ZUCCHISAGNA: A TWIST ON A CLASSIC

I don’t think there is such a thing as a person who doesn’t like lasagna. I may have already mentioned that the technician of the lab where I did my PhD in Brazil did not like chocolate nor french fries. Outrageous! She still loved lasagna, proving the point I just made. I hope you’ll let this stretch in Logic 101 slide… ūüėČ Anyway, I am a lover of this Italian classic, but it’s one of those dishes that can make you feel super full at the end of the meal, even if you exercise severe portion control. Layers of pasta with bechamel, meat sauce, usually a pound of cheese per square inch…. I never order it in restaurants, and confess to making it at home only once in a blue moon. Using thin slices of veggies to play the role of the pasta lightens things up quite a bit. You can use eggplant, butternut squash (Anne Burrell has a great take on this version, BTW), and of course, zucchini as I did here.  A couple of details are important to keep in mind, though. You must pre-cook the zucchini slices or you’ll run the risk of having a watery, unappetizing concoction in your hands. And use a light hand on the cheese.  The delicious meat sauce should be the center of  your attention. Vegetarians? This dish is not for you, sorry. Primal-afficionados? Grab your forks, and dig in!

Zucchisagna1ZUCCHINI RIBBON LASAGNA
(adapted from Martha Stewart)

1 can (28 ounces) whole peeled plum tomatoes, with juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
12 ounces ground turkey, preferably dark meat
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons salt
5 medium zucchini, trimmed
olive oil and lemon juice for brushing zucchini
1 + 1/2  cups full-fat ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Make the sauce: Pulse tomatoes with juice in a food processor until finely chopped. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook shallot and red-pepper flakes, seasoned lightly with salt, stirring occasionally, until shallot is tender. Add turkey; cook, breaking up any large pieces, until browned. Add tomatoes, bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer until thick, about 20 minutes. Stir in oregano and 1 teaspoon of salt. Let cool.

Make the lasagna: heat oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, mix the ricotta with the egg, season with salt and pepper. Reserve. Slice zucchini lengthwise into thin strips (about 1/8 inch thick) using a mandoline or a sharp knife. Brush each slice with a 1:1 mixture of olive oil and lemon juice, and cook on a griddle or grill pan for a few minutes on each side until the slices get some color. Blot on kitchen paper and let them cool to room temperature. Place 5 or 6 zucchini slices, overlapping slightly, in the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish. Top with 1 cup sauce. Dot with ricotta. Repeat twice with zucchini, remaining sauce, and ricotta, alternating direction of zucchini at each layer. Finish with a final layer of zucchini, cover the dish with ricotta, sprinkle the Parmigiano on top.

Bake uncovered until lasagna bubbles and top is nicely brown, about 50 minutes. Let stand for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

composite1

Comments: As I read the recipe from Martha Stewart’s site, a few things bothered me. First, the use of raw zucchini to assemble the lasagna.  In my opinion, that is asking for trouble. Second, the ingredient lists TWO medium zucchini for the full recipe. Unless their zucchini was treated with massive doses of auxins, two won’t be enough.  I used 4 medium zucchini, 50% more ricotta than called for, and my ingredients were enough to assemble a 7-inch square dish instead of an 8-inch.  Of course, some variation is expected, but overall I think the recipe as published in her site had some issues. My version worked great, this was a delicious meal, satisfying without that feeling of “I am going to explode if I don’t go for a walk” often associated with the real lasagna.  Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but… when you want something lighter, try this version. It won’t disappoint you at all…

served1

Dinner is served: Zucchisagna with Baby Greens in Lemony Dressing

ONE YEAR AGO: Ricotta Meatballs

TWO YEARS AGO: Farro Salad with Roasted Leeks

THREE YEARS AGO: It all started with a roof

FOUR YEARS AGO: Carrot and Sweet Potato Puree

FIVE YEARS AGO: Impromptu Pasta Dinner

SPIRALIZER FUN

In five years of blogging, I probably mentioned¬†this before once or twice: I am not too wild about cooking fads, and usually avoid them. ¬†For instance, that one¬†from years ago, foams.¬†¬†You could not go to a restaurant that considered itself slightly upscale without foams bubbling¬†around your plate. ¬†Then we have the more recent bacon-mania.¬†Because 90% of humans adore bacon, all of a sudden bacon started popping up in¬†every single culinary item. ¬†Chocolate-covered bacon?¬† Yes, it is out there! ¬†Bacon ice cream? ¬†Why not? Well, if I have¬†to explain it, I guess we are from different planets. And let’s not get me started on the fried egg topping everything lately. I guess this fad¬†is still in its¬†exponentially growing phase. Having said all that, I am heavily into the spiral cutter thing. And I insist, this is not a fad. It¬†is a nice way to treat vegetables, easy to use, fast to prepare, and a ton of fun to eat. ¬†Zucchini is by far my favorite target,¬† and I’ve shared one of the ways we enjoy it almost weekly, uncooked, bright and fresh. Strands of zucchini can get mushy very quickly when cooked, but now I think I hit the perfect method to deal with them.

ZucchiniPasta1
LEMONY ZUCCHINI NOODLES & WHOLE-WHEAT SPAGHETTI
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

Whole-wheat spaghetti (1/3 of your regular portion)
3 medium zucchini, ends removed, cut in a spiral cutter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced (substitute tomatoes, spinach, anything you feel like)
lemon juice and zest
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water. As the pasta cooks, heat the olive oil, saute the shallot and red bell pepper until the shallots are translucent and with a little bit of color, and the red bell pepper starts to soften. Season lightly with salt, add the zest of the lemon on top of the warm mixture, cover the pan and let it rest while you finish dealing with the pasta.

Ten seconds before the end of cooking time, add the zucchini strands to the pot.  Time ten seconds and immediately drain it, reserving a little of the cooking water.  Return it to the hot, empty pot, add the sautéed shallots and red bell pepper, squeeze a little lemon juice,  toss it all gently, and adjust with pasta cooking water if necessary.   Taste for seasoning, adding ground black pepper if you like.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

One of the things I love about this type of recipe is that you can vary the amount of pasta in it according to your mood or goals.  In the recipe I shared today, zucchini was prominent, pasta played a secondary role.  The resulting meal felt light and bright. A few weeks ago, I went the opposite way, and made the zucchini stay in the background. At that time I added wilted kale and sun-dried tomatoes to the dish. It was slightly heavier, and quite appropriate for the sorry evenings ahead, when the temperature will fall below 90 F, and I will go through a few boxes of Kleenex to deal with it.

zucchinikalepasta

If you are over the fence about getting a spiralizer, jump to the right side, the side where I am ready to play with you. You will not regret it, especially if you have kids who¬†are over the fence about eating their veggies. ¬†They might profess zoodles – like this tasty version from Mike’s blog – ¬†their favorite dish ever!

ONE YEAR AGO: Beer-Marinated Grilled Skirt Steak

TWO YEARS AGO:  Secret Recipe Club: Corn Chowda

THREE YEARS AGO: Page-A-Day Calendar (Pits and Chief 5 minutes of fame…)

FOUR YEARS AGO: Home Sweet Home (our beloved Pits in one of his last photos)

FIVE YEARS AGO: Marbled Rye

CRISPY CHICKPEA AND CAPER SPAGHETTI

Absolutely delicious and a cinch to put together, I dare say that even chickpea haters might appreciate these little creatures when presented this way. ¬†This was my first time roasting capers, but it won’t be the last. Great boost of flavor for an ingredient that already has quite a strong personality.

Pasta with Roasted Chickpeas and Capers
CRISPY CHICKPEA AND CAPER SPAGHETTI
(slightly adapted from Real Simple)

3/4 pound spaghetti
1 can chickpeas (15 ounce)  rinsed and patted dry
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup capers, drained
1/4 cup olive oil  (I probably used a little less)
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
salt and black pepper
1/4 cup minced cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Heat oven to 400¬į F.¬† Combine the chickpeas, panko, capers, oil, coriander, and ¬Ĺ teaspoon each salt and pepper on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, tossing once, until crispy, 18 to 22 minutes.

While the chickpeas are roasting, cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and return it to the pan.

Add the chickpeas, cilantro, and lemon juice to the pasta and toss to combine.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

roasted

Comments:¬† What a great, simple recipe this was! I’ve roasted chickpeas before, but they always turned a little mushy. The addition of panko-style bread crumbs brought a very pleasant crunch to the mixture.¬† Roasted capers were another very pleasant surprise. I love their sharp, pungent taste in any type of recipe. Roasting changes that sharpness quite a bit, I would say it takes some of it away, but at the same time intensifies the pure caper flavor.¬† Am I making sense?¬† ūüėȬ† Make this pasta and see what you think.

served111Dinner is served! 
Grilled lemony chicken breasts and snow peas completed our meal…

ONE YEAR AGO: Leaving on a jet plane

TWO YEARS AGO: Crispy Herb-Crusted Halibut

THREE YEARS AGO: Almond Butter Cake

FOUR YEARS AGO: Bonjour!

MY RIO DE JANEIRO: A COOKBOOK REVIEW

Time for a cookbook review, the second publication by Leticia Schwartz.¬† Those who have been around the Bewitching Kitchen long enough might remember I reviewed Leticia’s first cookbook, The Brazilian Kitchen.¬†¬† With this new book, she takes her favorite city in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, and professes her love by showcasing recipes from each different neighborhood.¬† I imagine that only two of them might ring a bell for those who never set foot in Rio: Ipanema and Copacabana.¬†¬† Those are names made famous by Tom Jobim’s song Garota de Ipanema, and by images of beautiful women wearing bikinis that cover the bare minimum of their bodies. But Rio is a lot more than that, a collection of very diverse neighborhoods reflecting the immigrants who shaped them.

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I had a pretty tough time picking a recipe to share with you, but decided to make her Pasta with Shrimp and Asparagus in Coconut Milk because it is quite unique and brings many of the flavors of Brazilian cooking in a single dish.

Pasta with Shrimp and Asparagus in Coconut SaucePASTA WITH SHRIMP AND ASPARAGUS IN COCONUT MILK
(published with permission from Leticia Schwartz)

kosher salt
8 ounces tagliatelle, linguine or the pasta of your choice
8 ounces asparagus (about 1 bunch), tough parts trimmed
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled (use shells for stock)
black pepper
1 shallot, minced
1 cup shrimp stock (or chicken stock)
1 cup coconut milk2 Tablespoons Cognac
2 Tablespoons chives, minced

Steam the asparagus for about 3 minutes, cool them quickly in a bowl of ice-water. Drain well and reserve. Cut in pieces before adding to the sauce.

Bring a large amount of salted water to a boil and start cooking the pasta until a little short of al dente.  As the pasta cooks, prepare the sauce. Reserve some of the pasta water when you drain it in case you need to thin the sauce at the end.

Heat the olive oil in a large, preferably non-stick skillet on medium heat.  Season the shrimp with salt and pepper, add to the skillet and saute until they start to turn orange, about 1 minute per side. Remove the shrimp to a plate, tent with foil, and reserve.  Add the shallots to the skillet, cook until they start to develop a golden brown color, about 3 minutes.  Add the stock and bring to a boil, scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the coconut milk, bring to a gentle boil again, cook until the sauce starts to concentrate, thicken, and reduce to about half the volume (about 3 to 4 minutes).

Reduce the heat to low, add the cooked pasta, the reserved shrimp, and asparagus pieces. Toss everything together vigorously, if needed add some of the pasta cooking water, or a little more coconut milk to keep the dish creamy.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, stir the cognac, and add chives right before serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Comments: Making your own shrimp stock is not absolutely essential, you could use chicken stock or even vegetable stock, but it does add an extra something to the sauce. The seafood flavor is obviously intensified.  Leticia likes to roast the shrimp shells with a little tomato paste, I just sauteed the shells on olive oil, then added water and simmered them for 20 minutes with some celery, carrots, and onions.

I had never used coconut milk¬† in a pasta sauce before, I might try the light coconut milk next time, I don’t think it would pose a problem.¬† I could not find chives at the store that day, but a little cilantro or parsley sprinkled on top would also be wonderful. I only remembered that step after we were halfway through with dinner.¬† Such is the life of a blogger. You don’t always fulfill your own expectations.¬† ūüėČ

Spaghetti with Shrimp and Asparagus in Coconut Milk Sauce

Now, let me go through the book, chapter by chapter, so you can have a better idea of what it’s all about. I list just a few recipes from each chapter, as the book contains 90 recipes.¬† I should also mention that even though the chapters are divided according to each neighborhood of the city, in the index the recipes are listed by ingredients, making it very easy to find anything you might be interested in cooking.

LeblonEvening in Leblon

CHAPTER ONE: LEBLON. In this chapter, Leticia brings the type of food associated with “botequins“. A quote from the book: “A botequim is a simply type of restaurant that came to being in Brazil in the late 1800’s by and for Portuguese immigrants”.¬†¬† The botequim actually reminds me of simple bistrots in Paris, not the fancy ones geared to tourists, but the small, usually a bit dark inside, where folks who live or work in the neighborhood meet for a simple meal, a drink, a coffee.¬† She opens the chapter with Sugar and Lime Cocktail, the Brazilian national drink, “capirinha“.¬†¬† “Botequim” food is usually finger food, a bit like Spanish tapas.¬† You will find Golden Salt Cod Fritters (bolinho de bacalhau), Brazilian-Style Fried Chicken, in which the pieces are cut very small and heavily seasoned with garlic, and the wonderful Brigadeiros, like the ones I had in the blog¬† years ago.

GarotaIpanemaAn old photo of Helo Pinheiro (the original Girl from Ipanema)  & Tom Jobim.

CHAPTER TWO: IPANEMA. The opening part of this chapter is a nice tribute to Farmer’s Market, which are a must-visit in Rio (as well as Sao Paulo, says the “paulista” in me). She describes the hard work associated with getting the market ready, as at 7am every stand is open for business.¬† Grated coconut, coconut milk, fresh coconut pieces, those are ingredients that are part of many traditional Brazilian recipes, and as Leticia points out, no one wants to do that type of job at home, so the street markets have several stands in which people grate coconut the whole day, handing you a bag with the freshest possible product. Absolutely nothing to do with the stuff we get in grocery stores, dried up, often overly sweet.¬† Her first recipe in the chapter is for Yucca Cracker, and that brought me so many memories!¬† I grew up enjoying them, and honestly I had no idea they could be made at home. They are shaped like a bagel, but their taste and texture is absolutely unique. You can see them here. Pao de queijo is in this chapter too, her recipe more traditional than the one I blogged about in the past.¬† Some other recipes in this chapter: Feijoada (Brazilian Black Bean Stew), Duck and Yucca Shepherd’s Pie (be still, my heart!). and the recipe I shared with you today, Tagliatelle with Shrimp, Asparagus, and Coconut Milk.

CopacabanaSunsetSunset in Copacabana

CHAPTER THREE: COPACABANA & LEME.¬† A quote from the book: “Rio’s magical places have the power to inspire musicians and artist from around the world. Indeed music and passion are always in fashion at the Copa! Copacabana!” The chapters opens with a classic soup of Portuguese origin, Garlic and Cilantro Soup with Poached Eggs and Croutons (A√ßorda Alantejana), followed by Creamy Brazil Nut Soup (a heavy contender for featured recipe, by the way), and also brings some dishes with Middle Eastern influence, like “Esfihas“.¬† The recipe that made my heart miss a beat, though was Moqueca Blinis with Shrimp.¬† A fantastic twist on Shrimp Moqueca, in a recipe by Chef Rolland Villar, joining Brazilian and French cuisines.¬† I must make it! Here is a photo from the book, doesn’t that seem amazing? The moqueca flavors are in the blinis, and the shrimp sits on top of each delicious bite…

photo(2)CHAPTER FOUR: JARDIM BOTANICO, G√ĀVEA E LAGOA. A quote: “Cariocas are obsessed with exercise and Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas (a lagoon) is one of the most beautiful places in town to go jogging. … exercising in that setting it’s as if your endorphins double from the visual effects of Rio, and the result is a sense of pure happiness, elation and peacefulness…”¬† Some recipes from the chapter include Rolled Sausage Bread with Rosemary (a concoction from the very famous Pizzaria Braz), Chez Anne’s Cheese Empanadas, Brazilian-Style Veal Stroganof, and Cashew Fruit Ice Cream (trust me, this is to die for!).

SugarLoaf
CHAPTER FIVE: FLAMENGO & BOTAFOGO.
The famous Sugar Loaf is located in this part of town.  Leticia featured in this chapter some recipes from trendy restaurants like Nomangue and Irajá.  I was quite tempted to prepare the Hearts of Palm Soup, so soothing and creamy, but the Molten Brigadeiro Cake (which Leticia likes to serve with ginger ice cream) was also calling my name.  Real loud.

Cristo

CHAPTER SIX: SANTA TERESA, GL√ďRIA, LARANJEIRAS & COSME VELHO: Dining with a view. Perhaps the most famous landmark of Rio, Christ the Redeemer, is located in this neighborhood. Leticia recommends two restaurant in the region, Apraz√≠vel, and a botequim-type place called Bar do Mineiro. By the way, clicking on the link to Aprazivel will bring up a beautiful Brazilian song, worth listening to. She features not only recipes from these places, but also some from caterers that often come up with incredible twists on classics.¬† A few examples: Plum Tomato and Bread Soup, Rita’s Fried Zucchini, Chicken and Chorizo over Jasmine Rice (the famous Galinhada), and Passion Fruit Mousse.

Carnival_in_Rio_de_Janeiro

CHAPTER SEVEN: CENTRO, LAPA E ARREDORES.¬† This is the neighborhood associated with samba and Carnival, where the “Samb√≥dromo” is located, and the huge avenue where the samba schools parade for days, Avenida Marques de Sapuca√≠”.¬† Lots of great recipes in this chapter, like Feijoada Fritters with Collard Greens (a take on feijoada from the restaurant Aconchego Carioca), Slow-Roasted Pork Ribs with Guava Sauce, Polenta Turnovers (what a great culinary move!), and Tapioca Pudding with Coconut Caramel Sauce.

CHAPTER EIGHT: BARRA DA TIJUCA.¬† Well, that is a part of Rio very dear to my heart.¬† My Mom and my sisters were born and raised in that neighborhood, and so was Leticia!¬† Quote from the book: “To enter Barra, you have to drive through Rocinha, the largest favela of Brazil. Leticia grew up just a few minutes away, but never connected with this world – so close but yet so far away”.¬†¬† That is one interesting aspect of Rio, and quite disturbing for foreigners, how close the opposites of society co-exist in town.¬† A common denominator, though, is food.¬† Some examples of recipes featured in this chapter are Yucca Fries (the best food in the known universe, if you ask me), Chicken Salad with Carrots and Chives on Whole Wheat (very famous sandwich sold at every beach in Rio, by vendors who scream as they pass by “Look, it’s the Natural Sandwich!”, Fresh Cod with Onions, Potatoes, and Broccolini, and the absolutely delicious Pulled Carne Seca with Butternut Squash Puree.

Buzios
CHAPTER NINE: B√öZIOS.
¬† B√ļzios is supposed to be a paradise on Earth. I have never been there, believe it or not, but one day I dream of spending a few days with Phil. It is a beach town, three hours drive from Rio. Enjoying seafood is a must. ¬† How about Farfalle with Salmon and Caipirinha Sauce?¬† Tuna Sandwich?

Paraty
CHAPTER TEN: PARATY.
Now, THAT is a paradise I visited with Phil and a couple of great friends years ago.¬† We had a fantastic time, and also got one of the worst sunburns in the history of our lives… ūüôā Paraty is more or less halfway through Rio and S√£o Paulo, and it is a historic city, full of churches from the Gold Era of Brazil, and also fantastic restaurants and hotels. Leticia opens the chapter with a drink, Coconut Cocktail, which I find as delicious or better than capirinha… Also in this chapter you can drool over her Roasted Garlic-Ginger Shrimp with Coconut and Fresh Herb Crumbs (the picture is enough to make me swoon).

CHAPTER ELEVEN: REGI√ÉO SERRANA. In this chapter, Leticia focuses on a town called Teres√≥polis, located in hills not too far from Rio de Janeiro. I would love to make her Spinach Crepes with Fresh Tomato Sauce (Brazilian crepes, called “panquecas”, are not the same as the French concoction), the Brazilian Tiramisu, or the Dulce de Leche Brioche Pudding (I gained a pound typing it, though).

CHAPTER TWELVE: HOME COOKING.¬† In my opinion, no better way to close a cookbook. She features recipes from her family, and surprisingly starts the chapter with her Aunt Sarita’s Moroccan Meatballs. It turns out her Aunt was born in Tangier, so you won’t be able to get more Middle Eastern than that…¬† One of the recipes in this chapter gave me a huge smile because it was part of my childhood, teenage years, and adulthood too: Ground Beef with Hard-Boiled Eggs and Olives. That is simple,¬† home cooking to the fullest, and I find myself making batches and batches to enjoy for lunch.¬† Also in this chapter, Baked Rice with Chicken and Chorizo (Arroz de Forno, each family in Brazil seems to have a version for it),¬† Brazilian Style Pot Roast, White Chocolate Mousse with Passion Fruit Gelee, and Brazilian Rice Pudding.

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Leticia, thank you so much for giving me permission to publish one more of your recipes!¬† I am sure My Rio de Janeiro will be a huge success, for Brazilians in Brazil, for those like us, living abroad, and for people all over the world who share a passion for food and like to learn about other cultures through their cuisines.¬† You did a wonderful job assembling these recipes, your love for Rio comes through in every page…

ONE YEAR AGO: Hearts of Palm Salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette

TWO YEARS AGO: Watercress Salad

THREE YEARS AGO: Curried Zucchini Soup

FOUR YEARS AGO: Chocolate Bread

THAI-STYLE PESTO WITH BROWN RICE PASTA

As someone who owns a disturbingly high number of cookbooks, subscribes to several cooking magazines, and downloads cookbooks on her iPad on a regular basis, I am aware that those should be my main source of inspiration for dinners. Surprisingly, one more time I will blog on something seen on FoodTV.¬† Go figure. Rachael Ray enticed me with this pesto, especially through her description of how floral and complex-tasting Fresno peppers can be.¬† I had most ingredients around, all I needed to grab at the grocery store was the bright red Fresno pepper.¬† Quick to put together, this turned out as a very delicious pesto.¬† Not sure about the floral, though. Read on…¬† ūüėČ

Thai-Style Pesto

THAI-STYLE PESTO WITH BROWN RICE PASTA
(adapted from Rachael Ray)
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1 pound brown rice spaghetti
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1 cup fresh baby arugula leaves
5 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons tamari
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lime, juiced
1 Fresno chile, seeded
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
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Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water, add the pasta, and cook until al dente.Place the basil and arugula leaves, 3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds, tamari, garlic, lime juice, and chile into a food processor. Pulse into a paste. Drizzle in the extra-virgin olive oil. Pour the pesto into a large bowl and reserve.  If the pesto seems too thick, reserve a little bit of the pasta cooking water, and use it to thin the pesto right before incorporating into the cooked spaghetti.
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Drain the pasta, add to the pesto, and toss to combine. Garnish with the remaining 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds.
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ENJOY!
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to print the recipe, click here

ingredients

Comments: Rachael Ray’s title for this show was “Thai Tonight”, and she served the pasta with a stir-fry of chiles and chicken over shredded iceberg lettuce.¬† I had some iceberg lettuce in the fridge, but went with grilled flank steak.¬† I simply seasoned the lettuce with lime juice and a tiny bit of grapeseed oil, added some Campari tomatoes that were feeling ignored and risking the cruel fate of a compost pile. The grilled steak rested on the bed of this improvised salad.¬† A simple main dish to allow the pasta to shine.

meat

I did not have a lot of basil available, so I used baby arugula to compensate, I like its sharper nature. Now, let’s address the floral component of a Fresno chile.¬† When I plated the dish, I told Phil that next time I would use two peppers to make it more colorful, because “Fresno is all about flavor, not real heat.”¬† After the second forkful of pasta, lips burning, taste buds fried, we were both grateful that I used only one!¬†¬† ūüėȬ† Either Rachael’s tolerance for heat is a lot higher than mine, or I managed to pick a mutant pepper with unusually high levels of capsaicin at the grocery store. But, the interesting thing is that after a while we more or less got used to the heat and the sweat dripping from our foreheads, and thought the level of spice was just right.¬† So I say be brave, grab a Fresno (make sure you seed it) and go for it!

Rachael used brown rice pasta as the starch component.  Traditionally, one would choose the regular, white rice noodles associated with Thai cooking, and of course they work great for this type of dish.  But I loved the slightly firmer texture of the brown rice spaghetti.  Nowadays I use whole wheat pasta almost exclusively, but both brown rice and quinoa pasta have their spot in the Bewitching pantry.

platedDinner is served!

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ONE YEAR AGO: Shrimp with Spicy Orange Sauce

TWO YEARS AGO:  A Simple Appetizer (Baked Ricotta)

THREE YEARS AGO: Sour Cream Sandwich Bread

FOUR YEARS AGO: Pasta with Zucchini Strands and Shrimp

SECRET RECIPE CLUB: LINGUINE WITH CAULIFLOWER PESTO

Linguini Cauliflower Pesto

A sensible person evaluates a situation and chooses a path of action that is compatible with it.¬† For example: a sensible food blogger whose kitchen is undergoing renovation would take a break from The Secret Recipe Club to be back once she actually has a place to cook.¬† I did consider that option for a while, say… 5 seconds.¬† ūüėČ So, throwing caution to the wind, here I am to join once more the virtual party in which bloggers are paired in secret to cook recipes from their matched blog.
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Last month was my 2nd anniversary with SRC, so this post opens my third year with the group. And what could be better for an “old-timer” than to be paired with a new member?¬† I was assigned Vintage Kitchen Notes, hosted by the beautiful¬† Paula, who just joined SRC. She cooks and blogs from Argentina, right next door to my home country. Paula blogs in English, but she also keeps another blog in Spanish – talk about blogging stamina!¬† I actually tried to include recipes in Portuguese for a while, but quickly realized it was too much of a struggle for me.¬† So, I am in awe that Paula can do it all!¬† Her photography is beautiful, I had a wonderful time browsing her site. Let me share a few of her concoctions that were particularly tempting to me: 8-Hour Cheesecake with Roasted Grapes,¬† Limoncello-Glazed Citrus Poppy Seed Cake, Chocolate-Hazelnut Mini-Bundt Cakes (gorgeous!), Pastel Azteca (gotta make that sometime), Roasted Radicchio and Provolone Risotto (go drool over the photo, will you?), and just to tempt my bread baking addiction, she has more than 40 different bread recipes listed on her index.¬† I will just mention one: Soft Pretzels with Spicy Beer Cheese Sauce.¬†¬† I’ve always wanted to make soft pretzels at home, but that will have to wait for calmer days.
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Since our kitchen looks like a war zone.  I ended up choosing a very intriguing recipe that required only the food processor and one pan to cook the pasta.  Seemed doable under the circumstances.  So, I am delighted to share with you my first experience with a cauliflower pesto!

closeup

LINGUINE WITH CAULIFLOWER PESTO 
(from Paula, at Vintage Kitchen Notes, originally adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)
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1 pound (450g) fresh cauliflower
1 medium shallot, quartered
pinch of red pepper flakes
¬Ĺ cup toasted almonds
2 oz. (60g) Asiago cheese
4 sun-dried tomatoes, dried-packed
1 Tbs drained capers
2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup olive oil (I used 1/4 cup)
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar (I added 2 tsp)
1 pound linguine
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Cover the sun-dried tomatoes with boiling water in a small bowl and let them stand for 5 to 10 minutes to soften. Drain well and chop them coarsely. Rinse the cauliflower, cut off the leaves and hard stalks.  Cut the rest into chunks, and add to a food processor, processing them until they are more or less the texture of couscous. Transfer to a large bowl and reserve while you prepare the other ingredients.
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Add to the food processor the pieces of shallot,¬† pepper flakes, almonds, cheese,¬† sun-dried tomatoes, capers and parsley. Process until they¬īre as fine as the cauliflower. Season with salt and pepper. Add oil and vinegar and pulse until a paste forms. If you feel it¬īs too dry for your taste, add another tablespoon of olive oil.
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Transfer to the bowl with the cauliflower, check the mixture  for salt and pepper and add more if necessary.
Cook the linguini until al dente in plenty of salted boiling water.  Reserve some of the cooking liquid, and drain the pasta, transferring to a serving bowl.   Add some of the pesto and mix gently.  If necessary, add some of the reserved cooking liquid. Add the remaining pesto, sprinkle with grated cheese, a few parsley leaves and serve immediately.
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ENJOY!
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to print the recipe, click here
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Comments:¬† You might remember that Phil is not too wild about cauliflower, so I¬† was hoping to prepare the pesto while he was doing something outside, maybe playing golf or trimming tree branches.¬† My plan almost worked but not quite. I had cleaned all the “remains” of the cauliflower from the crime scene,¬† but he caught a glimpse of the processed cauliflower, and…

What is this? some exotic type of rice?

This? No, not rice.
(quickly moving the bowl away from view)

Hummmmm… couscous?

¬†No, not really…

What IS it?

I cannot quite tell you.¬† It’s a surprise. It’s going to be a pesto..¬† A surprise pesto.. ¬†¬†¬†

Pesto? Great, I love pesto!

ūüėČ ūüėČ ūüėČ ūüėČ

served

Verdict: Two very enthusiastic thumbs up for this pasta! I can understand why Paula made this dish twice in¬† the same week. One could imagine the raw cauliflower to be too sharp and omnipresent in the pesto, but it’s not.¬† It is just a perfectly balanced dish, with the capers, the vinegar, the sun-dried tomatoes, the parsley,¬† a real winner.¬† I divulged the “secret ingredient” of the Secret Recipe Club concoction to Phil, and he was amazed.¬† The heat of the pasta slightly changes the texture of the cauliflower, taming its raw taste.¬† I highly recommend you try this recipe.¬† If you use the reduced amount of oil I did, make sure to save some of the pasta cooking liquid to adjust the consistency at the end.¬† If it still seems too thick, swirl a little olive oil right at the table.

Paula, it was great to get your blog this month, I hope you had fun stalking and cooking from your assigned site!

For a delicious collection of tasty dishes prepared by my friends from Group D of SRC, click on the blue frog at the end of the post…

ONE YEAR AGO: Carriage House Apple-Walnut Pie

TWO YEARS AGO: Chicken Marsala

THREE YEARS AGO:  Home, sweet home

FOUR YEARS AGO: Levain Bread with Caramelized Onions

DITALINI PASTA SALAD

I am not at all fond of pasta salads that are loaded with oily dressing, or the dreadful mayo to weigh things down even further. I like a salad that leaves me feeling refreshed and light. Ditalini is a shape normally used in soups, but I thought it would work well in this type of recipe. It has slightly more body than orzo, and is not as “slippery” . Rather than a strict recipe, this is all about flexible amounts, so play with it, and make it shine!

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DITALINI PASTA SALAD
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

Ditalini pasta, cooked all dente and rinsed in cold water
1/4 cup grape seed oil
1/8 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbs lemon juice
Dried oregano to taste
Dried mint to taste
Red pepper flakes, a pinch or two
Cherry tomatoes, red and yellow
Green onions, sliced thin
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the cooked and cooled ditalini pasta on a large bowl.

Make the vinaigrette by mixing and whisking well the grape seed oil, vinegar, lemon juice, oregano, mint, and red pepper flakes.

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half, and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Add the vinaigrette to the pasta and mix well.¬† Incorporate the cherry tomatoes, add the green onions, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.¬† Keep cold…¬† and….

ENJOY!
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to print the recipe, click here

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Comments:¬† Feel free to use fresh mint instead of dried, as well as fresh oregano, although I find fresh oregano too overpowering and always use dried instead.¬† I kicked myself for not thinking about adding capers, so keep that in mind, this salad begs for a handful of those.¬†¬† We like our vinaigrette to be more about the vinegar than the oil. We also prefer the milder taste of grape seed compared to olive oil, so grape seed was my choice.¬† You should make it the way you prefer, more oil, olive oil, a little mustard, maybe some garlic.¬† As you may have noticed, we are not garlic people.¬† It is quite possible that if they sequence our genome, a few vampire genes might be found here and there.¬† But, nothing to worry about, we are usually very well-behaved, your neck is safe with us.¬†¬† ūüėČ

VP
Are you familiar with Vincent Price’s cookbook?¬† A classic, a real classic….

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ONE YEAR AGO: Celebrate Wednesday with a Thai Seafood Curry

TWO YEARS AGO:  Post-workout Breakfast

THREE YEARS AGO: Semolina Barbecue Buns

FOUR YEARS AGO: Lavash Crackers