Create The Perfect Holiday Dinner with The Cultured Cook!

cheesy-penne-with-kaleOne-Pot Green & Red Pasta

Penne Alfredo with Kale & Broccoli

What to do with hearty garden greens? Make pasta! Now that the weather is cooler, kale and chard and beet greens and turnip greens are enjoying a growth spurt. Luckily, they’re so versatile that you can use them in everything from soups to stir-frys. For this dish, I opted to combine kale with pasta, two kinds of cheeses, tomatoes, and broccoli. Note that if you have broccoli in your garden, you could toss in the broccoli leaves, too. The trick is to cut the greens/leaves into thin slices (often called a chiffonade) so that they’ll be tender after just a few minutes of simmering.

And aside from being delicious and quick, this dish also only requires one pot. Doesn’t get any easier than that! Think of it as a simple and colorful penne alfredo.

Penne Alfredo with Kale & Broccoli

Serves 4.

8 oz. whole-grain penne (I used corn penne, but brown rice or any other whole-grain penne would work; just be sure to use gluten-free penne if you’re making a gluten-free dish)

1 head broccoli, cut into florets

About 8 large kale leaves, stacked and then cut into thin strips

At least 1/4 cup grated Parmesan

About 1/2 cup grated tetilla, Mahón, or other soft-but-grate-able Spanish cow’s-milk cheese (or Monterey Jack cheese)

Handful cherry tomatoes, halved

Get pasta boiling in a large pot of water. When the penne is 3 minutes away from being done (check the package instructions to see how long you’ll need to cook the penne), stir in the broccoli and kale. Drain well. While still piping hot, stir in cheeses and tomatoes.

Serve immediately. If you like, garnish with a sprinkling of sweet paprika; if you’re even more adventurous, sprinkle on a few flakes of crushed red pepper.


tortilla-panzanettaA Mexican-Italian Twist on Bread Salad

Fresh-From-the-Garden Tortilla Panzanetta

It’s August, and gardens are in full swing! Whether you have tomatoes or beans or broccoli or peppers, this quick salad is a great way to make use of whatever you have on hand. And to add a classic touch, how about tossing it with some fresh mozzarella and torn-up pieces of toasted tortilla? It’s an off-the-beaten-path way of recreating a classic Italian dish: panzanetta. Doubtless created as a way to make use of leftover bread that’s about to go (or has already gone) stale, panzanetta is an easy dish to throw together at the last minute. Its classic ingredients include mozzarella, fresh veggies, basil, and extra-virgin olive oil. I’d contend that balsamic vinegar is another indispensable ingredient.

Rather than use chunks of white bread in the mix, I opted to take the whole-grain approach and rip up a toasted corn tortilla instead. Corn, after all, is an essential ingredient in Italian cuisine — it’s been prepared in the form of polenta since Roman times. And corn tortillas freeze well, so you can keep a bag of them in the freezer and make panzanetta whenever you like. Freshly toasted tortillas taste a lot better than stale bread!

Fresh-From-the-Garden Tortilla Panzanetta

This serves 2 for lunch, but double or triple the amounts as you wish.

Handful green beans, trimmed (I used a mix of yellow and green beans)

Several broccoli florets

2 whole-grain corn tortillas (my favorite brand is Food for Life)

Handful halved cherry tomatoes

1 bell pepper OR any mild pepper, chopped (I used banana peppers from my garden)

Fresh mozzarella

Fresh basil leaves

Extra-virgin olive oil*

Balsamic vinegar

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and add the beans and broccoli. Simmer for 3 minutes if you like your veggies crunchy or 5 minutes if you like them softer. While the veggies are simmering, place the tortillas in two separate small skillets. Heat over medium heat for about 2 minutes on each side or until the tortillas are turning golden brown. (No oil needed! They’re best when dry-toasted.)

Drain the beans and broccoli well and toss with tomatoes and peppers. Add mozzarella, a few basil leaves, and a drizzle of oil and vinegar. Tear tortillas into rough bite-sized pieces and toss with the rest of the salad. Serve immediately.

Buon appetito!

* If you’d like to lend the dish a mild garlic flavor, cut a clove of garlic in half and let it sit in the oil overnight. Fish it out before drizzling on the oil the next day.

squash-mushroom-soupElegant (and Easy!) Soup for the Holidays

Silky Mushroom Squash Soup

There’s nothing like soup to perk up a rainy day or a holiday gathering. And since this simple soup uses non-perishable/long-life ingredients like dried mushrooms, onions, and squash, you can stash away your ingredients now so that you can make soup whenever the mood strikes you. You could even skip roasting your own squash and opt for canned butternut or pumpkin squash instead, but roasting and pureeing your own will give the soup an extra-velvety texture.

I’ve used dried lobster mushrooms in this soup, but just about any dried mushroom would work — as opposed to fresh mushrooms, dried mushrooms have more concentrated flavors. Shiitake, porcini, crimini, portabella, chanterelle, wood ear, morels … most markets stock various types of dried mushrooms. Just be sure to soak your mushrooms in hot water for a good 20 minutes to soften them. Depending on how old the mushrooms are, you may have to let them soak for 30 minutes. Another way to speed up the softening process is to cover the mushrooms with boiling water rather than hot tap water.

But although you can use whatever dried mushroom you like, if you can get your hands on lobster mushrooms, snap them up! Not only do they have a distinctively lobster-like flavor, they also have a reddish lobster-like color. Those bright red mushroom edges will provide a gorgeous visual pop for your earth-toned soup.

Silky Mushroom Squash Soup

Serves 4 for lunch or 2 for a very hearty dinner. Double or triple the recipe as you like.

1 oz. dried lobster mushrooms (OR any other kind of dried mushrooms)

1 medium Spanish onion, sliced thinly

1 lb. fresh crimini OR baby portabello OR button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

4 cloves garlic, chopped

2 cups chicken broth, preferably from free-range chickens

1 1/2 cups roasted and pureed acorn OR butternut OR pumpkin squash*

1 T. dried thyme

1/2 tsp. sea salt

1/4 cup cream or crème fraîche, preferably from grass-fed cows

Place dried mushrooms in a small glass bowl and cover with hot water from the tap. Let sit and soften while you make the rest of the soup.

Put a pat of butter or a hefty drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onions and fresh mushrooms and saute, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until onions are turning golden brown and the mushrooms are half their original size. Stir in garlic and let cook for another 2 minutes to soften the garlic.

Pour in chicken broth and whisk in pureed squash, thyme, and salt. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Towards the end of the simmering time, drain the dried mushrooms and chop them. Stir them into the soup.

Remove the soup from the heat and gradually stir in the cream. (If the soup is boiling, let it cool down slightly before stirring in the cream.) Serve immediately, garnishing with chives and grated Parmesan if you like. Leftover soup can be refrigerated for up to 4 days. This makes an impressive holiday soup, particularly if you find those lovely lobster mushrooms, so feel free to make the soup ahead of time and reheat it on the stove just before serving.


squash-pieGetting Squashed for the Holidays

Acorn Squash Pie with Oat-Almond Crust

Although pumpkin has become our default winter squash for the holidays, from buttercup to butternut, plenty of other winter squash make great pies. My favorite is acorn because they’re so conveniently small and easy to deal with. And all those ridges mean that the squash won’t try to roll away while you’re cutting into it with a large sharp knife. Less rollability = fewer chances of cutting yourself. In other words, acorn squash are especially ideal if you’re just starting to learn how to prep and roast your own squash instead of relying on canned varieties.

You can use whatever winter squash you like for this pie — pumpkin, butternut, etc. — plus you can use canned rather than fresh-roasted squash. Acorn squash has a slightly milder flavor than pumpkin, though, so acorn squash pie is a nice change of pace when you’re entertaining during the holidays. Plus, since acorn squash isn’t available canned, you’ll wind up with a lighter-textured pie thanks to your freshly roasted pureed acorn squash. But whichever you choose, this will be an elegant pie to serve to your guests. And it’s easy to make, too!

Acorn Squash Pie with Oat-Almond Crust

For the crust:

2/3 cup oat flour, preferably made by running fresh rolled oats through a coffee/spice grinder until you have a powdery flour (use gluten-free oats if you’re making a gluten-free pie!)

2/3 cup almond flour

1 T. sucanat

1 tsp. cinnamon

Dash sea salt

3/4 stick butter, chilled, preferably from grass-fed cows

2 to 3 T. whole milk, preferably from grass-fed cows

For the filling:

1 3/4 cups freshly roasted and pureed acorn squash OR canned butternut or pumpkin*

4 eggs, preferably from pastured hens

1 cup whole milk, preferably from grass-fed cows

1/2 stick melted butter, preferably from grass-fed cows

1/4 cup to 1/2 cup maple syrup, depending on how sweet you’d like your pie (if you’d like to top it with fresh fruit or whipped cream sweetened with a shot of maple syrup, 1/4 cup is probably enough; to serve the pie plain, use 1/2 cup)

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. allspice

1/2 tsp. ginger

1/4 tsp. cloves

Dash sea salt

Preheat oven to 425F and grease a 9″ glass pie pan well with butter. Make the crust by whisking together the flours, sucanat, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter or two knives. Stir in 2 T. of milk and check to see if the dough can be pressed together to form a large ball. If it’s too dry and crumbly, add another tablespoon of milk. Press the dough into the pie pan, spreading it evenly across the bottom and up the sides, stopping just short of the edge. Refrigerate while you make the filling.

In another large bowl, whisk together all of the filling ingredients. Pull the crust out of the fridge and carefully pour in filling. Bake at 425F for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350F and bake for 1 hour or until the center begins to crack slightly the way cheesecake does. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve sprinkled with cinnamon, topped with fresh whipped cream (you can sweeten that with a dash of maple syrup if you like; a dash of vanilla is nice, too), and/or topped with fresh fruit. Leftover pie can be refrigerated for 4 days. (Tip: it makes a nice breakfast!)


All Courtesy of The Cultured Cook.

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