Thursday, January 20, 2011

Vegetarian Week

The house is empty, suddenly, as Ted has gone back to college and Paul is in New York all week. It's just Maddy and me this week, so we're indulging in dinners designed more for the two of us. It's vegetarian week around here, a great opportunity to make Maddy happy and to experiment with some new recipes and some lighter dinners.

First off, I have to thank Maddy for the photo above. I'm still hobbling along with my old point and shoot although I did go in halvsies with Maddy on a Nikon dSLR that I have yet to use. Maybe experimenting with that camera should be my New Year's resolution. She took this photo on my old camera after I unsuccessfully attempted a few shots myself in the darkness that accompanies a winter dinner. My camera (and I) seem only to do well with lots of natural light.

I started out with a bang on Monday night, in part to cheer us up after everyone departed. I created a version of pasta alla Norma, or, generally, pasta with roasted eggplant, tomatoes and ricotta cheese. This turned out to be the richest meal we had all week. The recipe for this is below. I had a frozen bag of slow oven roasted tomatoes I'd made in October with the last of the local plum tomatoes so I used those instead of canned tomatoes this time.

Tuesday night we had a dinner I don't think I've had since I was married. Baked potato stuffed with sauteed (very) garlicky spinach, mushroom and onions and about a tablespoon of leftover ricotta cheese and a sprinkle of parmigiano. With all the controversy over white carbs, I sometimes forget about potatoes, but this is a delicious and very light vegetarian dinner that is simple to prepare.

Last night we enjoyed last week's winning recipe from food52, Rivka's Mujaddara, which is a blend of lentils, rice and caramelized onions. Rivka also provides the recipe for an accompanying spiced yogurt. It was terrific last night, and I expect it will be even better for lunch today!

Tonight we will be enjoying this soba which I blogged about last year for Gourmet, Unbound, topped with vegetables and perhaps, a small piece of salmon for me. If you check my notes in that blog post, you'll see what I altered in that recipe.

Oh, and before you start cooking, I just wanted to alert you to something I read in Cooking Light this month. For those of us buying chicken directly from farmers, it's not so much of an issue, but if you buy your chicken in a grocery store, be aware that some chicken, particularly boneless breasts, are injected with a saline solution to plump them. This can add an enormous amount of sodium to a 4 ounce serving. According to Cooking Light, chicken altered in this way can still be labeled "natural" under current USDA labeling policies. Not only does this process add hidden sodium, you are paying for more chicken than you're getting. The injected water will cook out of the chicken leaving you a smaller yield than unenhanced chicken.

Processors must disclose the injections, but they sometimes hide the disclosure with small lettering and inconspicuous location. Look for language like "contains up to 15% chicken broth" in fine print. Also, check the Nutrition Facts label - natural chicken should have only about 70 mg. of sodium which occurs naturally in many foods. "Enhanced" chicken might have 440 mg. in a 4 ounce serving.

While that might not seem like a lot of sodium, it is a completely unnecessary one-fifth (and almost one-third of the amount the American Heart Association and the Center for Science in the Public Interest are urging the USDA to adopt as the new daily amount - a decrease from 2300 mg. per day to 1500) of the daily recommended amount before the chicken has even been put into a recipe that might contain salt. Buy it or don't, but at least be aware it's there.

Penne with Roasted Eggplant, Tomatoes and Ricotta Cheese

(serves 3 - 4)

1 eggplant, diced into about 1/2 inch pieces
3 - 4 tablespoons olive oil
3 fat cloves garlic, peeled and cut into pieces about the size of the eggplant chunks
1 small to medium onion, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
14 ounce can of no sodium added San Marzano tomatoes (or about a cup to a cup and a half of slow roasted - not sun dried! - tomatoes if you have them)
8 ounces (half package) penne rigate - I used Garofalo whole wheat penne and it was fine in this dish
1/2 cup torn basil leaves
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, shredded or grated to sprinkle on top

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. Put up a pot of water to boil for the pasta.

3. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil onto a half sheet pan or low sided roasting pan and spread around. Add the eggplant pieces and another tablespoon or two of olive oil and toss well. Roast in oven for about 15 - 20 minutes, stirring a couple of times, until soft and slightly caramelized but not crispy.

4. In a saute pan over medium heat, sweat the onions in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle a pinch or two of salt and some black pepper over top. Once the onions are translucent, add the garlic and Aleppo pepper or cayenne. After about two minutes, add the tomatoes, breaking them up with your hands or a spoon. Let the tomatoes simmer with the onion and garlic for about five minutes. You can throw in a pinch or two of thyme leaves if you have some. If you're using slow roasted tomatoes, put them into the pan with the olive oil they are in, but don't let them simmer, just move on to the next step.

5. Once the water boils, prepare pasta according to package directions. When the penne is cooked and drained, place it into a large bowl.

6. Add the tomato sauce, roasted eggplant and the basil to the pasta, reserving a pinch of basil for garnish if you like. Add the ricotta cheese. Mix well.

7. Taste for salt and pepper and add more if needed. Garnish with a bit of basil and Parmigiano Reggiano.


  1. I just made the roasted curried cauliflower w/ chick peas dish you rec'd from we love it, thank you! Anna

  2. So glad you liked it! It's become a regular in our house.