Orzo pasta salad with seasonal vegetables.

Last week, I had the pleasure of giving a presentation and demonstrating a recipe to kick off The Christ Hospital’s quarterly Let’s Talk Women’s Health event. We had a great evening, and it was a packed house. Speaking about the joys and pleasures of eating seasonally and locally is one of my favorite professional gigs because: who doesn’t love to talk about food?

I demonstrated one of my favorite recipes from The Findlay Market Cookbook, one that I both make at home and demonstrate to groups quite frequently: Orzo Pasta Salad with Seasonal Vegetables.

If you’ve ever been to a potluck or cookout and had air-quotes-pasta salad [You know what I’m talking about, right? That bowl of mushy corkscrew pasta with raw vegetables and icky bottled Italian dressing.] then this is NOT that pasta salad.

Nope, THIS pasta salad has the perfect balance of pasta and veg, with a bright, tangy, decidedly non-icky homemade dressing. Orzo is the genius pasta for pasta salad, because it stays nicely toothsome and doesn’t overwhelm the dish, and cooking it in vegetable broth gives it, you know, actual flavor.

Any time of year, this orzo pasta salad recipe is the perfect accompaniment to grilled chicken, burgers, steak, what have you — and leftovers make a terrific packable lunch the next day.

But what I love most about this easy pasta salad recipe is that it’s eminently malleable. In the summer, I add fresh corn kernels, cherry tomatoes and tons of basil; in the fall, roasted butternut squash and red onion.

Here, I’m sharing a springtime version, with peas and asparagus. Now that the season for these delectables is coming, you’ll want to have this recipe handy. Yay, spring!


serves 8 as a side dish

For the dressing:
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon local honey
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Place the vinegar, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor. With the machine running, slowly drizzle the olive oil in; blend to emulsify.

For the salad:
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 lb. (dried) orzo
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained
2 cups frozen peas, blanched in boiling water 3 minutes
1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed, cut in 1-inch pieces and blanched in boiling water 3 minutes
1 bunch baby arugula
1/3 cup chopped green onion (white and green parts)
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
½ cup toasted pine nuts or sliced almonds
4 ounces Feta cheese, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a saucepan, bring the broth to a boil; stir in the orzo. Cover partially and cook until the orzo is al dente, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes. Drain the orzo and put it into a big serving bowl to cool. While the pasta is still warm, add about half the dressing and toss to coat. Let cool. Add garbanzo beans, peas, asparagus and toss gently to combine. Add arugula, onion and parsley and a bit more dressing; toss to coat. Top salad with Feta and almonds. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed. Serve at room temperature.

sheet pan roasted vegetable soup | writes4food.com

Sheet pan vegetable soup.

So, if you’re into sheet pan cooking … wait, what? What’s sheet pan cooking, you ask? Just what it sounds like: arrange a bunch of ingredients (chicken thighs, say, or Italian sausages, and/or vegetables) on a rimmed sheet pan, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, pop into the oven and … dinner’s done. Even better: Line the pan with aluminum foil, and clean-up is done, too. Brilliant.

For the uninitiated, a couple of best sheet pan supper recipes that I love:

OK, so, where were we? Oh, yeah. Sheet Pan Roasted Vegetable Soup. Right on. Here’s the thing … this is kind of a non-recipe recipe, if you know what I mean. The technique’s simple: Roast up a pan full of vegetables (more on that in a minute), simmer them in vegetable stock to soften them, then harness the magic of the immersion blender to create a beautiful puree. Simple.

Vegetables to roast for this lovely (and — hooray! — low-fat and low-calorie) soup recipe. Use at least two of these, ideally more.

  • Carrots
  • Plum tomatoes (seeds removed)
  • Onion
  • Parsnips
  • Winter squash
  • Red pepper
  • Fennel bulb
  • Garlic cloves

This soup makes a perfectly satisfying lunch, or delicious dinner with a grilled cheese sandwich. Top it with a dollop of Greek plain yogurt or sour cream, a spoonful of pesto, any kind of grated cheese, toasty croutons or breadcrumbs, or fresh herbs. Yay, soup!

Sheet pan roasted vegetable soup recipe

serves 4

3 pounds vegetables (see list above)
4 peeled whole garlic cloves
3 sprigs fresh thyme (or 2 tsp. dried thyme)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cups vegetable broth
1 piece of Parmesan rind (if you have one in the freezer)
For serving: Soup crackers, sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, snipped fresh herbs, croutons

Preheat oven to 400°; line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil. Chop the vegetables into evenly sized 1-inch pieces. Place them on the baking sheet and toss with garlic, thyme (sprigs or dried), olive oil, and salt and pepper. Roast until vegetables are browned in spots and crisp-tender, about 40 minutes. Transfer vegetables to a stock pot (remove thyme sprigs) and add vegetable broth and Parmesan rind. Simmer soup until vegetables are totally tender, 20–30 minutes. Remove Parmesan rind. Let soup cool, then use an immersion blender to puree to your desired consistency. Reheat to a simmer and serve.

Italian chicken sausage soup with spinach and tortellini | writes4food.com

Chicken sausage tortellini soup.

Oh, hey! Winter! You’re still here! WTH? We thought you were outie. So, yeah, we need something warm and comforting for dinner, like this easy Italian Chicken Sausage Tortellini Soup recipe. Yep, that should do the trick.

A friend gave me this recipe; she texted a photo of the page she’d clipped from a magazine, with a big cooking schmudge on the paper. So you know it’s a good one. I adapted the original by using chicken sausage, which I find just as tasty as pork and less greasy (and makes this into a fairly low-fat soup recipe). I added carrot to up the veggie quotient. You could substitute dried tortellini — or even those cute little mini cheese-filled raviolis — for the fresh pasta here.

Pretty much any soup known to humankind is better when eaten the day after it’s prepared, so that the flavors have time to build and blend. And this is no exception. Be advised, though: The pasta softens as it sits in the broth overnight. So if you’d like to keep the pasta a bit more al dente, then add it when you reheat the soup before enjoying it. A heaping handful of shredded Parm, a drizzle of good olive oil or a spoonful of pesto are good toppings for this easy Italian pasta soup.

Soup up, people!

Italian Chicken Sausage Tortellini Soup Recipe

serves 8

1 pound Italian style chicken sausage
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
Generous pinch red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes (no salt added)
1 14.5 oz. can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
4 cups chicken broth (homemade, or low-sodium canned)
5 cups baby spinach, long stems removed
1 9 oz. package refrigerated cheese tortellini
Shredded Parmesan cheese for serving

Heat a Dutch oven or stock pot over medium-high; reduce heat and crumble chicken sausage into the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally and breaking sausage into chunks, until it is slightly golden and cooked through, 7–10 minutes. Transfer sausage to a plate. Add olive oil to the pot and warm over medium heat. Add onion and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent and carrots soften, about 7 minutes. Add garlic, red pepper flakes and salt, cook 1 minute more. Add canned tomatoes and broth; bring to a boil and simmer 20 minutes. Add tortellini and simmer 5–7 minutes, until pasta is tender. At the last minute, add spinach and stir to wilt. Ladle soup into bowls and top generously with shredded Parmesan.

Winter caprese salad with beets and chard pesto.

So. Much. Rain. As I write this, we’re in hour who knows how many of steady, driving rain and wave after wave of thunderstorms. The garden is waterlogged. The sky is leaden. It’s weird weather, I tell ya, with a record number of 60+ degree days in February and tornadoes in the area on March 1. Will summer—and its bounty of perfect, ripe garden tomatoes—even happen this year?

To tide us over, here’s a wintertime version of the traditional Italian caprese salad. You know the one: with sliced, perfectly ripe off the vine tomatoes and creamy fresh mozzarella cheese. If you’ve ever made the mistake of ordering this salad in January in an Italian restaurant, it’s a mistake you’ve made just that once. Anything less than tomato perfection, and this salad, frankly, sucks.

This salad, this winter caprese recipe, makes two smart swaps, trading the tomato for roasted sliced beets and the fresh basil for Swiss chard pesto. Both equally tasty and nice on the plate as their summer counterparts. It’s inspired by another winter caprese salad I had recently from Wheat Penny, the delightful pizza joint in Dayton; it included roasted broccolini instead of beets, and a winter squash puree instead of the pesto.

All of which to say: it’s perfectly acceptable—fun, even—to hack variations on totally seasonal dishes at other times of the year. See what you can come up with to go alongside that fresh mozzarella!


serves 2

For the pesto:
5 large leaves Swiss chard, center stems removed
3 tablespoons sliced toasted almonds
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 cup mild olive oil

Bring a saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil; add chard and cook just until wilted, about 30 seconds. Drain, cool and squeeze as much water out of the chard as you can. Transfer to a food processor; add almonds and garlic and pulse to chop. Add olive oil and puree until very smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the salad:
4 large beets, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
Bit of olive oil
Herb-seasoned salt (I like Peg's Salt)
Fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
Freshly cracked pepper

Preheat oven to 400°; line a small baking sheet with foil. On the baking sheet, arrange the beet slices; drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with herb salt. Roast for 20–25 minutes, turning once, until beets are tender but not falling apart. Smear a generous spoonful of pesto on each serving plate, then arrange beets and mozzarella slices on top. Scatter cracked pepper over each serving.

Golden spiced lentil soup.

I’ve been on a soup-making roll lately, partly to prepare for two very different soup-centric cooking classes (last month at the Cooking School at Jungle Jim’s; this week at Dorothy Lane Market’s Culinary Center). And partly because, well, soup. A bowl of homemade soup is pretty much the perfect antidote to the sad desk lunch. Soup is my lunchtime BFF.

Scratching the itch for a tasty lentil soup, I put this Golden Spiced Lentil Soup recipe together. It gets its golden hue from a hit of turmeric, the trendy spice of 2017. Indian cooks and practitioners of holistic Chinese medicine have long recognized turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties. It’s getting some attention from researchers and nutritionists (though it’s important to note, as with all such dietary trends, that firm conclusions about turmeric’s health benefits remain to be made).

Whatever its nutritional profile, turmeric is just fun to cook with, adding a sunny golden hue to anything you stir it into. It has a slightly pungent flavor that balances nicely with the sweetness of the lentils and carrots in this soup recipe. Be sure to use fresh turmeric, not the decade-old stuff in the back of your pantry (use fresh cumin, too, for that matter). I love buying spices at Colonel De‘s and Dean’s Mediterranean Imports, both at Findlay Market, because I can purchase just what I need for a recipe and don’t end up with a huge jar that, you know, winds up at the back of my pantry.

Grab some fresh spices and give this easy Golden Spiced Lentil Soup recipe a try!

Golden spiced lentil soup recipe

serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil, more for drizzling
1 large onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne, more to taste
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 cups vegetable broth, preferably homemade
1 cup red lentils
Juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste
For serving: olive oil, plain Greek yogurt, pita croutons

In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons oil over high heat until hot and shimmering. Add onion and carrot, and sauté until soft, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Stir in cumin, turmeric, salt, pepper, cayenne and tomato paste. Cook 1 minute, stirring, to warm the spices and caramelize the tomato paste. Add broth and lentils. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover pot and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 20 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary. Using an immersion or regular blender, purée half the soup then add it back to pot. Soup should be somewhat chunky. Season with lemon juice.

What’s in *your* kitchen?

Pots, pans, knives, spoons, sure. But there are also smart little tools that make your cooking life easier. And I’m not talking about those useless gadgets like avocado peelers. Who needs that junking up their kitchen drawers?

Here’s my list of Top 10 Must-Have Tools for Your Kitchen, published on The Christ Hospital’s Healthspirations site. Check it out!

Buttery root vegetable mash.

If you’ve lately been to a winter farmers’ market in our area, you’ve seen abundant root vegetables and winter squashes on the tables. Root vegetables, with their underground growing habit, can withstand cold, blustery weather, especially if they’re cultivated in low tunnels or hoop houses that keep the ground from freezing and heaving out the roots. Squashes, harvested late last fall, are still delicious in all sorts of preparations.

All this produce fits beautifully on our plates right now, when it’s still chilly (well, today it’s going to reach near 70°) and we’re craving as much fresh flavor as we can get.

So this Root Vegetable Mash recipe is perfect.

I started with a recipe from Food & Wine for Braised Short Ribs with Root Vegetable Mash and made a few adaptations. The concept for the mash is simple: Sauté diced mixed vegetables in lots of butter, add liquid, then simmer until they’re tender and simply mash them with a fork. With more butter.

You can use any assortment of root vegetables and winter squash you’d like. I’ve made this with butternut squash, celery root, carrots, parsnips and sweet potatoes in various combinations. Do include celery root — its herbaceous flavor works really well in this dish.

This Root Vegetable Mash is a terrific side dish for roast chicken, grilled steak or the braised short ribs the original recipe calls for. While all these roots and squashes are available, give this a try!

root vegetable mash recipe

serves 4

4 pounds mixed root vegetables, at least 3 of the following: celery root, carrot, parsnip, sweet potato, golden beets (see Note)
6 cloves garlic, peeled
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup vegetable stock or water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
Minced fresh parsley for finishing

In a large skillet, heat 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat until it's foamy. Add vegetables, garlic, thyme and bay leaves; cook, stirring to coat with butter, about 10 minutes. Season with salt. Add honey and stir to coat; cook 10 minutes more, until vegetables begin to soften nicely (some may cook more quickly than others). Add stock; bring to a boil and cook until vegetables are uniformly tender and liquid is almost completely absorbed, about 20 minutes more. Mash the vegetables with a fork; stir in remaining tablespoon of butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Scatter minced parsley over the mash before serving.

Note: Parsnips are lovely in this recipe, but I find that some parsnips have a tough inner core that doesn't cook evenly and leaves crunchy bits in your mash. It's easy to spot this core: Quarter the parsnips lengthwise and remove it.

Blood orange French yogurt cake.

I lovelovelove a simple slice of cake, for dessert, sure, and also for a breakfast treat. Or an afternoon snack. Or a nibble right before bed. This recipe for Blood Orange French Yogurt Cake does the trick! Not too sweet, full of orange flavor and super easy to stir together, it’s a starter recipe for novice cake bakers and a staple for every home cook.

You can make this yogurt cake recipe with any kind of citrus, really: regular oranges, if you can’t find blood oranges (they’re in season right about now), Meyer lemons (!), regular lemons or limes. Blood orange juice makes the glaze a pretty blush color.

You could fancy this up with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream and a scattering of blood orange segments. Or just carve off a slice and eat it standing over the kitchen sink.

If you keep plain Greek yogurt on hand, then I’m betting you have everything you need to mix up this simple cake right in your fridge and pantry. Give it a try: It’s just the thing to restore your faith in, well, humanity and everything.

Blood Orange French Yogurt Cake Recipe

Serves 8

Bit of softened butter + flour for preparing pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon freshly grated blood orange zest
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the glaze:
1– 2 tablespoons blood orange juice
1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F. Rub butter on insides of a standard (8 1/2x4 1/4-inch) loaf pan; sprinkle with flour and shake to coat, dumping out any excess. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In a larger bowl, use your fingers to rub together sugar and orange zest until sugar is damp and zest is evenly distributed. Whisk in Greek yogurt, oil, eggs and vanilla. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the dry ingredients just until blended (some lumps of flour are OK; don’t overmix). Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until cake is browned on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Let cake cool in pan for 15 minutes, then tip out onto a cooling rack and cool completely. Whisk powdered sugar and orange juice together to make a pourable glaze; drizzle over cooled cake. Keeps well at room temperature; freezes well when tightly wrapped in plastic.

broken noodle bowl with broccoli-peanut pesto recipe | writes4food.com

Broken noodle bowl with broccoli peanut pesto.

Can we pause for a moment and look at how beautiful and colorful this healthy Broken Noodle Bowl with Broccoli Peanut Pesto is? I know bowls are *a thing* right now, and have been for awhile. This is exactly the kind of thing I’m craving for lunch: super flavorful, packed with bright vegetables and hearty enough to satisfy me at mid-day.

And I have to say: the chunky Broccoli-Peanut Pesto with a kick of chili garlic sauce is delish … and I can see it making a regular appearance in my kitchen this winter. I totally made up the recipe, and loved it. I envision it as a great add-in for fried brown rice with vegetables. It would be great spooned into a pan of scrambled eggs. My gluten-free friends could swap the buckwheat soba noodles for brown rice and do an Asian-inspired grain bowl. Need protein? Add sliced cooked chicken or quick-sauteed tofu.

I’m digging this Broken Noodle Bowl for lunch, but you could make dinner of it for 4 people by using 2 bundles of noodles and doubling up on all the vegetables (there’s enough pesto for a double recipe).

Crunchy, zingy, satisfying … give this one a try!

broken noodle bowl with broccoli pesto and crunchy vegetable recipe

makes 2 or 3 lunch servings, depending on how hungry you are

For the broccoli pesto:
1/4 cup lightly salted dry-roasted peanuts
1 clove garlic
2 cups (packed) lightly steamed broccoli florets
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
1–2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon chili garlic paste (or more to taste)
Salt and pepper

Place peanuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse to chop. Add broccoli, sesame and olive oil, 1 tablespoon water and chili garlic paste and pulse to create a chunky puree. (Add more water if needed for consistency.) Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the bowl:
1 bundle soba noodles broken in thirds
Assorted vegetables (as many and as much as you'd like), thinly sliced: snow peas, red pepper, cabbage, cucumber, carrot, scallion
Black and/or white sesame seeds for garnishing
Chopped lightly salted dry-roasted peanuts for garnishing

Cook soba noodles in boiling water according to package directions. Drain. While still warm, toss with about half the broccoli-peanut pesto to coat well, adding more if needed. Place half of noodles in a shallow bowl and top with vegetables; scatter sesame seeds and peanuts over. Or, toss everything together and pack into portable lunch containers.

cheesy butternut squash and wild rice bake | writes4food.com

Cheesy butternut squash and wild rice bake.

This is one of those recipes that seems healthy, what with all the brown and wild rice and butternut squash and so on. But oh, the cheese! Given the cheesiness of this delicious vegetable bake, I cannot vouch for its good-for-your-waistline-ness.

But lordy, did this Cheesy Butternut Squash and Brown Rice Bake hit the spot when I was craving something carb-y and comforting on a recent cold night. The recipe is simple, based on one of my most popular recipes for Broccoli-Brown Rice Bake (which is, itself, hacked from a mushroom casserole recipe on 101cookbooks.com). I used full-fat dairy when I made it the other night because I was cold and cranky (though you could certainly swap in part-skim ricotta and nonfat yogurt and not at all be sad about it). It cured both the coldness and the crankiness, letmetellya.

The base of this recipe is pretty adaptable; starting with the rice blend and egg/yogurt/ricotta mixture, I could see swapping in pretty much any steamed vegetable in place of the butternut squash: peas, red peppers, carrots or any root vegetable, zucchini, whatever’s in the rot drawer of the fridge. Use any good shredded cheese on top (and please, shred your own from a block or wedge instead of buying the packaged shredded stuff). Start with the recipe here, then experiment and expand.

Butternut and Brown Rice Bake recipe

serves 6

3 cups cooked brown-wild rice blend
3 cups steamed diced butternut squash
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon dried herb blend (I like Colonel De's 'Simon & Garfunkel')
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
3 large garlic cloves, sliced
1 cup ricotta
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 large eggs
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1/2 cup grated Fontina
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 375°; spray a medium-sized baking dish with cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine cooked rice, squash, parsley and herbs; season well with salt and pepper. In a small saucepan, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers; reduce heat to medium, add onion and cook, stirring often, until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add onion and garlic to rice mixture; stir and let cool slightly. In a bowl, whisk together ricotta, Greek yogurt, eggs and nutmeg; whisk in a pinch of salt and pepper. Add ricotta mixture to rice mixture and fold to combine thoroughly. Transfer to the prepared baking dish. Scatter grated Fontina and Parmesan evenly over the top. Bake 40 minutes, until casserole is bubbly; run it under the broiler to brown the cheese for the last 2 minutes or so if desired.