Pasta alla Ceccha

Pasta alla Ceccha

  Some summer days just beg for easy cooking, and this past week was full of them! Sometimes serendipity intervenes and provides you with what you need. At a race I ran last week, one of the vendors was giving away yellow tomatoes. Tomatoes!!! So we came home loaded down with little packages of delicious tomatoes, just in time to make a dish that is summer simplicity at its best. 

Italian cooking makes the best use of simple, ripe, seasonal foods and this dish  is one of my favorite ways to get our pre-run carbs without turning the kitchen into a sauna. The sauce is a raw tomato sauce that is flavorful and satisfying without being heavy. Tossed with hot pasta, it fills your kitchen with the amazing aroma of basil and garlic. Try this with your best, ripe summer tomatoes! This recipe is based on one from Giada deLaurentis and is a favorite summer staple.

Pasta alla Ceccha (serves 4)

  • 1 lb pasta
  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes or the equivalent in ripe, regular tomatoes
  • 3 green oinions, white parts and a little of the green
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 ounce parmesan cheese
  • A generous handful of fresh basil leaves
  • Salt and ground pepper to taste
  • 6 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 1″ pieces
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions to al dente.
  2. In a food processor, combine all remaining ingredients except mozzarella. 
  3. Pulse until all is combined but still chunky. Don’t puree ( although if you do, it’s not the end of the world).
  4. Toss the sauce with the hot cooked pasta.
  5. Add the fresh mozzarella and serve immediately.

See? Easy peasy! Enjoy!

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Eggplant Tomato Stacks

IMG_2011I think I made it all the way to adulthood with an intense dislike for eggplant. To me, eggplant was a bitter, slimy, vegetable that was typically served fried and greasy in some version of eggplant Parmesan. I’m not sure when my eggplant revelation came about, but eggplant is now one of my favorite summer vegetables. I love it grilled, roasted with garlic and especially baked in this wonderful, healthy re-make of eggplant Parmesan.

Here is the secret to great tasting eggplant–buy it fresh from your local farmer’s market. The longer eggplant sits, the more bitter it can become. Also, eggplant picked for grocery stores is often picked under-ripe, before it’s true sweetness is developed.

This recipe makes the most of fresh, local eggplant, tomato and basil–all in abundance in North Carolina during the summer. We used local mozzarella from Hillsborough Cheese Company, so only the Parmesan Reggiano, olive oil and salt were store-bought. We used some of our yummy Roasted Tomato Sauce, which is my favorite discovery from last summer (well, maybe it’s a tie with Mae Farm Bacon Onion Marmalade).

Think of this recipe as lasagna with eggplant replacing the noodles. This is no greasy, fried, chain restaurant dish–it is flavorful, nourishing and rich in antioxidants and fiber. And your house will smell A-MAZ-ING while it is baking. Tom commented several times that it is hard to believe this is a meatless dish. If you substitute vegan cheese, it would be a completely vegan dish. Like it’s lasagna cousin, this freezes and reheats well, making super tasty leftovers. Healthy, local and delicious. Win-win-win. Yum-yum-yum!

Eggplant Tomato Stacks (makes 6 servings)

  • 3 medium eggplant (we used several baby eggplant and one medium)
  • Kosher salt
  • Olive oil
  • 1 quart Roasted Tomato Sauce (or 1 jar from the store)
  • 2 c. mozzarella cheese, grated (you can use part-skim to reduce the fat)
  • 1 c. Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 c. loosely packed basil leaves, chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Wash eggplant and slice into 1/4″ or so slices. Put slices on the baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt.
  4. Roast eggplant slices for about 12 minutes–until they are fork tender.
  5. Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish. Add one layer of the eggplant. Top with 1/3 of the tomato sauce, a sprinkling of basil leaves, 1/3 of the mozzarella and 1/3 of the Parmesan. Repeat layers two more times, ending with cheese on top.
  6. Bake in oven for about 40 minutes, until hot and bubbly and golden brown on top.
  7. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

 

Eggs in Purgatory

IMG_1999It’s been a long, crazy summer for us, and I am finally getting back to posting. Actually, I’m finally getting back to cooking, which means I finally have something (anything) to post!!! I feel as though I am emerging from a period of great darkness, into a beautiful sunshine-y day. So, cheers to new beginnings, great friends and daily miracles. Speaking of miracles, this has been an amazing summer for tomatoes in North Carolina. We’ve had plenty of rain (but not too much), lots of sun and warm (but not scorching) temperatures. Tomatoes are rocking our world this summer!

If you check the popular lists of superfoods out on the internet, you may not find tomatoes on the list, but they should definitely be there. Chock full of vitamins and lycopene, tomatoes are little powerhouses. What is lycopene? Lycopene is an antioxidant in the carotenoid family and may help protect the body from prostate and breast cancers as well as protect the blood vessels around the heart. While lycopene can be taken in pill form, it is most highly effective when eaten in cooked tomatoes. Cooking tomatoes breaks down the plant fiber and releases lycopene in a form more easily absorbed by the body.

This dish is pure, summer simpleness, although it does involve turning on the stove–not my favorite thing in the hot summer–but it is worth heating up the kitchen a bit. The tomatoes, zucchini and onions are stewed down until very thick, then topped with eggs, covered and simmered until the eggs are done to your liking. Voila! Totally good for you, with a bit of protein and a hit of spicy.

This version is a takeoff of an Italian breakfast dish and the “purgatory” in this case comes from red pepper flakes and sriracha chili sauce. This combination of tomato and eggs, however, has variations in Middle Eastern, Jewish and Chinese cooking as well, so it has been around (and loved) for a very long time. We had this for supper and it was delicious. You could add other vegetables as you like and experiment with new combinations that work for you! I want to try this with some freshly roasted red sweet peppers for more of a smoky flavor!

Eggs in Purgatory (serves 2-3)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 3 small, fresh zucchini, washed and diced
  • 2 pounds fresh tomatoes, washed, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha chili sauce or harrisa (optional)
  • 4-6 fresh farm eggs
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh basil, to taste
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan or mozzarella cheese
  • Fresh ciabatta or other good quality bread
  1. In a large, deep saute pan or non-cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add the chopped onion and saute for about 5-6 minutes or until onions begin to soften.
  3. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds.
  4. Add the tomatoes to the pan, stir well, and cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes. Check on the tomatoes frequently. If they are scorching, turn the heat down to medium low and continue to simmer.
  5. Add the diced zucchini, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Stir well and simmer for about 15-25 minutes or until most of the liquid from the pan has evaporated. This could take longer depending on the heat of your stove, your pan, and the amount of water in the tomatoes.
  6. Drizzle the tomato mixture with the sriracha, add chopped, fresh basil and stir.
  7. When the mixture is very thick, use a spoon to make 4-6 small nests in the tomatoes. Crack one egg into each nest, cover the pan and simmer until the eggs are cooked to your liking.
  8. Check for seasonings and serve immediately topped with cheese and with warm bread on the side for dunking!

 

Mediterranean Shrimp and Feta

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Can you tell we love shrimp? A good number of our summer recipes revolve around shrimp and fish, both of which are available fresh from North Carolina waters. Shrimp has had a bad rep for its high cholesterol content, but interestingly, it is high in natural cholesterol and very low in fat. Studies of the effects of shrimp on cholesterol levels have shown that unlike high cholesterol, high fat foods, eating steamed, poached or roasted shrimp do not negatively impact bad cholesterol levels. Great news! Just stay away from the all-you-can-eat fried popcorn shrimp at Golden Corral. Nothing good comes of that.

This shrimp dish is unbelievably flavorful and fresh, and it comes together in about 30 minutes! The original recipe is an oldie from Southern Living, but I’ve added my own spin to it. We served this over organic rice, but pasta would be great as well.

Mediterranean Shrimp and Feta (serves 2-3)

  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 red, orange or yellow bell pepper, trimmed and sliced
  • 1 lb. fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 can organic artichoke hearts, halved
  • 4 ounces goat milk feta cheese
  • Juice of one fresh lemon
  • 1/2 cup fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 3 cups cooked organic rice
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Line a rimmed sheet pan with foil.
  3. Combine the first 6 ingredients in a bowl and toss well. Add to baking sheet and roast in the oven for 15 minutes.
  4. Stir vegetables gently and add shrimp and artichoke hearts. Roast for 10 more minutes.
  5. Combine feta, lemon juice and parsley in a large bowl.
  6. Add cooked shrimp mixture and any pan juices to the feta. Toss well.
  7. Serve over hot rice.

Summer Ravioli with Corn and Tomatoes

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Even though it is still in the 90s outside, I needed a change of pace from all the cold salads we have been eating. We had some frozen pimento cheese ravioli from local pasta maker Melina’s Pasta, so I concocted a new recipe using that wonderful ravioli and some fresh corn, sweet onion, garlic and cherry tomatoes that came in our Produce Box. The result? We will definitely make this again! You can use any cheese stuffed ravioli, it doesn’t need to be pimento cheese (although that was pretty terrific). Definitely add the crispy prosciutto if you are not vegetarian–it really brings everything together.

Summer Ravioli with Corn and Tomatoes (serves 2)

8 large stuffed ravioli
2 slices prosciutto
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large, sweet onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 fresh ears of corn (preferably organic)
1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes
Kosher salt and ground, black pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Being a large pot of salted water to boil for pasta.
While water is coming to a boil, shuck the corn and use a sharp knife or a corn scraper to remove the corn from the Cobb. Set corn aside.
Wash cherry tomatoes and cut each tomato in half. Set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add the prosciutto and cook until crispy and slightly browned. Remove to a paper towel lined plate and reserve.
Add the ravioli to the boiling water and cook according to directions, about 7 minutes.
While ravioli is cooking, add the onion and garlic to the hot sauté pan and cook until soft, but not browned, about 2 minutes.
Add the corn and tomatoes to the pan and sauté for about 4-5 minutes. Stir frequently and season to taste.
Add the cooked ravioli to the sauté pan, toss carefully to coat the pasta.
Plate the pasta and vegetables, topping with crumbled prosciutto and Parmesan cheese.
Serve immediately.

Roasted Tomato Sauce

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This mid-summer season is a busy time for me. I spend a crazy amount of time canning and freezing all the summer goodness I can so we can eat healthy all winter. I can’t imagine how women did this 100 years ago, when a family’s life might depend on it. Then again, they weren’t juggling full time jobs, summer camp and sport schedules and trying to work out. Or surfing Pinterest 🙂

So last week, I found myself the happy owner of a 30 pound box of canning tomatoes. YES! I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them–make this wonderful tomato sauce. Calling this “sauce” is a little inaccurate. This is so thick and fragrant and rich tasting, it should just be called “summer joy”. I could eat this with thick pieces of bread, over pasta, in chili, in soup or just plain ol’ by itself with a spoon. With only three ingredients, it is super healthy. No sugar, no preservatives, no salt. Just sunny, summer tomatoes, garlic, and a splash of olive oil. I keep this sauce simple so I can use it in any recipe later.

This “summer joy” is easy to make–just chop, roast, blend and freeze! Instead of canning, you just fill quart freezer containers and stash in your freezer for later. We went through 8 quarts last winter! I made four quarts from my box and at $10 per box of canning tomatoes, that is $2.50 per quart of homemade greatness (plus a teensy bit for the garlic and olive oil). I’ll make some more soon! If you love tomato sauce, but don’t want to bother with canning, try this!

Roasted Tomato Sauce (makes about 1 quart per 5 lbs of tomatoes)

Romas are best for this sauce as they have less water, but any tomato will do–you will need to adjust your roasting time for very juicy tomatoes!

  • Any amount of tomatoes (I have been roasting 2-5 lbs. at a time)
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, sliced thin or minced
  • Olive oil
  1. Wash and trim tomatoes, and cut into halves (romas) or quarters (for larger tomatoes).
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line one or more baking sheets with foil.
  3. Put tomato pieces on a foil lined baking sheet (I use 2 sheets at a time).
  4. Sprinkle garlic pieces over tomatoes.
  5. Drizzle olive oil over the tomatoes.
  6. Put baking sheet in the oven and roast tomatoes for about 2 hours. Check on them periodically and stir them around a bit.
  7. Roast tomatoes until the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes are a bit charred and shriveled.
  8. Put all tomatoes and garlic pieces in a bowl.
  9. Use an immersion stick blender and puree the tomatoes until they are to your liking. I like mine fairly chunky, but you can make this as smooth as you like.
  10. Store in freezer safe containers in the freezer for up to 6 months.

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Roasted Tomato Sauce

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One of my Girl Scouts keeps joking that she needs to bring her Staples Easy Button when we’re working on projects. Wouldn’t it be nice to really have an easy button when things get difficult? Well, I’m going to give you an easy button right now, although you’ll have to wait until summer to use it. This is by far the best–and easiest–tomato sauce I have ever made. I froze quarts and quarts of this over the summer and we have been enjoying it all winter long. It is so thick that it looks like a Bolognese sauce, but it has no meat at all. in fact, it only has four ingredient: tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and salt. See? Easy!

While working on my canning over the summer, I also canned some marinara sauce. This took for.ever. I cooked my tomatoes down for hours and hours, but my sauce still ended up thin. No worries though, because it is now called “tomato soup” 🙂 Nothing that a little spin couldn’t cure!

After that experience, I almost gave up canning my own sauce. Then I tried this recipe for a roasted tomato sauce. Just roast, purée and freeze. Howeasyisthat? And it is so good that I could (and have) eaten it plain in a bowl.

Roasted Tomato Sauce (makes about 1 quart per 5 lbs of tomatoes)

Romas are best for this sauce as they have less water, but any tomato will do–you will need to adjust your roasting time for very juicy tomatoes!

  • Any amount of tomatoes (I have been roasting 2-5 lbs. at a time)
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, sliced thin or minced
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  1. Wash and trim tomatoes, and cut into halves (romas) or quarters (for larger tomatoes).
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line one or more baking sheets with foil.
  3. Put tomato pieces on a foil lined baking sheet (I use 2 sheets at a time).
  4. Sprinkle garlic pieces and salt over tomatoes.
  5. Drizzle olive oil over the tomatoes.
  6. Put baking sheet in the oven and roast tomatoes for about 2 hours. Check on them periodically and stir them around a bit.
  7. Roast tomatoes until the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes are a bit charred and shriveled.
  8. Put all tomatoes and garlic pieces in a bowl.
  9. Use an immersion stick blender and puree the tomatoes until they are to your liking. I like mine fairly chunky, but you can make this as smooth as you like.
  10. Store in freezer safe containers in the freezer for up to 6 months.
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Roasted tomato sauce with pasta and turkey meatballs!

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