Zucchini parmigiana sandwiches.

Zucchini is back! And early tomatoes, among other things, and my fridge is full of all the edible colours and I am delighted. I’ve started buying large amounts of things to turn into freezer meals for when I no longer have the energy to feed myself or the ability to reach the stove, which should happen right around the end of the harvest season. I am in the process of assembling zucchini parmigiana in foil containers (no dishes!), and had extra bits, and thought they’d be quite excellent in sandwiches.

For the sandwiches, I fried the zucchini instead of roasting it, and used leftover marinara sauce. You can make it fresh, if you like – I quite like this one from Smitten Kitchen with a bit of fresh basil – or you can use whatever you have hanging around in your fridge or pantry. Something simple with onions, garlic, tomatoes, and herbs should do just fine. Any plain sandwich bun will do, and whole wheat would probably be nice.

These smell fabulously summery, and in spite of their crispy fried bits and garlic-toasty top half, they’re pretty light. The tomatoes and basil play well with the breaded zucchini, and there is just the tiniest bit of spice from the Tabasco and red pepper flakes. They would be excellent with cold beer or red wine, and beg to be eaten on a patio in the sunshine. Maybe your Meatless Monday is warm and summery? We had to make do with pretend as it’s been damp and grey around here, but these certainly brightened our moods.

Zucchini parmigiana sandwiches

(Serves six to eight.)

  • 8 buns, such as Kaiser or Calabrese
  • 1 lb. zucchini, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds (about 24 pieces)
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp. Tabasco or other hot sauce
  • 1 cup panko
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 3 tbsp. butter, at room temperature
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • 1 cup shredded Provolone
  • 2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 16 basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Slice buns in half horizontally and set aside.

Whisk together eggs and Tabasco. Combine panko with lemon zest, and stir to combine. Dredge zucchini slices first in egg, then in bread crumbs. Fry in a large pan over medium-high heat, in grapeseed or olive oil, until golden, 90 seconds to two minutes per side.

Place on a plate lined with paper towel and sprinkle with salt while still hot.

Preheat oven to broil.

In a small bowl, mush together butter, olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper (taste and adjust seasonings as desired). Divide equally between the eight buns, spreading on the top half only. Place on a large baking sheet.

Place zucchini slices, two to three per bun, on the other half of each bun. Top with two tablespoons each marinara sauce and provolone, and place on the same baking sheet as the top halves.

Place under broiler and cook until cheese has melted and the buttered half has turned golden, two to three minutes.

Finish each sandwich with fresh tomato slices and basil leaves. Serve hot, with lightly dressed greens on the side. Enjoy!

 

Corn and asparagus salad

As of about 1:30 p.m. last Friday, it is now summer on the west coast and I am wearing a sundress and remembering my thighs now that they are not prevented by denim or Lycra from rubbing together.

Finally, things I’ve been waiting a year for are in season again, and the sun is warm into the evening so we can garden after work or enjoy a fizzy drink or two and a tomato salad on a patio somewhere and be social. I bought this season’s first zucchini on Sunday. I picked strawberries in the sunshine on Saturday. On Friday I ate corn in a park beside a marina.

My Dad trimmed his garlic plants this weekend and sent me home with a wealth of stinky, curly green stalks with which to make pesto and salads until the garlic oil ekes from our pores and our coworkers beg us to eat anything else. And corn has begun to appear in the markets, just as the last of the frozen stuff has hardened into an iceberg that smells like freezer and deserves to be thrown out.

So for this Meatless Monday, dinner came together in a fifteen-minute frenzy of blanching, chopping, and tossing, and it was cool and bright-tasting, with lemon and tomatoes, and basil, and piquillo peppers from a jar in the fridge and those pungent, fabulous garlic scapes.

There would have been a handful of Parmesan cheese thrown in at the end but I was in such a rush to eat that I forgot. No matter. It’s just fine sprinkled on after, and it’s just fine without if you want to keep things vegan. It would also be wonderful with grilled scallops or spot prawns, or maybe halibut, but you can do that some other night.

Corn and asparagus salad

(Serves four as a main dish, six as a side.)

  • 1 lb. asparagus, trimmed, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 large cobs corn (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes
  • 2 diced piquillo peppers (or roasted red bell peppers)
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1/2 cup garlic scapes or scallions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. minced fresh basil
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Blanch asparagus in a large pot of boiling water. Cool in an ice water bath until cold.

Scrape corn from cobs into a large bowl. Add tomatoes, peppers, shallot, garlic scapes, Parmesan cheese, and lemon zest. Add asparagus.

Whisk lemon juice, olive oil, basil, pepper flakes, salt, and pepper together. Taste, adjusting balance as needed. Pour over salad. Toss to coat.

Serve immediately.

Rich, hearty meat sauce.

With the exception of a four-hour period last Friday during which I managed to score an excruciating, now-peeling sunburn from sitting on a patio during lunch, this part of the world has been slow to summer. Which is just as well, because I’ve recovered most of my appetite, and after Paris the taste I’m looking for is unctuous. Unctuous like long-roasted meat, and like the sauce around it, so rich with that slowly melted fat that coats your mouth and the inside of your belly, leaving you full and sleepy.

I went with Grace (and Claude, but that is a story for another time) to a restaurant in Paris called Bistroy Les Papilles where we were brought just such a dish. Three steaks of pork belly were served in a tomato sauce filled with navy beans, thyme, and fresh spring vegetables; the pork had been cooking long enough that most of the fat found itself in the sauce, so that the meal was deceptively rich. I succeeded in eating only a small plateful, though it was a satisfying plateful.

It’s not really possible during the week to cook a slab of pork belly until it melts down into and plumps several pounds of white beans, not when one has to go to a place of business and complete tasks each day – I do have a slow-cooker but it’s the kind that sets things on fire. It is possible to mimic that unctuousness on a weeknight at home; the secret is to use good-quality meat, a combination of pork fat and olive oil, and a cheaterly handful of minced mushrooms. Top with cheese.

This sauce is easy, but it’s not slimming. The point is comfort (as my point so often is), and this is one of those dishes you could serve to company some rainy night, even on the weekend. It’s layered, and tastes as though it cooked for much longer than it did. The cinnamon adds balance to the meatiness, so if you are unsure about it, just add a little bit and see what you think.

Meat sauce for pasta

(Serves eight.)

  • 6 strips bacon, chopped
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup celery, finely chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 lbs. good quality ground meat (I like a combination of beef and venison or pork, but you could use just beef if that’s what you have)
  • 1/2 lb. mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

Brown bacon in a large pot over medium-high heat. Remove from pot to a plate lined with paper towel using a slotted spoon.

Add olive oil, followed by the onion, celery, and carrots. If the veggies are cooking too quickly, reduce heat to medium, and cook until soft and lightly golden, about ten minutes. Remove from pot to a plate using a slotted spoon. If you reduce the heat, put it back before the meat goes in.

Add meat, mushrooms, and garlic, breaking the meat up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. When meat has browned, add back vegetables and deglaze the pan with the wine. Add crushed tomatoes, oregano, pepper, basil, and cinnamon, and then beef stock. Stir to combine, and then taste. Depending on your bacon and stock, you may or may not need to add salt. Let simmer over medium-low heat for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Before serving, add parsley. Serve over pasta with additional parsley for garnish, and a sprinkling of cheese.

For us, this is enough for dinner and leftovers, and for a bit to put in the freezer for dinner another night. It is better the next day. And if you live nearby, you will need it tomorrow because it will still be raining. If you are a cat, the birds will tease you relentlessly as they hide in the branches of the tree just outside your window. Right now we all need our share of meat sauce.

Rapini and sausage with white beans and orecchiette

When we found out that Nick has diabetes, we were  lucky in that we were already eating mostly pretty well, most of the time, cheese and butter and cream aside, and that we didn’t have to make significant dietary changes. I threw out one stale half-bag of poor-quality elbow macaroni that I might have bought at Walmart that dark year I was an intern and had to have three roommates in a basement suite where the front door only kind of locked and where when it rained the water ran into the suite right over the electrical panel. We weren’t going to eat it anyway.

The only thing I really miss now that Nick is restricted is having pasta as a default – not being able to serve up a big plate of refined white carbs when I don’t feel like putting in a real effort, which can happen a couple of times a week, means adapting to a new kind of laziness. And the difference between pasta and something like, say risotto or sushi, which is also white and low on the glycemic index, is that pasta tends to last a couple of meals so you get that good blood-sugar spike a couple of days in a row. Fine for me, shakes and comas for him.

He can still have a small amount of pasta, of course. What he can have is likely what would be considered a normal portion size. And when you get down to comparing labels and noting the varying levels of carbohydrates, the rice pastas and whole-wheat pastas and gluten-free pastas are all similarly bad news carbohydrate-wise; a plate of the whole-wheat stuff is going to affect Captain Diabetes the same way that a plate of the delicious semolina stuff will.

So we adapted. Instead of a big plate of pasta, we have a big plate of stuff with pasta in it if there isn’t enough time to devise a huge and clever feast, or if the idea of opening a cupboard is too daunting to even consider. Here is one of those meals. It calls for blanching, which may qualify as a step that’s too daunting, but it’s really nothing. I promise.

Rapini and sausage with white beans and orecchiette

(Serves four.)

  • 1 lb. rapini, chopped
  • 1 cup uncooked orecchiette pasta
  • 1 lb. spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 19 oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Drop chopped rapini in, and boil for two to three minutes until wilted and brightened in colour. Remove rapini from water, reserving liquid, and plunge into a large bowl of icy water. Set aside.

Return the pot to the heat and bring water back up to a boil.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Cook onions until translucent. Add garlic, then crumble sausage into the pan. Stir with a wooden spoon, breaking the meat up as you go. Add red pepper flakes and tomato paste and continue moving the meat around the pan.

When the water has come to a boil, add pasta and boil until al denté, about eight minutes.

Drain and then add rapini to the pan, stirring to coat in pan juices. As pasta finishes cooking, add beans and lemon zest and juice, then add pasta. Reserve some of the pasta water in case the pan becomes too dry.

Add parsley and cheese. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve with additional cheese.

Something like mujadara, only French, kind of.

Oh, Meatless Monday. If you fell on any other day, I would have a much easier time. Around 2:00 this afternoon, I was pretty sure we were pretty much going to have grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. But the thing about having a food blog is that at least a couple of times each week one must make an effort to eat something interesting, or, at the very least, to pretend that she hasn’t been eating an inordinate number of sandwiches, because eating only sandwiches won’t help anyone out of any rut.

And I am in a rut.

This happens every so often, usually during the longest-feeling part of a season when I really just don’t feel like eating whatever’s in season any longer. At the start of winter I cannot get enough root vegetables; by the end of February, the rose in my cheeks isn’t the brisk arctic air but too goddamn many beets. There will be radishes soon, and asparagus, and pea shoots, and peppery little leaves of watercress. I have never been particularly patient.Also I don’t like the cold, and I am bored with my puffy jacket, and all my boots need to be resoled. Whine, whine, whine. It’s possible that I am laying blame for my rut on the weather and the root vegetables when the problem is me. Nick has indicated that’s likely the case, and that I am a malcontent at my worst, and contrary much of the time. I maintain that I’m charming and delightful, but he did not nod in agreement.

So because we cannot live off of grilled cheese alone, winter vegetables will have to do for now. And why not coax the best out of them?

I first heard about mujadara from Orangette. For the uninitiated, mujadara is a simple dish of rice and lentils bound by the rich sweetness of deeply caramelized onions. Made from pantry staples, it’s comfort food for a dark grey day, and the constant sizzle of onions for close to an hour is soothing, and you can eat it with a side of greens dressed in a squish of lemon and it’s really very nice.

But why stop there? Why not pull out that celery and those carrots that have been languishing in the crisper? Why not add a touch of smoke, a pinch of vigour? Yes. Pinçage. Let’s do that. Here’s a variation on the mujadara theme, a twist that will placate those dull feelings until the first tips of asparagus finally grace your plate.

Rice and lentils with pinçage

(Serves four, or six as a side dish.)

  • 1 1/2 cup basmati rice
  • 1/2 cup French green lentils
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt, divided
  • 2 cups diced onion
  • 1 cup diced carrot
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp. tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium pot, combine rice, lentils, bay leaf, one tablespoon of olive oil, and one teaspoon of salt with four cups cold water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and keep covered.

Meanwhile, heat three tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add onion, carrot, celery, and apple, and cook until onions turn translucent. Turn heat down to medium, and cook slowly, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes to an hour, however long it takes your ingredients to turn golden and soft. Add salt once veggies begin to brown. I let mine go until they’re barely recognizable as their former selves, until they are dark and black in bits and they smell sweet and faintly smokey.

Add the garlic and the tomato paste, allowing it to dry to the bottom of the pan but not to burn. Keep it moving, tossing the veggies to coat in the sauce. When you’ve reached this point, you’ve got a pinçage (although technically a real pinçage wouldn’t have apples in it … technically, shmechnically).

When the bottom of the pan looks pretty dry, add rice and lentil mixture (removing bay leaf). Pour about a cup of water into the pan to deglaze. Doing this will release the flavour of your pinçage into the rice, coating it saucily.

Serve sprinkled with fresh parsley.

Yogurt cheese, smoked salmon, and canneloni.

Oh, this week! I don’t know where it’s gone, and I have two modes and two modes only these past seven days: frantic disorganization and head-bobbing lethargy, neither of which has proven to be particularly sustainable. My arthritis is flaring up again, this time with insistence, and Nick’s always talking about his diabetes, and I’m always telling him how much fibre is in things and we both feel 800-years-old.

Also, if the weird loop of incongruous music in my head is any indication, my internal DJ is totally high (when did that song from Aladdin get mashed up with The Beach Boys and why has either crossed my mind?), and I know we must have eaten something Monday and Tuesday, but I can’t figure out what it was. And the mountains are dark behind a scattered mist and the temperature has dropped and there are rumours of snow, even after I snapped photos of little white buds in a patch of dirt in front of a building around the corner just this past Saturday when we were running around having adventures in light jackets.


Anyway. I made yogurt cheese because the yogurt I like was on sale. (Given my current state of mind, that’s as good a transition as any.) I told you about yogurt cheese a long while back – it comes from this wonderful blog. At first it was a perfectly good spread for bagels, but now is so much more.

This would be best if you made it with hand-rolled sheets of fresh pasta. Second best is store-bought sheets of fresh pasta, which is what I used. Third would be those hard canneloni tubes you get in a box in the dry pasta aisle, but I have never been able to handle those without crushing them like so many taco shells. It’ll take about five sheets, each one cut in half so that it is roughly 4″x3″ (those Olivieri ones will work just fine).

And don’t just cheat and use ricotta. With the yogurt and the lemon and the salmon together, the filling is bright and flavourful. The night before you plan to make this, empty a large container of yogurt (750mL) into a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Tie up the edges, and hang it over the sink overnight (with a bowl underneath to catch  the whey, which is a fantastic addition to soups and bread). Instructions with photos are here. You’ll end up with a little over a cup, maybe a cup and a half, and it should be the consistency of crumbly cream cheese. Refrigerate the stuff until you’re ready to use it.

Smoked salmon canneloni with yogurt cheese

(Serves four.)

Pasta

  • 5 sheets fresh pasta, 8″x6″ (approximately)
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 leek, 1″ thick, white and light-green part only, chopped
  • 1 batch yogurt cheese (about 1 1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup smoked salmon, flaked and packed
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1/4 cup parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten

Sauce

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Melt butter in a pan over medium-high heat. When bubbling, add leek and garlic. Cook for one minute, until garlic is fragrant and leek has brightened in colour. Remove from heat.

In a medium bowl, mush together yogurt cheese, smoked salmon, and lemon zest and juice. Use a fork – the best mushing is usually done with a fork. Pour buttery garlicky leeks into the bowl, and add parsley, salt, and pepper, stir, and taste. Adjust seasonings as needed. When you like what you’re tasting, stir in the egg. Set aside.

Ready pasta for rolling according to package instructions. For store-bought fresh pasta, you may need to soak it for a couple of minutes in cold water. Trim to about 4″x3″.

Bring light cream to just a simmer. Remove from heat. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic, and cook until translucent. Add crushed tomatoes. Once the tomatoes begin to burble and steam, reduce heat to medium and carefully stir in cream, slowly and in a steady stream, stirring until fully incorporated. Remove from heat.

Coat the bottom of a glass or enameled 9″x13″ baking dish with a thin layer of sauce.

Scoop 1/4 cup filling into the centre of each piece of pasta. Roll into loose cylinders, and place side by side into the pan. Once you have run out of room on the first layer, coat the tops with sauce, and continue laying rolls in a second layer. Coat the whole thing with remaining sauce, then cover with aluminum foil.

Bake covered for 35 minutes, then remove foil and cook uncovered for an additional 10 minutes. Serve sprinkled with fresh parsley.

I served the pasta over a bed of wilted chard, which turned out to be a nice way to balance the flavours of the dish, the earthiness of the greens tempering the acidity and smoke of the pasta. It would also go nicely with salad.

Butternut squash and chickpea curry.

At 8:15 every morning when I walk down Granville Street to Broadway to take the bus to work, the ladies in the kitchen at Vij’s have already been at work for awhile, and the neighbourhood smells like onions frying in butter, and garlic and ginger, and slow-simmering curries warmed with cumin and cinnamon and pepper that make me want to quit my job and my apartment to spend my days hovering over their shoulders, taking deep breaths and sneaking tastes right from the pan. The aroma hangs in the air over three blocks, and is only stopped by the grease stink from the McDonalds on Broadway; if no one there was frying fries (or, at that hour, Egg McMuffins), I think the smell from Vij’s would go on forever.

But this is not a love letter to Vij’s, because Vij does not need that sort of thing, especially not from me. And besides, I can’t afford to eat there all that often, and I have reached the age where don’t care how good something is, I’d mostly prefer to not have to wait in lines. And for Indian food the way (and price) I think it should be, there are very few places in the city that meet my expectations; I know to go to the suburbs for the good stuff.

More often than not, though, it’s not a special dish I’m after. The thing about those spices and that smell in the air is that they are suggestive of a whole range of flavours. The smell of garam masala is not specific to a dish, at least to me, but is suggestive more of a feeling, which is perhaps why I crave it so strongly during these long dark months. I like the warmth a warm bowl of curry brings; I like the smell of it in my apartment, the way the aroma assembles itself in layers, beginning with garlic and ginger and finishing with coconut, cilantro, or a squeeze of fresh lime. I like the way that turmeric turns a pot of onions golden, the way that tomato colours it orange, and the way herbs at the very end brighten as they touch the heat of the dish.

Curry makes me happy. And so, after crossing 11th Avenue this morning and smelling Vij’s ginger and onions and garlic and feeling so very tired for a Thursday, I resolved to come home and throw together something equal parts nourishing and delicious. That I spent the day teetering and clomping around in too-high heels and encased in control-top pantyhose and a dress with no stretch fibres made the satisfaction of sitting down to a hot, saucy dinner all the greater.

What follows is a recipe for a curry that makes the most of your pantry staples and any butternut squash you might have been hording for however long. It’s spicy but also sweet, and a glorious colour that’s sure to liven up a dull grey day.

Butternut squash and chickpea curry

(Serves four.)

  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 heaping tbsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tbsp. garam masala
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. fenugreek
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 lb. butternut squash, diced
  • 1 19 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 14 oz. can coconut milk
  • 1 14 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 lime, zested plus 1 tbsp. juice
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus additional for garnish
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large pan over medium-high heat, warm oil and add onion, jalapeño pepper, garlic, and ginger. Sauté until onions are translucent and jalapeño pepper has brightened in colour. Add garam masala, red pepper flakes, fenugreek, turmeric, and pepper. Stir to coat onion mixture thoroughly, and cook for two minutes.

Add diced squash and chickpeas, stir, then add coconut milk, tomatoes, and lime zest and juice. Stir to coat squash in curry mixture, then reduce to medium heat, cover, and let cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until squash has softenened. Stir occasionally.

Once squash has softened, taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Add scallions and cilantro, and serve over rice with an additional sprinkling of cilantro for colour.

I apologize again for the unusually poor photos; Mom and Dad have come to the rescue with a belated Christmas present in camera form, but it doesn’t arrive until tomorrow. After then, prepare to be amazed. Also, don’t forget to vote for Well fed, flat broke in the Canadian Food Blog Awards!