Archive for August, 2010

Fire Roasting Peppers

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

This year I experimented with some new (to me) heirloom varieties of vegetables in my garden, among them these gorgeoumous (yeah, I know it’s not a real word) Bulgarian Chervena Chushka roasting peppers. I found the seeds at Seed Savers Exchange and planted them in late February so the seedlings would be ready to place in the garden by mid to late May. These peppers were a rousing success! After roasting this batch, I swore I would never mess around with a bell pepper again. The peppers ripened to a nice deep red and the flavor …. oh so sweet! I’ve only just begun harvesting, but it appears that each of the 8 plants I set out are producing up to 30 peppers per plant! I should mention that I mulched my peppers with a well composted manure, as peppers are heavy feeders. I get my composted manure from some friends who raise grass fed beef and adhere to organic farming practices.

Over the course of the summer I’ve spoken to the owner of a local wholesale greenhouse, an organic farmer, and a fruit and vegetable market owner, all having confirmed that this year has been a very poor year for peppers in my area.  All three were very surprised to hear about my bumper crop of roasting peppers, and two of them asked if I would be willing to save some seed for them.  Obviously, I will be saving seeds for next year.

If you’ve never roasted peppers before, I highly recommend giving it a go. You’ll never want to eat jarred roasted peppers again. I’m roasting large quantities, so the grill is the only way to go, but you can roast a single pepper over the flame on your gas range.

Before beginning, you will want to have a few things ready to go.  Once you start you will want to stay with your peppers until they are finished.  You will need the following:

Plastic wrap
Paring knife

Simply turn on your flame and place the peppers over the flame, turning them occasionally with tongs. Allow the skins to become charred.  When finished the skins don’t need to be entirely blackened, but the parts that are not blackened should at least appear shriveled. Despite throwing them on the grill at the same time, each pepper finishes in it’s own time. The pepper on the right is almost finished while the pepper on the left still has a way to go.

Once the peppers reach the desired done-ness, remove from the grill and place in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the peppers to steam in their own heat. Steaming loosens the skins making them easy to remove. Keep them covered for at least 15 minutes, and resist the temptation to uncover and let the steam out. I’m a little like Pandora so I use a clear bowl …. it removes temptation, allowing me to see everything going on in the bowl.   I let my peppers sit for about an half hour so they would be cool enough to handle while removing the charred skins.

To remove the skins, use a sharp paring knife and start by cutting a circle around the stem. Then carefully pull the stem end out of the pepper, most of the seeds will come out with it. After removing the stem insert a finger and remove most of the remaining seeds. Next, using the edge of a paring knife peel the charred skin from the peppers. Most of the skins should be loose enough you can even use your fingers to peel them. Do NOT rinse your peppers! They may seem a bit messy, but rinsing will destroy that great fire roasted flavor you worked to so hard to get.

Once skinned,  slit each pepper down it’s length opening it like a book.  Scrape away any remaining seeds.

There are several things you can do with your roasted peppers. First, you can use them right away in your favorite recipe. I like to freeze mine in small heavy duty freezer bags. I usually freeze about 8 ounces to a bag which is the perfect amount for my favorite Roasted Red Pepper Soup. I suppose you’re going to want me to post the recipe. Another method for saving your roasted gems is to store them in olive oil in the refrigerator. This method is best for small quantities that you plan to use within a few weeks. Freezing is probably the best method for large quantities and long term storage. I imagine peppers could be canned, but I’ve not tried it so can’t recommend it.

Elderberry Sherbet

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Each year in late summer, my husband and I spend some time together foraging for elderberries.  This year we hit the mother load and found a gargantuan new patch. Last Friday I was extremely busy in the shop, so my well meaning hubby decided to help me out.  He had a HUGE plastic storage tote full of elderberries waiting for me when I finished work. I spent Friday evening, and just about all of Saturday stripping berries from the stems. Of course, my husband had a major job going over the weekend and had to be on the site, leaving me to deal with 35 pounds of elderberries all by myself! I started out on my front porch, but after several hours I moved my operation indoors and watched / listened to chick flicks while I worked. The fruit of my labor (pun intended) was 30 pints of rich elderberry juice sweetened with honey from a local beekeeper. I also added some lemon juice for tartness and a chunk of ginger in the bottom of each jar.

Elderberry is part of my winter regimen for preventing and treating colds and flu. Elderberry has been used in folk herbalism for eons, and modern medical studies are now confirming it’s effectiveness.  Last year I used elderberry tincture and tea. A friend of mine gave me a jar of her canned juice when I picked up a rare cold, and I found it to be very soothing to my sore throat. As a result, I promised myself that I would can my own juice in the future.

With such a glut of elderberries I’ve been able to experiment with recipes a little more. My friend Tina has quite the collection of recipes going on her blog, and I’d like to offer one of my own for elderberry sherbet.

Elderberry Sherbet
3 cups elderberry juice
Juice of one lemon
1 cup honey
2 or 3 slices ginger root (optional)
1 cup cream

Place elderberry juice, lemon juice, honey, and ginger slices in a pan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer.  Remove from heat and allow to cool. Once completely cooled, remove ginger slices and add cream. Refrigerate mixture several hours to chill thoroughly. Place chilled elderberry mixture in an ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s directions. This is a soft sherbet, so you will need to transfer it to a container and place it in the freezer overnight to firm up.

I have a human powered Donvier 1-Quart Ice Cream Maker that I store in my deep freeze at all times. Whenever I make  ice cream, sherbet, or sorbet, I sit and churn in the evening while I watch TV. Then I pop the frozen treat in the freezer and it’s ready for dessert after dinner the following evening.

Baba Ganoush

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Baba Ganoush is an Arabic dish traditionally served with pita bread.  However, it’s also wonderful as a veggie dip, and I’ve even been know to use it as a sandwich spread instead of mayo. It’s one of those dishes that varies in preparation from middle eastern country to country. Recipes will include other vegetables and a variety of different spices. In many Arabic countries it is also common to drizzle Baba Ganoush with olive oil before serving.

Baba Ganoush is my solution to excess eggplant to be found in the garden at this time of year. I remember one particular summer when my boys were very young and I had a larger than usual garden. Because I had trouble with eggplant a couple of years running, I decided to plant a couple dozen eggplant I had started from seed. We ended up naming that summer the “Eggplant Summer”.  Growing conditions were perfect and I had so much eggplant I couldn’t even give it all away. I gave a bunch to my boys’ pediatrician, a wonderful little Filipino woman, and to this day we are good friends.  Anyway, back to our subject, Baba Ganoush freezes wonderfully, so I can enjoy it during the cold months when I start baking bread again. Because the weather is so hot when eggplant is in season, I fire up the grill for roasting instead of using the oven and heating up my kitchen.

Baba Ganoush
4 small or 2 large eggplant (about 2 pounds), roasted
2 or 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste you should be able to find in the ethnic section your grocery)
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt to taste
Ground cumin to taste (I start with 1/2 teaspoon and go from there)

To roast eggplant, preheat your grill or oven. The eggplant can be roasted whole, but I like to split mine in half.  I brush some aluminum foil with a little olive oil, lay the eggplant cut side down and roast until soft and skin shrivels. The cut side gets browned which lends a more brown color to the finished product, and also gives it a more roasty flavor in my opinion.  If you roast the eggplant whole, be sure to poke each eggplant a few times with a fork. Cool eggplant and then scoop out the flesh into your food processor

Add garlic, tahini, lemon juice, salt and cumin to the eggplant and process until smooth. This recipe is about the eggplant, so the garlic, tahini, lemon juice, and spices should be adjusted for personal taste. I know I probably sound like a broken record, but I’d like to stress that cooking should not be about making a recipe just like someone else does.  You want it to taste good to YOU!

Elderberries and Sumac Lemonade

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

This past weekend, my husband and I went out to forage elderberries. We noticed that the berries seem to be ripening a little more quickly than last year, and wanted to get some before the birds did. Last year I dried enough elderberries, and made enough tincture to supply a small army. The berries we picked this weekend went to my dad to make elderberry wine. I plan to pick some more this coming weekend which I will can as juice with honey, lemon juice, and a little ginger.

I just got the following email from my dad this morning:

“I thought you might be interested to know that we’ve got one of the hottest ferments going that I’ve ever seen. I made a yeast starter about 12 hours before pitching the yeast. When I put it in the batch it started bubbling vigorously within three hours. This morning is going like “gangbusters”. Doing the juice extraction by simmering was a good choice because it gave us a really rich, ruby red juice with no sign of “green goo”. I think this is going to be a good batch. Dad”

Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to tell you how the wine turns out for about 18 months. The process begins with primary fermentation and progresses to racking, fining, and bottling about 6 months later. Aging will take another year.

While we were out picking elderberries, I grabbed some ripe Sumac berries so I could make some Sumac Lemonade at home. Now before you get alarmed, this is Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) and not the much less common poison variety (Toxicodendron vernix or Rhus vernix).

I’ve always been a bit mystified why there is so much confusion over poison sumac. The poison stuff has white berries, and doesn’t look a thing like true Sumacs which have red berries.

Staghorn Sumac berries are covered in a layer of a sort of fuzzy red, waxy powder. When collecting the berries, the easiest way to know if they are ready is to rub the berries between your fingers and then lick your fingers. If the taste is sour you know they’re ready. This tartness comes from ascorbic acid (vitamin C).  We haven’t had much rain this month, so the Sumac berries are in good shape. Rain will wash off the berries, taking the tart flavor with it.  It’s also a good idea to choose clusters of berries that look relatively clean. It’s best not to rinse the berries before making the lemonade.

Sumac berries are slightly diuretic and laxative, so don’t go hog wild and drink a whole pitcher of the lemonade, or you may be visiting the restroom frequently. However, if you’re having difficulty in that department, then a pitcher of the lemonade may be just the herbal remedy that you’ve been looking for. While we’re on the subject of herbal remedies, I though I would mention that Sumac has a long standing history of use in Native American and Appalachian folk medicine.

To make the Sumac Lemonade I placed some of the berries in a bowl of cold water. I rubbed the berries a little bit, and then set the bowl aside for about an half hour to infuse.  It’s important to use cold water. Boiling the berries will bring out tannins, resulting in a bitter unpleasant drink. Also, the longer you infuse the berries the stronger the flavor will be.

After infusing the Sumac, I poured the resulting liquid through a coffee filter.  I know some directions will call for straining through cheesecloth, but even with a coffee filter I still get a fine red sediment at the bottom of my container. If you look closely at the picture to the left, you will see a small amount of a fine red sediment in the bottom of the glass.

Sweeten the Sumac Lemonade to taste and enjoy!

Founders Red’s Rye P.A. Beer Review

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

I hadn’t planned to do another beer review so soon, but how was I to know I was going to run into another excellent beer right away?  This one is Red’s Rye P.A. Ale from Founders Brewing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Founders makes a lot of great beers including one of my favorites, their Breakfast Stout.

The commercial description: Pours a spectacular crimson red with a creamy tan head. Brewed with four varieties of Belgian caramel malts imparting a sweet richness. Reds Rye is impressively balanced with its hop bitterness and floral bouquet achieved from the dry hop. In the finish, the generous amount of malted rye used accentuates a spicy crisp finish.

My take: When I poured it into my glass it was a beautiful hazy copper color, and had a great big frothy beige head.  At first sniff I got a rich Caramel malt aroma. The next sniff gave me a sense of floral hops.  I was getting something else I couldn’t quite identify, so I’m going to assume it was spice, but I’m not completely sure. I’m glad I got a 6 pack!  After I did my weird little sniffy thing we beer raters do, I finally took my first taste. YUM!! Sweet creamy caramel!  I’ve tasted caramel-y beer before, but this is the first time I identified it so quickly. I also tasted citrus, and then the beer had a nice long bitter hop finish. The more I’ve been tasting, the more I realize I really like the floral/citrus hops flavor.  I think I’m going to have to study up on hops a little bit to see if I can learn something about the different varieties and flavors they impart. I’ve tasted some hops flavors that were so harsh as to be very unpleasant, and I’d like to know why the huge difference. As to palate, this is a medium bodied beer with a slightly creamy mouth feel.  Overall it has a nice balance between bitter and sweet. I think it’s a perfect late summer (going into fall) beer. It has that great crisp, citrus hops that you would associate with a summer thirst quencher, but a heavier creamy body that would pair well with rich harvest scents and flavors.   I drank a second one, and the arthritis pain that has been bothering my knees for the last couple of days is a little less noticeable.

Salted Butterscotch Peach Jam

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

This peach jam is amazing! It’s so amazing that I’m going to have to make more.  My family loved it so much that I only have these two little 4 ounce jars left a little over a week after making it. That’s just two little 1/2 cup jars! They demolished the stuff!. It’s wonderful on ice cream. It’s also good on waffles, and it passed my 15 year old son’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich test.

From a cook’s standpoint this recipe was especially fun, because I got to see how it evolved, as each cook put her own touch on it.  The original recipe comes from Mary Ann Dragan’s Well Preserved: Small Batch Preserving for the New Cook I found the recipe reprinted a couple times on the net by the time my friend Maggie got her hands on it. It was Maggie’s idea to transform the recipe into a sweet and salty treat.

I loved Maggie’s idea, but the more I looked at the recipe, I realized I wanted it to be truly butterscotch and it was going to need an addition of butter and vanilla. After all, butterscotch isn’t butterscotch without BUTTER! So I put my own spin on the recipe. Maggie and I share a similar cooking style in that we follow measurement’s very loosely and go more by taste. The measurements I give allow for differing ripeness of your peaches and personal preference. For instance, I didn’t use quite as much salt as Maggie because I have relatively sensitive taste buds, and don’t like my food uber salty. Also, my peaches were very ripe and sweet, and didn’t need as much sugar. These peaches were a surprise gift from my neighbors who got them from their parents’ unsprayed tree. Local and chemical free …. the best way to go.

Salted Butterscotch Peach Jam
6 cups peaches, peeled and pitted
1/3 cup lemon juice
Up to 5 cups of brown sugar (I only needed about 4 1/4 cups)
4 tablespoons butter
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 teaspoons GOOD salt (I used French grey sea salt)

First peel and pit your peaches. The easiest way to do this is to drop your peaches into a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds to a minute, and then remove them to an ice water bath with a slotted spoon.  Work in small batches and make sure you bring the water back to a full boil between batches. After scalding, the skins should slip off relatively easily. Split the peaches in half with a knife, remove the stone, and chop the flesh. I know Maggie left her skins on, but I just can’t stand peach skin. I even peel fresh peaches before eating them.

Place the peaches in a large heavy pot and smoosh them up. You can use a potato masher or your hands. Add lemon juice, sugar to taste, butter, and vanilla bean specks. Bring the mixture up to a simmer and then continue to cook over low heat for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, stirring often. Cooking time will vary. My peaches were extremely juicy, and I cooked for a full 1 1/2 hours to bring the jam to a thick consistency.  As stated in the Well Preserved book, “Long-cooked jams use less sugar than those made with commercial pectin, and, I believe, have a more intense fruit flavor.”

At this point, I removed the jam from the stove and set it aside to let it cool while I fixed dinner. I did this for two reasons. First, my family was hungry and things were about to get ugly.  Secondly, I can’t properly taste anything if it’s too hot or cold. Since I was going to be adding salt I wanted to be sure I got it right.  Also, by cooling, I was able to see if the consistency of the jam was too my liking.

After dinner I assembled my water bath canner, jars, lids, and other canning accouterments. Then I added my salt to taste.  You should do the same. You might want more, you may want less. The point is you want it to taste good to YOU. Once the flavor was to my liking I brought the jam back up to a simmer, poured it into my hot jars, and processed. If you’re unfamiliar with the canning process, there are many good books and online tutorials. A quick online search should give you more than you ever wanted to know.

Hoegaarden Beer Review

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

I like beer.  I like beer a lot. I used to hate beer. When I first married my husband, I would take a sip of his Miller High Life and then shudder. Don’t ask me why I kept doing it, but for some perverse reason I kept taking sips of his gross beer. This went on for a few years.  Then one day I took a sip and realized it wasn’t so bad. Eventually, I would actually drink one on a hot day.

Then everything changed. My sister married Roger. Roger likes beer more than anyone I know….. and he has the Top 100 Beer Rater ranking on to prove it. Currently, he’s rated more than 3600 beers. I’ve rated a measly 27. Roger is my beer hero!

Because of Roger, I hate Miller High Life again. Thanks to my beer hero I was introduced to a world of creamy dark stouts, light crisp wheat beers, tart Belgian Lambics, dark malty Scottish ales, and …. oh you get the point. There’s an astounding variety of styles of beer, and I’ve just begun to scratch the surface.  Oh…. a little side note… my husband hates just about every beer I can convince him to taste. The only beer I really see him enjoy are Miller High Life and Jamaican Red Stripe. When it comes to beer we’re a mixed religion family.

I promise not to deluge you with beer reviews. I’ll only bother you with some of the better beers I try. I’m still a newbie to beer tasting, so please bear with me if you have more experience.

This past winter I was trying a lot of porters and stouts, but this summer I’ve been trying more wheat beers and have found a few that I really like.  On of the best I’ve tried so far is  Hoegaarden Witbier. The brewers description is an unfiltered Belgian White, flavored with coriander and orange peel, creating a sweet & sour taste.

When I poured it into my glass it was a hazy pale yellow and had a frothy white head that disappeared quickly. The first thing to hit my nose was a definite sense of banana and yeast. After another sniff or two I picked up a bit of citrus. The flavor of the beer was  in keeping with aroma. It had a great fruity/banana flavor, as well as a prominent yeasty/wheat taste. There was also a light citrus flavor that gave the beer crispness . Combined with a light carbonated body, I found this beer perfect for a hot summer day.  I’d like to rate it again later as my palate becomes more experienced to see if I can pick up the spices used in the brewing. This time around I wasn’t able to pick up those flavors.  Because of the extreme heat and humidity we’ve been having, I drank this pretty cold, which may be why I wasn’t able to pick up the spice flavors. When I get around to re-rating it, I’ll be sure the beer is a more appropriate temperature.

One last thing…. be still my beating heart!! My husband liked this beer and asked me to pick up some more! From what I know, this beer has a rather wide distribution so you should be able to find it in a well stocked liquor store.

Pico de Gallo

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

If you’re a home gardener then I’m positive you’re swimming in tomatoes about now, and desperately trying to keep up with your ripening bounty.  I’m getting double whammied thanks to my brother-in–law (but I’m not complaining). I planted my tomatoes late this year, and the first one is just beginning to ripen.  My dear brother-in-law,  my husband’s identical twin, planted WAAAY too many plants, has no canning or preserving experience, and keeps hinting around that I might be able to do something about his glut of tomatoes.  I’ve been finding deposits of tomatoes on my kitchen table about every other morning, and he’s been warning that the main crop should be ready some time next week.  I’m still trying to decide if I’m going to help him. In the meantime, I’ve been happily munching away on tomato and sweet onion sandwiches, and making up batches of pico de gallo which are quickly polished off by my heathen tribe.

I’m not giving measurements, because this recipe is more about proportions and personal taste.

Pico de Gallo
White Onions
Jalapenos (optional)

Dice tomato and throw it in your bowl.

Dice up to an equal amount of onion. This is where personal preference comes into play.  I usually go with about 1/2 to 3/4 the amount of tomato. I recently learned that authentic Mexican food uses white onion and not yellow onion.

Finely chop a bunch of cilantro. Again…. personal preference. If I were the only person eating the Pico de Gallo, I would use an amount equal to my tomatoes, but my guys can’t handle that much.

Very finely dice the Jalapeno and add it to the mix.  I skip this one because I’m the only chili head in the house. I would be accused of cruel and unusual torture if I set out a bowl of spicy Pico de Gallo.

Add lime juice and then salt to taste.  This tasting step is very important for a couple of reasons.  First, you don’t want to overdo the salt.  If you’ll be eating the salsa with chips, remember that your chips are salted.  Second, this may be the only Pico de Gallo you get to eat.  Once you set it out it will disappear quickly!

This is a versatile salsa.  Don’t limit yourself to eating it with chips. It makes a wonderful side dish. I recently served it as a side with homemade tamales (which I promise to post at some later date).  You can add it to any number of Tex-Mex type dishes also.

A Day in Little Burma

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

I played hooky from working in the shop on Friday, and spent the day with my cousin, his new girlfriend, and another good friend of ours.  My cousin’s girlfriend was here for a short visit and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to meet her. We had decided to make a trip into Fort Wayne to eat at a Burmese/Thai restaurant located in a rather seedy section of town.  Fort Wayne, Indiana is home to the largest Burmese (Myanmar) refugee population in the United States.  Many of these refugees have immigrated from Thai refugee camps after fleeing violence in their homeland, which is under the rule of military dictator General Than Shwe. The restaurant’s owner is Ma Hnin, a Burmese refugee who immigrated to Fort Wayne from Thailand.

My first impression upon arriving at the parking lot of Ma Hnin Asian Restaurant was that it was a hole in the wall dive.  Never go by first impressions. When we walked in the door we were greeted by a friendly Burmese waiter who spoke excellent English. The tiny restaurant walls were painted bright orange and blue, and there were girly pink curtains hanging in the windows. On the wall behind our table was a small Buddhist shrine. I don’t know much about Buddhism, but it’s my understanding that the purpose of a shrine in a home or business is as a reminder of the goals of Buddhist practice, and to make daily offerings of flowers, food, and water (or anything pleasing to the 5 senses). I also learned that it is desirable to place a shrine in a radiant environment, which explains the brilliant orange room in which we were seated (and also made photographing the food a bit challenging).

We arrived after the lunch crowd had left and had the place all to ourselves, so our waiter was very attentive. He even had a great sense of humor. When I pulled out my camera, he told me I wasn’t allowed to take pictures with a perfectly deadpan face. As I started to put the camera away, he broke into a big smile and told me he was just kidding.

We started out with Thai iced tea and appetizers of Burmese Samuza and Thai Shrimp Rolls. Somehow I didn’t get a picture of the iced tea and I wish I had.  It was a beautiful orange color, sweetened and served with a cloud of cream poured in the top of the glass. The Samuza was a small fried pastry stuffed with potato and curry spices and served with a spicy chili sauce.

My favorite appetizer was the shrimp rolls. They were stuffed with a solid piece of shrimp, rice noodles, seaweed, and I swear I could taste a touch of holy (Thai) basil. They were served with a delicious sweet and sour chili dipping sauce.

Each of our meals came with a serving of chicken broth spiced with lots of white pepper.  It was so pleasantly spicy, making the inside of my ears burn a bit, and was beautiful in it’s simplicity.

My cousin ate a traditional Thai Tom Yum Goong soup made with shrimp, lemongrass, lime, and chili. I WILL be going back to Ma Hnin and this soup is what I plan to order….. and more of those fantastic shrimp rolls!

Another of the menu items ordered by our group was a Green Chicken Curry dish containing soy beans and bell pepper, seasoned with Thai basil. I’ve never really eaten curry dishes, so I’m completely unfamiliar with the flavors.

The dish I ordered was a seafood Pad Khi Mao, a spicy fried noodle dish with lots of vegetables and perfectly cooked shrimp and mussels. To end the meal, our waiter brought out a plate of fresh sliced watermelon which was an absolutely perfect light finish.

I was so impressed with the colors of the food, and how the flavors popped and were so well balanced.  It was a great cultural food experience shared with wonderful company and intelligent conversation. The next time I visit I would really like to take my dad.  When I was a child he exposed me to so many new food experiences, and as an adult I love to opportunity to do the same for him.

After finishing our meal we walked across the street to a large Asian grocery. I was shocked at the amount of time we spent in the store.  I never realized I had such a great resource nearby.  I cook a few simple Asian dishes, but have not experimented much for lack of authentic ingredients. My poor meat and potatoes family is not going to be  very happy with me in the coming months.  I purchased a few hot and sour soup ingredients, but would like to go back at a later date when I’ve had time to plan a few adventures in Asian cuisine.

Pasta with Summer Vegetables Pesto and Feta

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

One of the things I love about eating in the summer is the ability to throw together quick, healthy dishes using fresh, local ingredients. I’m especially fond of one skillet meals which take only minutes to prepare, leaving more time to go outside and play in my gardens.  We’ll call this particular recipe a variation on a theme, and I’ll show you how you can change it up, depending on the ingredients you have on hand.

The dish revolves around whole wheat pasta, seasonal vegetables, and some type of protein.  By changing the veggies and protein, the dish can be completely transformed. The version I give below is rather Italian.  Early this fall I might go with squash, arugula, sage, and goat cheese. Another fall combo is carrots, Brussels sprouts, pancetta or bacon, and pecorino cheese. In the spring you could go with fettuccine, asparagus, parsley, and Gorgonzola. I’ve even been known to use eggs as my protein, but cheese is my favorite. Some of the fresh cheese I make includes chèvre, mozzarella, and queso blanco.  We’ll talk about cheese at some later date! If you would like something a little heartier, you can use leftover chicken, shrimp, or red meat as your protein. Just remember, the point of this recipe is to be quick, so use leftovers!

Pasta with Summer Vegetables Pesto and Feta
1/2 an onion, roughly chopped or sliced
2 to 4 baby zucchini, halved and sliced lengthwise
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
8 ounces organic whole wheat pasta, cooked and drained
2 large tomatoes, chopped
2 to 4 tablespoons pesto
4 ounces feta, cut into cubes
Olive oil for cooking

Once you have your ingredients chopped, sliced, and cubed, assemble them next to your skillet. Cooking will go really fast.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in your skillet over medium high heat. Add onions and cook for about 30 seconds. Next add zucchini and garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add pasta and half the tomatoes and cook for 30 seconds to a minute, or until everything is heated through.  Finally, add pesto, feta, and the last half of the tomatoes.  Stir everything together to thoroughly mix and then pull it off the heat.