Tag Archives: basil

Creamy Avocado Pasta

Sometimes I really struggle to stay meatless on Mondays if I’m craving a nice creamy pasta dish for dinner. It doesn’t happen often, but when the hunger for rich food strikes, the avocado is my secret, meatless weapon against dairy-meat-munchies!

The avocado in this creamy pasta recipe works as a binder, creating a rich, smooth dressing with flecks of bitter greens and zesty citrus notes. You’ll notice that there’s no Parmesan cheese in this dish. Most varieties of that cheese are made with animal rennet– not good for Meatless Monday! I use almonds, nutritional yeast, and plenty of salt in my recipe to replace the “oomph” that Parmesan might add.

Creamy Avocado Pasta (serves 2)

1/2 pound vegan pasta
1 medium avocado
1 1/2 cups spinach, arugula, or romaine lettuce
1/2 cup basil leaves
1 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice, plus extra for seasoning
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup almond
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm, about 8-10 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of cooking liquid, and drain.

Meanwhile, scoop out the flesh of the avocado and place in a food processor. Add the greens, basil, citrus juice, garlic, salt, pepper, almond, and nutritional yeast. Blend until smooth.

Pour the pesto over the pasta in a serving dish. Toss to coat the pasta with sauce, adding a little pasta water as necessary to loosen the sauce. Taste the finished pasta and season to taste with lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Serve immediately.

This pasta is best served on the same day it is prepared, since the avocado will oxidize and turn the sauce an unsightly brown color after a while.

 

Venison Keftedes with Tzatziki

This meal is the result of two competing desires. The resolution of an epic struggle today between my compulsion to use up all the groceries in my fridge and what felt like the world’s strongest craving for Greek take-out from the restaurant down the street.

I was doing my Sunday chores like a responsible adult when I started craving pita bread and schawarma from Arpeggio Grill, the little Mediterranian spot down the street from my apartment complex. Their pita is so soft and light it practically floats up to your mouth, and it’s the perfect vehicle for spicy lamb.

My desire for pita was strong. However, we had a bunch of extra food in the house, and I just couldn’t bear to buy more while so many groceries went unused on the shelf. So I decided to approximate the pita and schawarma lunch special from Arpeggio Grill using ingredients that I had on hand in the kitchen.

Recreating their pita was pretty straightforward. I used the recipe and method from one of my favorite learn-to-bake blogs, “The Fresh Loaf.” That blog gives a comprehensive breakdown of each ingredient, plus specific step by step instruction with pictures. Perfect for a novice pita-maker like me.

To complement the keftedes and pita bread, I made tzatziki with an Indian cucumber from My Father’s Farm. Indian cucumbers are big, yellow vegetables that taste the same as green, English cucumbers. I like using them in recipes like raita or tzatziki because their bulbous shape yields a bit more flesh than green cucumbers once they are seeded.

c. swanksalot, http://www.flickr.com/photos/swanksalot/. Licensed for reuse under Creative Commons.

The schawarma portion of Arpeggio Grill’s lunch plate was more difficult to make at home than the pita or tzatziki, since the dish must be cooked on a rotissierie– not standard issue for any apartment kitchen I’ve ever seen! Since actual schawarma was out of the question, I turned to traditional fried meatballs called “keftedes” to recreate the Mediterranean flavors I was craving. I used ground venison hunted by my dad for the keftedes, along with eggs from Ringger farms and herbs from Pure Luck and My Father’s Farm. If you don’t have access to deer from a hunter, ground venison is available in Austin at Whole Foods or you can substitute a mixture of ground lamb and pork.

Although cooking three Mediterranean dishes from scratch was more time consuming than calling for take-out, I’m glad I put in the effort. I bought myself a big chunk of room in my crisper drawer, and I can rest easy tonight knowing that home cooked leftovers mean my lunch for tomorrow is already prepared!

Venison Keftedes (yields about 30, golf ball-sized meatballs)
3 slices bread
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons minced fresh basil
3 tablespoons minced fresh mint
1 tablespoon dried oregano (3 tablespoons if using fresh)
1 pound ground venison, can subtitute pork, turkey or beef
1/2 cup millk
2 eggs, beaten
Canola oil, for frying
All-purpose flour, for frying

In a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, combine the first six ingredients. Process for 3-4 minutes, until mixture is uniform and all the herbs are distributed evenly through the bread crumbs. In a large bowl, mix together the bread crumb mixture, ground meat, milk and beaten eggs. Shape the meat into meat balls and cook by frying or baking, instructions below.

Frying method: Heat an inch or two of oil in a deep skillet until it reaches 375 degrees, or a bit of the meat mixture sizzles in the hot oil. Line a plate with a few paper towels. Dredge the meatballs generously in all-purpose flour and cook them a few at a time in the hot oil until they are firm and deep brown, turning often. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and set them on the towel-lined plate to drain.

Baking method: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place rolled meatballs on a broiler pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, until they are no longer pink in the center. Serve keftedes with tzatziki and warm pita bread.

Tzatziki (yields 2 cups)
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and shredded
7 ounces Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon white vinegar (use lemon juice if you have that on hand. I didn’t)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Mix the shredded cucumber and greek yogurt together in a small bowl, then transfer the mixture to a paper towel-lined strainer. Set the strainer over the bowl and let the mixture drain for an hour. Discard the liquid.

In a food processor, combine yogurt mixture with remaining ingredients. Process for a few minutes until tzatziki is creamy and well combined. Chill for at least an hour before serving.

Local Box Meal Plan: July 11-15

Nectarines – Cooper Farm
Blueberries – Berry Best
Basil – Liedeker Farm
Potatoes – Acadian Family Farm
Assorted Peppers – Comanche Creek
Purslane – My Father’s Farm
Juliet Tomatoes – Hillside Farm
Eggplant – Fruitful Hill Farm
Figs – Texas Natural / Cooper Farm

Nectarine-basil lemonade – A refreshing summer drink.

Fresh fig and blueberry clafoutis – A clafoutis is a a custardy French dessert, and a perfect way to showcase figs and blueberries at their peak.

Eggplant, tomato, and pepper casserole – This recipe includes yummy sausage, adding a bit of heartiness. Use fresh pureed tomatoes instead of canned.

Grilled zucchini salad with purslane and tomato – Purslane has a pleasant lemony flavor. I find it works best raw as an accent in salads such as this.

– Stephanie

Pesto Pasta Salad with Juliet Tomatoes

Pesto Pasta Salad

I had my first taste of Hillside Farms‘ baby Roma tomatoes last summer, at the beginning of my local food adventures.  The moment that first Juliet tomato burst in my mouth was an epiphany. It tasted like sunshine, sweeter than any tomato I’d ever eaten.

I had been skeptical about the locavore movement until then, but with that one bite I finally understood what the “eat local” hoopla was about. A year later, I’ve certainly bought into the local food movement. And my heart still pitter-pats every time I see Hillside Farms’ Juliet tomatoes in my Local Box.

If I don’t eat them straight out of the package, I enjoy using Juliet tomatoes in a simple pasta salad with pesto dressing. I almost always have goat cheese and the ingredients for homemade pesto in my fridge during the summer months, and this salad is one of my favorite things to cook on nights when Juliet tomatoes arrive in the Local Box.

This salad is as versatile as it is easy to prepare. I’ve added olives, chopped green onions, roasted peppers, artichoke hearts, baby spinach, grilled chicken breast, and even chopped raw baby squash to this salad, all with good results. It’s a terrific base for whatever I’m craving along with those sweet little tomatoes from Hillside Farms.

Pesto Pasta Salad with Juliet Tomatoes (serves two as a main dish as written;  serves more if you stretch it by adding more veggies or meats)

1/2 lb. farfalle, penne, or conchiglie pasta
1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
1/4 cup grated parmesan or Romano cheese
1/3 cup olive oil
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 pint Juliet tomatoes
4 ounces goat cheese

Cook and drain pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, prepare pesto sauce by combining basil, grated cheese, olive oil, and minced garlic and one teaspoon of salt in a food processor. Pulse for about 90 seconds, until pesto is uniform in texture. Set pesto aside until the cooked, drained pasta is cool to the touch. After that, mix the cooked pasta and pesto sauce in a serving dish.

Put the goat cheese in the freezer for a few minutes while you slice the cherry tomatoes in half. (Chilling the soft cheese makes much easier to break up later.) Add the sliced tomatoes to the dressed pasta, then use a butter knife to chip the cold goat cheese into the salad. Gently stir the finished salad to combine all the ingredients and chill it for at least an hour in the fridge before serving.

Local Box Meal Plan: June 20-24

Peaches – Caskey Orchards 
Blueberries – JB Organic
Assorted Summer Squash – Gundermann Acres and Texas Natural 
Basil – Pure Luck 
Fennel – Bar W 
Avocado – G&S Groves 
Tomatoes – ABJ Farm and My Father’s Farm 
Black Radish – My Father’s Farm   
Summer Peas – Just Peachy Farm OR Engel Farms
Indian Cucumber – My Father’s Farm   

Peach-blueberry pie – Let me know if you’re getting tired of peach/blueberry combo recipes. I just love the two together in the summer. You can use store-bought pie crust here if you don’t want to make your own.

Chicken penne with basil

Spanish-style stuffed bell peppers

Cucumber, carrot, and radish salad with creamy avocado dressing – You can peel the Indian cucumbers and eat them in the salad raw, as you would a regular cucumber. If you don’t have crème fraiche on hand (and who usually does?) just sub sour cream. Or even whole milk.

– Stephanie

Baked Parmesan Tomatoes

bakedtomatoes_t

A couple of weeks ago, I walked into an Anthropologie store for the first time. I always thought it was just full of clothes, but the first thing I spotted was a clearance table full of yummy housewares, like plates, placemats, vases, and the like. I was smitten. I’d been wanting to expand my collection of just those things so that I’d have a way to make my food photos more interesting.

I walked out with several items, including the fleur de lys plate you see above, and when I came across this recipe I knew it would be a perfect way to start the plate’s photographic career.

Anyway, we’re not here to talk about nice-looking food. Well, most of us aren’t. These tomatoes look good, but they’re also ridiculously easy to make and tasty to boot. Just a few farm-fresh tomatoes, Parmesan, and basil, and you have yourself a flavorful summer side dish. Or a main course, if you just can’t stop eating them.

Baked Parmesan Tomatoes (adapted from Eating Well)

4 tomatoes, halved horizontally
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 450. Place tomatoes cut-side up on a baking sheet. Top with Parmesan, basil, salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil and bake until the tomatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

– Stephanie

Local Box Meal Plan: June 13-17

Don’t you love the abundance of fruit in the summer? I dug up some great recipes to make the best of it this week.

Peaches – Caskey Orchards 
Blueberries – Berry Best
Assorted Summer Squash – Massey Farm
Basil – My Father’s Farm 
Mango – G&S Groves 
Valley Girl Tomatoes – My Father’s Farm  
Juliette Tomatoes – Hillside Farm 
Summer Peas – Just Peachy Farm
Spring Onions – Acadian Family Farm 

Tortellini-walnut salad – Combine cooked cheese tortellini with chopped tomatoes, red onions, basil, and toasted walnuts. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil for an easy, filling summer salad.

Quinoa with peas, grilled zucchini, and cumin – Use your summer peas in place of the chickpeas. This would make a great side dish to grilled chicken or pork.

Mango-peach sangria – What an awesome summer drink. If you don’t do alcohol, I imagine this would be tasty with Sprite instead of the wine.

Blueberry-chipotle chutney – I first made this sauce years ago, and still think of it as one of the best sauces I’ve ever cooked up. It has a great blend of sweetness and spiciness, and goes wonderfully with grilled summer meats. I haven’t tried it with grilled tofu, but I bet that would be awesome, too.

Chicken and tomato skillet dinner – I love one-dish meals, and this one looks pretty fast and easy.

– Stephanie