Ziti, Eggplant, Sun-dried Tomatoes & More - Pasta Sunday

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Sure, I recognize that Cinco de Mayo is coming up, and maybe you were expecting a taco or fajita recipe.  I'm figuring... No, I'd bet the farm that there are a gazillion other sites that will provide you with oodles of Mexican celebratory dishes.  I like Mexican food but I'm Italian (well, as we all know now with 1/4 Polish, shhh). Plus, you're gonna need a dish for  Sunday.

What can I tell you?  I'm a creature of habit and I love me some pasta on a Sunday. Well, any day really, but Sundays are a must. And it's usually the kind of pasta dish where I'm just throwing together things that I unearth from the back of the fridge or from a pantry rummage.  As my grandmother, who didn't quite understand my need for experimentation, used to call it, Mescolanza. Roughly translated; 'mixed up mess' which doesn't sound very appealing, right?  Consequently, the need for another title was apparent.  Thus the renaming of these types of creations to Something from Nothing Specials was born. Although not super sexy, it does sounds more creative and less like a mistake.  I have to admit, with some pride, that I can't recall a time when I experimented with pasta and it didn't taste good.  Could bias play a role by sheer virtue that I crave pasta like a smoker craves nicotine? Sure, but I have confirmation from others that they like my creations, too.   

So this past Sunday began a bit slow and lazy. When I woke up I had in the back of my mind that it was a pasta day. Although Spring had been trying to eek its pretty little neck out, this particular day was quite chilly, and even a bit nasty. Pasta always warms my soul and my belly. Heck, who am I kidding?  It's Sunday. I don't need any other excuse to make pasta.  So, after doing some Spring cleaning, my reward was to whip me up some comfort and serve it up like a trophy for my work. (I think I might have a serious pasta problem.)

Sure, I had fresh tomatoes.  I even had mushrooms. But that big, hunking jar of sun-dried tomatoes was staring me down as I opened the refrigerator door.  Those jewel colored, intensely flavored bites reminded me of how often I cooked with them in Miami. I was immediately transported back with memory waves of the other ingredients that were my favs: artichoke hearts, capers and olives.  Always trying to keep some solid staples on hand, of course I had capers and olives at the ready.  But with artichokes in attendance, it seemed imperative that I resurrect an old dish.  Also making an appearance, but as a new addition were some baby Italian eggplant. Throw in a few aromatics and we have a pasta dish, y'all.  

The main line up.

The main line up.

Ingredients

1 lb pasta (I used gluten free Tinkyada ziti but use whatever you like)
3 small Italian eggplant, cut in 1/2" strips (approx. 4 c)
1 c artichoke hearts, quarters
1/4 c sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, sliced (approx. 1.5c)
2 T Kalamata Olives
3 large garlic cloves, sliced
1.5 T capers
3 T olive oil
1/2 -1 t salt
1/2 t red pepper flakes
2 c basil, chiffonade
Goat or Feta cheese, or Pesto, optional

 
 
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Instructions

Put a pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. Sauté the onions in oil, adding 1/2 t salt and red pepper over low heat.  Let soften while you slice the eggplant and garlic. 

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Add the eggplant and slightly raise the flame to medium low.  You want to brown the eggplant a bit.  While the eggplant is cooking, prep all the remaining ingredients, and add the pasta to the boiling pot. Once the eggplant has browned, add a tad more oil in the middle of the pan to cook the garlic. Then add the capers, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts.  Lower the heat and let warm through. At this point, give it a taste for seasoning.  Capers, olives and sun-dried tomatoes can be salty which is why I only started with 1/2 t salt to start, and then added another 1/2 t before adding the pasta. 

It's important to not overcook the garlic, so only add that once the onions and eggplant are browned.

It's important to not overcook the garlic, so only add that once the onions and eggplant are browned.

The aromatic line up: Sun-dried tomatoes, capers, Kalamata olives, artichoke hearts.(Notice I only had a few olives, so that's the amount I used.)

The aromatic line up: Sun-dried tomatoes, capers, Kalamata olives, artichoke hearts.(Notice I only had a few olives, so that's the amount I used.)

Add them all to the pan so they cozy up together.

Add them all to the pan so they cozy up together.

By this time the pasta should be ready.  Reserve some of the pasta water, then drain the rest.  Add the pasta to sauce pot, stir together.  Add the pasta water as needed to loosen up. Turn off the heat and add the basil.  Serve immediately. 

Add the pasta to the mix and stir together. Now is the time to add the pasta water to your liking.

Add the pasta to the mix and stir together. Now is the time to add the pasta water to your liking.

Add the basil at the end to keep it from cooking all the way through.

Add the basil at the end to keep it from cooking all the way through.

Grate some cheese over top.  This dish would also be delicious with chunks of feta or goat cheese stirred in. I didn't have either but can completely imagine and taste it in my mind.  

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Since I had so much basil, I made walnut pesto which I used to warm up the leftover pasta.  Let me tell you that was a winning combination.

Happy Sunday or any day.

Print Friendly Recipe
 

 
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Glorious Grains Moroccan Style

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I think I might have a starch addiction. I am drawn to anything that provides that hearty, hulky texture.  Pasta, rice, potatoes, grains.  All these top my "I'll eat these anywhere, anytime" list.  Since I tend to consume all of the previously mentioned starchy delights a lot, I am always searching for different flavor combos to add to my repertoire.  I am not a huge fan of savory foods being too sweet, but I do enjoy countering tangy, sour, spicy flavors with cooling herbs and hints of sweet notes.  That's why this recipe, mixing grains of varied flavors and textures with herbs and other 'condiments', hits the bull's eye, satisfying those goals. Another great plus to this combo is that these grains pack a powerful protein punch.  Flavor, nutrients, festive looking... What more can you ask of your food?

When I first made this dish I was still eating wheat, so couscous was one of the 'grains' I used.  If you are not gluten free then go ahead, stir it in. For those who are gluten free, just eliminate the couscous as I do now.  You can add another grain or replace it by doubling up on one of the others already being used.  I used another 3/4 c of quinoa as a replacement.

What a heavenly and earthy mix. Also, notice my favorite little bowls that serve me so well for prepping dishes like this. If you want your own, check out   Miller Pottery

What a heavenly and earthy mix. Also, notice my favorite little bowls that serve me so well for prepping dishes like this. If you want your own, check out Miller Pottery

Ingredients

Simple, but perfectly balanced dressing line up.

Simple, but perfectly balanced dressing line up.

1 c uncooked Kasha (Buckwheat)
1 c uncooked Quinoa
1 c uncooked Couscous (eliminate to be gluten free)
1 c uncooked Millet
1/4 c chives, chopped
1/2 c chopped parsley
1/4 c mint, chopped
3/4 c dried apricots, diced
3/4 c Medjool dates, diced
1/2 c red onion, diced
1 c scallion, sliced
1/2 c almond slivers
(orange wedges would add lovely fresh component as an option)

Dressing
1/2 c lemon juice
1 T lemon zest
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1.5 t salt
3/4 c olive oil

 

Instructions 

Cook each of the grains separately, according to the package. 

Glorious grains. Millet, quinoa, kasha (which is also known as buckwheat)

Glorious grains. Millet, quinoa, kasha (which is also known as buckwheat)

While those are cooking, chop and prep all the remaining ingredients and have ready to mix together.   

Parsley, dates, scallions, red onion, almonds, dried apricots, chives, mint. Oh, these are going to love dancing together.

Parsley, dates, scallions, red onion, almonds, dried apricots, chives, mint. Oh, these are going to love dancing together.

Once the grains are done, drain and mix them together, adding the dressing before all the other ingredients.

Cooked kasha, milliet, quinoa.

Cooked kasha, milliet, quinoa.

Pour the dressing on first and let it all soak in.

Pour the dressing on first and let it all soak in.

Then add in all the remaining ingredients and toss until well combined. 

A bounty of textures, flavors and nutrients all in one big bowl.

A bounty of textures, flavors and nutrients all in one big bowl.

You see that big LOVE sign. That's right, stir this up with huge amounts of Love. (See below about the new sign.)

You see that big LOVE sign. That's right, stir this up with huge amounts of Love. (See below about the new sign.)

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This dish can be served slightly warm, room temp or even chilled.  Since it has a nod to Moroccan flavors it will pair with lamb or chicken dishes quite well.  I ate mine with ripe heirloom tomatoes and French feta cheese.  The rest of our gang enjoyed it with roasted chicken.

 

You may have noticed that my LOVE in the background of some my shots has grown.  Indeed, it has.  There are moments in my life that continue to remind me of the many blessings bestowed on me.  Friends are at the top of my list.  One of my best friends extended her love by sending me some of hers in the form of that huge swirl of emotion.  Thank you Dominique for sharing this with me and for your eternal friendship, support and of course, Love.  My heart grew 3 sizes that day!

Apple Crisp Salad

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I am one of those writers who loves journals.  I have a million but that doesn't stop me from buying more when I see one.  I am drawn to them like bees to honey.  I love the texture. I love holding them in my hand. I love all the styles, designs and colors. I see one, and like some fiend that has been implanted with a chip that orders me to buy every time I see one, I do so willing, happily, adding to my ever growing collection.  And because I have so many journals I write in different ones at different times.  Sometimes it depends on my mood; does the cover and feel of the journal match how I'm feeling?  Sometimes it's the contents; is what I'm about to write similar to what has already been written in that journal.  Other times it's simply about the weight of the journal.  If I am traveling, I choose the lightest, thinnest one.  While other times I could be in one location but still slightly traveling slowly side to side on the hammock. For those times, I choose a weightier journal than the one intended for trains, planes and automobiles.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. But aren't they all so pretty. Wouldn't you buy them, too?!

This is just the tip of the iceberg. But aren't they all so pretty. Wouldn't you buy them, too?!

Scribbles with no amounts. The green notes are from me recreating it for this blog, so I could give you measurements.

Scribbles with no amounts. The green notes are from me recreating it for this blog, so I could give you measurements.

The happy result of having started but not finishing
a journal is that I happen upon poems, writings, rantings, recipes and ideas from moments past.  There is a certain excitement upon discovering these nuggets. I can relive times in my life and feel a sense of journey and accomplishment. They also seem new and fresh to me, usually bringing me joy.  This occurs particularly when I'm thumbing through and unearth a recipe I want to try again. I can't tell you how happy I am that a few years back I started writing recipes down.  I've always written my thoughts and feelings
in journals but not recipes. So being able to recreate dishes that I made once and almost forgot is a real treat.  Like this Apple Crisp Salad.  I remember it now, and would have totally slipped my mind and fallen into the vast past of recipes lost had I not jotted it down.

It is exactly how I named it.  A salad featuring apples where the crispness comes from the way they are cut.  I believe I have mentioned this before but the cut of food, especially fruits and vegetables can make all the difference in world.  It can either enhance or overwhelm a dish.   In this recipe, the apples are cut like matchsticks, allowing them to mingle themselves throughout the entire salad providing a crisp crunch with every bite.

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ingredients

(4 Lunch or 6 dinner servings)
4+ c apples, sliced into matchsticks               10 c Boston, Romaine lettuce        
1 c parsley leaves
1 c cilantro leaves
1/3 c scallions, sliced
1/4 c heaping red onion, thinly sliced

 

Dressing
2 T lemon juice
2 T lime juice
1 t dijon mustard
1/4 t fresh ginger, grated
1/2 t garlic, crushed
salt, pepper to taste
1/3 c olive Oil

Instructions

Prepare all the ingredients as directed above, leaving the apples to the very last so they don't turn brown.  You can also squeeze lemon juice on them to keep them from turning.  For both the parsley and cilantro, pick the individual leaves off the stems and leave whole.  This adds so much flavor.

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Arrange the lettuces on a platter or big bowl. Then mix in all the other ingredients.

Cut 1/8" slices of the apple.

Cut 1/8" slices of the apple.

Then cut them lengthwise to create matchstick pieces.

Then cut them lengthwise to create matchstick pieces.

Using a mandolin, I also like to thinly slice some of the apple for garnish.  

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Add it to the top of the salad in various places.

Add it to the top of the salad in various places.

 

Make the dressing and then pour over the salad right before serving.  Toss until coated.  

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This dressing has a nice kick provided by the dijon grain mustard, the fresh grated ginger and garlic.

This dressing has a nice kick provided by the dijon grain mustard, the fresh grated ginger and garlic.

This is a perfect salad for this time of year as apple picking is in season.  Go pick a few then make this salad to accompany my Apple Butter/Spicy Sausage Sandwich.  Since the weather is still warm the salad is a great sub in for the roasted tomato soup that I originally made with that sandwich.  Either way...

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An apple a day...

 

Gremolata on Grilled Eggplants - Dana style

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Last summer I happened upon long, white eggplants that motivated me to grill them and top them with a feta cream concoction.  I, and my guests, loved the combo so much that I was again inspired by the zesty, tangy flavors of feta, herbs and lemon. This time wanting to create more of a gremolata style topping. 

Ok, before the emails start coming asking, "What is gremolata" ? (Although trust me, I never mind getting your email questions or suggestions.)  Gremolata is an Italian condiment, if you will.  Super basic, but like many things Italian, it makes a powerful statement.  It's a zesty garnish of chopped herbs. The classic version consists of lemon zest, garlic, parsley and anchovy and is often used as to complement such dishes as Osso Buco alla Milanese, providing a final flavor zip to a rich meat dish.  

Classic style is great since most of those ingredients are common to every kitchen, and it creates a wonderful go-to topping to liven up any dish.  However, fear not of veering off the common path. I implore you to go ahead and venture out. Mix and match to design your own gremolata.  Think other citrus fruits such as lime, orange, grapefruit.  Mix up the herb type either substituting or adding to the parsley with cilantro/coriander, mint, sage. When it comes to the spicy zing of garlic, ponder anything zingy: finely grated fresh horseradish, grated ginger or minced shallot. Some chefs even throw in Pecorino Romano cheese, anchovy, toasted pine nuts or grated bottarga.  So, no big surprise that I would riff off the classic gremolata to create a garnish that was destined to brighten up another batch of long, white eggplants. 

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I quickly began compiling items for my dana version.  The key to a great gremolata is FRESH ingredients. No jarred herbs or citruses allowed.

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ingredients

1/4 c chopped parsley
3 T chopped Moroccan or oil cured olives
1 T chopped fresh, mint
2 T chopped oven dried tomatoes*
1/3 c crumbled feta
1/4 t red pepper flakes
3 T minced shallot
1 T lemon zest
3 T olive oil

*I made my own oven dried tomatoes and packed them in oil. Recipe is linked above but can also use sun dried tomatoes

Instructions

Grill or prepare the meat or veggie of your choice.  As I mentioned, I grilled white eggplants and onions.

Chop, prep all the above ingredients and combine together.  A true gremolata does not include the oil. But you can add it to the mix or drizzle it over top the final dish.

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This adds such a bright, summer fresh flavor to grilled anything.  Heck, I bet this would be banging on a grilled hamburger.  Skip the ketchup, and pile on the gremolata!!

Another fringe benefit to using gremolata on vegetables is that you rake in all the fresh, brightness of citrus without turning your green vegetables brown. I also tried it on spaghetti squash and it definitely imparted a different flavor profile.  Now that's amore!

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