hearty vegetable bolognese recipe | writes4food.com

All-vegetable ‘Bolognese’ pasta sauce.

Around here, summer has … stretched … out … well … past what we’re accustomed to. We’ve had a few cool overnights, but in the middle of October, it’s still near 80 degrees this week. Tomatoes are still abundant at the farmers’ market. And yet, I’m ready to start eating a little heartier.

This vegetable-centric Bolognese pasta sauce fits the bill. It’s not technically ‘Bolognese’, of course — the meat-based pasta sauce, or ragù that originates in Bologna, Italy. Made with ground beef, aromatics (celery, carrot, onion) and canned plum tomatoes, Ragù Bolognese over hot cooked pasta is the ultimate comfort meal. This nearly vegetarian Bolognese has tons of flavor, thanks to lots of mushrooms, and a satisfying heartiness thanks to butternut squash. (Make it totally vegetarian by omitting the pancetta.)

Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients — this is easy to put together with help from your trusty food processor. Make a big batch this weekend; it freezes beautifully.

vegetable bolognese pasta sauce recipe

serves about 8

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 1/2 cups hot water
1 (1/2-inch) slice pancetta, cut into chunks (optional)
3 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped butternut squash
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves
6 ounces cremini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil (divided)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, for serving
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
1 pound dried pasta (rigatoni or farfalle), cooked according to package directions

First, place the dried porcini in a bowl and pour the hot water over; let sit to soften. Place the chopped carrot and butternut squash in a food processor fitted with the metal blade; process until evenly and fairly finely chopped. (You want pieces roughly no bigger than peas.) Transfer to a bowl. Place the onion, bell pepper and garlic in the processor and chop similarly. Transfer to another bowl. Do the same with the cremini mushrooms; transfer to a bowl. Finally, process the pancetta until it resembles coarse ground beef.

In a large stockpot or sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering; lower heat to medium-low and add chopped pancetta. Cook, stirring often, until the pancetta browns (watch that it doesn't burn). Transfer to a plate. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and add the chopped carrot and squash. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add chopped onion, bell pepper, garlic, thyme, oregano and bay leaf; cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften, another 5 minutes. Strain the porcini mushrooms (reserve the liquid and strain out any dirt or sand) and chop; add them with the cremini mushrooms to the pan; add 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt and a generous pinch of ground pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes more. Add the tomato paste and stir to coat the vegetables. Add the wine, mushroom soaking liquid and canned tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered, until the sauce thickens and turns a deep, rich red, about 30–40 minutes. Add the mascarpone cheese and stir to combine.

Toss the vegetable bolognese with the cooked pasta. Dish out servings and top each with some sliced basil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

homemade roasted red pepper hummus recipe | writes4food.com

Low-fat red pepper hummus.

A few pita chips and a couple of tablespoons of hummus is my favorite afternoon snack. And while there are tons of options for purchasing hummus at the grocery, I find it’s just so easy (and cheap) to make my own.

In this lower-fat hummus recipe, I’ve added nonfat Greek yogurt to add tang and smooth texture. In place of tahini, I’ve used a splash of toasted sesame oil—so you get all that bold sesame flavor with less fat.

Try this next time you’ve got the afternoon hungries!

low-fat roasted red pepper hummus recipe

makes about 2 1/2 cups

2 cans chickpeas
1 red bell pepper
1 large clove garlic
1 (7-oz.) container nonfat plain Greek yogurt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat broiler. Halve the bell pepper and remove seeds and stem; press with your hand to flatten. Place the pepper on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast until it's completely charred, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover with the foil and let steam for 10 minutes. Peel and cut into large pieces.

Drain the chickpeas into a colander, rinse with warm water and peel them by squeezing each chickpea between your fingers to pop the bean out of the skin. Discard skins. In a food processor with the metal blade, combine the peeled chickpeas, roasted red pepper, garlic, yogurt, lemon juice and sesame oil. Process to a smooth and creamy puree, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

heirloom tomato and bean panzanella salad recipe | writes4food.com

Heirloom bean and tomato panzanella salad.

Last weekend, I drove Mom up to Dayton to introduce her to the joys and pleasures of shopping at Dorothy Lane Market. Then, we had an equally pleasurable lunch at Meadowlark Restaurant nearby. I utterly swooned over Meadowlark’s summer tomato panzanella salad, a gorgeous platter of vibrant vegetables, crusty artisan bread, fresh herbs and hunks of Parmesan. It was perfection. And I decided I’d try to replicate it at home. I think I’ve gotten close.

This Heirloom Bean and Tomato Panzanella Salad recipe starts and ends with the very best, ripest, most perfect summer produce. Like the Meadowlark version, it includes beans; in this case, I cooked up a batch of Rancho Gordo Christmas Lima Beans and tossed them into the bowl. (You could certainly use good quality canned cannelini beans if you don’t feel like cooking dried beans.) Finally, it finishes with a versatile Garlicky Parmesan Vinaigrette that will become a regular player in my homemade salad dressing repertoire.

The recipe below is more a guide; adjust the amounts based on how many folks you’re feeding, and whether you’re enjoying this Heirloom Bean and Tomato Panzanella Salad as a main course for lunch or a side dish with dinner. Use any herbs you have in your garden. Add as much dressing as you like.

However you do it, make this. Now. While summer tomatoes are still widely available.

P.S.: If you love Dorothy Lane Market as I do, plan to join me at the DLM Culinary Center on Wednesday, October 12, for my Fall Harvest Supper class!

heirloom tomato and bean panzanella salad recipe

First, cook your beans: Soak them overnight, or not. If your dried beans are pretty fresh, they'll cook fairly quickly, so soaking isn't imperative. Rinse the beans and pick out any debris. Place them in a large saucepan and cover with an inch of water. Add aromatics; I like cooking beans with Colonel De's Kentucky Bean seasoning, which contains dried onion, bell pepper, celery, carrot and herbs, using 1 tablespoon of seasoning per 1/2 pound of dried beans. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender but still toothy. For the Rancho Gordo Christmas Lima Beans pictured, that was about 70 minutes. Drain and cool to room temperature.

Then, whisk together your Garlicky Parmesan Vinaigrette: Use a garlic press to press 1 clove garlic into a lidded pint jar. In a small saucepan, heat 6 tablespoons olive oil over medium-low heat for 2 minutes. Pour warm oil over garlic; let cool. Add 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan and salt and pepper. Cover and shake.

Meanwhile, prep your vegetables: Core and wedge heirloom tomatoes, preferably different varieties/colors. Halve cherry tomatoes. Cut a red bell pepper into big chunks. Toss in a large bowl with a big pinch of salt and let sit 30 minutes.

Make your croutons: Tear thick slices of good quality bread into big chunks (you'll want a generous half-cup of bread per serving. Toss on a rimmed baking sheet with a drizzle of olive oil and a big pinch of herb-seasoned salt. Bake at 375° for 15–20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown.

Finally, make the salad: About 10 minutes before serving, add a bit of Garlicky Parmesan Vinaigrette to the vegetables. Add croutons and toss gently to combine. Let the juices and dressing blend flavors and soften the croutons slightly. Add big chunks of Parmesan to the bowl. Finish with whole leaves of fresh herbs like basil, mint and parsley, and snipped chives. Season with coarse sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.

sweet and spicy red pepper jam recipe | writes4food.com

Sweet-spicy red bell pepper jam.

“Sometimes I think you make things just so you can use your cute little Weck jars,” said Rob.

“Right,” I said. “And the problem is …?”

This Sweet-Spicy Red bell Pepper Jam recipe isn’t just an excuse to use those cute little Weck jars. It stems from a memorable meal we had at Scopa in Healdsburg, CA, on vacation months ago. An appetizer of toasted rustic bread, housemade burrata and Calabrian red pepper jam started our meal — and should have ended it, really, because it was just. that. good.

I purchased a jar of Calabrian red pepper jam online, but vowed to make a batch of my own once red bell peppers in our garden started producing. And that is this recipe.

Peppers are tricky, right? Some varieties are super hot, and even within the variety some are much hotter than others. So use this pepper jam recipe as a guide, switching in more or less jalapeno depending on how hot yours are. (When I tasted this first batch, I though it could have used a bit more spice.) A bit of apple adds sweetness, body and, importantly, natural pectin to help set the jam. You’ll start with about 2 pounds (a bit over is OK) of produce to 2 cups of sugar.

What can you do with Sweet-Spicy Red Pepper Jam? Well, there’s that burrata-and-grilled bread thing, which I cannot recommend highly enough. The jam is great on a cheese platter, particularly with salty cheeses like Pecorino or Manchego. It would rock on a BLT. Or as a glaze for grilled chicken kebabs or grilled salmon.

While red peppers are abundant, give this recipe a try. You don’t even need fancy jars.

sweet red bell pepper jam recipe

makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 3/4 pounds red bell peppers + red jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped (see Note)
1 small apple, cored, chopped
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Pinch of salt
Few drops red food coloring (optional)

(Note: Use any combination of bell and jalapeno peppers; add more of the latter if you want more heat. You'll want your produce to total about 2 pounds.) Place the peppers and apple in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely mashed. Transfer the mixture (along with any juices) to a heavy-bottomed, high-sided pan. Add the vinegar and sugar. Add food coloring if desired. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil, then boil rapidly, occasionally stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching, until it becomes thick, dark and syrupy, about 25–30 minutes. Use a candy or digital thermometer to check temperature; it should reach 220° for soft/jelly set. Alternately, spoon a bit of jam onto a small plate and put it in the freezer for a minute or two; it should resemble a soft-set jam. The jam will thicken as it cools. Transfer to small jars and freeze up to 1 year, or process in a water bath canner per directions found on FreshPreserving.com.

summer vegetable casserole with cheesy breadcrumb topping recipe | writes4food.com

Summer vegetable gratin.

When the interminable stretch of heat and 150% humidity finally broke recently, I was somewhat motivated to turn on the oven to make something for dinner. I browsed through my binder full of recipes and magazine clippings and found a page from a 2015 edition of Food & Wine featuring a recipe for a vegetable casserole topped with crunchy, cheesy breadcrumbs. Perfect.

I had nearly everything on hand: green beans and bell pepper from my garden, corn from the farmstand, a couple of zucchini sitting in the fridge. I picked up some shelling beans from Scott Farm at Findlay Market and cooked them in broth. From there, it was a matter of chopping, sautéing and stirring in cream and eggs. I tinkered with the original recipe a bit; you could add or omit your favorite summer vegetables to the mix.

We loved this vegetable casserole as a main course for dinner, with a salad of sliced tomato and burrata, and some crusty bread and homemade butter. It would also make a terrific side dish for grilled chicken or steak.

This is the perfect summer-to-fall transition dish, to make while summer produce is still abundant and the days shorten and cool enough where you’re totally fine with the idea of firing up the oven.

summer vegetable casserole recipe

serves 8

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
2 small zucchini, diced
1/2 pound slender green beans, trimmed, cut in 1-inch pieces
3 large cloves garlic, sliced
2 cups cooked lima beans (or other shelling beans; thawed if frozen)
4 ears corn, kernels removed
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or a dash of cayenne)
Coarse salt
1/2 cup vegetable stock or water
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 cup shredded white cheese (gruyere, Swiss, mozzarella)

Preheat oven to 425°; grease a large baking dish. In a large skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat; add onion, bell pepper and zucchini. Cook, stirring, until vegetables begin to soften, 5–7 minutes. Add green and shelling beans; cook another 5 minutes. Add garlic and corn; cook until all vegetables are tender but not mushy, about 5 minutes more. Add stock or water and simmer until liquid evaporates. Season vegetables with salt, Aleppo pepper; add basil and chives. Let cool slightly. Transfer vegetables to baking dish. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together cream and eggs. Pour over vegetables and stir to combine. On a piece of waxed paper, toss together breadcrumbs and shredded cheese. Sprinkle evenly over casserole. Bake 25–30 minutes, until topping is golden and mixture is bubbly. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.

caprese salad + homemade ricotta

Caprese salad with homemade ricotta.

In today’s edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer, I shared several variations on the traditional insalata Caprese — that classic combination of sliced ripe tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil and olive oil. If you want to mix it up a bit, substituting homemade ricotta cheese for the mozz and homemade pesto for the basil is a nice change of flavor and texture.

Homemade ricotta is ridiculously easy and, frankly, a lot of fun. It takes just a few minutes of cooking and straining to create your own sweet, creamy ricotta. Give this a try!

sweet and creamy homemade ricotta cheese recipe

3 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Line a colander with two layers of cheesecloth, and place it in a larger bowl to catch the whey. In a medium heavy saucepan, combine the milk, cream and lemon juice; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture registers 190° on an instant-read thermometer. Watch in amazement as the mixture begins to separate into soft, small curds and watery whey (if this doesn't happen right at 190°, keep simmering until curds form). Continue simmering for about 2 minutes, until the curds come together; cook a bit longer if you like ricotta with larger curds. Then use a strainer to gently lift the solids into the cheesecloth-lined colander. Pour any remaining liquid into the colander and let the mixture drain for about 10 minutes for creamy, tender ricotta; longer for a drier, firmer cheese. Salt the ricotta to taste if you'd like. I prefer it unsalted, so I can add seasoning as I use it.

I've kept homemade ricotta in the refrigerator for about 10 days with no problem. Keep the whey, too—you can use it in place of water or milk to make pancakes or biscuits or oatmeal, or for boiling potatoes for mashing.

zucchini and cheddar pizza recipe | writes4food.com

Summery zucchini and cheddar pizza.

I shared this recipe for Zucchini and Cheddar Pizza in last Wednesday’s column for the Cincinnati Enquirer, which suggested three ideas for using that summertime glut of zucchini. Anyone who’s ever grown zucchini knows the Height of Summer Zucchini Problem, and the usual solution is zucchini bread, which is all well and good, but then you end up with too much zucchini bread.

I adapted this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, whose original used gruyère instead of cheddar (a fine substitution) and called for a larger baking pan. This cheesy zucchini pizza is supereasy to put together, inexpensive to make, and downright delicious for dinner with a big plate of sliced tomatoes. And it’s tasty at room temp for lunch the next day.

Zucchini and Cheddar Pizza

serves 4

1 lb. pizza dough
3 large zucchini (green and/or yellow), ends trimmed
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
8 ounces sharp cheddar
Freshly ground pepper or red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 500°; if you have a pizza stone, place it on the center rack to preheat. Rub a 10.5-inch-by-15.5-inch rimmed sheet pan with olive oil. Using oiled fingertips, press and stretch the dough into the pan, pinching together any holes that form.

In a food processor fitted with the large shredding blade, shred the zucchini; you’ll have about packed 4 cups. Use the same to shred the cheddar. In a colander, toss together the zucchini and salt; let stand 30 minutes or more to release liquid from zucchini. With your hands and some paper towels, squeeze the zucchini as dry as possible; transfer to a large bowl and add the cheddar, tossing to combine. Add pepper or red pepper flakes to taste. Spread the zucchini-cheddar mixture evenly on the dough from edge to edge. Sprinkle breadcrumbs evenly over zucchini. Place the pan on top of the pizza stone; bake 25–30 minutes, until the pizza is deeply golden on top. Cut into squares.

homemade sweet and salty trail mix recipe | writes4food.com

Sweet and salty trail mix.

So, apparently next Wednesday, August 31, is National Trail Mix Day. Who knew?!

The folks at Nuts.com asked if I’d share my favorite homemade trail mix recipe, and since I now have trail mix on the brain, I thought I’d oblige. Besides, I’m anticipating an upcoming road trip vacation this fall, and my own trail mix is a staple item on my packing list for travel of any sort.

Since I don’t have a big sweet tooth, my ideal trail mix recipe blends sweet and savory flavors, with healthy cereal and nuts and just a bit of peanut butter. I think this trail mix is fairly virtuous compared to the prepackaged stuff you might find in the grocery … but c’mon, it can’t be all twigs-and-berries, right? Hence, a handful of Reese’s Pieces.

The problem, of course, is that I now have a stash of this trail mix at my desk, and I … can’t … stop … nibbling …

homemade sweet and salty trail mix recipe

makes about 4 cups

1 cup oat or wheat square cereal
1 cup pretzel nuggets, sticks, fish or mini twists
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted pistachios
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted almonds
1/2 cup large raisins
1/2 cup Reese's pieces

Toss everything together in a large bowl, and store in an airtight container.

freshly grown figs

Fun ingredient of the week: figs.

This isn’t so much a recipe post, but a little celebration of gardening success. A couple of years ago, when I visited Vicky Tewes’s lovely Thistlehair Farm in Union, KY, she had several large fig trees growing in pots around the farmstand. That fall, I found a potted fig at a local nursery and brought it home. It died of overwatering in the garage that winter. Fast forward to last spring, when I again found a potted fig — variety Chicago Hardy — and brought it home. It bore a couple of puny figs last fall, and it didn’t die of overwatering in the garage last winter.

Double-fast-forward to last week, when the tree brought forth maybe four dozen beautifully ripe figs. Chicago Hardy for the win!

fig tree

In spite of our first-winter failure, I’ve found the fig remarkably easy to grow, once I, um, fig-ured it out. The tree itself is beautiful: shapely, with lovely leaves. It likes sun and heat. Seeking to bolster its output this year, I did some online research and found that figs need ample water and fertilizer in order to produce fat, juicy fruit. We watered the tree every day in the hottest stretch of summer (when, you know, it wasn’t downpouring). I fed it every 3 weeks or so, using Espoma’s Garden-Tone organic fertilizer.

Very early in summer, the tree was full of thumb-sized fruit, green and hard as pebbles. About a week ago, overnight, a number of the fruits turned deep purple. I picked just a couple, but noticed that every day the remaining purple figs were getting bigger and softer. So I waited to pick more, and then … boom! They all got fat and soft and perfectly ripe, all at once. Before the ants and chipmunks could feast on them, I used a paring knife to trim a colander-ful of figs off the tree.

So, what do you do with fresh figs?

Figs, meet your BFF: prosciutto.

Grilled Figs in prosciutto recipe

Here's the very best thing to do with fresh figs: Cut 1 dozen fresh figs in half. Cut 3 pieces of thinly sliced prosciutto, the best you can find, into 4 strips, and wrap each fig half in a piece of prosciutto. Grill over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the prosciutto is a little charred and crispy. Throw a heavy dose of freshly ground black pepper over. Pop one of these little fruity-porky gems in your mouth, and I promise you: You'll go find a fig tree of your own this fall. (Cincinnati peeps, check Natorp's.)

recipe for smooth tomato gazpacho | writes4food.com

Creamy tomato gazpacho.

Recently, I shared my mom’s make-it-every-summer recipe for gazpacho, that lovely cold soup packed full of seasonal vegetables. Here’s another take on gazpacho that I really like; it includes a bit of bread that’s traditional in Spanish recipes, which gives the soup a bit of body without weighing it down.

Like all gazpacho recipes, this one’s best made at least 1 day before you plan to enjoy it. Hop on over to your backyard garden or local farmers’ market to pick up all the goodies and pull out the blender — it’s gazpacho time, people!

Smooth & creamy gazpacho recipe

4 cups chopped tomato (about 3 large)
1/2 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic
1 hamburger or hotdog bun
6 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons sherry or champagne vinegar
Pinch of cumin (optional)
Pinch of smoked paprika or pimenton (optional)
Sea salt and finely ground pepper

Tear about one-quarter of the hotdog or hamburger bun into small pieces; measure out 1/4 cup of bread (packed). Transfer the bread, tomato, bell pepper, garlic, 6 tablespoons olive oil, vinegar, cumin and paprika to a blender. Pulse a few times to chop, then purée the mixture until it’s completely smooth and rather frothy, about 3 or 4 minutes. Taste the gazpacho and add salt and finely ground pepper; blend to combine. Transfer the gazpacho to a glass bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, preferably overnight.

Cut the remaining bun into 1/2-inch cubes. In a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil until it shimmers. Add bread cubes, toss to coat with oil and sauté the croutons until they’re deeply toasted and dark golden all over, about 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve gazpacho topped with croutons and a drizzle of olive oil.