricot jam.

Filo-Wrapped Mozzarella Sticks
Makes 16 appetizers, recipe easily doubled

1/2 pound low-moisture mozzarella
8 slices prosciutto, cut in half
1/4 cup quince paste, apple butter or other not to sweet jam
16 sheets filo dough (wrapped well or covered)
1/4 cup melted butter

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly oil the sheet.
  2.  Cut mozzarella cheese into 16 long sticks.  Lay each on a slice of prosciutto.  Place a small amount of quince paste, about half a teaspoon, along the cheese on the ham.  
  3. Start rolling the cheese in the ham.  As you roll, the quince paste will spread along the roll.
  4. Open the filo and follow package directions about keeping the sheets moist as you work.  
  5. Take a single sheet of filo and lay it on a flat surface. Use a pastry brush to brush melted butter over entire sheet.  Do not worry about small tears in the filo.  It is more forgiving than it appears.
  6. Place a wrapped piece of cheese at the bottom center of the buttered filo sheet.  Begin to roll the cheese stick until wrapped twice.  Stop rolling and fold in the sides.  Butter the top layer of filo and continue rolling until the cheeses is completely packaged.
  7. Place each wrapped cheese stick on prepared baking sheet. You can place sitcks quite close to each other but not touching.  Give each sitck a final brush of butter.
  8. Bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly browned.  Let sticks rest 5 minutes before serving to allow them to firm up a little. 
Filo sticks may be preapred in advance and frozen.  No need to deforst; add 3-5 minutes of baking time.

Do not use fresh mozzarella in this recipe. The type of cheese used here is readily available at supermarkets and comes in whole milk and skim milk varieties.  You can also use a smoked mozzarella for this recipe.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Lemon Basil Chick Pea Balls

We made these Chick Pea Balls flavored with basil, parsley and lemon to go alongside a minestrone soup brimming with winter vegetables.  Guests popped them into the soup too.  Basil created a culinary bridge to the Italian flavors in the soup.

The base recipe is from Laura Washburn's Vegetarian Foods for Kids (2011). Anyone interested in learning to cook simple and pure vegetarian foods will appreciate her approach. The basic recipes are all kid-friendly and many recipes provide variations that amp up the flavor to match grown up palates.  Her basic chick pea bites are a case in point.  The child's version is made with orange juice and mild spices.  The adult version uses lemon juice and a more sophisticated herb and spice blend.

Chick Pea Balls are not just for appetizers and soup sides.  They can also be packed into pita bread with some salad ingredients and dressing for a vegetarian meal or tossed with pasta and your favorite sauce. 

Lemon Basil Chick Pea Balls
Yield: about twenty-five 1-inch balls

2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped 
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cans drained chick peas (or 3 1/2 cups cooked and cooled chick peas)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons oat bran (or pulse rolled oats to create oat flour)
2 tablespoon whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup fresh, chopped flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
Note: If substituting fresh with dried herbs, use 1 tablespoon each
Spray oil

  1.  Place chopped carrot and celery in a food processor and pulse until vegetables are finely chopped.  
  2. Heat oil in a wide skillet over medium heat.  Cook the vegetables for 5-6 minutes, stirring frequently.  When cooked, place in a large bowl to cool while you prepare the bean mixture.
  3. In the same food processor, process drained beans, mayonnaise, oat bran, flour, salt. and lemon juice.  Mixture should be fairly smooth.
  4. Add bean mixture to bowl with vegetables.  Add herbs and combine all ingredients.  
  5. Taste and adjust seasoning.  Add more salt, lemon juice or more herbs.
  6. Make balls by scooping spoonfuls onto a parchment-lined or oiled baking sheet.  Moisten your hands with water and roll scoops into small balls.  You may also use a mini-scoop, the type used for drop cookies.
  7. Bake at 375˚F for 25-35 minutes until balls are slightly brown.  Centers will still be moist.  
  8. Serve hot or at room temperature.
TIP: Do you have some new vegetarians joining holiday dinners over the next few months?  Check out books like Laura Washburn's for inspiration.  We also point new vegetarians and the families they cook with to Italian cookbooks where vegetables and grains have always gotten their due.