Sunday, April 27, 2008

Stuffed Shells

This is a nice time of year when it's warm enough that you want to get outside as much as you can during the day, but it's not yet too hot to turn on the oven in the evenings. You can go out and play all day, then when it's time to go inside, make a satisfying and comforting meal.

This dish fits nicely into that kind of scheme. You really need to like roasted red peppers to enjoy this. It's kind of a strange combination. It's almost like a hummus filling pasta shells, but it was tasty and easy to put together. It is good accompanied by a green veggie. I sauteed some green beans in olive oil and garlic.

As a side note, most recipes that use tomato paste typically only call for a tablespoon. Then, you're left with the rest of that little can that always gets thrown out. Each time, I save it, thinking I'll force myself to use it in the next couple of days, but then I never do. If anyone has any ideas on how to avoid this, please let me know!

Shells Stuffed with Roasted Red Peppers and Chick Peas
12 shells
19 oz. can garbanzo beans
1 1/2 cups roasted red peppers (You can use jarred. I instead got some from the olive and cheese section in Whole Foods)
3 cloves garlic
3 tblsp dried bread crumbs
small handful of walnuts
1 tblsp tomato past
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
3/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
14 1/2 oz. can stewed tomatoes
8 oz. can tomato sauce
3/4 tsp ground coriander
1 c shredded mozzarella cheese
1 tblsp chopped parsley

1. Cook shells and drain.
2. In food processor combine garbanzo beans, roasted red peppers, garlic, bread crumbs, walnuts, tomato paste, cumin, oregano, salt and cayenne, process until almost smooth, but with some texture.
3. In baking dish, combine tomatoes, tomato sauce and coriander.
4. Spoon mixture into shells. Lay filled shells on top of sauce in dish. Spoon some sauce over top.
5. Cover with foil and bake 20 minutes.
6. Uncover, sprinkle with mozzarella and bake for 4 minutes. Garnish with parsley.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Persuading Spring to Come/Asparagus Risotto

It's technically spring, but it still sure feels a lot like winter. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to cook some asparagus. It seemed like the proper thing to do, to offer up this sign of spring. Secretly I was hoping Mother Nature will take some pity on us. If she saw us eating asparagus in this perfectly dreary weather, she would think, "this just won't do", and send some warmth and sunshine our way. Then, before you knew it, crocuses would be popping up everywhere and people would be walking about jacket-less.
A risotto seemed like the perfect way to combine comfort food with spring flair. Often I find people to associate risotto making with being a very laborious and painstaking task. As a result, they shy away from preparing it, and save it as something to order in a restaurant. Contrary to that belief, I think risotto is pretty easy. It's all in one pot, and I'm always fond of meals that don't produce a lot of dirty pans. The only seemingly tedious part is having to stand over it the entire time it's cooking, slowly adding broth and stirring. There is no room for multi-tasking here. You have to make sure your salad or whatever else you are serving it with is ready to go before you begin preparing the risotto.
The recipe I made called for fresh basil. Now that, I thought, was taking things a little far. This is something I associate strictly with mid to end of summer, and while I am feeling a bit desperate, and would do almost anything to bring about a sense of sundress-wearing weather, using fresh basil in April is not one of them. I do think it would be a nice addition to this dish though.

Risotto with Asparagus and Peas
4 cups vegetable stock (No-chicken broth is a good one to use)
1/4 cup of unsalted butter (I use Earth Balance which is non-dairy)
1 tblsp olive oil
8 shallots, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups of arborio or carnaroli risotto rice
1/3 cup white wine
12 oz. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
1 cup fresh or frozen shelled peas
finely grated zest of 1 lemon (always use organic lemons when zesting)
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Put the stock in a saucepan. Heat until almost boiling, then reduce the heat until barely simmering to keep it hot.
2. Heat the butter and oil in a deep skillet or heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for 1-2 minutes, until softened but not browned.
3. Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon until the grains are well coated and glistening, about 1 minute. Pour in the wine and stir until it has been completely absorbed.
4. Add 1 ladle of hot stock and simmer, stirring until it has been absorbed. Keep repeating this. After 10 minutes, add the asparagus, peas and lemon zest and mix well. Continue to add the stock at intervals and cook as before, for 8-10 more minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender but firm (al dente). (I usually find that I need more than the amount of stock than the recipe calls for. I'm not sure what I am doing wrong but it's good to have extra on hand, just in case. You can always heat up some water and use that if you get stuck without extra broth, yet your rice is not quite cooked enough.)
5. Add the Parmesan, salt, pepper and a handful of torn up basil leaves, if you are using. Mix well. Remove from the heat, cover and let rest for 2 minutes.