winter salad with arugula, butternut squash and blue cheese recipe | writes4food.com

Fall salad with butternut squash, arugula and blue cheese.

Now that (sigh) we’ve passed beyond summer tomato season, my salad tendencies are trending toward more seasonally appropriate produce like arugula, root vegetables and squashes.

Repeat after me: Salad is not a pile of iceberg lettuce drowned in Italian dressing. Salad is NOT a pile of iceberg lettuce drowned in Italian dressing. 

No, salad is a well-composed assemblage of the freshest seasonal vegetables, including lettuce or not, in homemade salad dressing. Salad is this: Lightly steamed matchsticks of butternut squash on a bed of peppery arugula with creamy blue cheese and a simple shallot vinaigrette.

I’m thinking this salad would be a lovely accompaniment to the traditional Turkey Day spread, very much of the season and a lighter, brighter foil to the mashed potatoes and stuffing.

Pick up all the local produce you’ll need to compose a beautiful, seasonal salad at your favorite farmers’ market this week!

winter salad with butternut squash and arugula

(serves 4)

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and seeded
1 package baby arugula, washed and spun dry
Handful of toasted pepitas or sunflower seeds
2 ounces good blue cheese (I prefer Maytag for its balanced flavor and creaminess)
Simple shallot vinaigrette (see below)

Slice the neck of the squash into matchsticks; transfer them to a steamer basket set over boiling water and steam the squash until it loses its raw taste and is cooked but firm (and not breaking apart), about 5 minutes. Remove the steamer basket carefully from the pot and run cold water over the squash to stop the cooking.

Place the arugula in a large bowl and season it lightly with salt and pepper; drizzle over about a third of the dressing and toss to coat. Portion the salad onto four salad plates; scatter some of the butternut matchsticks, pepitas or sunflower seeds and crumbled blue cheese over each serving. Drizzle with additional dressing if you’d like.

simple shallot vinaigrette

1 tablespoon white wine or champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon or whole-grain mustard
1/2 teaspoon finely minced shallot
3 tablespoons olive or grapeseed oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

homemade egg noodle recipe | writes4food.com

Grandma’s homemade egg noodles.

My grandmother, Dorothy, is still going strong at 95. And while she doesn’t cook like she used to, she remains one of my biggest inspirations for cooking and gardening. Thinking of her today prompted me to share one of my favorite recipes she passed down to me: homemade egg noodles.

These homemade egg noodles work beautifully in a pot of chicken soup, of course, but they also substitute for homemade pasta (in Italy, egg pasta is called pasta all’uovo or pasta fresca). I roll the dough out by hand, without a pasta machine, because a) it’s easy, and b) it’s how Grandma always did it.

As the weather cools, it’s time for a batch of homemade noodles to go alongside the remains of a roast chicken or some vegetable Bolognese sauce, don’t you think?

homemade egg noodle recipe

serves 4

2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1–3 teaspoons water

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and the salt together. Place the flour in a large bowl, and make a well in the center. Add the egg/salt mixture and stir with a fork to combine. Add 1 teaspoon of water and stir to combine. If the dough feels dry or crumbly, add more water a few drops at a time. Dig your hands into the dough and knead for 2 or 3 minutes to combine thoroughly, adding more water or flour if needed to create a smooth dough that's slightly tacky. Transfer the dough to a flour-dusted pastry cloth and divide it into thirds. Turn the mixing bowl over the dough to cover it and let it rest for 30 minutes. Take one portion of dough and dust it liberally (and the pastry cloth) with flour; roll it into a large circle that's as paper-thin as you can get it. If the dough seems too stretchy and doesn't want to roll, let it rest for another 30 minutes. Repeat rolling the other two portions of dough. Set the rolled dough rounds aside on paper towel to dry. The dried dough should feel slightly leathery: rough on the surface but still pliable. When it reaches this point, roll each round into a cylinder and cut the dough into 1/2-inch strips. Unfurl the noodles and place them on a rimmed baking sheet to dry, preferably overnight, tossing occasionally to ensure even drying. To store your homemade egg noodles, place them in a zip-top plastic bag; they'll keep well for 6 months. Cook the noodles for 5 to 8 minutes in well-salted boiling water.

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 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?! 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.