roasted vegetables and spelt spaghetti

roasted vegetables, spelt spaghetti, ricotta salada

I was inspired to make myself a bowl of pasta after I had lunch at a local restaurant and it left me feeling — disappointed.

The menu at this charming place offered the sort of casual, Italian-style fare everyone seems to like – wood-fired pizzas, homemade pasta, and salads made with locally grown produce.

I ordered the pasta special of the day, described as handmade whole wheat fettuccine with wood oven-roasted vegetables. Great!

I was hungry, and happily anticipated my lunch, thinking about homemade noodles with the rustic bite of whole grain and especially, the promise of a colorful assortment of vegetables kissed with some smoky char from the oven.

What arrived at my table was not at all like the picture I’d formed in my head. Turns out there was definitely a disconnect between what had been described and what was right there on the plate in front of me.

The “oven-roasted” vegetables were a small distribution of diced carrots that were a little on the crunchy side, and zucchini that was cooked to the point of army-green softness. They were embedded in a thick tomato sauce that covered the pasta so completely that I couldn’t tell if it was fresh whole wheat fettuccine or not. It tasted pretty good; homey and satisfying, Just not what I thought it would be.

I’m not in the business of reviewing restaurants, nor do I ever want to be – it makes me uncomfortable to be critical of another cook’s food. Cooking is all about feeding people, but it’s also a personal expression. One girl’s vegetable is another boy’s garnish.

For me, vegetables are the focal point of whatever I set out to eat or cook; the elements of the plate that give a cook the chance to use a beautiful variety of colors and textures; like an edible palette.

When I decided to recreate my version of that lunch, I set out for the produce section of my grocery store – there’s no farmer’s market at this point in a Midwestern winter.

spelt spaghetti with roasted vegetables

But I found a rainbow of vegetables there; sweet bell peppers in three different colors, red grape tomatoes and bright green zucchini.

I roasted the vegetables to pair with spelt spaghetti, a whole grain pasta that has a more delicate, nutty taste than some of the other whole grain kinds I’ve tried. Ricotta Salata cheese adds a creamy, slightly salty hit to the top of this spaghetti. Now, that’s what I’m talking about!

roasted vegetables with spelt spaghetti and ricotta salata

Yield: 2 - 4 servings

Ingredients

  1. 1 each – red, yellow and orange bell pepper
  2. 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  3. 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  4. Kosher salt
  5. 2 small zucchini, diced
  6. 1/2 cup Peppadew peppers, sliced in half
  7. ¼ cup Peppadew liquid
  8. Freshly ground black pepper
  9. 10 ounces spelt spaghetti
  10. ¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
  11. 1/3 cup crumbled Ricotta Salata cheese

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Cut the peppers into roughly 1 ½ - inch pieces. Toss the peppers on a large rimmed baking sheet along with the tomatoes, olive oil and ½ teaspoon salt.
  3. Roast until the edges of the peppers are deep golden brown, about 20 minutes. Stir them around, then add the zucchini to the peppers and roast 5 more minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve ¼ cup of the cooking water.
  5. When the vegetables are done, add the Peppadews, liquid and reserved pasta water and scrape everything around in the pan; season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Transfer the spaghetti to a serving bowl and top with the vegetables, parsley and cheese.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/03/roasted-vegetables-and-spelt-spaghetti/

roasted cauliflower, chickpeas and harissa

roasted-cauliflower-chickpeas-with-harissa

I was browsing through Vegetable Love, a huge and wonderful cookbook by legendary food writer Barbara Kafka. The recipes are not strictly vegetarian or vegan, but it contains a bounty of ideas, methods and nutritional info for just about any vegetable you can think of. I especially like the A – Z glossary at the back of the book.

Which is what I was reading when I came across the section on cooking methods for Cauliflower, where Barbara lists the many ways it can be prepared; steamed, stir-fried, boiled, fried, and last but not least…microwaved. And then she writes: “cauliflower...is not good roasted”.

cauliflower-photo

Are you freaking kidding me?! I couldn’t disagree more. Cauliflower is delicious roasted. In fact, it might be my favorite way to eat it. But to give Ms. Kafka the benefit of the doubt, I’m sure she’s expressing her fine-tuned personal taste.

My personal taste includes a pretty intense addiction to the spicy Tunisian chili paste harissa. I could – and do – put harissa on everything at any time of day, from eggs to leftovers I eat for lunch. It’s my global ketchup.

tunisian-harissa-paste

You can find harissa in many well-stocked supermarkets. But if you really want to find harissa nirvana, I recommend the one made by Moulin Mahjoub. I don’t know what it is, but to my palate it has just the right amount of smoky, sweet-heat and savory deliciousness.

You can get it at Amazon if you’re not near a specialty food store, which is where I often buy it. I’ve even seen it at Williams-Sonoma a while back.

If you love cauliflower or better yet, if you find yourself on the vegetable fence, try spicing it up and roasting as I do in this slightly Moroccan-inspired recipe.

roasted-cauliflower-chickpeas-with-harissa

roasted cauliflower, chickpeas and harissa

Serving Size: serves 4 - 6

The cauliflower makes a simple salad meal served warm over wilted spinach.

Ingredients

  1. 1 head cauliflower, separated into bite-sized florets
  2. ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  3. Salt
  4. 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
  5. 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
  6. 1 small sweet onion, like Maui or red onion; finely sliced
  7. 2 – 3 tablespoons harissa
  8. ½ bunch each Italian parsley and cilantro
  9. ½ a lemon
  10. 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Spread the cauliflower out on a large rimmed baking sheet. Add 3 tablespoons of the oil, ½ teaspoon salt and the cumin seeds. Roast 20 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender and golden. Add the chickpeas and roast an additional 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon oil in an 8 – 10-inch sauté pan. Add the onion and a pinch of salt. Cover the pan and cook over medium-low heat until the onions are very soft. Stir in the harissa along with 1 tablespoon water.
  4. Pick the leaves off the parsely and cilantro and tear into rough pieces; throw them over the chickpeas. Squeeze the lemon over and toss together with the onion mixture.
  5. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with the feta.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/01/roasted-cauliflower-chickpeas-and-harissa/

red chili rapini aglio e olio

red chili rapini aglio e olio

Green Superfoods – especially kale – have been “trending” for a while. Now, it seems like there’s a kale salad on the menu of every restaurant I’ve visited over the past six months. I couldn’t be happier. I LOVE me a plate of Tuscan kale, raw or cooked.

But I’m thinking that maybe kale is the gateway green to other dark and mysterious vegetables…….like rapini.

I’ve been familiar with rapini (also called broccoli raab or rabe) since I was a kid, when I knew it as “robbie”. My grandmother would occasionally put a bowl of slow-cooked robbie on the Sunday table. I’m pretty sure I was seriously afraid of it back then. After the long braising, the greens would go very limp and turn dusky, blackish-green, the same texture and color of the seaweed that got tangled in my feet at the beach. Not very appealing to a little girl who was just looking forward to a plate of macaroni and a meatball.

red chili rapini brushetta

In parts of New England and especially in Rhode Island where I grew up, broccoli rabe is still very familiar. It’s on the menu of mom-and-pop Italian delis, generously piled in grinder sandwiches with or without grilled sausage and provolone cheese.

Rapini is classified as a brassica, the same family as cabbage and broccoli, but it’s more closely related to turnip greens than it is to broccoli. When I’m shopping, I look for leaves that are uniformly dark green, with lots of tight little flower buds. Sometimes I find a bunch of rapini with its buds about to open to yellow flowers; a sign that it’s over the hill. I pass it by.

The lower stems can be tough and fibrous; I trim off about a third of the bunch, keeping the thin upper leafy stems and buds. Rapini has a slightly bitter bite, tempered by briefly blanching it in boiling salty water, which also preserves its beautiful emerald green color. I say briefly because unlike the way my mama made it, rapini doesn’t take very long to cook at all.

rapini

After blanching, I like to toss the greens with chili, garlic and olive oil (aglio e olio); they are delicious tossed with pasta, over creamy, cheesy polenta or piled on crusty toasted bread as a bruschetta.

red chili rapini agio e olio polenta and bruschetta

I enjoyed reading my friend Susan from Food Blogga’s post about broccoli rabe – we come from the same neck of RI.

Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for pasta with garlickly broccoli rabe makes me hungry, too.

Red chili rapini with olive oil and garlic

Serving Size: serves 4 - 6

Serve the rapini as a side dish, over creamy polenta, or as a bruschetta on toasted, crusty bread.

Ingredients

  1. 1 bunch rapini (broccoli rabe)
  2. 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  3. 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  4. 1 fresh red chili pepper, thinly sliced
  5. Pinch dried red chile flakes
  6. Fresh ground black pepper
  7. Grated fresh Pecorino Romano cheese

Instructions

  1. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil with 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  2. Trim off the lower, thick stems of the rapini; cut the remaining green leafy tops and buds into smaller pieces, drop into the boiling water and blanch 30 seconds. Drain and gently squeeze out any excess water.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, fresh and dried chili and cook for a minute or so, until sizzling and fragrant (but don't brown the garlic).
  4. Add the rapini to the pan and toss to coat with the garlicky oil. Remove from heat and season with salt and black pepper. Sprinkle with the pecorino.
  5. Serve as a topping for polenta, pasta, or bruschetta.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/01/red-chili-rapini-aglio-e-olio/