Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sun-dried Tomato-Basil Risotto with Balsamico

Photo courtesy of La Vita Saporita

It was a close race, but this Sun-dried Tomato-Basil Risotto was the most requested this week. For those of you who voted for the Pumpkin-Parsley Risotto, stay tuned - it will get posted before the weekend. Promise.

But back to this ridiculously good risotto. The Bear was highly skeptical when he saw the ingredients on the counter and I have to admit, I wasn't expecting it to be all that interesting either. But I had just found this recipe (and I hadn't gone to the market to get anything else) so we tried it out.


This risotto is amazing. I can't remember the last time we dropped so many F-bombs in the kitchen - and I mean that in the best possible way.

Sun-Dried Tomato-Basil Risotto with Balsamic Vinegar
Courtesy of La Vita Saporita
Serves 4

5 cups vegetable broth
2 small tomatoes, peeled and chopped (about 1-1/2 cups)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or pressed
1-1/2 cups (250g) arborio rice
1 cup red wine
4-5 sun-dried tomatoes (about 3 oz), cut into bite size pieces
1-1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
salt & pepper to taste
20 fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips (chiffonade)
2 oz goat cheese, crumbled (optional)

Pour the veggie broth into a saucepan and add the chopped tomatoes. Bring to simmer and reduce to warm, but don't take it off the heat. It's important that the cooking liquid is always hot to facilitate the starch release.

While that's happening, warm the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion with a teaspoon of salt - this will soften the onion and keep it from browning. Then add the garlic and saute until soft.

Next, add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon until the rice is thoroughly coated and becomes translucent. Nicely toasted rice is another secret to great risotto.

Add in a cup of red wine (and pour one for yourself while you're at it) and stir until the liquid is absorbed. Then add a cup of the broth and tomatoes and stir. And stir. And sip. And stir some more.

When the broth has been absorbed, add another cup and keep stirring until the liquid has again been absorbed. Feel free to pour yourself another glass of wine. Call your mom. Make out with your husband. But whatever you do, keep stirring.

Continue adding the broth a cup at a time. When the rice starts to soften (test a couple of grains after 2-3 cups), stir in the sun-dried tomatoes then continue adding rest of the broth (a cup at a time) and stir-stir-stirring until the rice is al dente (tender but slightly firm in center).

When the rice is nice and creamy, stir in the last cup of broth along with the balsamic vinegar. When these have been mostly absorbed, remove from heat, add the chopped parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste. The traditional texture is all'onda (wavy). It should spread out easily, but not have a watery perimeter so be sure not to cook the liquid out completely.

Risotto should be served and eaten immediately or it will continue to cook itself in its own heat which will dry it out and make the grains too soft.

Spoon onto individual plates or bowls, garnish with the basil chiffonade (and a few crumbles of goat cheese if you like) and serve with the remaining red wine.

Buon appetito!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Grilled Pepper Fajitas with Aromatic Black Beans

Had two leftover bell peppers after making this pot of deliciousness so we decided to make fajitas.

One thing I've learned making vegan meals for non-vegans is that a handful of aromatics (garlic, onions and fresh herbs) really goes a long way. Much of what we "taste" is really about what we smell, so a sure-fire way to get people excited about eating whatever you're serving is to get some good kitchen smells going.

These would work just fine with a simpler guac (or even plain avocados) and black beans straight from the can, but it's really worth a few minutes of chopping to go the full Monty. Even if you're not trying to win-over non-vegans, do it anyway. It's delicious.

The third version of this herby guac (para bailar la Bamba) with some pimped up black beans add a substance and texture that turned what would otherwise have been "one of those lame veggie wraps" the Bear turns his nose up at into a hearty, flavorful dinner.

We also fired up some of these strawberry-lime bananas for dessert.

Fast. Filling. Fab-u-lous.

Aromatic Black Beans

14oz can of black beans
4-6 cilantro stems (or the whole sprig, it's up to you)
1 garlic clove, crushed or pressed
1/4 cup chopped onion
pinch finely minced red chille
pinch of salt

Combine everything in a saucepan and simmer 15-20 minutes on medium-low heat.
While that's going on, make the guac and set it aside while you grill the veggies.

Grilled Pepper Fajitas
makes 4-6, depending on serving size

1 each red and yellow bell pepper, sliced lengthwise
1/2 onion, sliced lengthwise (use the other half for the guac and beans)
3-way guacamole
aromatic black beans
4-6 whole wheat tortillas

Lightly oil a grill pan and lay the peppers and onions out in a single layer. Cook over medium heat, turning as needed, until they are done to the tenderness of your liking. If you don't have a grill pan, you can just saute them in a skillet.

Remove and set aside. Quickly warm the tortillas in the same pan, about a minute on each side.

Assemble the fajitas with guac, beans and veggies.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Eggplant Caponata with Bell Peppers

Photo & Recipe courtesy of La Vita Saporita

Food Photography.
Add this to the long list of things for which I do not possess any God-given talent.
But please don't judge the caponata unfairly as a result. It ain't pretty, but it's delicious!

Eggplant Caponata with Bell Peppers
Serves 6

It's worth mentioning that Caponata is a Sicilian aubergine dish normally made with celery, aubergines (eggplant), vinegar and capers. This regional twist substitutes the celery with bell peppers. Actually, this whole recipe is an exercise in approximation so be as creative with it as you like!

1/2 cup (100g) olive oil
2 large eggplants (1-3/4 pounds/1kg), diced or sliced in strips
1 celery stalk chopped (apparently optional, but probably good too)
1 each red and yellow bell pepper, sliced in strips (optional if you use celery, but why not both?)
1 onion, thinly sliced (I used two)
14oz (500g) ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced (fresh is best, but canned is ok too)
1/2 cup white wine vinegar (we used red, worked fine)
1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup pitted olives (black or green)
3 tablespoons (50g) capers (we used a whole cup in lieu of the olives)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Freshly torn basil leaves, to garnish

Firstly, you must must must sweat the eggplant. Unless, as Rhea commented below and Savuer confirmed, you're using smaller ones that you know don't need it.

Cut it lengthwise in thick slices and rub them lightly with salt on both sides. Place them vertically in a colander and let them sweat for at least an hour. This will pull the bitterness out of the flesh and leave them delightfully sweet. Rinse them, pat them dry with a paper towel and slice them lengthwise in strips.

In a large skillet, fry the onions in the oil until golden. Add the eggplant and peppers and cook "until the colors are vibrant." Technically the eggplant is supposed to be cooked in a separate skillet and combined in the last 10-15 minutes of cooking but honestly, I couldn't be bothered. It still tasted great.

Next, add in the tomatoes (and celery if you're using it) and cook until heated through, about 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pour in the vinegar, sprinkle in the sugar, capers and olives and bring to a boil. Then simmer over low heat until the vinegar has evaporated, approximately 10-15 minutes.

Remove from heat and serve with freshly chopped basil. If you happen to have some vegan parmesan, that would be a lovely addition as well.

Nota bene: This doubles as a fabulous antipasto when served cold.
Buon appetito!

Update: a tablespoon each of pine nuts and golden raisins would be a great addition.
Add them in at the same time as the capers and olives.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Strawberry-Lime Fried Bananas

After a disastrous attempt at making a flan for our last dinner party, I needed to come up with an emergency substitute. Luckily I've been on a smoothie kick lately and had some bananas and berries on hand. This was not only a life-saver, but super quick and easy to make while the Bear cleared the dinner plates.

Strawberry-Lime Fried Bananas
Serves 4

4 fresh, firm bananas
2 tablespoons Earth Balance vegan butter
5 tablespoons cane sugar
2 cups strawberries, quartered and then halved
Juice of 1 lime
5-6 large basil leaves, sliced in ribbons (optional)

Hull the strawberries and quarter them lengthwise. If you want them smaller, cross-cut the quarters.

To prepare the basil chiffonade, stack the leaves and roll them lengthwise into a tight bundle. Then cut the roll cross-wise into thin ribbons.

Combine the strawberries and basil in a bowl with the lime juice and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Refrigerate while you prepare the bananas. If, unlike me, you happen to have the foresight to plan ahead, you can prepare this up to 2-3 hours earlier.

Peel bananas. Slice lengthwise, then cross-cut in half.

Heat the butter in a wok or frying pan until the butter bubbles. Add the banana slices and fry them on both sides over medium heat until they are golden and soft. Sprinkle the remaining brown sugar over the bananas. You can stir everything together until the sugar dissolves (making a thick-ish syrup) or just let it caramelize on the bananas. They're done whenever they look like you want to eat them.

Transfer to serving plates, spoon the strawberries (which should be deliciously gooey by now) over the bananas and garnish with fresh basil leaves.

So delicious the Bear literally lapped up every last drop of berry juice.
Sneaky Vegan dessert - 1, Flan - 0.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Spring Soup with Carrots, Apple and Fennel

This delicate combination of springtime flavors (young carrots and fennel with a couple of apples and some fresh ginger tossed in) is the perfect warm-up for those chilly Spring evenings when you're craving warm comfort food but still want to keep things light.

It was a HUGE hit with the Bear, even though he was a little skeptical when I told him this was all I had time to make for dinner. Turns out it was not only good enough for him to go back for seconds, it was filling enough that he couldn't finish! Love it when that happens...

Carrot-Apple-Fennel Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced; fronds reserved and chopped
1 lb carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
2 medium apples, cored and cut into chunks (I used Gala)
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4-5 cups vegetable broth
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 tablespoon ginger, freshly grated
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large, heavy saucepan, warm oil over medium heat. Add the fennel slices, and cook, stirring, until softened. Add the carrots, apples and garlic, and cook for another minute or two. Pour in only 4 of the 5 cups of vegetable broth and reserve the last cup.

Season with salt and simmer, covered, until you can easily cut the carrots with a spoon, about 20 minutes. Add the ginger at the end (this keeps the flavor bright) and cook for a couple of minutes more.

Remove the soup from the heat, and stir in the orange juice and reserved fennel fronds. Use an immersion blender to purée the soup directly in the pot. Or, if you don't have one, transfer it in 2-3 batches to a food processor or blender and purée until smooth.

Adjust seasoning as necessary and serve warm.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Vegan Gelato - Perche No!

OMG. Vegan gelato in Firenze??? I die!

Perche No! was the first ice cream parlor to open in the city center back in 1946. They are credited with introducing the glass display case, which is now a standard around Italy and the world. Another fun fact: during WWII this shop was specifically reconnected to the power grid so they could continue making gelato. THAT'S how important good ice cream is!

No Italian holiday is complete without gelato so finding all these yummy vegan options was a huge coup for me - as was watching the Bear devour his!

Grazie mille to Jill and John, two vegans from Canada who are eating their way around the world and reporting back with tips and pictures. For more vegan pizza, pasta and gelato in Firenze, check out their list of reco's here.

Can't get to Italy anytime soon? No problem - Blackwells Organic Gelato (vegan AND cholesterol-free) is available in the US with free shipping! Evivva!!!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Grilled Avocado with Mango Mint Salsa and Wild Rice

I'm always looking for new things to do with mangoes and this salsa is a fantastically fresh way to perk up some of my favorite things. It's super simple and addictively delicious - two more of my favorite things.

Mango-Mint Salsa

1 mango, peeled and finely diced
1/4 cup minced red onion
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro or mint
Zest of 1 lime
1 Tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
Salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste

Mix everything together and chill for 30 minutes to an hour before serving. Unlike guacamole, it won't discolor so let it sit longer if you can. It's perfect when it's freshly made but even more sublime after all the little bits have had a chance to mingle.

It was last served it on the patio atop a grilled avocado with wild rice (cooked per package directions with some green onions) and mango-lime puree (recipe below).

In the same week (it's that good) we served it at a dinner party in a wrap with this pimped up guacamole and some aromatic black beans and rice which, unfortunately, we devoured before I could take any photos.


Mango-Lime Purée

2 ripe mangoes
1/2 tsp (2 mL) grated lime rind
1/4 cup (60 mL) lime juice
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
A pinch each of cumin and cayenne pepper

Peel and cube mangoes. In food processor or blender, purée with lime rind and juice, salt, cumin and cayenne. Set aside or refrigerate for up to 1 day. Bring to room temperature before using.

This is typically used as a base for grilled fish, but I decided it would work just as well with a grilled avocado. If anyone can think of other ways to use it please let me know because it was delish!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

3-Way Guacamole and a Tequila Kick

Well this was supposed to get posted for Cindo de Mayo but alas, I'm in Italy and haven't an internet connection for the last four days. Luckily I have plenty of food (among other things) to distract me...

Anyway, to make up for it, I offer you not one, but three versions of this yummy guac, depending on how simple or complex you want to make it. So grab yourself some avocados and have your way with them!

The quantities below make 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 cups:

Start Simple

There are many cooks in Mexico who think that adding anything but garlic and salt to avocados will set you on the road to ruin. As a fan of the "luxurious" option (shown above), I find that hard to believe but still, this simple mash-up makes a great condiment to spread on sandwiches or tacos.

2 medium ripe avocados
1 clove garlic, minced or crushed with a garlic press
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Mash the avocado in a medium bowl with a large fork or potato masher. Keep it chunky to give it some character. Stir in the garlic and salt. Leave the pits in the bowl to keep the avocado from turning brown. If you're not using it right away, cover it with plastic wrap (pressed directly onto the surface of the guacamole) and refrigerate but be sure to use it within a few hours. Sad brown guac does not a party make.

Herb It Up

For a pimped-up stand-alone guac you can proudly serve with chips, add to the above:

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Para Bailar La Bamba

Turn up the music, string up the party lights and get ready for this fiesta in your mouth:

Fresh hot green chile to taste (1 serrano or 1/2 jalapeño), finely chopped
1/4 small white onion, finely chopped
1/2 medium tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon tequila (optional)

To reduce the risk of an overwhelming onion flavor, rinse the onion first under cold water and shake it well to get rid of the excess moisture. Taste and season with additional salt if appropriate.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Last-minute Lunch

I definitely have Spring fever these days. As much as I love to cook, sometimes the simplest things are more than enough.

Short on time (and ingredients) today, I surveyed the sad contents of our pre-holiday fridge: 1 tomato
some leftover corn, and a couple of scallions on their last legs. Hmmm...

I scrounged up a lone can of kidney beans, a little salt, some Trader Joe's Lemon Pepper (my new obsession) and voila! A protein-rich, oil-free, flavor-full salad that took less time to make than to post!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sunday Funday: A Pretty Picnic

It's way too nice to be in the kitchen today so we're going out for another picnic.

Happy Sunday Funday!
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