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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Home on the Range: Harvest-Stuffed Squash

Posted By on Tue, Nov 17, 2020 at 11:21 AM

Harvest-Stuffed Squash packed up for a friend - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Harvest-Stuffed Squash packed up for a friend
When my now 23-year-old son was about half that age, he was obsessed with soccer. One day, he asked me if I loved cooking as much as he loved playing soccer.

I remember thinking about it for a minute and recognizing — somewhat belatedly, to be honest — that it wasn't so much the act of cooking I loved, but cooking for people.

There is something satisfying about taking raw ingredients and dicing and slicing and sautéing and simmering up something delicious. But it's seeing the faces of friends and family gathered around a table — or outdoor firepit —enjoying that food and each other that brings me the most joy.

As of recent days, our in-person circles have shrunk drastically. I'm grieving the loss of  serving up warm soups and stews to small groups of friends (safely distanced) outdoors, though I understand why it is necessary. It's really a minor hardship in the bigger picture.

But just because we can't be together in person, that doesn't mean I can't cook for others.

On Sunday afternoon, I simmered up a big pot of Mexican-style meatball soup for my book club and packaged containers of soup and garnishes. A friend made us all margaritas. Over Zoom and bowls of the same soup, we talked about the book but also about how we were all managing — and struggling, too.

A couple of weeks ago, I made a "welcome baby" meal for another friend. This, at least, is cooking I'm used to doing without being present when it is eaten — although I missed peeking at the newborn and hugging the new parents.

My kitchen was filled with the comforting smells of roasting squash and onions and garlic slowly caramelizing. It felt so good to package up the stuffed squash along with my own garden-grown broccoli and know that it was going to nourish the newly expanded family.

I have already decided that I will bake my normal big batch of our traditional Thanksgiving squash rolls even though I'm only cooking for three this year. I plan to make little care packages of the golden rolls and drop them off on the doorsteps of a few friends.

It seems kind of obvious, but when we feed others, we are also feeding ourselves in a different way.

Harvest-Stuffed Squash

Makes 6 servings
This recipe is completely flexible. For the version in the photograph, I used mild turkey sausage and added some cooked wild and brown rice because I had no mushrooms. I also subbed onion for the leek. I skipped the cheese because of lactose-intolerance in my friend's family. For a vegetarian version, I would substitute 2½ cups of cooked brown rice and some toasted almonds for the turkey.

Ingredients

  • 3 small whole winter squash
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 ounces farmed or foraged mushrooms
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 large leek, white and light green parts only, chopped and washed well (sub: onion)
  • 1 pound ground turkey (sub: any ground meat, vegetarian "meat," or 2½ cups cooked rice or quinoa)
  • 1 large apple, cored and diced (no need to peel)
  • 1½ tablespoons minced garlic (about 5 cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, optional
  • ½ cup grated hard cheese (about 2 ounces), such as cave-aged Orb Weaver or Tarentaise from Thistle Hill Farm or Spring Brook Farm

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 400ºF.  Cut each squash in half across the middle and remove the seeds and stringy bits. Cut a small slice off the stem and the blossom ends of pumpkins or acorn squash so the halves can sit flat on their bottoms.
  2. Lightly oil a large rimmed baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of the oil and place the squash on it flesh side down. Roast until tender and cooked all the way through but not collapsed, 25 to 40 minutes. (This can vary widely depending on variety and size of squash.) Remove from the oven and set aside on the baking sheet, but leave the oven on.
  3. Slice or tear the mushrooms into bite-size pieces and toss them in a baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the oil, ½ teaspoon of the salt and a few grinds of the black pepper. Roast at the same time as the squash until golden and a little crisp at the edges, 15 to 25 minutes depending on the mushroom variety (button mushrooms will take the longest).
  4. While the squash and mushrooms are roasting, warm the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the carrot and leek and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leek has softened and turns golden, 6 to 8 minutes.
  5. Add the turkey, the apple, the garlic, the remaining 1 teaspoon of the salt, and the smoked paprika, if using. Mix well and cook, stirring occasionally to break up the meat, until the turkey is cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the mushrooms. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
  6. Turn the roasted squash halves onto their bottoms on the rimmed baking sheet. Fill each half generously with the turkey mixture and top each with a sprinkle of the cheese. Return to the oven to melt the cheese and warm through, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

Source: The Little Local Vermont Cookbook: Recipes for Classic Dishes by Melissa Pasanen
Got cooking questions? Email pasanen@sevendaysvt.com.

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Monday, October 19, 2020

Home on the Range: Zucchini Hot Dish

Posted By on Mon, Oct 19, 2020 at 3:15 PM

Zucchini hot dish - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Zucchini hot dish
I have reluctantly started to clean up my vegetable and herb gardens. It's not like putting off cleanup will deter the steady march towards winter, but I have been procrastinating to prolong the growing season as long as possible.

This past weekend, I finally pulled out all my tomato plants and have tons of green cherry tomatoes. I plan to pickle some and make another batch of green tomato salsa.

In my main garden, a few broccoli heads remain standing and the squash vine that completely took over during late summer is still doing its Jack and the Beanstalk thing.
Trombetta di Albenga growing in the garden - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Trombetta di Albenga growing in the garden

The variety is Trombetta di Albenga, described on the seed packet as an "heirloom climbing summer squash." It is both amazingly prolific and smile-provoking with long, tubular curvy squash that end in a bulbous swelling.

The fruits look more like balloon creatures gone wild than trumpets, the musical instrument for which they were named.

In the kitchen, it is the best kind of summer squash: mild, a little nutty, not seedy and never watery. I've cubed and roasted it, cut it into matchsticks and stir-fried it, sliced and ribboned it into raw salads, and diced it to fold into omelettes and bake into frittatas.

Trombetta di Albenga in the kitchen - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Trombetta di Albenga in the kitchen
I have given away many of these squash and still have a bunch on the vine that I need to bring in. I understand it can be stored like a winter squash, so we will see how that goes.

Most recently, I used some of my mother lode in a recipe for Zucchini Hot Dish sent to me by a reader, Patty Thomas of Colchester.

She had me at hot dish. I was further enamored by the use of hamburg to describe ground beef, a classic New England term my mother-in-law introduced me to years ago.

It's all the things a late-fall, one-dish supper should be: homey and comforting and easily made with staples on hand. Plus, it used up a good chunk of a monster trombetta squash.

Zucchini Hot Dish

Serves 4 to 6
The original recipe calls for boiling the zucchini, but I opted to sauté the slices to bump up their flavor with caramelization.

Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more to coat casserole dish
  • 4 cups thinly sliced zucchini
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound hamburg aka ground beef (sub: ground turkey or cooked lentils)
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil (sub: 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil)
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano (sub: 2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano)
  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce (sub: 1½ cups diced fresh tomato)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly oil or butter a 2 to 3-quart casserole dish.
  2. Set a large sauté pan over medium heat with the tablespoon oil. When the oil is warm, add the zucchini slices with ½ teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and just tender, about 6-8 minutes.
  3. Remove the zucchini to a plate and set the sauté pan back over medium-high heat. Add the meat to the pan along with the onion, garlic, basil, oregano and remaining ½ teaspoon salt, plus more grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally to break up meat, until onion is softened and meat is browned, about 8-10 minutes.
  4. Stir in tomato sauce and rice. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. Pull pan off heat.
  5. While the meat is cooking, in a small bowl, beat the egg and then stir in the cottage cheese.
  6. Arrange half of the cooked zucchini slices in the bottom of the prepared casserole dish. Spread the meat and rice mixture evenly over the zucchini. Spread the egg and cottage cheese mixture evenly over the meat and rice. Top with the remaining zucchini and sprinkle with the shredded cheese.
  7. Bake 25-30 minutes until golden and bubbly. Cool a few minutes before serving.
Source: Patty Thomas

Got cooking questions or a favorite family recipe to share? Email pasanen@sevendaysvt.com.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Home on the Range: Green Tomato Salsa

Posted By on Tue, Oct 6, 2020 at 2:20 PM

Green tomato salsa - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Green tomato salsa
Falling leaves are temporarily recarpeting  my front yard, turning it from green to  variegated reds and golds. I'm bargaining with the squirrels and birds for my share of apples from our small tree. And I'm watching the forecast carefully, hoping to pull a few more ripe tomatoes from my garden before frost.

Although green tomatoes can turn red indoors, they never taste quite the same as those ripened on the vine. Each disappointing bite only hammers home the wistful reminder that summer is definitely over.  I prefer to use them in ways that let their true tart and sturdy personality shine.

A recipe recently landed in my in box via Red Wagon Plants in Hinesburg that presented a great option for my green tomatoes: a way to turn them into something delicious with the help of peppers and cilantro from my garden and CSA share.

The recipe for salsa verde comes originally from a website called Local Kitchen and is written for tomatillos, which are similar in taste and texture to green tomatoes. The level of heat from chili peppers and optional chili flakes is up to the maker.

The roughly 5-cup yield is small enough that prep doesn't take long, and you don't need to get involved in the multi-step process of canning. I gifted one large jar and the remaining one will last several weeks in the fridge.

I can think of many ways to deploy this salsa: slathered over grilled seafood, chicken, pork or any type of burger; dolloped onto tacos, grain bowls or eggs; and spread generously on cheese or hummus sandwiches.

In fact, now I'm kind of annoyed with myself that I didn't double the recipe as the Red Wagon blog encourages. 
Ingredients for green tomato salsa - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Ingredients for green tomato salsa

Green Tomato Salsa

Makes about 5 cups

Ingredients
  • 4 cups finely chopped green tomatoes (about 2 pounds)
  • ½ cup finely diced red onion
  • ½ cup seeded and finely diced bell peppers (any color)
  • ¼-½ cup seeded and minced chili peppers (to taste and depending on heat level of peppers)
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons cider vinegar (sub: white wine vinegar)
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup, optional (sub: 1 teaspoon sugar)
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • ¾ teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste
  • ¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
  • ¼ teaspoon chili flakes, optional
Directions
  1. Combine all ingredients except for cilantro in a large, heavy-bottomed pot set over high heat. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to an active simmer.
  2. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes until the vegetables have broken down and the salsa has thickened slightly.
  3. Stir in the cilantro and return the mixture to a simmer. Taste and add salt or increase heat level with chili flakes as desired.
  4. Pour into clean jars and cool on counter before refrigerating. If canning for pantry storage, Local Kitchen has a good guide.
Source: Slightly adapted from Red Wagon Plants and Local Kitchen.

Got cooking questions? Email pasanen@sevendaysvt.com

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Thursday, October 1, 2020

Home on the Range: Farro with Roasted Squash and Sage-Brown Butter Dressing

Posted By on Thu, Oct 1, 2020 at 12:10 PM

Farro with roasted squash and broccoli and sage-brown butter dressing - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Farro with roasted squash and broccoli and sage-brown butter dressing
Meal planning can be a creative challenge but it can also be a chore. Sometimes I'm lucky and the universe tells me what to make for dinner.

Most recently that occurred when the universe sent me several messages over the course of a few days.

First, I interviewed acclaimed author Jonathan Safran Foer about his most recent book, We are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast, in advance of his University of Vermont George D. Aiken Lecture on October 8.

Among the things Foer and I discussed were what he had eaten for breakfast: nothing, because he doesn't eat breakfast, making his book subtitle a tad disingenuous.
I also asked him what he had eaten for dinner the preceding night: spinach and herb pie with roasted potatoes and farro. After being impressed by his complete disregard for the low-carb frenzy, I thought, Hmmm ... farro. I haven't made that lately.

Scrolling through Instagram a few days later, my eye landed on a beautiful photo from Farmhouse Pottery in Woodstock of a farro salad with roasted butternut squash and sage-brown butter dressing. Hmmm... farro. I haven't made that lately, I mused again.

The recipe called for 2 cups of farro and it turned out that was exactly the amount I had left in my larder. I also happened to have delicata squash from my CSA share and plenty of sage in my garden.

We've been trying to eat a few more plant-centric meals each week. You can't really argue with eating more vegetables and whole grains. There's also the point Foer makes forcefully in his book: Americans in general eat too much meat, and industrial livestock farming has contributed significantly to the climate crisis.

But who am I kidding? It was all about the brown butter.

I built on the Farmhouse Pottery recipe by adding roasted broccoli along with the squash and also stirring some sherry vinegar into the brown butter, shallot, maple and sage dressing for acidity and balance.

The nutty, chewy farro cooked in about 30 minutes, about the time it took for the squash and broccoli to caramelize nicely in a hot oven. While those cooked, I sliced up shallots, picked the sage leaves and made the warm dressing on the stovetop. It all went in a big bowl with toasted pecans and a scattering of Vermont goat feta. 

Thank you, Jonathan Safran Foer, Farmhouse Pottery and the universe.

Farro with Roasted Squash and Sage-Brown Butter Dressing

Serves 4-6 as a main course

Ingredients
  • 2¼ teaspoons coarse salt, divided, plus more to taste
  • 1 large delicata squash, seeded and sliced into half moons (sub: any winter squash, peeled, seeded and cubed)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 head broccoli, including leaves and stems, cut into bite size pieces (sub: cauliflower)
  • 2 cups uncooked farro (sub: wheat berries, quinoa or brown rice; note wheat berries and brown rice will take longer to cook)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • About 10 medium sage leaves sliced or scissored into ribbons
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar (sub: red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar)
  • 1 cup toasted, chopped pecans
  • ½ cup crumbled goat cheese, such as feta
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Fill a large pot with water and add 1 teaspoon of salt. Set the pot over high heat and bring to a boil.
  2. On a rimmed sheet pan, toss the squash with 1 tablespoon olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt and several grinds of freshly ground pepper. On a second rimmed sheet pan, toss the broccoli with the remaining tablespoon olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper.
  3. Roast the vegetables, turning once, for about 25-30 minutes until they are cooked and a little caramelized.
  4. When the pot of water has come to a boil, add the farro and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook about 20-30 minutes until farro is  tender to the bite but not mushy. (This will vary depending on age of farro.)
  5. While everything is cooking, make the dressing. In a medium sauté or frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and increase heat to medium high. Cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are softened and golden, about 5 minutes.
  6. Stir in the sage leaves and cook another 2-3 minutes until the butter starts browning. Stir in the maple syrup and sherry vinegar and cook to reduce slightly, about 2 minutes. Add ¼ teaspoon salt.
  7. Put the hot cooked farro in a big bowl and pour the sage-brown butter dressing over it. Add the pecans and toss to combine. Taste and add salt or pepper as desired. Top with roasted vegetables and crumbled feta.
Source: adapted from Farmhouse Pottery
Got cooking questions? Email pasanen@sevendaysvt.com.

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Monday, September 14, 2020

Home on the Range: Five Spice Café Sesame Peanut Noodles

Posted By on Mon, Sep 14, 2020 at 4:56 PM

Homemade version of Five Spice Café sesame peanut noodles - MELISSAS PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissas Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Homemade version of Five Spice Café sesame peanut noodles
Spanning more than two decades starting in 1985, Five Spice Café on lower Church Street built a fiercely dedicated fan base for its pan-Asian menu.

Beyond iconic dishes like Evil Jungle Prince curry redolent of coconut and kaffir limes leaves, the restaurant was known for jazz memorabilia, dim sum brunch and the outsize personality of co-owner Jerry Weinberg.

Weinberg and his business partner (and ex-wife) Ginger Hobbs sold their restaurant in late 2006 to Samuel Palmisano. Shortly thereafter, Five Spice was gutted by a devastating fire and Palmisano decided to move on to start his own Italian restaurant, Pulcinella's in South Burlington.

Regular customers continued to dream of menu classics like cold sesame peanut noodles, Siu Mai dumplings and Five Spice fritters — described as "four fat little pancakes made out of scallions, onions, leeks, cilantro, eggs and bread."

Weinberg passed away in January 2019. For several years before that, Weinberg and Hobbs' daughter, Cheryl Herrick of Burlington, worked with her dad to occasionally stir up batches of some of the restaurant's signature sauces for sale under the label Dragon and Daughter.

Other than that, fans were out of luck — until now.

A new blog Five Spice Café: Recipes from the Vault, launched last month to help those who still crave their Five Spice favorites and are willing to tackle the recipes in their own kitchens.

John Canning, a longtime fan and friend of the Five Spice family, has been adding recipes gradually from a box of several hundred that survived the fire.
"The goal is to put the recipes into the public domain, so that people can enjoy them!" Canning wrote in an email.

(Canning spins a funny tale about winning the recipes from Palmisano in a game of strip poker. He admitted that was not exactly how it happened, but rather a nod to Weinberg's sense of humor.)

Like many restaurant recipes, the ingredients, quantities and professional kitchen shorthand do not always translate easily for home cooks.

With the assistance of Hobbs, Herrick, Palmisano and former Five Spice staff, Canning has been working his way through the recipes to make them accessible for all.

"It took quite a bit of trial and error to figure out how many cups of mushrooms were really in a 'bucket,'" Canning said, referring to the recipe for Siu Mai dumplings made with pork, shrimp and Chinese mushrooms and "secret spices," which turned out to be peanut butter.

Of those posted so far, Canning said, the Southeast Asian chicken curry and sesame peanut noodles have been the most popular. Five Spice fritters and Siu Mai are close behind.

"My mom and I are delighted, if quite nostalgic, about the recipes [being shared]," Herrick wrote in an email.

Many have quirky details , she said, like the  fritters, which call for French rolls in the written recipe. For the restaurant, she divulged, "Mike Williams of Kountry Kart [Deli] gave us the bread ends from sandwich-making."

Herrick did concede that it feels a little
Ingredients for Five Spice Cafe sesame peanut noodles - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Ingredients for Five Spice Cafe sesame peanut noodles
 weird to see the recipes her father guarded so closely go out into the world. But, she said, she and Hobbs are "very glad to get more people more happy with access to delicious food."




Five Spice Café Sesame Peanut Sauce for Noodles

Makes about 4½  cups (can be halved)

Ingredients
  • ¾ cup light soy sauce (not low sodium but traditional light soy sauce versus dark; standard supermarket soy will work)
  • ½ cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup neutral vegetable oil (the recipe calls for soybean oil)
  • ¼ cup sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons hot chili oil
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic (this is coarser than garlic powder, but you can sub the latter; use a little less and add more to taste)
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup tahini
  • ¾ cup hot black tea

Directions
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, water and vegetable oil.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together the sesame oil, hot chili oil, sugar and garlic until the latter two are dissolved.
  3. In a food processor or stand mixer, blend the peanut butter and tahini. Add in the hot black tea and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed.
  4. With the machine running, add the sesame oil mixture until blended.
  5. With the machine running, gradually add the soy mixture until fully incorporated.
  6. To use for cold noodles, cook fresh or dried egg noodles, or pasta of choice. Drain  and toss with a little sesame oil to prevent sticking and coat with some of the sesame peanut sauce. Once cooled, toss with more sauce to taste. (Extra sauce can be refrigerated or frozen. You may need to re-blend to emulsify it.)
Note: This is the version on the recipe card, though Ginger Hobbs notes that Jerry Weinberg used red wine vinegar rather than rice wine vinegar, and chopped fresh garlic instead of granulated garlic. Also, he omitted the chili oil, so that customers could add hot sauce to taste.

Got cooking questions? Email pasanen@sevendaysvt.com.

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Monday, August 31, 2020

Home on the Range: Zucchini-Herb Butter

Posted By on Mon, Aug 31, 2020 at 10:02 AM

Zucchini-herb butter - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Zucchini-herb butter
Late-summer zucchini is the Rodney Dangerfield of vegetables. It gets no respect.

As in, "Make sure you lock your car doors and barricade your front porch against neighbors trying to rid themselves of  green monsters that balloon to the size of baseball bats overnight."

In truth, really huge zucchini are not good for much. They tend to be spongey, seed-filled and so mild in flavor that they don't add anything to whatever recipe you try desperately to hide them in.

But merely large zucchini are well deployed in this unctuous zucchini butter. Coarsely chopped zucchini (and summer squash if you like) is stewed slowly in olive oil with a touch of butter, along with generous amounts of garlic and fresh herbs.
Cooking down zucchini and summer squash - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Cooking down zucchini and summer squash

The resulting soft spread has a million uses. It can be smeared on toast and dotted with fresh goat cheese to make bruschetta, tossed with roasted cherry tomatoes and pasta, used as a base sauce for homemade pizza, slathered on veggie or meat burgers, or used to top grilled salmon.

The best part is that the recipe reduces two pounds of zucchini to one pint of concentrated goodness. Divide it into smaller jars, which are way easier to sneak into your neighbor's car and I guarantee will be appreciated.
Mashing cooked zucchini and summer squash - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Mashing cooked zucchini and summer squash

Zucchini-Herb Butter

Makes 2 cups (2 half-pint jars)

Ingredients
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 5 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
  • 2 large zucchini (about 2 pounds), coarsely chopped (remove seeds if they're very big)
  • ½ teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste
  • A few grinds black pepper
  • Finely chopped leaves from 5 to 6 sprigs fresh thyme (slivered basil would also be good)
  • Couple splashes dry white wine, optional
  • Squeeze fresh lemon juice, optional
Directions
  1. Set a large skillet over medium heat and melt the olive oil and butter.
  2. Add the garlic, zucchini, ½ teaspoon salt and pepper to the skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini starts to soften, 15-20 minutes.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium low and stir in the thyme leaves.
  4. Continue to cook, stirring often, until the zucchini is completely soft, another 25-30 minutes. (I like to use a potato masher to coax it along.) If the zucchini starts to stick, add a splash of white wine or water.
  5. When the zucchini is cooked, taste and add a little more salt and a squeeze of lemon juice, as desired.
Source: Adapted from Preserving by the Pint by Marisa McClellan (Running Press, 2014).
Got cooking questions? Feel free to email pasanen@sevendaysvt.com.

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Monday, August 17, 2020

Home on the Range: Breakfast Popsicles

Posted By on Mon, Aug 17, 2020 at 4:00 PM

Vermont berry breakfast popsicles - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Vermont berry breakfast popsicles
Yes, you can eat popsicles for breakfast. And yes, the recipe below for those breakfast popsicles might just be your wildest childhood dreams come true, as Shelburne-based food blogger Lee Corbett puts it.

Corbett's blog, the Rogue Brussel Sprout, aims to create a resource for healthy fruit and vegetable-centric recipes. When she read Seven Days' story about Arealles Ortiz of Curly Girl Pops in Montpelier, Corbett recognized a kindred culinary spirit with a similar mission to combine the delicious with the nutritious.

She reached out to Ortiz and the resulting collaboration is these super-flexible, maple-sweetened berry and banana popsicles made with whatever berries and plant-based milk you have on hand.

Popsicles in process - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Popsicles in process
The recipe does call for a high-power blender, and although mine is pretty strong, it definitely took some patience — and some extra coconut milk — to get it all blended smoothly together. If you don't have a really strong blender, I suggest trying the unfrozen banana option.

The pair's goal, Corbett said, was to come up with a recipe that is nutritious, easy and fun for all ages.

My current houseful of twentysomething "kids" helped a little in the making and a lot in the taste-testing. Needless to say, the popsicles earned a big thumbs up.

Berry-Banana Breakfast Popsicles

Makes 10 small popsicles

Ingredients
  • 2 cups frozen berries (I used about ⅔ blueberries and ⅓ cranberries)
  • 1 frozen banana, cut into pieces, or fresh banana if your blender is not very powerful
  • ½ cup unsweetened plant-based milk (I used coconut milk and needed about another 3 tablespoons to get everything to blend together)
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • Optional add-ins: ground cinnamon, fresh herbs, fresh grated ginger (I used about 1 tablespoon for mine), dollop of unsweetened yogurt, dollop of nut butter
  • Optional toppings: unsweetened yogurt plus  granola, chopped nuts, seeds or drizzle of nut butter (I used maple yogurt with unsweetened coconut flakes and granola)
Directions
  1. Combine berries, banana, plant-based milk, maple syrup and any optional add-ins in a high-power blender. Blend until the mixture is creamy and smooth, adding more plant-based milk as needed.
  2. Pour the mixture into popsicle molds or paper cups. (I used 3-ounce paper cups and filled them about ⅔ full.)
  3. Freeze the popsicles for about 60 to 90 minutes until you can insert the popsicle sticks about ⅔ way in and they stay centered and upright.
  4. Freeze overnight until fully frozen. If using popsicle molds, run the molds under hot water for 30 seconds to loosen them. If using paper cups, snip or tear at the rim before pulling them gently off.
  5. If desired, dip the frozen popsicles in yogurt and then dip or sprinkle them with optional toppings. Re-freeze for another hour.
  6. Popsicles keep in a tightly sealed container in the freezer for about a week.
Source: Adapted from the Rogue Brussel Sprout and Curly Girl Pops.
Got cooking questions? Feel free to email pasanen@sevendaysvt.com.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Home on the Range: A Big Bowl of Lentils

Posted By on Tue, Aug 11, 2020 at 10:28 AM

A big bowl of lentils with grilled red onions and cherry tomatoes - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • A big bowl of lentils with grilled red onions and cherry tomatoes
I owe the discovery of this easy, delicious and incredibly versatile way to prepare lentils to my Seven Days colleague, Margaret Grayson.

Margaret has fallen in love with lentils, she told me.  "They just sop up whatever flavor you want, like healthy little sponges." On a recent backpacking trip, she packed pink lentils and spices as a lightweight dinner.

This particular recipe calls for the tiny, dark green lentils that cook quickly and hold their shape.  They are sometimes called French lentils or indigo lentils. (I buy them from the bulk section at City Market.) Beluga lentils, which are almost black, will also work well.

While the pot simmers, you whisk together a  dressing of good vinegar and olive oil with a touch of honey, paprika and salt to pour over the hot, drained lentils. They drink up the dressing eagerly, as most of us would. The nutty lentils pair beautifully with the  mellow acidity and hint of sweet and spice.

It may not sound like much, but that's like saying that a favorite pair of fits-just-right jeans is nothing special. You can dress them up; you can dress them down. They are, in fact, indispensable.

The recipe takes less than 30 minutes from start to finish; most of that is hands-off while the lentils cook. Over the last month, I have already made them three times. It is the kind of chameleon recipe that can shape-shift to go with whatever you have on hand.

You can eat the lentils straight, but it is more fun and rewarding to create all manner of one-bowl meals built on their sturdy foundation. Aside from providing a nutritious base, lentils are also naturally gluten-free and vegan. (Use maple syrup instead of honey if needed.)

These lentils have already played a humble but critical supporting role for the vegetables and herbs currently cascading in abundance from my garden and farm share.

I first tossed them with grilled baby red onions and halved cherry tomatoes. I then embellished the lentils with grilled zucchini, feta and loads of fresh oregano. Finally, I charred up several bunches of fat scallions, chopped them coarsely and then didn't have time to thinly slice the fennel bulbs I'd been planning to add before my guests arrived. It was still delicious.

The only slight drawback is that their drab army green pallor is not particularly pretty, so if serving for guests, I do recommend adding something bright for color.

Margaret and I both owe thanks to recipe developer and food writer Anna Stockwell of Epicurious. Here is the link to her recipe from March 2020. Below, find some more ideas I'm dreaming about for future batches.

Marinated Lentil Salad Inspiration

  • Fresh or roasted corn kernels + ribboned basil + shaved Pecorino
  • Small pasta shapes + diced bell peppers + bocconcini mozzarella balls + flat leaf parsley
  • Cubed roasted eggplant tossed in a little chili powder and cumin + chopped olives + dollops of plain whole milk yogurt + cilantro
  • Chunks of steamed sweet potato + pickled red onion (credit to Margaret for this one; I think arugula would be great with this combo)
  • Grilled halloumi + pickled mild peppers + golden raisins
  • Lemon-garlic grilled shrimp, scallops or chicken + diced orange segments + toasted pistachios
Got cooking questions? Feel free to email pasanen@sevendaysvt.com.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Home on the Range: Blueberry Shortbread Bars

Posted By on Tue, Aug 4, 2020 at 6:20 PM

Blueberry shortbread bars - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Blueberry shortbread bars
Picking blueberries is high on my summer bucket list. That list also includes cooling myself off in as many Vermont rivers as I can.

A recent visit to Covered Bridge Blueberry Farm in Underhill checked off both so perfectly that I just might have to head back there before the end of blueberry season later this month.

This lovely, almost 3-acre berry patch is under its first year of ownership by friends of friends. They are transitioning to organic, so the berries are unsprayed but the farm is not yet certified.

After driving over the Browns River on, yes, a covered bridge, we found easy picking with a striking view of Mount Mansfield. (And after we'd picked, we found cool refreshment in the river under the bridge.)

The bushes were weighed down with four different varieties of berries, and I picked more than I could reasonably deal with given my schedule.

I did freeze some in a single layer on rimmed baking sheets before bagging them up. (This prevents them from turning into a single, solid frozen mass.) But space in both my freezer and fridge are at a premium this time of year, so I had to figure out something else stat. 
Freshly picked blueberries - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Freshly picked blueberries
Enter one of the simplest baked summer berry recipes in my arsenal.

The original recipe comes from a friend who I watched pull it together in about 10 minutes about a decade ago at her family's summer place. I've since tweaked it a tiny bit and renamed it; they called it sheet pie, but, while delicious, it's not even a remote cousin to pie, in my view.

The recipe remains quick to make and a sure hit topped with vanilla ice cream. Over the years, I've also made it with sliced peaches arranged overlapping like fish scales (that takes longer than 10 minutes). I'm sure it would work with other berries, such as raspberries and blackberries, as well.

Deep in Vermont winter, I will try to remember where I stashed those frozen blueberries to make it again and evoke sunny berry-picking, river-dipping days.

Blueberry Shortbread Bars

Makes about 35 roughly 2-inch-square bars

Ingredients
For the crust:
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter, preferably unsalted, cut into pieces
  • 3 cups flour
  • generous pinch fine salt (omit if using salted butter)
For the filling:
  • 2 ½ pints blueberries
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
To serve:
  • Confectioners' sugar
  • Vanilla ice cream
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Make the crust: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt, if using. Pulse at least a dozen times until the mixture forms rough crumbles and a pinch holds together between your fingers. (Alternately, use a pastry fork or your hands to mix to the same consistency.)
  3. Tip the dough into a large rimmed cookie sheet (either 16 by 12 or 15 by 10 inches). With your hands, press the dough out evenly to cover the bottom of the pan.
  4. Make the filling: In a large bowl, toss together the blueberries, vanilla, sugar, flour and cinnamon.
  5. Spread the berry mixture evenly across the crust.
  6. Bake for about 35 minutes until the berries are collapsed and jammy. (If you can see any crust, it should be light golden-brown.)
  7. Cool the bars in the pan and dust them with confectioners' sugar right before serving with vanilla ice cream.
Source: adapted from the Singer family

Got cooking questions? Feel free to email pasanen@sevendaysvt.com.

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Monday, July 27, 2020

Home on the Range: Chopped Taco Salad

Posted By on Mon, Jul 27, 2020 at 6:20 PM

Chopped taco salad - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Chopped taco salad
It's been a minute, or several, since I wrote one of these columns about cooking with my brother-in-law, Conor. As a refresher, Con had been trying to learn how to cook for his expectant wife, Julia, my youngest sister, throughout lockdown.

I have been trying to help by cooking with him over video calls.  Overall, I'd say we've made some progress, as judged by Julia's grades of the resulting meals.

Since the last episode of Cooking with Conor, as we call it, the very good news is that they have welcomed their daughter into the world. She is small but mighty and everyone is doing well, if a little tired.

Corn, black bean and tomato mixture - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Corn, black bean and tomato mixture
As any parent will tell you, adding a newborn to your life leaves little room for other activities. Recalling my own experience years ago, I remember sometimes feeling like there was no time to eat, let alone cook.

We did, however, manage to squeak in a cooking session a few weeks ago. The recipe, a chopped taco salad, had been planned pre-birth but was bumped out a couple weeks when the baby decided to arrive a week or so early.

It was inspired by one of Julia's favorite food items — tacos — and by the desire for minimal heat in the kitchen during very hot weather.

The only effort? A fair bit of chopping, some frying of ground beef and whisking of dressing.

Juggling new baby with cooking - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Juggling new baby with cooking
The recipe from thekitchn.com, upon which I loosely based this taco salad, calls for frying strips of corn tortillas. That seemed completely unnecessary, what with babies and heat waves.  Crumbled tortilla chips for Conor, and Fritos in my case, did just fine.

Obviously, you can make this with whatever mix of vegetables you have on hand. Cucumber, radishes and shredded red cabbage would be great. Leftover shredded chicken, sliced steak or even cooked diced shrimp tossed with a little taco seasoning could sub for the ground beef.

While not the prettiest dish I've ever served, it was fresh, crunchy and just-right spicy. My new niece, via her mama, gave it a B+. I can't wait to start cooking with her in a few years.

Chopped Taco Salad

Serves about 4

Ingredients
For the dressing:
  • 1 cup plain whole milk yogurt (not Greek) plus olive oil to taste, or 1 cup sour cream plus freshly squeezed lime juice to taste
  • ½ cup tomato salsa
  • 1 teaspoon taco seasoning or for a homemade version: combine 2 tablespoons chili powder, 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1½ teaspoons garlic powder, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon coarse salt, ½ teaspoon ground black pepper (you'll have more than you need for this recipe but use amounts as specified and save the rest for another use)
  • Salt to taste
For the salad:
  • 6 medium scallions, thinly sliced, or 1 diced small red onion
  • 1 ½ cups fresh corn kernels, or 1 (15-ounce) can corn kernels, drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 bell pepper, any color, cored and diced
  • 1 pint halved cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1 small head romaine, chopped into thin ribbons
For the beef:
  • 1 pound lean ground beef, or ground turkey
  • 2 tablespoons taco seasoning, or use homemade version made from recipe above
  • ¼ cup tomato salsa
 For serving:
  • Crumbled tortilla chips
  • Crumbled feta or queso fresco, or shredded cheese, such as cheddar
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Directions
Make the dressing:
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the yogurt, olive oil, salsa and 1 teaspoon taco seasoning. Add salt to taste.
  2. Set dressing aside.
Make the salad:
  1. In a large bowl, combine the scallions, corn kernels, black beans, bell pepper and tomatoes. Add about half of the dressing and toss to coat.
  2. In a serving bowl, place the ribboned romaine and top with the corn-bean mixture.
Make the beef:
  1. In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, brown the ground beef with the taco seasoning, breaking up any clumps.
  2. When beef is well cooked, about 8-10 minutes, stir in salsa and cook another minute or two.
Finish and serve:
  1. Top greens and corn-bean mixture with warm ground beef and top with crumbled tortilla chips, cheese and cilantro.
  2. Serve remaining dressing on the side.
Got cooking questions? Feel free to email them to pasanen@sevendaysvt.com.

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